New record set by the number of skyscrapers built in 2017

Skyscrapers have truly spread around the globe in recent years:

The current global boom in tall buildings shows no signs of slowing. In its annual Tall Building Year in Review, the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) found that more buildings 200 meters tall or greater were finished last year than any other year on record.

A total of 144 such structures were completed in 69 cities spread across 23 countries, part of a wave of tall towers, the fourth-straight record-setting year in terms of completions. Last year’s new tall towers set records across the globe as well: new tallest buildings took shape in 28 cities and 8 countries…

The U.S. completed 10 such structures, including four in New York, two in Chicago, and the record-setting Wilshire Grand Center in Los Angeles. This new class of skyscrapers forms the bulk of North America’s 17 new towers, representing 10.4 percent of the worldwide total.

But as has been the case for years, Asia, specifically China, was the center of the action. Chinese construction projects added 76 new skyscrapers, representing 53 percent of the global total. The city of Shenzhen, which added 12 new buildings, accounted for 8.3 percent of the worldwide total, more than any country outside of China.

While these buildings may be constructed in some places because of high densities and a need for interior space, I suspect the status factor is big here. Being able to project an impressive skyline is a nice feature for today’s big city to have. To be a major city in the eyes of the world, skyscrapers help. Buildings alone cannot catapult a city to the top of the global city rankings but they can certainly make an impression on residents and visitors as well as provide space for new bustling activity.

Leaders of global cities coalesce around common interests

This doesn’t have to be framed as Trump versus big cities to be interesting: leaders of global cities have common perceptions about the world.

That was the important message of the visit by Khan, who arrived in New York after an earlier stop in Chicago. Like his hosts, Democratic mayors Bill de Blasio in New York and Rahm Emanuel in Chicago, Khan forcefully insists that integration, inclusion and openness to the world offer the best chance both to defuse terror and maximize economic growth.

That perspective shared by the mayors of almost all large U.S. cities and many others in Europe views immigrants as a source of economic and cultural vitality, trade as an engine of prosperity, and integration of Muslim communities as the central defense against radicalization and terror. “We play straight into the hands of the extremists and terrorists when we [say]…it’s not possible to hold Western values and to be a Muslim,” Khan wrote last week in the Chicago Tribune. “It makes it easier for terrorists to radicalize young people. And it makes us all less safe…”…

Adjusting for national differences, the mayors of global cities are largely coalescing around agendas antithetical to the Trump vision. “There are 50 cities, maybe 100, that are the intellectual, cultural and economic engine of the world,” Emanuel said in an interview shortly after Khan left Chicago. “We are all working on the same things because we face similar opportunities. We have to make our cities competitive. The jobs and companies we talk about are not only global but mobile.”

This modern urban agenda revolves around investment in infrastructure and education (ranging from expanded pre-school to tuition-free post-secondary education); welcoming immigrants; support for small business and information-age technology start-ups; promoting more dense development (Khan toured Chicago’s impressive riverfront development as a possible model for the Thames); embracing renewable energy as both an economic engine and environmental imperative; and with only a few exceptions (like deBlasio) supporting more international trade. The common theme, Emanuel says, is to create a “platform for private sector growth” while advancing equity and inclusion.

This could be used as evidence for limiting or eliminating the nation state, at least for the most powerful cities of the world. If anything, nations might hold them back from doing what they really need to do. Similar arguments have been made recently about states enacting new laws that supersede regulations from cities. See an overview here.

For the sake of public argument, it would be helpful to see the positive argument made for why cities need or benefit from states and countries. Outside of helping to balance budgets, what would Rahm Emanuel say is the benefit for Chicago of being part of Illinois as opposed to operating as an independent entity? Or, could Khan explain why London is a better place because of being in England and the United Kingdom?

