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Perhaps more than any other city in China, the capital is also a place where only a minority of residents enjoy full economic and social rights. To prevent the traffic from breaking down completely, the government heavily restricted the right to buy cars last year. To rein in galloping property prices, authorities also heavily restricted the right to buy houses earlier this year. To limit migration, the government is forcing thousands of children into separation from their parents – during the summer holidays, it razed 30 schools for migrant worker children, who had no option but to return to their native villages.
New Geography’s photo essay from Inner China includes a picture of this man who may or may not know that his desert convenience outfit would make him an East London/Williamsburg hipster fashion icon.
I’ve been thinking about community boosterism for some time without formulating anything, until today when an Urbanophile rerun of an old Rust Wire post (more about the debate that this post sparked over at Burgh Diaspora) prompted me to scribble something down.
There are basically two kinds of boosterism, one good and one bad.
The flawed form of chest-thumping could be dubbed the Tea Party howl and means that you should hold all your criticisms to yourself since saying that something is bad when it’s bad is unpatriotic. To claim that the US health care system is in a massive need of an overhaul, that Cleveland has some serious problems with poverty and social exclusion or that Hammarby soccer club in south Stockholm hasn’t won anything since the game was invented means that you are degrading your country, city or neighborhood and making it look bad to the world, followed by a long list of negative consequences. Never mind that you just pointed out something that was failing to start with.
The winning type boosterism, on the other hand, is a kind of community spirit that enables people who feel strongly for their country, city or neighborhood to come together and deal with problems in dire need of being dealt with. This could be called the Korean version of embracing your own greatness. South Korea is a seriously patriotic nation, but unlike the Tea Party howl where patriotism is used to ignore mounting problems, civic pride was here used in very productive ways.
Starting in the early 1960s, the Korean government, under the leadership of Park Chung-hee, decided that the political infighting and corruption that had followed the Korean War had to stop and that South Korea – within 10 years – would mobilize its human resources (since the country didn’t really have any other resources to begin with) and go from being one of the world’s poorest nation to becoming an industrial powerhouse.
The following decades saw an explosion of economic activity and wealth creation. South Korea averaged 9 % GDP growth per year – for almost four decades – and went from exporting wigs to everything from steel, ships, cars and phones to movies and fashion. This is not to say that Korea didn’t fail sometimes as well, the line between negative and positive boosterism is a fine one, but the country was by and large incredibly successful.
As was Singapore when it transformed itself from a mosquito-infested swamp town to a world class business center. No one could have said that what Lee Kuan Yew saw when he looked out through his window in 1965 was awesome, which is why he didn’t focus his boosterism on Singapore’s status quo either, but on its can-do spirit and mind-boggling ambition.
And I guess that’s the bottom line. Boosterism is a force for good when it’s used to boost a city’s aspiration and drive to become something else, something better. When it convinces people that they can go from wigs to steel, or fishing to banking, or post-industrial decay to regional leadership if they just put their minds to it and work very, very hard.