What makes a city a global city?
Defining a global city. It's not just raw economic power. It also intangibles that centre great cities as essential cities in telling history. Today a global city is networked. And innovative.
According to Britannica:
“(a) global city, (is) an urban centre that enjoys significant competitive advantages and that serves as a hub within a globalized economic system. The term has its origins in research on cities carried out during the 1980s, which examined the common characteristics of the world's most important cities.”
But that, whilst a workable hypothesis is not quite the end of the story.
Competitive advantages are one point.
But what makes a city “serve as a hub”?
Cities are nodes on a network now. And some nodes in a network are more important than others. Some nodes in a network are so integrated they are ‘essential’, making them globally critical.
In another way, cities are networked.
And in a network some junctures are ‘critical’ or ‘essential’.
Innovation Cities™ Gazette is a reader-supported publication. To gain deeper understanding, consider becoming a free weekly or paid monthly (+ data goodies) subscriber. Keep innovating!
These ‘essential cities’ would inarguably include:
New York, London, Paris, Hong Kong, Singapore, Sydney, Dubai, Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, Istanbul, Moscow and several more.
Others may make the lists compiled on different basis. We set out a basis below.
This email would usually be for paid subscribers, so please enjoy for now.
Would this change? Will this change?
What is interesting the change over time. Dubai, Sydney or Singapore may not have made previous lists.
Moscow remains critical to the entire surrounding area (a massive span of several time zones from Europe to Asia), and thus would still be included, conflict not withstanding. It remains the most important regional city as it stands.
Some would add in for the U.S., Chicago, and cases could be made for Atlanta. Both are incredibly critical air and freight hubs (see below), among other roles.
Los Angeles is incredibly critical as an airport and home to the world’s digital entertainment industry.
Once upon a time, St. Louis would have made it. Philadelphia, also.
Do upstarts like Miami and DFW now qualify in the Americas? We say, yes.
And if who is on the list matters, then quantifying who is ‘most global’ at any given time is even harder.
Who is the #1 global city?
So, of course who is #1 global city at any time is a matter for great, loud, pugilistic debate.
Brickbats and opinions leave metaphorical blood on the floor. And teeth around.
But how to debate it? With some logic? What are some possible dimensions?
How can we eruditely describe global?
(Without sounding like a chemistry professor writing a petrochemical formula.)
Well, among all the various thinking there are key dimensions of globality from the Enlightenment to now, which emerge from the literature.
The Romantics, Locke, Hume, Kant… Smith of course, they did it for me. They also kind of got us started on this whole global shindig. You could add Steve Jobs too!
And the whole of economics in Smith and Riccardo in some way is globality.
Combining that with the modern world, how could we dimension or define ‘globality’ in its most basic or simple form. What does it mean to be a ‘global city’ in a basic view?
4 Key Dimensions fo Globality
Here are the 4 key dimensions of ‘globality’ according to 2THINKNOW:
People Globality - People Exchange (Physical)
Freight Globality - Freight Movement (Physical)
Digital Globality - Internet, eCommerce and more
Institutions - physical headquarters of global importance.
(With a tip of the hat to Riccardo and Smith.)
These are of course not the only points. And there are other mitigating factors.
Underneath all of this in the 21st/20th century is currently a ‘rules based order’, guaranteed by sea lane access and other Bretton Woods principles. That could also shift.
But for the foreseeable these are the 4 key dimensions of simplified ‘globality’.
Can we be purely Digital?
Also, of course in a ‘Zero Emissions’ theoretical world the global plan seems to be to reduce physical globality and make place purely digital.
You will work from home and eat soylent green or so the meme goes.
So some folks over-rate digital thinking. It’s not there yet.
Simple point. Amazon still physically delivers.
It doesn’t send phone case designs to your 3D printer at home, and it will be some time before it does.
Nor do you print your own shoes in any colour you like.
How long this ‘digital world’ would take and how well it would work remains a matter of opinion and great conjecture.
You cannot eat a digital croissant. Pastry doesn’t flake via iphone.
Nor can you walk a digital Seine hand in hand, and smell (!) the atmosphere.
