Thursday, October 26, 2017

What makes a global city?

Katarzyna Rybka-Iwańska,

image from article

#globalcities #megacities #urbanisation #internationalrankings #internationalindexes

Cities play a big role in contemporary international relations. Benjamin Barber (the author of a global bestseller „If Mayors Ruled the World”) and many other analysts, like Saskia Sassen, Richard C. Longworth, Richard Florida, Carlo Ratti, Manuel Castells have been providing a plethora of arguments to support this thesis.

What is sometimes not that clear is the fact that not all the cities play an equally important role and one should not think that the bigger the city, the bigger its significance in the international arena. Quite the contrary, the size matters only to a certain level. Global cities – meaning “strategic sites” that manage and guide the global economy (Saskia Sassen’s definition) are sometimes several times smaller than megacities such as Manila, Mexico City or Delhi and build their position primarily on the economic leverage, their ability to pull talents and capital as a result of globalisation processes. Overall, if a city wants to be truly global, it has to effectively deal with many different challenges – from public transportation, through the access to healthcare, to the access to high quality food, culture and leisure.

The issue of economic leverage means that the majority of international reports on and rankings of global cities are written from the economic, capital – or even real estate prices’ – perspective. It does not mean, though, that these reports put no emphasis on the political, diplomatic clout of global cities. Below I provide a list of my personal favourite reports on and rankings of global cities, where the political/diplomatic aspect is visible.

If students and experts want to cover the field of public diplomacy well, they should pay attention to international rankings and indexes of global cities.

A lot of decision-making processes happen on the city level, many political leaders (presidents, prime ministers, ministers) serve their cities before advancing to the state level. Therefore, if public diplomacy endeavours are considered, they should surely take into account the importance of cities. Now, how to get to know which cities play the biggest role in the international arena and how should they be addressed? These reports are available at hand and should help find answers to these questions: 

“On Global Cities” by Richard C. Longworth, prepared in 2015 for the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, which runs the most commonly known long-term research project on global cities and organises an annual Chicago Forum on Global Cities. The next Forum is scheduled for June 6-8, 2018. This material is highly comprehensive, describes all the shades of global cities (the black, the grey and the white ones), explains clearly why we witness the epoch of global cities. Even though it was published more than 2 years ago – and cities change very fast – it is still highly up to date. The material is available here: 

AT Kearney’s “Global Cities 2017” takes an innovation/disruption angle and does not focus on very much on the fields like the access to healthcare or the accessibility of public transportation. What I like most about this report is a separate category for leaders in the think-tank field (and Washington, DC, obviously wins here). The whole political/diplomatic sphere plays a big role in the report. The presence of embassies and consulates, the HQs or offices of international organisations, the spots of important political conferences, as well as a seat of local institutions with global reach have their fair place in the report. None of other rankings I saw was covering the political/diplomatic field so broadly and so well. The report is available here: 

“Hot spots 2025. Benchmarking the future competitiveness of cities” by CitiBank and Economist Intelligence Unit. This report was published in 2013, but is still up to date and serves as a good forecast on economic/financial trends and competitiveness of cities. There are two things I like most in this ranking: it puts a big emphasis on human capital (15% of the total number of points), including the entrepreneurship and risk-taking mindset; another things is the global appeal of cities that includes i.e. on higher education leadership and conference/convention development (sharing knowledge rules if one wants to succeed economically!). The report is available here: 

PwC Cities of Opportunity Report most of all proves that “a city requires balanced social and economic strengths to work as a whole”. A city can generate millions of dollars but if softer dimensions are neglected – many opportunities will be lost, not only in the longer term – “human values constitute the cornerstone of urban life”, “A great city delivers on its responsibility to shared good”. This is why the report covers many indicators that are close to “human hearts”, such as health, safety and security, sustainability and the natural environment, demographics and liveability. The report is available here: 

Global Power City Index written by the Institute for Urban Strategies – The Mori Memorial Foundation. This is another report where London gains the top place (no matter the Brexit referendum), but Tokyo (the home city of the Foundation) advances and settles on its 3rd place (NYC is the runner-up, but its position is generally worsening). As the authors of the report state, they focus particularly on the “magnetism” of cities and their ability to pull talents, creative individuals as well as innovative enterprises from across the world. I am happy to see the “accessibility” indicator that is often omitted in other surveys. At the same time, I regret that the accessibility of transportation to disabled/elderly people or parents with infants is not taken into account as an element of the indicator. The report is available here: 

JLL Cities Research Center – City Momentum Index: a very interesting report, focusing on how quickly cities are changing, how dynamic they are and how adaptive they are to transformation and modernisation. This angle provides non-traditional results: London is on the 6th position (it led the top ten in previous editions and fell due to the Brexit referendum; authors of the report underline, however, the resilience of London – it could have been worse), NYC on the 14th, while the winner is Bangalore and the runner up: Ho Chi Minh City. It might prove that we live in the Asian century, but at the same time Tokyo, Seoul, Singapore and Hong Kong did not make it to the top30. The report underlines the fact that in the times of global political uncertainties cities often outperform their national economies. The methodology combines 42 indicators, with a clear real-estate angle (due to the JLL Cities Research Center’s profile). The report is available here: 

Dell Women Entrepreneur Cities Index with a clear angle: 45 out of 72 indicators have a gender-based component, like the proportion of funding that businesses run by women receive or policies that enable women to assume leadership positions and business success. The vast majority of top cities are located in Northern America and Western Europe. Only two cities represent Africa (Nairobi and Johannesburg) and Southern America (Sao Paula and Lima, on lower places than African cities).  The report is available here: 

Mercer’s Quality of Living Index does not focus primarily on global cities, but is very useful in analysing them. It proves that these are not the biggest cities/megapolis where the quality of life is the highest: the top 10 consists of cities that are not very visible in typical global cities rankings: Vienna (leading for the 8th year in a row), Zurich, Auckland, Munich, Vancouver, Dusseldorf and others. What is clear in the report is the domination of Western Europe (good old Europe rules) and an absence of Northern America (only Vancouver is present in the top 10 and of US cities only San Francisco is in the top 30). What is interesting, London ranks only 40th for quality of living, even though it is 6th in terms of infrastructure. The report is said to be used frequently when expat contracts are negotiated. The survey is available for download here: 

“It takes a city. The case for collaborative climate action” by CDP – Driving Sustainable Developments and supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies and C40 – Cities Climate Leadership Group. This report is chosen here not particularly due to its analytical usefulness (it is not a ranking) but to notice how well the C40 climate change network of global cities works, also in terms of providing data and arguments supporting the C40 case for expanding the global, sub-state actions in the field of climate change (“collaboration” is probably the most often used word in the report – and it describes global cities at least as well as “competition”). Almost every big publication on global cities today covers the actions of the C40. The report is available here: 

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