Thursday, September 22, 2011

NYC as City State

Centuries ago in Europe, many parts of the continent were divided up not into countries but city states. Basically these were politically autonomous regions dominated by a single city that were, for all intensive purposes, countries. Many of these were in Italy: Venice was a city, Florence was a city, for example. There still a few in existence in the world, namely Singapore and Monte Carlo. 

What these city states lacked in land and population, they more than made up for in economic power. They were places where their wealth came not from plundering their natural resources but in unleashing their human ingenuity.

New York City is not, technically speaking, a city-state. Heck, we're not even a state in the United States of America! We're a town like any another in this country, at the mercy of a state and the federal government. But New York's economic and cultural power, plus our status as a city where anything and everything is possible, gives our city an international prestige that crosses all domestic and foreign boundaries. The image of New York as a distinct, amazing place makes it almost its own country.

When the terrorists hit us on 9/11, they chose NYC for a reason. It represented the zenith of American economic power -- and they wanted to damage it.
Obviously they failed. And in the decade since then, NYC has only continued to develop as its own kind of country. We see in our nation's government total dysfunction thanks to the corruption of big money, scorched earth politics, and ideology run amok. But in NYC, we have a government that is, for the most part, politically functionally, uncorrupted, and sane. And with an influx of population from around the world, more and more talent floods into our city every day, growing the city's prominence.

Our city is the world -- not just the nation's -- but the world's financial, fashion, publishing, theater, broadcasting, and legal capital. Plus we compete strongly in areas that seem to be the domain of other big cities, namely film and television as well as technology. With so much power, New York can't help but to be see almost as city state. And as the world become only more of a global village, cities matter more than ever -- and NYC, London, Paris, Tokyo, Rio, and others will matter as much if not more so than the countries they are contained in.

A few years ago, I blogged about this phenomenon of NYC as the "international city." Mostly what I write about here in the provincial lives most of us New Yorkers live, or about New York as an idea, a philosophy. But sometimes I look at NYC as a world leader, a city state of sorts. And I was ahead of my time! 

A huge article in The Atlantic this week looks at Mayor Bloomberg and NYC as a world leader, a country of its own, very much in the same vein of my blog post from almost three years ago. As the rate of global interdependence speeds up, it will matter as much who is the mayor of these world capitals as much as who is the leader of those nations. The leaders of these cities will wield enormous power not only over their cities but over the global community centered in them. Call it a power shift or a paradigm shift -- in globalization, cities matter now more than ever. In this new world, the city state is rising and NYC is, as always at the forefront of an important change.

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