Cities bear the brunt of the world's financial meltdowns, crime waves, and climate crises in ways national governments never will. So, when Foreign Policy, A.T. Kearney, and The Chicago Council on Global Affairs teamed up to measure globalization around the world, we focused on the 60 cities that shape our lives the most.
- By Brad Amburn
National governments may shape the broad outlines of globalization, but where does it really play out? Where are globalization’s successes and failures most acute? Where else but the places where most of humanity now chooses to live and work — cities. The world’s biggest, most interconnected cities help set global agendas, weather transnational dangers, and serve as the hubs of global integration. They are the engines of growth for their countries and the gateways to the resources of their regions. In many ways, the story of globalization is the story of urbanization.
But what makes a "global city"? The term itself conjures a command center for the cognoscenti. It means power, sophistication, wealth, and influence. To call a global city your own suggests that the ideas and values of your metropolis shape the world. And, to a large extent, that’s true. The cities that host the biggest capital markets, elite universities, most diverse and well-educated populations, wealthiest multinationals, and most powerful international organizations are connected to the rest of the world like nowhere else. But, more than anything, the cities that rise to the top of the list are those that continue to forge global links despite intensely complex economic environments. They are the ones making urbanization work to their advantage by providing the vast opportunities of global integration to their people; measuring cities’ international presence captures the most accurate picture of the way the world works.
So, Foreign Policy teamed up with A.T. Kearney and The Chicago Council on Global Affairs to create the Global Cities Index, a uniquely comprehensive ranking of the ways in which cities are integrating with the rest of the world. In constructing this index of the world’s most global cities, we have collected and analyzed a broad array of data, as well as tapped the brainpower of such renowned cities experts as Saskia Sassen, Witold Rybczynski, Janet Abu-Lughod, and Peter Taylor.
Specifically, the Global Cities Index ranks cities’ metro areas according to 24 metrics across five dimensions. The first is business activity: including 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. The second dimension measures human capital, or 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 number of international schools, and the percentage of residents with university degrees. The third dimension is information exchange — how well news and information is dispersed about and to the rest of the world. The number of international news bureaus, the amount of international news in the leading local papers, and the number of broadband subscribers round out that dimension.
The final two areas of analysis are unusual for most rankings of globalized cities or states. The fourth is cultural experience, or 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 it boasts. The final dimension — political engagement — measures the degree to which a city influences global policymaking and dialogue. How? By examining the number of embassies and consulates, major think tanks, international organizations, sister city relationships, and political conferences a city hosts. We learned long ago that globalization is much more than the simple lowering of market barriers and economic walls. And because the Global Cities Index pulls in these measures of cultural, social, and policy indicators, it offers a more complete picture of a city’s global standing — not simply economic or financial ties.
The 60 cities included in this first Global Cities Index run the gamut of the modern urban experience. There’s thriving, wealthy London, with its firmly entrenched global networks built on the city’s history as capital of an empire. But there are also Chongqing, Dhaka, and Lagos, cities whose recent surges tell us a great deal about the direction globalization is heading and whose experiences offer lessons to other aspiring global cities. The cities we highlight are world leaders in important areas such as finance, policymaking, and culture. A few are megacities in the developing world whose demand for resources means they must nurture close ties with their neighbors and provide services to large numbers of immigrants. Some are gateways to their region. Others host important international institutions. In other words, they represent a broad cross section of the world’s centers of commerce, culture, and communication.
THE WINNER’S CIRCLE
So, which city topped them all? If anything, the results prove there is no such thing as a perfect global city; no city dominated all dimensions of the index. However, a few came close. New York emerged as the No. 1 global city this year, followed by London, Paris, and Tokyo. The Big Apple beat out other global powerhouses largely on the back of its financial markets, through the networks of its multinationals, and by the strength of its diverse creative class. Overall runner-up London won the cultural dimension by a mile, with Paris and New York trailing far behind. Perhaps surprisingly for a city known more for museums than modems, third-ranked Paris led the world in the information exchange category. No. 4 Tokyo ranked highly thanks to its strong showing in business. And, though it finished 11th overall, Washington easily beat out New York, Brussels, and Paris as the leader in global policy.
Although the winners may be the usual suspects, they have plenty of new competition on their heels. Buoyed by their strong financial links, Hong Kong and Singapore finished at fifth and seventh, respectively. Chicago’s strong human-capital performance sent it into the eighth spot. What’s more, several strong performers are emerging from formerly closed societies: Beijing (No. 12), Moscow (19), Shanghai (20), and Dubai (27). The new, sometimes abbreviated, often state-led, paths to global dominance these cities are treading threaten the old formulas that London, New York, and Los Angeles (No. 6) followed to reach their high spots.
As diverse as they are, the most successful global cities have several things in common: As New York proves, global cities are those that excel across multiple dimensions. Even Shanghai’s staggering, decades-long double-digit annual economic growth alone can’t make it global. The city also must determine how to use that wealth to influence policy, attract the brightest young minds, and accurately portray the rest of the world to its citizens. Global cities continuously adapt to changing circumstances. London may be the city hardest hit by the global credit crunch, but chances are that it will leverage its abundant global financial ties to bounce back. Singapore, San Francisco (15), and Mexico City (25) will no doubt be taking notes.
As the world readjusts to the fits and starts of a volatile global economy, as well as other transnational problems such as climate change, human trafficking, and fuel shortages, the Global Cities Index will track the way cities maneuver as their populations grow and the world shrinks. Although we can’t predict next year’s winner, the odds are good that New York will have to fight to stay on top.