Foreign investment in Chicago real estate reaches record high

Chicago was an appealing city for international real estate investors in 2015:

Chicago’s continuing rise to prominence on the world stage was further boosted by the latest figures indicating that 2015 will not only be a banner year for new construction and hotel occupancy, but a record-breaking period for foreign real estate investment as well. 2015 saw $3.27 billion of new overseas capital flow into the Windy City, according to recently published report by Crain’s Chicago Business, a figure that shatters the previous record of $2.18 billion set in 2013. Citing data from New York-based Real Capital Analytics, Crain’s reports that foreign buyers accounted for roughly 16 percent of Chicago’s total $20.2 billion of real estate sales this year. Chicago now ranks as the fourth largest market in the nation for foreign investment — up from last year’s eighth place — and trails behind only New York, Los Angeles, and Washington D.C.

These positive figures are attributed to several factors. Oversaturation of traditionally stronger coastal markets has driven up prices to the point where commercial investors are often finding more lucrative opportunities in Chicago. Chicago is seen as a somewhat riskier choice for firms taking on commercial properties due to the relative ease at which new buildings can be added and tenants relocated — similar to CNA’s announcement earlier this week — but foreign buyers willing to take on this risk have enjoyed greater returns. In 2015, investment in Chicago saw first-year rates of return (“capitalization rates” for you finance-minded folks) averaging 5.1 percent, outperforming the 4.1 and 4.7 percent yearly yields of Manhattan and San Francisco, respectively.

While this sounds like good news (more capital flowing into the city and the potential for these investments to lead to other deals), I could imagine two downsides:

  1. This recently happened in Chicago, but it wasn’t the first city of choice for international investors. It is suggested here that investors are now turning to Chicago because the more desirable markets – NYC, LA – are oversaturated. So, this may confirm that Chicago is still the third city – or maybe even the fourth city if you include Washington, D.C. This may just feed the anxiety some in Chicago have of their place on the world stage.
  2. Even as investment from outsiders is viewed as good, would investment from foreigners be viewed as positive by all in Chicago? Americans occasionally have periods of fear that people from other countries are taking over and Chicago is a more parochial/less cosmopolitan market than some on the coasts. Foreign investment may be good but do Chicagoans like the idea that others are benefiting greatly off the Midwest?

Houston as world’s fourth most popular refugee resettlement country

While most immigration policy debates take place at the national level, large cities are also involved:

Out of every 1,000 resettled U.N. refugees, more than 700 come to America. Though all 50 states accept some refugees, 75 of those 700 find their way to Texas, according to U.S. State Department numbers. And more of those will come to the Houston area than to anywhere else in Texas: The state health services department reports that nearly 40 percent of Texas’ refugees land in Harris County.

This means that Harris County alone welcomes about 30 of every 1,000 refugees that the U.N. resettles anywhere in the world — more than any other American city, and more than most other nations. If Houston were a country, it would rank fourth in the world for refugee resettlement…

In fact, Al Sudani said, some cold American cities host enormous groups of warm-region natives. Nearly 45,000 Iraqis live in Detroit and other parts of Michigan — more than in any other state, according to Census Bureau data assembled by the Migration Policy Institute. More East Africans live in Minnesota than in Texas; Minneapolis-St. Paul has a massive Somali population. “People, they adjust really quickly to their environment,” Al Sudani said…

The single most important factor in Houston’s ability to absorb all of the new refugee arrivals appears to be its vibrant, growing economy. “The focus of refugee resettlement in the United States is early employment,” said Sara Kauffman, Houston area director for Refugee Services of Texas. “We have a pretty fast economy, a lot of jobs available. People can get started working pretty quickly.” One of her clients found himself a job at a car dealership within two weeks of arriving.

Houston doesn’t often draw much discussion as a global city but this would suggest it is an important player in the 21st century world. Indeed, it might be the quintessential American city today.

