grass roots

ConsumerLoop #3, January 1998

The Future of Cities

To fuel its Knowledge Development Programme, Through the Loop has sponsored a number of seed projects from various colleges and universities. One of these was to look at the increasing importance of cities and the processes used to involve, nurture and integrate young people into the infrastructure of the city.


560 megacities dominate the world’s population. Increasing globalisation means that these cities compete for their share of resources and critically, in the future for young people. Young people hold the required skilled sets of tomorrow- and indeed they are more willing to be transitory.

A multicultural group from EAP, the European Management School, was asked to identify some benchmark cities, particularly in Europe, where there seemed to be innovative practices in place to nurture and integrate young people. A sample of seven cities were chosen and one of these was taken from the Asian region to act as a contrast. The students were asked to use the approach by Rosabeth Moss Kanter in World Class e.g. the categorisation of Thinkers, Makers and Trader cities and move towards the identification of best practices in the "ideal future city."

The Future Importance of Cities

It will become critical to understand consumer behaviour in cities and mega-zones/ regions. Cities represent the leading edge of social change, often opinion leaders will be found in greater numbers and distribution and media channels are expected to become more city/ regionally-based.

Thinkers, Makers and Traders

To briefly revisit Kanter’s methodology, Thinker Cities are described as "pre-eminent in the first important resource of the world class: concepts." They are characterised by "innovation and the development of new ideas and products that set world standards. They become magnets for brain power." Kanter placed Boston in this group.

The focus of maker cities is executional competence. These cities are characterised by skills that meet "high process-quality standards and have an infrastructure that supports high value, cost effective production." Makers attract world manufacturing because of their competence and they are magnets for foreign investment. Cleveland was identified in the US.

Finally, traders specialise in connections. They sit at a crossroads of cultures, helping to move goods and services from one country to another, managing the intersections. Miami was found to be a quintessential trader. World class regions should demonstrate excellence in at least one of these three domains.

EAP Research Process

EAP selected seven cities to study based on their multicultural experience. The research process included direct interviewing (telephone, web-based and also internet). It should be re-emphasised that this was a first stage project and Through the Loop intends to extend this in the future as part of its research and development programme. The cities studied were: Berlin, Bilbao, Budapest, Lyon, Oslo and Sheffield. As a complete contrast, Bangkok was also included in the analysis with a very different set of problems and opportunities.

Needs of Young People

Arbitrarily, an age range of 16-25 years was taken and there was some initial qualitative work to identify the key needs of young people. It was not surprising that there were some interesting social values underlying these needs. These were determined as:

  • self actualisation.

  • health.

  • environmental concern.

  • need for enjoyment.

  • quality of life.

  • political involvement.

These values in the late 1990s are softer in tone than those previously solicited in the Generation X and Digital Generation work.

The Relevance of Thinkers, Makers and Traders for Young People

It was found that a thinker, maker trader city has specific impacts on younger people:

  • Thinker City: Advanced research, sophisticated cultural facilities.

  • Maker City: Professional schools.

  • Trader City: International opportunities.

Of the six European cities studied, three were found to be closing the gap between city initiatives and the needs of the younger people: Berlin, Budapest and Oslo. These could be best described as the freedom to create, political involvement, international education, easy access to communication and ensuring a safe and clean environment. Berlin was also found to be in a period of immense transition. Specific examples of these best practices were:


Love Parade: new communities and new values.

Bike City: project for unemployed young people who repair      bikes and rent them to tourists.

Urban Future 2000 Forum which will focus on the needs of younger people.


Artpool, presentation of interesting art experiments. Also, continuation of coffee house culture.


Junior Local City Council.

The magnet cities of tomorrow will be driven by the ability to match initiatives with the needs of younger people. An adeptness will be needed to market these skills. Cities truly will be the creative engines of tomorrow so marketing and media development may need to be rethought to create this environment.

It is hoped that this seed project may well be extended to other cities in Europe.

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