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March 9, 2023 Newsletter

Is Milan the new New York? Possibly, in scale and enhanced.

In the 1600s the Dutch settlers established New Amsterdam – now New York. The hills once known as New Netherland – the short-lived, 17th-Century Dutch colony in North America – now are part of the US states of New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Connecticut. In 1664 the Brits arrived by ship in New Amsterdam, asked to surrender New Netherland and, without firing a shot, England re-christened the land in the name of the Duke of York.

New Yorkers have inherited that aggressive and commerce-oriented spirit that drove the original settlers. Fast-forward some centuries and, despite economic ups and downs, the island of Manhattan, 59 square kilometers, is considered to be one of the world’s capitals. It is the most densely populated and geographically smallest of the five boroughs of New York City. With a population of 1.6 million, with a work force – pre-Covid— in day time of over 3 million, in 2021 the GDP of the New York metro area amounted to US$ 1.59 trillion. Manhattan is where finance, health care and life sciences, high technology and biotechnology, media, real estate, and insurance behemoths are headquartered.

New Manhattan on the canals

Milan was host of Expo 2015, the world exposition, whose theme was "Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life", encompassing technology, innovation, culture, traditions and creativity and how they relate to food and diet. Typically, these exhibitions do not generate sustained economic growth. Milan, to the contrary, managed to make it a long-term GDP multiplier. According to Bocconi University, it generated economic benefits of US$ 32 billion for Italy and of US$ 17 billion for Milan. Expo cost was US$ 2.5 billion.

Milan was founded in 590 B.C. by the Celtics and then ruled by the Romans that called it Mediolanum, a location “in the middle of the plain”. During the Roman imperial age, Milan grew in importance and has continued to be a star of the Padania Plain forging a special trait, “meneghino”, focused on work, honesty, sincerity and a strong sense of justice. Milan has always been more attentive to Northern European trends than to the South of the Peninsula. Though observant Catholics, Milanese embraced the protestant ethics of doing business becoming the role model of the Lombardy region.

Fast-forward and, despite economic ups and downs, Milan today is thriving. With 1.4 million inhabitants and US$ 367 billion in GDP, Milan is the fourth richest city in Europe, after London, Paris and Madrid and ahead of Munich, Berlin and Amsterdam. About half a million workers commute to Milan every day. Milan hosts Borsa Italiana, Italy’s stock exchange. The majority of multinational subsidiaries are headquartered in Milan. Small to Medium Enterprises make Lombardy the wealthiest Italian region with a GDP of US$ 390 billion, second only to Île-de-France, the Parisian region. In 2020, with 122 diplomatic consular representations, Milan surpassed New York among the cities that are not capitals of a State. Milan attracts the bulk of foreign direct investments landing in Italy, US$ 18 billion in 2019.

Milan managed to relaunch all sectors of the economy. Rare for a major city, it built new quarters, skyscrapers, reopened some historic canals, and experimented sustainable architecture such as the residential towers of Bosco Verticale (Vertical Forest). What many believed to be impossible, it has become a tourists’ destination. Taxi drivers, a reliable indicator of economic health, are as busy in weekends as in week days, opposite to an era where Milanese would flee the city making it ghostly.

The real estate, accordingly, is booming. In 2022 institutional real estate investments in Milan reached a record level of US$ 5.2 billion. One square meter (10.7 square foot) in the top residential quarter of Quadrilatero della Moda, the fashion district, sells for US$ 20.000.

Today Milan is a “go-to” city for the young. It hosts 200.000 students attending 8 universities of which 6 are private, offering courses in virtually any field of knowledge. Some are world class. Bocconi Business School (SDA) MBA, for example, is number 6 in the world according to the recent Financial Times world MBAs ranking. Public universities are free of charge and the most expensive private university charges US$ 11.000 per academic year. In healthcare, Milan and the wider Lombardy region are second to none.

The bruising and hectic Milanese life happens in one square kilometer, all is walking distance and public transportation works well. While being late is never excusable, in Milan it is also unjustifiable.

In 2022, the City Council of Milan approved the Air and Climate Plan, an action plan to become fully carbon neutral and a cycle-pedestrian city by 2050. Restaurants, fashion, museums, La Scala concerts and shopping are, naturally, among the world’s best.

Logistically, Milan is served by two international airports, Linate being 4 miles away from midtown Piazza Duomo. It is served by two competing high-speed train companies that travel at 300Km/h (187MPH) and are always on time. To the west, Turin is an hour away, as is Bologna to the south. Also, by fast train, Florence and Rome are, respectively, 1.5 and 3 hours away.

Uncharacteristically, Milan will host the 2026 Winter Olympics together with Cortina D’Ampezzo, Italy’s crown jewel of the Alps. The inaugural ceremony and the hockey tournament will take place in Milan.

An acid test for cities is, whether or not, a young qualified talent can pursue the professional career of choosing in his or her hometown. This happens in New York as well as in Milan.

Is Milan the new New York? Well… think about it.


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