Summary of “What Makes a Great City Great” by H. V. Savitch
In “What Makes a Great City Great,” H. V. Savitch argues that city greatness could be assessed by reference to four distinctive sets of criteria. By examining four major American cities (New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago) in terms of currency, cosmopolitanism, concentration and charisma (the 4Cs), he claims that it is the cumulative impact of those attributes that renders a city great. His paper is designed as a response to the ambiguity created by previous scholarly articles on the matter and aims to provide a critical examination of the factors beyond economic power that contribute to city greatness.
The next part of the essay deals with the application of the 4Cs to the cities of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco. In a systematic manner the author introduces evidence which supports the attribution of currency, cosmopolitanism, concentration and charisma to the four cities which were considered as the most prominent in America according to supporting surveys. In regard to currency, Savitch refers to New York’s financial power, Los Angeles’s prominence in media production and the fashion industry, San Francisco’s ties with the high-tech industry because of the proximity of the Silicon Valley, and Chicago’s ability to fill a variety of niches and attract major corporations. The cosmopolitanism of those cities is exemplified by unprecedented number of migrants from all around the world in New York, the influxes of migrants from other parts of the USA to Los Angeles, San Francisco’s eccentricity and pluralism and Chicago’s young and well educated generation of people from its ethnic neighborhoods coupled with migrants from other parts of the States. The attributes of concentration are demonstrated by the high levels of population density and the advanced transportation infrastructures of New York, San Francisco and Chicago. The author highlights Los Angeles’s weaknesses in this matter by referring to its low demographic density and the separation of residential areas from recreational facilities or shopping regions. As regards the element of charisma, Savitch refers to New York city image and the implications of its nickname “The Big Apple”, Chicago’s identity as prominent corporate center offering many opportunities, San Francisco’s Victorian housing and cultural diversity that give it a “romantic” image and Los Angeles’s appeal because of its busy lifestyle and many opportunities for adventure. The author provides quantifiable data to assess different elements of the four attributes.
After this analysis, the author provides several conclusions. First, he observes that a smaller city will have difficulties in establishing itself as a great city mainly in terms of economic power (currency). Then, taking Chicago as an example, Savitch demonstrates how a city which does not hold the top position in any attribute can still be considered great if it maintains a relatively high ranking in many of the characteristics of the 4Cs. The author goes on to explain the controversy of whether Los Angeles’s post-modern setting will contribute to its greatness, or the opposite, while refraining from taking a position on the matter. He concludes by suggesting that it is not always good for a city to aspire to greatness, but that it should just aim to realize its potential.
"Global Cities Index 2010." Foreign Policy. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Feb. 2014.
Savitch, H.V. "What makes a great city great? An American perspective." Cities - The International Journal of Urban Policy and Planning. 27.1 (2010): 42-49. Web. 02 Feb. 2014.