Global Cities 101

Foreign Policy has just published its Global Cities Index, based on 5 dimensions:

  • Business activity: “the value of its capital markets, the number of Fortune Global 500 firms headquartered there, and the volume of the goods that pass through the city
  • Human capital: “how well the city acts as a magnet for diverse groups of people and talent. This includes the size of a city’s immigrant population, the quality of the universities, the number of international schools, and the percentage of residents with university degrees”

  • Information exchange: “how well news and information is dispersed about and to the rest of the world. The number of international news bureaus, the level of censorship, the amount of international news in the leading local papers, and the broadband subscriber rate”

  • Cultural experience: “the level of diverse attractions for international residents and travelers. That includes everything from how many major sporting events a city hosts to the number of performing arts venues and diverse culinary establishments it boasts and the sister city relationships it maintains
  • Political engagement: “the degree to which a city influences global policymaking and dialogue

Based on these dimensions, the top 20 global cities:

Global Cities

In the same issue, uber-sociologist Saskia Sassen (who else?) provides a primer on global cities. after all, she wrote the book, literally. What defines a global city is complexity and diversity. A global city is not a matter of size. Some large cities are not global cities (such as Lagos). Size matters only insofar as it might contribute to complexity and diversity. Also, global cities create new national and international norms.

Global cities can be old cities that reinvented themselves (London) or cities have a limited history like Miami as “little outpost that explodes” thanks to massive real estate development and the opening of South American economies that made Miami a hub of economic and cultural activity beyond the trading developed by Cuban exiles (I am surprised Sassen did not mention the criminal economy).

Other emerging global cities: in Africa, Nairobi and Johannesburg, in China, Shenzen, in Asia, Dubai and Singapore and in South America, Quito, Ecuador; Bogotá, Colombia; Caracas, Venezuela. Cities that have a colonial history also had preexisting international connections. Others, like Dubai and Singapore were government-driven projects.

If the civil war had not destroyed Beirut, it would be a global city as the Lebanese have long had extensive global connections. However, that void allowed Dubai to emerge and create the Mumbai – Dubai connections, where business people work in one (Mumbai) but live in the other (Dubai). Here again, though, there is extensive global criminal network connections.

What of old Europe (which still ranks decently on the Index)? For Sassen, Copenhagen is becoming the Dubai of Europe, along with Zurich as well.

Istanbul might be the next global city because of investors from the West and the East, including Kazakhstan, China, Russia, Bulgaria. Also, one might expect Chinese cities to emerge.

However, Sassen makes the distinction between cities that are “of the world“, that is, cities that are globally connected but still homogeneous as opposed to global cities that are “in the world“, that is, characterized by complexity and diversity.

What is a bit missing here are (1) global criminal networks that are more likely to be well-represented in global cities, and (2) the issue of social stratification: who can live in global cities? Who is welcome to live there? Who caters to global, cosmopolitan jet set and business community?

6 thoughts on “Global Cities 101

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  3. Thanks for the post – I like the global city stuff. The big thing with global cities too as Sassen defines them is their “command and control” function as nodes within the global economy. Hence, the big three of NY, London, and Tokyo. The remaining top 20 fit in this conception as well.

    However, a critique of these global city typologies is that they’re simply based on attributes of cities (business activity, human capital, etc.) and don’t tap into the purported network ties linking global cities to one another. But that’s what most global city scholars have to settle for. It’s tricky to operationalize those links, but some researchers – for example Alderson and Beckfield in an AJS article from a few years ago – have made solid attempts to do so.

    • That’s interesting because, in the article, Sassen defines Tokyo as not quite a global city because it is still very homogeneous, deeply connected to the global economy, but not as cosmopolitan.

      Do you have a link for that AJS article.

      Of course, now that you no longer have a dissertation to work on and much time with nothing to do, you could write us a post on global cities. (hint hint) :-)

      • Good point about Tokyo. From the article, Sassen evidently considers it a global city “in the world” but not “of the world.” When you go beyond economic criteria for determining global city status, these kind of distinctions can be made.

        Here’s a link to that 2004 Alderson and Beckfield article in AJS. Another interesting example of this sort of global/world city research is the work done by the Globalization and World Cities (GaWC) group. They also use a network-based methodology to come up with their own classification system.

        I’d be happy to write a post relating to global cities, especially with all of my “free time” now.

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