What makes a city stand out? Is it food, architecture, or an awesome music scene?

At the Diplomatic Courier, we know how difficult it is to narrow down a large, bustling metropolis to one or two characteristics, and so we asked for our readers’ input. We chose 30 cities in five different categories, and asked for votes on our Facebook page and through Twitter using hashtag #VoteForYourCity in a contest that reached nearly 90,000 people around the world.

Which is the top city in public transportation? Which is the best city to get an education? Each city has a story to tell, and the cities that made it into our list are your choices for the top city in each category.


Top Architecture City: Singapore

Singapore, the world’s only island city-state and its fourth largest financial center, is home to some of the most innovative—and luxurious—architecture of the modern age. Since the 1990s, city planners have worked to bring unique architectural designs to the city in an effort to distinguish Singapore’s skyline, and in the process, the city has become an incubator for innovation in architecture, including hosting the World Architecture Festival each October. But features such as the swimming pool at Marina Bay Sands Resorts floating 650 feet above the ground is not all Singapore should be famous for.

Singapore has also become a world leader in sustainability and “smart city” developments. Named by Siemens’ 2011 “Asian Green City Index” as Asia’s Greenest City, Singapore’s skyline features beautifully designed buildings with rooftop gardens. The Parkroyal Hotel hosts nearly 15,000 square meters of lush gardens across several levels, all maintained by recovered rainwater.


Top Culinary City: Istanbul, Turkey


Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “If the earth were a single state, Istanbul would be its capital.” Located at the crossroads of three continents and multiple cultures, Turkey’s culinary heritage shows the paths of history through the region. In particular, Istanbul's own culinary heritage inherits many elements of Ottoman court cuisine, with a lighter use of spices, a preference for rice over bulgur, and a wider use of seafood. The Bosphorus, the Sea of Marmara, the Black Sea, and the Aegean are all within a day’s drive of Istanbul, making Kumkapi—a district of fish restaurants—one of the finest places for seafood in the world.

Although it incorporates traditions from the Middle East, Europe, and Central Asia, Istanbul blends eastern and western traditions into its own unique cuisine. And there is no shortage of places to find food. Istanbul's famous dishes—featuring beyti kebab, kadınbudu köfte, and baklava—are offered in cafes and meyhanes, fine dining restaurants and street vendors.


Top Musical City: TIE
Lagos, Nigeria


Lagos, estimated to become home to 24 million people by 2015, is a study in contradictions—resource rich, but impoverished; commercial, but with an uncertain power grid; on the move, yet snarled in poor traffic infrastructure. As it did in the United States, this life of contradictions and contrasts has given birth to Nigeria’s own iteration of hip-hop and rap—and the genre’s success and innovation is reaching into nightclubs everywhere from Nairobi to New York City. As Lagos breaks a path for African music to reach a global market, the variety of musical styles that can be found in the city today include not only Nigerian hip hop, but also highlife, juju, fuji, and Afrobeat.


Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur is rarely recognized as a global music powerhouse, but it is poised to become the next big thing in Asian pop music. Described as having a plethora of "local talent [that] sounds like the pop stars of tomorrow" and by Travel+Leisure as having a “steadily percolating” independent music scene, Kuala Lumpur’s nightlife is dominated by a diverse and talented crowd hungry for live music. As the independent music scene in the city seeks to emerge from its years of being underground in the 1980s and 1990s, it will need to deal with divides such as ethnicity and language heralding from Malaysia’s diverse demographics.


Top Education City: Toronto, Canada


Toronto, where nearly 30 percent of the population holds a university degree, is a center for education in Canada. Among Toronto’s cluster of post-secondary school options, the University of Toronto is ranked within the Top 20 world universities (alongside top U.S. and Asian schools). This focus on education, combined with a strong financial center and a push for greater technology access and innovation in the city, has landed Toronto as one the seven top Intelligent Communities of 2013, as well as 6th among global metropolitan areas in a global competitiveness survey.


Top Public Transportation City: Tokyo, Japan


To get around Tokyo, you will first be pointed towards Tokyo’s extensive public rail system—and a map of the system may just make your head spin. Public transportation network within Greater Tokyo is dominated by one of the world's most extensive urban rail networks. On any given day, nearly 40 million passengers use Tokyo’s rail systems, with an average density of 6 million people per line mile per year. To put this in perspective, the entire country of Germany, with the highest railway use in Europe, has 10 million daily train riders. Shinjuku Station alone is estimated have a daily passenger throughput of 3.64 million people, a number that officially cements the station as the busiest in the world with the Guinness Book of World Records.

But publicly run transportation is hardly the only option one has for getting around Tokyo, as the comprehensive transportation network also includes private rail, buses, motorcycle delivery services, and bicycling areas.

This article was originally published in the Diplomatic Courier's November/December 2013 print edition.

But it’s difficult to think about value when we have no buoy for understanding it outside our traditional lenses: for example, our time, our job, and what others tell us they are worth in cash. This, largely, is the world’s paradigm for value so far. But understanding what value really means changes everything—and will be at the center of the decentralized revolution in global coordination that will unfold over the next decade. So, where do we begin?

Let’s start with gold.

Gold is an inherent value. When backing a market, gold allows us to grow a balanced economy well into the trillions. But why does it allow for massive stable markets to form around it? It is gold's permanence that creates stability. We understand that gold will always have value, because it is inherent in all of us, not just in one part of the world, but everywhere, not just today, but tomorrow and for the long haul.