(Even the slight stink is part of the visceral experience of Paris streets.)
But so is the waft of great perfume at Van Kleef & Arpels, or past fine restaurants or as you wander near the Hotel Meurice or other fine establishments. Paris is a sensory explosion in all ways.
And people (as yet) do not seem ready to pay for a purely virtual digital experience of Paris, although times changes and folks with them.
But you can’t put Paris in a iPhone.
Of course, some of the ‘rusted on’ low-level thinktank folks kind of think they will still jet around via lear-jet, and the ‘hoi polloi’ will just calmly sit at home watching Netflix reducing their emissions to zero while pedalling to watch TV. And eating soylent green.
A little bit like the French revolution, that won’t exactly go according to plan.
Because one person’s indispensible elite (themself) is another person’s hoi polloi.
All of the so-called ‘elite’ of universities, NGOs and think tanks are all someone else’s ‘hoi polloi’. Until you reach ‘numero uno’, there is in a pyramid someone beneath you. And none of us are the ‘numero uno’ of any pyramids we are involved in.
YOU are someone elses ‘hoi polloi’.
Even if you own a beach shack and a city apartment.
YOU are still someone else’s ‘great unwashed’ (Aussie colloquialism), Dorothy.
YOU are not so indispensible to others to keep your wine collections and flaky pastry. Shiraz and Soylent Greens is not a food wine pairing. i.e. Wine is a big emitter.
But your freedom to fly (or eat croissants) guarantees mine.
The problem is we are all more ‘Hoi Polloi’ than we give ourselves credit for.
But, I digress.
Have we over-sold digital globality?
One could say that some have over-eagerly converted to a digital world, when we are still a world of bits and blobs. Bytes matter less.
But bytes (digital) matter more now than the 1990s hype cycle.
Digital is coming of age.
Plus, digital connection drives work and sustains long disntance family relationships - and barring hiatus from disruptions of conflict - this will continue long term.
The rise of India is built on digital families scattered to the diaspora.
If you understand that - you get it.
The whole game. Not the fake one.
So digital is here to stay - barring force majeure, or acts of God.
If you don’t understand innovation, you risk being left behind. You will be sucked up and used by history.
Because the future WILL NOT be a futurists prediction. Has it ever?
How many times have futurists got it wrong?
How many times do they get it right?
I will … waittttt. Where’s my jetpack?
In the mean time, let’s use some of our data and model something.
So if globality has a structure, what is is it?
If globality starts (not ends) with these 4 key dimensions, what do these 4 dimensions mean? How could they be measured?
Usually we would have a Paywall in here… so enjoy below for Free for a limited time.
4 Metrics to Key Dimensions of Globality
Taking these 4 Key Dimensions from 2THINKNOW, how would we measure them?
People Globality: Airport - Physical
One metric would be to measure which city has the most airport connections. In terms of discreet destinations a direct flight from that city.
This would measure physically global citiies for people, and also to some extent for cargo.
For this, you could order a benchmark of our Global Airport Connections ready-made indicator on any cities. We can do a full analysis report, top cities, your city against other cities - best practices. Anything you fancy or need. Pretty much.
Freight Globality: Logistics Hub - Physical
Another metric would be to measure logistics hub status, or ‘port cities’. This would measure which cities are globally critical to freight.
For this, you could order a benchmark of our Container Freight indicator on any cities. Ditto - analyst slides and/or or city data sets available as you need.
Digitally Globality: Internet Hub - Digital
A final common metric would be to measure digitalness of cities. The easiest way would be to measure broadband internet connections, assuming that each connection represents a global node. You could also look at penetration rates or smartphone users.
Our Broadband Internet (or perhaps Smart Devices for some use cases) indicators make great ways to benchmark your city. Same deal, data slides, workshops, or reports.
Or the cities your customers are targetting.
Institutions: Physical Global Headquarters
Each institution that is headquartered globally drives global importance. Would NYC be NYC without the U.N. headquarters? Or Paris be Paris without the OECD? Washington DC makes many lists by sheer NGO hqs alone.
