The 2008 Global Cities Index
- By Brad Amburn
No city globalizes on its own. But with shrewd investments and smart urban planning, a mayor can help turn a regional player into a global powerhouse. Here’s how three of the world’s top mayors are climbing the ladder:
Klaus Wowereit Mayor of Berlin (#17)
The concept of the global city isn’t lost on Klaus Wowereit. Since taking office in 2001, the popular, 55-year-old mayor of Berlin has tied his fate to rebranding the city as a glamorous, artistic model of urban renewal. And Berlin’s reputation has thrived as a vibrant, tolerant, creative metropolis under his watch. Wowereit cites the construction of a gigantic international airport, the successful 2006 World Cup, and a cultural festival called "Asia-Pacific Weeks" as landmark accomplishments. His critics claim that he focuses more on the city’s image than its crumbling infrastructure or budget shortfalls. "We are poor but sexy," admits Wowereit. A fun fantasy it may be, but Berliners will probably only be willing to play the starving artist for so long.
Syed Mustafa Kamal Mayor of Karachi (#57)
The new mayor of Karachi is an unlikely poster child for innovative urban planning. The 36-year-old Syed Mustafa Kamal governs a city that’s more often in the news for religious violence than cosmopolitan ways. But the hard-charging Kamal is looking to change all that. He’s courting foreign investment, encouraging international ties, and boosting the city’s tourism. Kamal isn’t shy about his goals: He has said he wants to turn Karachi into the "next Dubai." His Green Karachi project aims to plant thousands of trees in the city. No stranger to Karachi’s bare-knuckled politics, Kamal isn’t letting anything stand in the way of his grand plans: He has threatened to arrest anyone who tries to cut down the new saplings.
Wang Hongju Mayor of Chongqing (#59)
Think Michael Bloomberg has his hands full? Wang Hongju is mayor of the fastest-growing city on the planet, one whose metropolitan area is already bursting at 32 million — more than the population of Iraq. But Wang isn’t letting China’s urban revolution happen under his feet. He has been known to collect advice from citizens (for cash rewards), from mayors of sister cities such as Toronto, and even from the works of Thomas Friedman. Wang has sought heavy foreign investment, which his administration says has topped a whopping $3 billion in the past five years. In 2005, he claimed his antipoverty programs had helped 3 million Chongqing residents rise out of poverty in the previous eight years. Wang rarely shies from reporters’ questions, even about hot-button topics such as Tibet or SARS. His approach, a stark departure from Communist Chinese officials of old, has made the 63-year-old Wang the face of a new breed of Chinese mayors.