Saskia Sassen argues that emerging Asian cities have a long way to go before they're truly global.
- By Andrew SwiftAndrew Swift is an editorial researcher at Foreign Policy.
Not all cities can become global cities, nor should they all want to (“The Global Cities Index,” September/October 2010). In determining whether a city can become global, size matters, of course — because it represents the possibility for diversity and complexity — but it is not the only important factor. The emerging megacities of Asia are not necessarily truly global, at least not in the way we currently understand the term. Many if not most of today’s global cities are Old World cities that reinvented themselves. Like London and Istanbul, they already had enormous complexity and diversity.
That’s not to say that newer-world cities cannot reinvent themselves as global cities. Take Miami, never an Old World city. Today it is certainly a global city. Why? One factor was the infrastructure of international trade that the Cubans in Miami developed. There was also real estate development, often spurred by wealthy individuals from South America, and the establishment in Miami of Latin American bases for firms from Europe and Asia.
These conditions do not exist in Chinese cities. They are too government-controlled to be equivalent to Miami. And I happen to think that some of this is good — if it aims at rebalancing the strong inequalities created by the current economy.
One question I have is whether the large Chinese cities, which are inevitably going to be dominated by Chinese residents, can produce enough diversity to ensure the productive mix that leads to urban knowledge capital. Beijing is a world city: It is a city in the world. Can it become a city that is culturally of the world, in the way that London, Paris, and even New York are?
Robert S. Lynd Professor of Sociology
New York, N.Y.
Rebecca Frankel is senior editor, special projects at Foreign Policy. She is the author of War Dogs (forthcoming in the fall of 2014 from Palgrave), a book about canines in combat, the subject of her regular Friday column "Rebecca's War Dog of the Week," featured on The Best Defense. Before joining FP in 2008, she was managing editor of Moment Magazine, a publication founded by Elie Wiesel in 1975, where she began working in 2003. In addition to her work on war dogs, Frankel has written on a wide range of topics from the religious escapades of singer Bob Dylan to Hitler's family doctor. Her profile of author Joyce Carol Oates was published in the collection Joyce Carol Oates: Conversations in 2006. She has appeared as a commentator on ABC World News and MSNBC among others. In 2011, she was named one of 12 women in foreign policy to follow on Twitter by the Daily Muse.| Special Report |