In the 1930s when the gold standard was removed, we learned that the U.S. dollar didn’t need gold to back its economy to flourish. We learned that it was just a symbol for U.S. citizens to decentralize their coordination around the United States economy.

It turns out, common agreement is a philosophy for building shared economy.

And so it seems inherent value is a marker for us to begin exploring what the future could look like—a future beyond gold and the existing realm of credit. And so what else has inherent value? Is education as valuable as gold? What about healthcare? What about a vote that can’t be tampered with? What about an ID that can’t be stolen or erased? What about access to nutrition or clean water? You will find value everywhere you look.

It turns out, we’ve already done the legwork necessary to uncover the most elemental inherent values: The Sustainable Development Goals are commitments grown out of the drive to bring to life basic tenets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—the closest possible social contract we have to a global, common agreement.

We’ve already agreed, as a global community, to ensure inclusive and equitable access to quality education. We’ve already agreed to empower all women and girls, to ensure pure and clean water access for all, to promote health at all stages of life, and to end hunger.

We’ve already agreed.

Our agreements are grounded in deep value centers that are globally shared, but undervalued and unfulfilled. The reason for this is our inability to quantify intangible value. All of these rich, inherent values are still nebulous and fragmented in implementation—largely existing as ideals and blueprints for deep, globally shared common agreement. That is, we all agree education, health, and equality have value, but we lack common units for understanding who and who is not contributing value—leaving us to fumble in our own, uncoordinated siloes as we chase the phantoms of impact. In essence, we lack common currencies for our common agreements.

Now we find ourselves at the nexus of the real paradigm of Blockchain, allowing us to fuse economics with inherent value by proving the participation of some great human effort, then quantifying the impact of that effort in unforgeable and decentralized ledgers. It allows us to build economic models for tomorrow, that create wholly new markets and economies for and around each of the richest of human endeavors.

In late 2017 at the height of the Bitcoin bubble, without individual coordination, planning, or the help of institutions, almost $1 trillion was infused into blockchain markets. This is remarkable, and the revolution has only just begun. When you realize that Blockchain is in a similar stage of development as the internet pre-AOL, you will see a glimpse of the global transformation to come.

Only twice in the information age have we had such a paradigm shift in global infrastructure reform—the computer and the internet. While the computer taught us how to store and process data, the Internet built off that ability and furthered the conversation by teaching us how to transfer that information. Blockchain takes another massive step forward—it builds off the internet, adding to the story of information storage and transfer—but, it teaches us a new, priceless and not yet understood skill: how to transfer value.

This third wave kicked off with a rough start—as happens with the birth of new technologies and their corresponding liberties. Blockchain has, thus far, been totally unregulated. Many, doubtless, have taken advantage. A young child, stretching their arms for the first couple times might knock over a cookie jar or two. Eventually, however, they learn to use their faculties—for evil or for good. As such, while it’s wise to be skeptical at this phase in blockchain’s evolution, it’s important not to be blind to its remarkable implications in a post-regulated world, so that we may wield its faculties like a surgeon’s scalpel—not for evil or snake-oil sales, but for the creation of more good, for the flourishing of commonwealth.

But what of the volatility in blockchain markets? People agree Bitcoin has value, but they don’t understand why they are in agreement, and so cryptomarkets fluctuate violently.  Stable blockchain economies will require new symbolic gold standards that clearly articulate why someone would agree to support each market, to anchor common agreement with stability. The more globally shared these new value standards, the better.

Is education more valuable than gold? What about healthcare or nutrition or clean water?

We set out in 2018 to prove a hypothesis—we believe that if you back a cryptocurrency economy with a globally agreed upon inherent value like education, you can solve for volatility and stabilize a mature long lasting cryptomarket that awards everyone who adds value to that market in a decentralized way without the friction of individual partnerships.

What if education was a new gold standard?

And what if this new Learning Economy had protocols to award everyone who is helping to steward the growth of global education?

Education is a mountain. Everyone takes a different path to the top. Blockchain allows us to measure all of those unique learning pathways, online and in classrooms, into immutable blockchain Learning Ledgers.

By quantifying the true value of education, a whole economy can be built around it to pay students to learn, educators to create substantive courses, and stewards to help the Learning Economy grow. It was designed to provide a decentralized way for everyone adding value to global education to coordinate around the commonwealth without the friction of individual partnerships. Imagine the same for healthcare, nutrition, and our environment?

Imagine a world where we can pay refugees to learn languages as they find themselves in foreign lands, a world where we can pay those laid off by the tide of automation to retrain themselves for the new economy, a world where we can pay the next generation to prepare themselves for the unsolved problems of tomorrow.

Imagine new commonwealth economies that alleviate the global burdens of poverty, disease, hunger, inequality, ignorance, toxic water, and joblessness. Commonwealths that orbit inherent values, upheld by immutable blockchain protocols that reward anyone in the ecosystem stewarding the economy—whether that means feeding the hungry, providing aid for the global poor, delivering mosquito nets in malaria-ridden areas, or developing transformative technologies that can provide a Harvard-class education to anyone in the world willing to learn.

These worlds are not out of reach—we are only now opening our eyes to the horizons of blockchain, decentralized coordination, and new gold standards. Even though coordination is the last of the seventeen sustainable development goals, when solved, its tide will lift for the rest—a much-needed rocket fuel for global prosperity.

“Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair.”  —George Washington
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.