Pfiat di Minga Superstar? Why cities survive or sink

In recent decades, cities have become centres of different industries, partly due to globalization, the availability of labor, and political incentives. Not only the global icons such as the San Francisco metropolitan area for the tech industry or Hong Kong as the center of the Asian financial industry, but they have to realize that the meteoric rise to superstar city can come to an abrupt end. The digitalization push, massively strengthened and accelerated by the pandemic, is melting away safely believed locational advantages. Are we now witnessing the collapse of urban heavyweights and the rise of new centres? And what is the forecast for Munich?

Although the circumstances in Hong Kong were exceptional as a result of the transition to China, the resulting consequence of the city’s importance as Asia’s most important financial location is drastic. The island and city-state of Singapore has outperformed Hong Kong. For San Francisco or Los Angeles, too, the signs are for change. The long rise to the undisputed hotspots for the tech industry on the one hand, and the music industry on the other, seems to have reached the limit. Exorbitant rents and real estate prices, a cumbersome California administration with a sometimes bizarre tax system, massive environmental problems caused by climate-related forest fires, and severe water shortages, and homogenized urban societies have turned longings into daunting examples of overheated metropolises. The caravan moves further into the next habitat in search of quality of life, space, safety and economic development potential. From San Francisco to Austin, from LA to Nashville, from Hong Kong to Singapore. From Munich to…

Is the Superstar Cities about to change?

The Corona pandemic, in conjunction with the digitization of working and life models, acts like a particle accelerator. So far, urban economic centers have cemented their status quo by keeping skilled workers loyal to the metropolises. But through ‘New Work’, i.e. the work independent of the location, this competitive advantage is suddenly eliminated. New locations will attract the thought leaders and set a trend that will be reinforced in the future by the relocation of prestigious corporate headquarters. Are we witnessing the beginning of the end of the ‘Superstar Cities’? This is what the McKinsey Global Institute calls the 50 cities that are leaders in their economic performance. Munich, mia san mia, is of course there.


Sprechblase mit Texxt

The list of harbingers of urban descent may seem a bit far-fetched, so a look at literature helps to classify. In his book ‘Collapse’, Jared Diamond vividly reminds us why historical societies have risen or disappeared so quickly over the past 13,000 years. The main reasons for the collapse of civilizations were man-made environmental damage, climate fluctuations, war, the loss of trading partners, and a false reaction of society to change. It was shown that the interaction of the environment and human activity plays the decisive role for collapse or survival.

The view to Munich: Was it with the time of flowering?

If we transfer this analysis to urban centers of today, we can draw astonishing parallels. From this, local politics could derive important insights for future-oriented urban development. When looking at Munich, this mindfulness would also be advisable. You might think that everything is in butter on the Bavarian central floe. But here, too, important factors suggest that early and bold political countermeasures would be appropriate across the metropolitan area.

For example, Munich is now in first place in the Global Real Estate Bubble Index 2020, which assesses the risk of a real estate bubble. The extreme prices on the real estate market do not lead to a two-tier society alone, but decisively and in the long term. Some can afford it, others can’t. The middle structure of society is migrating. Among them are the creatives, the unadapted, those who are not committed to their own prosperity in a streamlined manner. The result is a monotonous urban society of the better-off and their service pool of cleaning aids, parcel and food messengers. The city becomes an antidiverse place and dries out, it loses its attractiveness, attitude to life and ultimately in value. Pfiat di Superstar.

Exaggerated? Well, with six DAX companies, most blue chip companies already operate in Munich and the surrounding area in Germany. Added to this is the trend of US tech giants to massively expand the Munich location. Google, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft create thousands of jobs. “It is a development that causes unease in parts of the Population of Munich, because it means that thousands more well-off to top earners will come to the city and seek housing,” the SZ wrote in mid-September 2020. And our Lord Mayor? He appeals, quite toothless, to the companies to build factory apartments to compensate.

What kind of city do we want to live in in the future?

This despondency at the top of the city, which for many years has carried away the important urban transformation with little courage and even fewer ideas, is becoming a killer of the future. A vision, perhaps even a concrete idea of what kind of city Munich should be in the future? Misreporting. The PopUp-Radlweg is dismantled before the bicycle traffic has found it, tentatively extended millimetre by millimetre pedestrian zone in the old town. And then comes the pandemic boom of online mail order and gives the Munich consumer mile between tal and Stachus the rest. There will be no trace of individuality, if at all, the very large chains. Worse still, there has been a lack of concepts for years on how the city centre can be a (sustainable) place with a quality of stay and experience, rather than a backdrop of dumplings, crust and consumption for the global tourism industry.

Following the theory of long waves, if one shows how large the time spans for fundamental development processes and so-called basic innovations are, then it becomes clear how fundamental the ability of the anticipation of political decision-makers is. This is a characteristic that Munich’s urban politics have been missing out on for decades. Only those who are able to anticipate cycles and are able to use their dynamism for progressive urban development will ride the next wave. In Munich, one gets the impression that the political establishment is surfing contentedly on the Eisbach wave, which never seems to be going on.

Instead of making the whole city a real laboratory, trying out new things, finding answers to the question of what Munich should be for a place in 20 years’ time, we prefer to bask in the splendour of the old days. But the achievements are far behind, as the exemplary view of the transport system shows. Olympia 1972 was the initial ignition for a public transport network, which was considerable at the time and is now too small. The expansion of public transport has not been able to keep up with the population growth of the metropolitan area for decades. But one prefers to praise the thriving airport with Bimmelbahn connection, build car parks and ring tunnels and forget that the excesses of unbridled individual mobility will soon mean that the remaining Bavarian glaciers will soon no longer have the area of 50 hectares, and thus those of the Munich Oktoberfest. Climate change, was there something? It is precisely in the development of a modern mobility strategy that the complete failure of forward-looking local politics is reflected. Too timid, too unambitious. A public transport at its borders, every kilometre of tram network an eternal debate. As a result, the three-and-a-half days of traffic jams in Munich are also part of the problem.

After all, who wants to live in a city where you don’t come from the spot, which is just a shell without cultural depth, in a city that dribbles timidity and uniformity out of every pore? Nobody. So let us not deceive ourselves, the recent heyday of Munich is not securitised, but must be preserved every day through all our intervention. We are at the fork of a significant upheaval in the process of transforming it from many San Francisco’s future Austins. Munich, what can it be?


Sources: Collapse, Jared Diamond; McKinsey Global Institute,,Süddeutsche Zeitung, Impulse by Rauno Andreas Fuchs

Martin Betzold is Brand Manager of Green City AG. His column “This is how it looks!” deals with socio-political issues in the context of the energy andtransport change and the associated changes.

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