Published on Sustainable Cities

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang — Call Me Maybe

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Chitty Chitty Bang Bang movie posterWow, Carly Rae Jepsen is Canadian. I had no idea. Ya, ya, my daughters are quick to remind me that I’m not the most up-to-date pop-culture aficionado, but I learned the other night on ABC news that Jepsen is Canadian. And that her catchy, upbeat song — Call Me Maybe — seems to be sticking like bubble gum in everyone’s mind these last few weeks. ABC News nominated her as ‘entertainer of the week’.

Welcoming foreigners and foreign influences into your home (even if they are Canadian) is never easy. For example, the same ABC newscast was aghast about how this year’s US Olympic uniforms are made in China. About a half-dozen US companies were surveyed, and of course all agreed they could quickly make the uniforms in time for the Olympics. None mentioned, however, that they would likely be more expensive than making them in China.

These two opposing reactions — who cares where she’s from if the tune is catchy versus how much more will I pay to have it made at home — drive much of this country’s success, as it does for most affluent countries and cities.

How cities welcome foreigners, and how they use foreign countries, are increasingly defining their futures. This is always a difficult balance, and it’s even more visceral at the city level than nationally.  Most people here in Washington, DC will continue to hum Call Me Maybe for a while yet, until the next song comes along. Much of the indignation about a ‘made in China’ Olympic uniform will be forgotten when the ‘made at home’ bill is presented or when China buys a few more ‘made in the USA’ Boeing planes.

Trade is what defines a city, but it’s not just trade of goods. It’s also trade of ideas, culture, aspirations that make a really good city a place that welcomes everyone, not just people we agree with. In the really good cities, life is never dull, and there’s always a flow between pragmatism and progress; whose song tops the charts, who pays, and how much.

Only through cities can Justin Bieber — another syrupy Canadian — tweet to his 18 million followers, “Call me maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen is possibly the catchiest song I've ever heard lol,” and create an instant singing phenomenon. Just six months later Carly Rae Jepsen has sold more than 4.5 million copies and has the President of the US and the Cookie Monster on video singing her song. And no one cares where her clothes are made — for now.

For years when I was a kid, I had the theme song from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang bouncing around in my head. I had no idea that Dick Van Dyke was American or that Hollywood was in another country. The tune varies, but the steps are well known. Enjoy the dance.


Dan Hoornweg

Professor and Jeff Boyce Research Chair, University of Ontario Institute of Technology

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