Tracking the transformation of Houston’s population in recent years would make for a fascinating long-term study: oil capital transforms into cosmopolitan center. There is already some good sociological work on this and it is worth tracking. It may be out there but I haven’t yet seen work on how Houston residents are adjusting to these changes. Perhaps as long as the economy keeps growing, there aren’t many issues…

Branding battle: “Chiraq” vs. “Chicago Epic”

Spike Lee and the city of Chicago have opposing views of how the city should be viewed. First, from Lee:

No sooner did the Wrap report that notable director Spike Lee has been tapped by Amazon Studios to make a movie titled Chiraq did the controversy and backlash begin to grow online because of the movie’s title. It wasn’t Lee who coined “Chiraq,” however. Chicago residents who have experienced the deadly shootings in “The Chi” gave it the moniker of Chiraq. The term combines Chicago with Iraq to compare the violence of the two places, as witnessed in the below documentary video previously released about “Chiraq,” but unrelated to Spike’s forthcoming movie…

Alderman Anthony Beale says Chiraq should have a new title, reports CBS Local. Beale adds that he doesn’t care what other name Lee uses for his new movie, but that it shouldn’t be Chiraq due to the violent images it brings forth. The alderman from the 9th ward didn’t make mention of the nickname coming from other sources than Lee.

Another politician was more forgiving of the Chiraq title. Senator Dick Durbin said he’d first like to give Spike a chance to explain what the Chiraq movie is all about before passing judgment. Although he says the Chiraq title is worrisome, he admitted he doesn’t know much more about the movie than the title.

Other politicians weighed in on Spike’s Chiraq, reported the Chicago Sun-Times?. Although Alderman Beale continued to point out criticisms, claiming Lee was stigmatizing Chicago with the Chiraq nickname, Mayor Rahm Emanuel refused to go that far. The mayor would only say that he’s focusing on the safety of the city.

Second, this news comes as the city is launching a national ad campaign to bring more tourists to Chicago:

The campaign, dubbed “Chicago Epic,” features a visually diverse 30-second TV commercial and far-flung ambitions. Target markets include San Francisco and Denver, but viewers throughout the country will likely see the spot over the next six weeks. Whether it changes minds about Chicago, or travel plans, remains to be seen…

Choose Chicago is funding the summer campaign with $2.2 million, up slightly from last year. About half of that budget will go to TV and online video. The rest will go to digital advertising, social media and paid search, hoping to sway online travel bookers as they plan their getaways…

Created by ad agency FCB Chicago, an 80-second long-form video was whittled down to a 30-second spot for the TV campaign. The spot features a distinctively Chicago voice urging visitors to be “part of something epic,” incorporating scenes of Divvy bikes, Lollapalooza, North Avenue Beach, Wicker Park and Alinea, recently named the best restaurant in the world by Elite Traveler. The forearms of renowned mixologist Charles Joly, which feature a tattoo of the Chicago flag, also have a starring role. Michael Jordan, the Chicago Theatre marquee and even the Chicago skyline ended up on the cutting-room floor for the edited TV spot…

“I think we’ll make ‘Chicago Epic’ as famous as ‘I Love New York,'” Fassnacht said. “That’s one of our goals — we have to make this iconic.”

There are several ways to view these competing narratives that could go a long way to influence the branding of the city:

1. Both contain elements of truth. Both don’t tell the full story. Chicago has experienced a lot of violence, even with murder rates that are significantly lower than in the past. Chicago has numerous interesting sites, even if many of its neighborhoods don’t match the glittering tourist locations.

2. The city of Chicago has said they want to boost tourism. This would help bring in more money and boost the city’s profile. Tourism is the sort of industry that can take advantage of existing locations and infrastructure (like the world’s busiest passenger airport) without requiring many big changes.

3. Chicago is clearly a global city and yet there is ongoing anxiety about whether Chicago can hold to its spot or whether it can truly compete with the cities at the top of the list.

4. It is unclear which narrative will win out.

More global cities working independently from their country

An upcoming conference in Chicago will look at how global cities operate across and independent of national boundaries:

“By pursuing their own business ties, trade missions, cultural exchanges and agreements with each other, global cities may even have the ability to disrupt the foreign policy agendas of their nations,” said Sassen. “Cities are more nimble and often less weighed down by national politics than central governments are, and that means they can push the envelope further and faster by working with other cities that share a similar set of social and economic issues and interests.”

Already, cities around the world have formed associations and networks to work together and share information on such issues as the environment, transportation, energy efficiency and economic development. These include the C40, comprising some 70 global cities working together on climate change; Cities for Mobility, with its 650 members in 85 countries focusing on transportation; and Metropolis, in which more than 100 cities network on environmental issues.

