The American Dream is tied into the possibility of a better life. The idea is the city streets are supposed to be paved with gold, and it was only in America where there were tall buildings; the skyscraper being the epitome of development in the new world. The problem is my American Dream does not match yours.
It is the city that delivers economic weight, the strength of the many compared to the relative weakness of the few. London alone is responsible for half of Britain’s GDP. Think of the power of the corridor which runs from Boston to Washington D.C. There are distinct areas within it, but it’s an elongated center of economic growth with access to the rest of the world and fast communications within it.
Where does that leave the people who live in the city?
The Rockefeller family are individuals who had a massive effect on the economy of the city and were able to capitalize on it personally while still leaving a lot to the city that gave them wings.
The construction of the Rockefeller Center in Midtown Manhattan started in 1931 and the first building opened in 1933. These were depression years yet the vast fortune was employed to make more but the side result was jobs for builders, electricians, plumbers and then ultimately the people who work there.
There is a great irony that a part of the center was to house the Metropolitan Opera but when the time came it, the opera company could not afford to move there. Philanthropy apparently had its limits.
The city as memorial
When we look at our past great cities and compare them with our new ones, we see in stark outline the reality of the city as a power hub. For the modern Athenian or Roman, they move in a city where the past economic power is on display.
The Acropolis and the Colosseum are both physical manifestations of the power of those cities in the same way that the Rockefeller center will be when other cities have eclipsed the economic vibrancy of 21st Century Manhattan.
Napoleon created his triumphal arch at the confluence of streets in Paris such that as you approach it you are aware of his power and you cannot help but compare it to Trajan’s arch in Rome, just as Napoleon wanted you to.
The world now watches as the megacity emerges. Mexico City’s population is bigger than Australia’s. By 2025 there will be 40 megacities in areas where they have never been before like the greater São Paulo area or the Mekong Delta.
The volume of people alone will be sufficient to drive growth economically though not necessarily riches for everyone. Just like depression era Manhattan, a (very) few will get rich(er) on the work of many, many more.
Not that it changes the Dream. For those who believe, if you want the fame and fortune, go to the city.