Beyond the maximum: cities may be booming, but who’s invited to the party?

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Beyond the maximum: cities may be booming, but who's invited to the party?

New York, like Rio, like Mumbai, seems to be flourishing – but who exactly is it going well for? To build a great city, a just city, we have to look at who’s included and who’s excluded

I’ve been spending a lot of time in New York’s Coney Island, because it’s the capital of fun, the people’s playground. If you sit on the Boardwalk in Coney Island and watch the everyday carnival of all the races of the earth strolling together without knowing much about each other – the hipsters in leather, the Bangladeshis in hijab, the Russians in bikinis – then you realise the great secret about why Coney Island works. It’s not that everyone is included. It’s that no-one is excluded. It’s not that you’ll get invited to every party on the beach. It’s that somewhere on the beach, there’s a party you can go to.

New York, like Rio, like Mumbai, is booming. Things seem to be going well for these cities. But who exactly is it going well for? To build a great city, a just city, we have to look at who’s included and who’s excluded. Then we should follow three principles: don’t exclude anybody from the law. Don’t exclude anybody from the conversation. And don’t exclude anybody from the celebration.

There’s a store near where I live in New York, in Soho, where you can buy a Swedish bed made of horsehair for $135,000 (not including delivery). It’s called the Vividus, and it comes with two metal plates affixed to the mattress, in your choice of nickel or brass, inscribed with your name and your bedmate’s name – so that, if you stumble home drunk, you can look to see which side of the bed you’re supposed to be sleeping, like a place setting at a dinner party, and who you’re supposed to be sleeping with.

Fifteen minutes walk from this store, I can take you to a tenement in Chinatown where you rent not an apartment, not a room in the apartment, not a bed in the room in the apartment, but an eight-hour shift on the mattress in the room in the apartment, for $200 a month. It’s called a “hot bed”, because the bed is never cold; when you wake up, there’s always someone else standing over you waiting to come home. What does it mean for a city in which people sleep in such radically different beds? It means Bill de Blasio gets elected mayor of New York in 2014, with his powerful message of two cities. […]

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