Attention booklovers: Tokyo and Paris are your cities

The World Cities Cultural Report reports that Tokyo has a staggering number of bookstores while Paris made it to number one for the most libraries.

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    Tokyo has 1,675 bookstores, according to the World Cities Culture Report.
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Pack your bags, book lovers, and start practicing your Japanese. If bookstores make your heart sing, then Tokyo is your city.

That’s right, Tokyo has 1,675 bookstores, the most of 12 countries examined in a new study comparing cultural life in top cities across the world. (If it’s libraries you’re after, then Paris is your pick, with 830 libraries – compare that to New York’s 220.)

The World Cities Cultural Report, released this week, examines the cultural offerings of 12 major world cities. The study uses more than 60 measures of cultural activity – think number of museums, number of international tourists, cinema ticket sales, percent of public green space, and number of UNESCO World heritage sites – to highlight each city’s strengths and weaknesses.

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The quick and dirty? If it's live music you’re after, rock on in Paris. Live theater? Broadway, baby (that’d be New York). Laugh it up in London, the city with the most comedy shows. Istanbul’s the spot for history buffs, but if you want green space, try Singapore. Gallery-goers will adore Shanghai, which has the most national museums. Gourmands and gamers will love Tokyo, the city with the most restaurants – and video game arcades. And if you’re looking to dance the night away, practice your samba and head south to Sao Paulo.

We honed in on the category of literary culture, where we found plenty of encouraging news. Half of the 12 cities examined have 200 or more libraries, the study found, with Paris reporting the highest number (we’re envisioning a new tour theme – Paris by library, anyone?). As for bookstores, despite our bricks-and-mortar woes here in the States, bookstores seem to be thriving in world cities: London has 800, Sao Paulo has 870, Johannesburg has more than 1,000 and Shanghai has a whopping 1,322.

Of course, the study is about more than raw numbers and ranking cities. It suggests that culture is as important to the well-being of a city as finance or trade. “Culture in all its diverse forms is central to what makes a city appealing to educated people and hence to businesses which seek to employ them,” the report states.

“World cities are international hubs for commerce and trade, but as this groundbreaking report makes clear, they are powerhouses for culture too,” said Mayor of London Boris Johnson, who commissioned the report, as reported by the Guardian. “In London the creative industries alone contribute £19 billion to our economy and employ 386,000 people. In coming together as city leaders and policymakers we want to harness the full potential of culture, which makes our cities exciting and desirable places to live in and visit, but also makes a massive contribution to wider social and economic goals.”

In this age of intense focus on economic indicators, GDPs, and to-the-minute tracking of world markets, we applaud this study, which reminds us that our cities wouldn’t be what they are without their cultural institutions. As important as global trade and finance are for world cities, it is culture that enriches, enlightens, and shapes identity of a city.

Cultural elements shape a city, whether “its record shops, its large and small music venues, its libraries and book shops, its museums and galleries, its parks and open spaces, football clubs and cricket grounds, students and cafes,” write the report’s authors.

Think of it this way – what would New York be without Broadway?

“Culture is an under-researched and poorly understood factor in the social and economic success of world cities,” said Paul Owens, of BOP Consulting, who led the research team, according to the Guardian. “The World Cities Culture Report is the most comprehensive comparative study of its kind – a rich source of data and intelligence with the latest and best policy thinking about culture from across the globe. It will be a hugely valuable tool to policymakers as they devise future strategies for development and investment.”

As for us, we’re brushing up our Wu Chinese. Shanghai’s bookstores are calling.

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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