Globality is tied to being home to institutions UN, IMF, OECD, Associations, etc.
Also this ‘institutionality’ is correlated somewhat to multi-national headquarters and/or Fortune 500 corporations.
We suggest Multinational Headquarters Indicator to benchmark this. It’s not the only way but we think the correlations between these and all kinds of NGOs are pretty strong. So it’s a start. There’s a few technical reasons we suggest this specially designed indicator.
Any way, any format, you like it once again. I would suggest a workshop or talk if it matters to your work.
You could do this all from scratch, but we have been doing it for 10+ years.
And trust me when I say there are a great range of mistakes you could make.
Your data people don’t know what they don’t know about what you don’t know.
For all detailed indicator data, analyst reports, detailed workshops, slides, reports, analysis or modelling contact us.
You & your team can then slice and dice that data/analysis mostly &anyway you see fit.
Or, A Single Innovation Metric
Our favoured metric is to look at these (and many more other inputs measured by indicators) as all enabling innovation globally.
Thus we measure all this and more in multiple indicators. And thus cities that overlay these 4 Key Dimensions and many other lesser and associated attributes in clusters, have stronger conditions for innovation.
This of course would encompass more metrics as inputs.
Making our measure less focussed, but through some data wizardry, highly resilient. Or as Nassim Taleb would say, ‘anti-fragile’ as well.
In our case we measure 162 indicators for innovation pre-conditions.
And in the way we do it, that produces a pretty strong list of which are the top global cities.
Innovation and globality correlate. Like free trade and new ideas.
So if you need just ONE simple input for globality (no detail, no dice and slice, steak knife data style), use the Innovation Cities™ Index.
Global cities +s and -s
In fact when we started doing this in 2007, and current method in its first version in 2009, the other city lists didn’t feature so many global cities. It was all Swiss, Scandi, Austria and Canada.
Freezing cold places with good chocolate.
We inspired that change to big cities.
I, in part, inspired and championed that. (All the rankings look at each other - things changed. We gave London a big boost. Ditto, Paris.)
Because it makes bloody sense. (Australian vernacular)
Of course there is a downside - the strength of Paris weakens other French cities.
The strength of London comes at the expense of secondary U.K. cities, as these strong nodes attract people, business, capital and more.
Paris and London are like a Dyson sucking up everything they touch.
So having a global city can be a plus and a minus for a nation.
So that can in strong expansive nations like the U.S. create secondary cities. Which ‘punch above their weight’ to use the Aussie vernacular referring to boxing.
That is why you can still innovate in Boise, Idaho.
And folks do. Shout out to our peeps in Goteborg Sweden. Been doing a stellar job.
Oh and Christchurch NZ (my recent criticism of NZ federal policy not aside).
And, up and coming, Ajman, UAE.
Yep, their headline rankings go up and down, but that happens with smaller places.
Who have more focussed stories and less swiss army knife attributes than Paris.
There’s a way to measure that too.
And a lot more cities beside. These cities have unique stories I could tell you. One day!
Indicators that innovate
So our 162 indicators balance all that is needed to be global.
So we suggest the best way to measure globality is innovation in general, as a proxy.
And the Innovation Cities™ Index does that. Since 2007.
Narrower definitions of others focus on single physical or digital aspects - i.e. single dimensions. Much of what you read in the newspapers doesn’t give balanced answers.
Hence the weird (no common sense) results.
We are also here to help.
If you would like more information such as specialised analysis of best small cities, or alternate cities, or cities that speak various languages, reach out to us. We can write you a report or do a presentation or workshop for you.
We are a small team, we always value our customers.
Contact us if we can maybe help you or your team or stakeholders.
Innovation Cities™ Gazette is a reader-supported publication. To get new monthly posts (bit more generous atm) susbcribe free. But for more behind the scenes details and more love from your mother, please subscribe for a small fee for weekly updates + data.
PS. The Innovation Cities™ Index 2022-2023 is closing in on completion. It will be exciting. If that is your jam - and you want to be on the special updates list, add yourself here also.
Credit photo to https://unsplash.com/@simonppt - Simon Lee