I recently reviewed Daniel Brook’s new book A History of Future Cities in the Wall Street Journal. Brook weaves together the history of four cities, St. Petersburg, Shanghai, Mumbai and Dubai, all intended by their planners to be platforms for fast economic growth and social progress. The central existential problem for each of these cities is that having been designed by autocrats, they move far and fast before their success leads to civil unrest. Smart, affluent people want to be free. So what then? Can you keep the autocratic rules in place while allowing individuals the freedom to keep innovating and progressing? This internal tussle leads to the strange new forms we see in each of the cities Brook describes; huge social inequality in Mumbai; this tension between European freedoms and civilization and Putin’s controlling new Russia in St. Petersburg; Dubai’s place as the capitalist hub of the Middle East, and yet a place where debtors are still thrown into jail; Shanghai’s fraught position as the advance post of Chinese capitalism, roaring away economically while civic tensions begin to rise.
What’s indisputable is that studying how cities function is inextricable from the modern study of entrepreneurship. If we’re going to understand the role of entrepreneurs in a modern economy, which is what I try to do at the Kauffman Foundation, we have to understand their relationship to cities. The networks cities allow, the social freedoms, the range of economic opportunities, the possibility of scale. This is the new territory for entrepreneurial study.