The Sacramento Bee recently wrote an article about “World-Class Cities” and if Sacramento is on track to being one of them. They also posed the question of if that definition is something that residents really want to aspire to and what would it mean if we got there.
Fair questions, for sure, but it started me thinking on what truly is a world-class city. A quick web search uncovered that newspapers in Portland, Seattle and Dallas have asked the same question about their cities. It’s interesting that one city’s definition is different from another’s, and that each cites different examples of what’s important in getting there.
For instance, the Seattle paper wrote that Seattle was working towards that reputation but wasn’t yet there. Portland, on the other hand, held up Seattle as an already defined world-class city, one that they would be inclined to emulate. Makes one wonder why so many cities seem to suffer from low self-esteem. Be happy and confident, Seattle! At least Portland loves you!
To me, the definition is in the name. World-class cities should, on some level, have an attraction to the rest of the world. They should offer something to a wide audience and multiple, if not most, demographics. Most of us don’t visit New York City because the winters are cold and the summers are humid. We visit because of the attractions (Statue of Liberty, Times Square, Broadway, Madison Square Garden, etc.) and the culture and the pizza and the Today Show and the opportunity to get yelled at by a cab driver. We visit because of both the amenities and the personality of the city.
Can Sacramento ever be an actual world-class city? I don’t know the answer to that but, ultimately, I think we should just be who we are. Are people visiting us to experience the Sacramento nightlife? Probably not. That doesn’t mean the nightlife isn’t thriving here but reality says that it isn’t our biggest draw. So why do they visit us and how do we capitalize on our draws?
I’d argue that Portland and Austin aren’t likely to receive the moniker of world-class city any time soon. But, they do have reputations as being cool and hip cities, which isn’t a bad reputation to have. That reputation serves as a draw to potential residents and visitors. Nothing to apologize for there.
So it is necessary for Sacramento to aspire to the world-class definition or are we better served to create and market our identity to the rest of the world? And what should that identity be? Sacramento museums? Gold Country? Amateur sports?
I am reminded of the “If you build it they will come” philosophy that many cities wrestle with. Who is ‘they’ and what do we build to get them to 'come' and what will this city achieve when they actually arrive?