“With countries struggling to reach basic agreements, city-to-city communication and coordination is not just innovative, it has the potential to change the nature of the conversation about international commitments,” said Sam Scott, chairman of Chicago Sister Cities International, a knowledge partner of the Chicago Forum on Global Cities…

“We’re going to see cities like London, Paris, Chicago and Sao Paulo frame their own civic foreign policies, with their own offices and representatives – sort of embassies and ambassadors – in the great cities of the world,” said Richard Longworth, a senior fellow at The Chicago Council whose report, On Global Cities, will be issued in advance of the forum. “This won’t usurp the prerogative of national governments. But cities, like nations, have their own interests that they need to promote and defend. If their nations can’t do it, cities can and will.”

Given the size of their economies (on the scale with many countries) plus their international connections, this isn’t too surprising. But, it would be fascinating to see when major cities and governments clash. Perhaps something like an international trade policy signed by a country that a city willingly violates. Or a national security arrangement that a city goes against for economic gain. Could cities actually pull off a major change in policy or would nations react strongly?

Over the years, I’ve seen a number of proposals for how nations might become less important on the global scene. The rise of global governance and agreements (on the national level). The increasing scope of multinational corporations. Perhaps the fragmentation of powerful countries into competing racial, ethnic, and cultural groups. But, the independence of major cities might hint at the return of nation-states. When can we expect one to secede?

The cities where the super-rich live

Richard Florida has the rankings of where the super-rich around the world live:

London is the world’s top location for the super-rich, with 4,364 people with $30 million or more in assets. Tokyo is second with 3,575, followed by Singapore (3,227), New York (3,008) and Hong Kong (2,690). The table below shows the top 20 cities with the most ultra-high-net-worth individuals.

Rank

City

Number of Super-Rich

Percentage of Total

Global Super-Rich

1

London

4,364

2.5%

2

Tokyo

3,575

2.1%

3

Singapore

3,227

1.9%

4

New York

3,008

1.7%

5

Hong Kong

2,690

1.6%

6

Frankfurt

1,909

1.1%

7

Paris

1,521

0.9%

8

Osaka

1,471

0.9%

9

Beijing

1,408

0.8%

10

Zurich

1,362

0.8%

11

Seoul

1,356

0.8%

12

Sao Paulo

1,344

0.8%

13

Taipei

1,317

0.8%

14

Toronto

1,216

0.7%

15

Geneva

1,198

0.7%

16

Istanbul

1,153

0.7%

17

Munich

1,138

0.7%

18

Mexico City

1,116

0.6%

19

Shanghai

1,095

0.6%

20

Los Angeles

969

0.6%

And if you control for population size, the list changes:

Rank

City

Super-Rich per

100k Population

1

Geneva

143.7

2

Zurich

70.8

3

Singapore

60.0

4

Frankfurt

42.9

5

Hong Kong

37.0

6

Auckland

35.7

7

Oslo

34.4

8

London

29.9

9

Munich

29.1

10

Hamburg

26.6

11

Rome

22.3

12

Dublin

21.0

13

Toronto

20.1

14

Edinburgh

20.0

15

Stockholm

18.9

16

Taipei

18.6

17

Sydney

15.9

18

Monaco

15.8

19

New York

15.0

20

Tel Aviv-Yafo

14.3

These lists have some overlap with the top global cities but there are some differences. For example, on the first list: Chicago and Los Angeles are typically in the top 10 for global cities but they don’t rate highly here. In other words, there are some different social forces at work as to where the rich live versus which cities are most influential. Some possible forces at work:

1. Perhaps the super-rich in a single country tend to all go to one place. In the United States, perhaps this is New York City which is heads and shoulders above anyone else. Super-rich people want to be where all the other super-rich people are.

2. Certain industries might be important here, particularly ones like global banks or the oil industry.

3. Certain cities have amenities that appeal to the super-rich. This could range from certain cultural opportunities or tax breaks or high-status (and expensive) properties.

The per capita list has even more differences. Auckland? Hamburg? Edinburgh? I’m guessing there are some interesting stories behind these conglomerations.