Connectography by Parag Khanna
Connectography is not a light summer read for the beach. This book is packed full of insights and ideas for a global economy founded on a priority to expand infrastructure. There are two main takeaways: we need better investment in infrastructure-both hard and soft- and a greater emphasis on mapping. Within this book, there are 38 different maps. They range from geological information to identifying economic paths. One in particular skews the continents to demonstrate Asia as the "epicenter of potential climate-related disasters." Maps showing global trade and supply chains can get rather confusing with all the webs of connectivity, further driving home that we live in a connected world.
The idea that the world is trending away from a series of individual governments to a seamless supply chain is interesting. The author argues that cities are becoming more important than states and countries. He cites Joel Kotkin who said the US isn't 50 states, but seven distinct nations-San Francisco, Dallas, Houston, Chicago, Washington, Denver, and Atlanta. Major cities like these are leveraging foreign investment to connect their supply chains in order to stay competitive and thrive. The top down flow of federal government, state government, and lastly city government is becoming antiquated.
The supply chain is the most valuable asset to cities. Commerce creates jobs and supplies government with spending power. Many towns have been recreated by changing their supply chain focus. It is important to keep in mind the authors caution on the tug-of-war that exists among the system. When you pull in one direction, it shifts in another. His caution is demonstrated in the idea of pulling all manufacturing jobs out of China, back to America. If we do this we could weaken the Chinese economy and limit their spending capacity and thus spike interest rates back in America.
It is true that America’s manufacturing output is declining. Our share of the GDP has fallen below twelve percent. “For every job created through near-shoring, a greater number continue to be outsourced.” We can try to blame this solely on private companies trying to reduce profit margins, however city planners are also contributing to this outsourcing trend. Cities are rezoning large swathes of industrial land to commercial and mixed use purposes. We do not want to see heavy manufacturing in our pristine cities and when given the chance, move them out.
Another interesting point the author makes in regards to the supply chain is that we compete not over land, but resources. Countries are jockeying to be top producers and gain access to each others resources and markets. He says "supply chains thus diminish the incentives for conflict, while decoupling from them raises the potential for antagonism to escalate." Supply chains have the ability to reduce conflict, however competition over resources could create the same antagonism.
The book wraps up with a discussion on how the internet has changed our global connectivity. “Internet has more netizens than any country has citizen and more participants than any religion has believers.” We are all connected by an unregulated virtual world more so than our own governments. Planners need to leverage this connectivity to engage citizens and design better cities for them.
The author warns that “as the balance shifts between importance of the physical and the virtual where, government monopoly on media, narrative and identity is disappearing forever.” Citizens today get instant access to any information they desire. As planners we cannot hide behind the bureaucratic system any longer. We need to give constant updates through social media platforms, provide access to information, and streamline approval processes. It is what our netizens expect.
One last thought generated by Connectography: if political boundaries are slowly being overrun by the global economy and supply chain, how do we as planners continue to operate in this new environment? I believe this is leading to more interactions with adjacent communities, planning together rather than against one another. We constantly compete for resources and funding, but we could achieve more by teaming together.