Is Shenzhen the new Bangalore? Well, it certainly seems to be marketing itself that way. In a seminar that the City of Shenzhen conducted in New York recently, a gaggle of mandarins and ministers promoted Shenzhen as China’s BPO centre.
Bangalore, they said, wasn’t the “world’s exclusive destination for outsourcing services”. China was rapidly improving its abilities to host such services and technologies. The visiting Indian delegation was giddy with delight. Finally, there was one area where China was racing to catch up with India and, of all places, Bangalore.
The problem is that Bangalore is also repositioning itself… as the new Belgaum. H.D. Kumaraswamy’s government wants to ban English in primary schools, establish job quotas for Kannadigas at multinationals and interrupt commerce with weekly bandhs against the Cauvery Water Tribunal’s verdict. Shenzhen presumably doesn’t realize how far it has to go to match this BPO hub.
In this increasingly globalized world that we live in, more and more cities seem to be beset with identity crises. The proverbial grass always seems greener across the Channel. Frankfurt wants to be the next London—it is desperately attempting to position itself as Europe’s financial hub; a Frankfurt-on-the-Thames if you will. Dubai, rather humbly, wants to be the next “World”, selling man-made islands off the Persian Gulf boasting such staggeringly inappropriate names as Greenland. A piece of this man-made World starts at a cool $11 million (Rs48.4 crore). There are 300 on offer and Greenland is taken. It isn’t much of a stretch to imagine Hugh Hefner cavorting with wife number 4 amidst puffins on his own private Greenland, located bang (literally and figuratively) in the middle of the Persian Gulf.
Frankfurt and Dubai are not alone. A couple of years ago, Osaka tried to shake off its industrial past as Japan’s second city and transform itself from being just a textile town. City planners toured the world for ideas and decided to make Osaka a “digital city”. They planned a futuristic community designed by native son, Tadao Ando, where Osakans could live and work together. There was the nagging problem of ugly waterways. Ando’s solution: to fill them with flowers. The flowers wilted in Osaka’s withering summer heat and stunk to high heaven. The city planners have gone on another world tour for more ideas.
Baltimore, too, is beset with image problems. The government paid a private firm half-a-million dollars to figure out how to shake off its image as the heroin and murder capital of America. The city tried various names and slogans, such as ‘Charm City’, ‘The City that Reads’, and ‘The Greatest City in America’. Having no basis in reality, the slogans naturally didn’t stick. The city has given the private firm six months to come up with a complete image makeover.
Hyattsville, too, is seeking to reinvent itself. Where is Hyattsville, you might ask? That’s the problem. It is in Maryland and they’ve spent four years trying to rebrand themselves. The slogan that they came up with at the end was “Washington’s Newest Oldest Town”. What is that, you might ask? My point exactly.
Singapore is the latest city to be engaged in the rather herculean exercise of trying a complete image makeover. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told Singaporeans that he was tired of being seen as a staid and efficient island-state. He wanted Singapore to become more edgy, more seedy if you will. To that end, the Crazy Horse cabaret was imported from Paris and Las Vegas Sands is building a casino on the waterfront. Crazy Horse closed within a few months, but the casino-building continues.
In India, Hyderabad wants to become Cyberabad with a soul; Chennai’s government wants to be resolutely Dravidian, but attract multinationals by portraying a Dravidian Lite image, if you will; and Mumbai wants to be the new Shanghai, which prompted a Delhiite to retort “why is Mumbai trying to be like Shanghai? Let it become Delhi first”. Delhi, for once in its life, is content. If anything, it is aspiring to be Kolkata, i.e. project its sensitive intellectual side.
As for Bengaluru, I just wish it would be the old Bangalore again… where the grass was truly green.
If Shenzhen becomes the new Bangalore, Shoba Narayan will move to Shenzhen. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org