maanantai 4. tammikuuta 2016

The global city

Globalization, economic change, urban formation and public governance during the twentieth century gave the impetus for the emergence of a special type of spatial expression at their intersection, which came to be known as the global city. The root of such a formation is more accurately conceptualized as ‘world city’, which was used in 1915 by Patrick Geddes to refer to those urban centres where a disproportionate amount of the world’s business was conducted (Doel and Hubbard 2002), but more properly conceptualized in the 1960s by the urban historian Sir Peter Hall, who conceptualized world cities primarily as concentrations of political and bureaucratic power surrounded by a range of professional associations, trade unions, headquarters of business concerns and cultural institutions (Newman and Thornley 2005: 20).

Around the early 1980s our understanding of globalization started to become more mature, including the re-conceptualization of world cities. This new insight is usually associated with John Friedmann (1986), who in turn relied on Wallerstein’s (1976) world systems theory but focused primarily on its implications for cities. This theorization became known as the ‘world city hypothesis’ which is based on the idea that economic globalization is articulated through urban nodal points, leading to the restructuring of these cities and the asymmetric relations with cities in terms of a global division of labour. Some of the cities became world cities – either primary or secondary world cities depending on their maturity and connections to the world economy – due to their role in global financial services, the availability of advanced business services, connections to major transportation hubs, the attraction of international institutions, the concentration of headquarters of multinational corporations and the size of population (Newman and Thornley 2005: 20).

This view started to feed the discussion about world cities and related global hierarchy, primarily seen as concentrations of international institutions, financial institutions and company headquarters. Such a conceptualization emphasizes economic power at the core of urban hierarchy formation. The seminal work that disseminated the view of the apex of global urban hierarchy, highlighting the role of New York, London and Tokyo as the major trans-territorial marketplaces and command-and-control centres of the global economy, was Saskia Sassen’s The Global City (2001 [1991]). Sassen was also one of those who started to point out the difference between ‘world city’ and ‘global city’, as not all world cities were global cities in the sense she understood them. (Newman and Thornley 2005: 20–1). Sassen explains her terminological choice as follows: “When I first chose to use global city, I did so knowingly – it was an attempt to name a difference: the specificity of the global as it gets structured in the contemporary period. I did not choose the obvious alternative, world city, because it had precisely the opposite attribute: it referred to a type of city which we have seen over the centuries in earlier periods in Asia and in European colonial centers. In this regard, it can be said that most of today’s major global cities are also world cities, but that there may well be some global cities today that are not world cities in the full, rich sense of that term.” (Sassen, 2005: 28)

What is essential in such a view is the focus on the function of cities in the global division of labour and in global networks rather than, say, their population size or political power. Thus there are many exceptionally large cities or megacities in different parts of the world, but only a few of them are genuine world cities and even fewer could be included among the highest ranking global cities. Beside command power and financial and business services, global cities essentially are defined by their connectivity, which has different layers, such as telecommunications, transportation and business networks (cf. Newman and Thornley 2005: 22–3). One aspect of such connectivity relates to the key topic of this book, the preconditions for a city’s ability to attract values from the global value flows.

It has been claimed that the concepts of world city and global city are atomistic – or at least ‘pointillist’ – as they are defined as bounded spatial entities with quantifiable attributes that are in their exclusive possession. The world city discourse started to change after Castells’ (1989) analysis of the informational city and Sassen’s analysis of the global city, as both of them in their own way shifted the root metaphor from hierarchy to network. A postmodern challenge to this view was articulated by Doel and Hubbard (2002) in an attempt to overcome the atomism implicit in the idea of functionally and spatially fixed positions of cities within a structured global network by focusing on how such relations are built, how flows drift in and out, how they contract and expand, how they fold and unfold space. At its extreme, in such a picture cities’ positions and intercity relations are in a perpetual state of becoming. Whether such a hyperbolic conception matches reality is another matter.

Even if cities such as New York and London are currently unchallenged as global cities, their ability to stay competitive cannot be taken for granted. Amirahmadi and Wah (2002) have pointed out how industry employment, occupational structure and educational attainment in New York City gives a glimpse of the daunting challenges ahead for economic restructuring. They state: “[t]he need to upgrade skill and educational levels and to grow quality jobs in the global city is of utmost importance to its economic restructuring. The question remains unanswered as to what types of industries would best suit the city’s population and would simultaneously maintain its global advantage … New York City will need to undertake the long and expensive process of generating highly educated residents if it is to retain and grow its global competitive advantage.” (Amirahmadi and Wah 2002: 101). In just the same way all global cities from London to Tokyo, San Francisco and Singapore face their own challenges which may threaten their long-term success.

Yet the global city is not a theoretical stance or paradigm that helps us to explain the realities of cities world-wide. As concluded by Newman and Thornley (2005: 268), grand theories of globalization and the world city or global city concept cannot account for the different experiences in cities throughout the developed world, from the USA to Europe and East Asia. What is needed is the analysis of the state and urban politics and governance. Local preconditions, histories and responses vary considerably, making it practically impossible to find a common pattern for the development of cities in the global context. This relates to the convergence hypothesis that cities, especially in the higher levels of global urban hierarchy, would become more similar owing to the pressure of global forces, the dominant model being business-led urban development or the neo-liberal city, epitomized by New York, Los Angeles or Toronto. In European cities, competitiveness policy is generally balanced by inclusion and a social agenda, as evidenced by Barcelona, Amsterdam, Stockholm and many other dynamic cities. The surge of Asian cities to the global top creates a new situation in the sense that they have traditionally been instances of the developmental state, which did not conform to the neo-liberal global city model. Seoul, just like Tokyo, is a developmental city that serves as a starting point for the Korean transnational corporations, not as a starting point for the global operations of footloose firms (Hill and Kim 2000). Even if the paradigmatic differences between Western neo-liberal global cities and Asian developmentalist global cities are definitively blurring, some traits of this dichotomy persist in representative top ranking cities in West and East.

The above is an excerpt from The Political Economy of City Branding by A.-V. Anttiroiko (Routledge, 2014, pp. 23-25).


Amirahmadi, Hooshang and Wah, Tatiana (2002) New York City: A Social Profile and Alternative Economic Futures. Journal of Urban Technology, 9(1), 85-107.

Castells, Manuel (1989) The Informational City. Information Technology, Economic Restructuring, and the Urban-Regional Process. Oxford: Blackwell.

Doel, M.A. and Hubbard, P.J. (2002) Taking World Cities Literally: Marketing the City in a Global Space of Flows. City, 6(3), 351-368.

Friedmann, John (1986) The World City Hypothesis. Development and Change, 17(1), 69-83.

Hill, Richard Child and Kim, June Woo (2000) Global Cities and Developmental States: New York, Tokyo and Seoul. Urban Studies, 37(12), 2167-2195.

Newman, Peter and Thornley, Andy (2005) Planning World Cities. Globalization and Urban Politics. Houndmills, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

Sassen, Saskia (2001) The Global City: New York, London, Tokyo. First published 1991. Princeton, NJ: The Princeton University Press.

Sassen, Saskia (2005) The Global City: Introducing a Concept. The Brown Journal of World Affairs, XI(2), 27-43.

Wallerstein, Immanuel (1976) The modern world system. New York: Academic Press.

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