Hereby (after a prelude) starts the new series of articles, this time devoted to the phenomenon of global cities – indispensable nodes of globalised economy and global order of today and the future. Enjoy! 🙂 and please let me know what you think.


The role of cities cannot be overestimated in the 21st century, often called the metropolitan century (Kelly et. al. 2017). Non-state actors increase their role in international relations as power diffuses and decentralizes. It happens due to globalization, the technological and digital revolution, the rise of the global middle class, as well as the changing location of the center of mass of the global economy.

The global picture is changing towards more diversity and more individually tailored solutions. It is said that cities are much more agile and act more pragmatically than states. Thus, they may play a key role in the complex international relations of today and tomorrow and serve as significant nodes in the global order.

Just as any other actor in world economy, cities both collaborate and compete. They cooperate in the fields of anti-terrorism, public services, migration, cybersecurity, cultural diversity, environment protection, public transport and infrastructure. They compete over talents, capital, location of key institutions, corporations, events, as well as investments and tourism.

Contemporary cities do not narrow down their international activities to the closest neighbourhood and do not respect geographical boundaries in fulfilling their tasks and pursuing their policies. Following the revolution in global economy, technology and communications, national borders and geography matter so little that almost every city, if only its leadership and citizens wish so, can go global.

This is why the phenomenon of global cities has been unfolding for almost three decades. The term and the definition of a global city were coined by Saskia Sassen in 1991 in her book “The Global City: New York, London, Tokyo”. The author defines global cities as “strategic sites” that manage and guide the global economy.

Following another definition developed by Peter Hall, global cities are centres for 4 main clusters: management/governance; finance and business (international law firms, PR agencies, consulting firms, design, etc.), tourism (business and leisure), and cultural and creative businesses (Pieńkowski, Rybka-Iwańska 2016).

From another angle, global cities, as defined by Richard C. Longworth, serve as highly concentrated command points in the organisation of global economy, as key locations of finance and highly specialised service companies, as sites of innovative production in crucial sectors, and as markets for innovations and products (Longworth 2015).

3 cities from the title of Saskia Sassen’s book – London, Tokyo and New York – still lead almost every ranking or index of global cities, no matter the methodology. Other cities represented in major studies on global cities include Singapore, Toronto, Chicago, Hong Kong, Paris, Sydney. They find their places in top 10. Further global cities, reaching high positions in a lesser number of rankings include San Francisco, Los Angeles, Amsterdam, Beijing, Washington DC, Seoul, Vienna and Stockholm (Longworth 2015). Perhaps the most consistent in its research results is the Global Power City Index, where for 9 (out of 10) editions the top 5 of the most magnetic global cities looks similar and is comprised of London, New York, Tokyo, Paris and Singapore (Institute for Urban Strategies 2017).


If cities want to act globally, they have to be smart. The concept of smart cities is traditionally associated with sustainable development and living conditions in modernising cities: their public transportation accessibility and standards, connections with other cities and states, the access to healthcare, high quality education, leisure and cultural entertainment. The above-mentioned Richard C. Longworth of Chicago Council on Global Affairs goes beyond the smartness and presents several more attributes of global cities proving that global cities are much more than smart. In this blog posts series I explore and broaden Richard C. Longworth’s categorisation and aim at presenting a comprehensive analysis of the emergence of global cities as actors in contemporary international political, economic, societal and cultural relations. Let’s have a look here at first two sections.

I – economy

It is said that today global business starts to plan strategy rather form a city than from a country perspective (as cities produce more than 80% of global GDP) (The Economist Intelligence Unit 2013). Following Jane Jacobs’s definition used in the Global Financial Centres Index, “cities are where people go to trade, and live to trade, a unique combination of residential, industrial, business and administrative activity. Cities drive all national economies” (Mainelli, Yeandle, Knapp 2008). They are also said to be more in favour of globalisation processes than contemporary countries, where protectionist ideas surge (Kelly et. al. 2017).

Global cities lead in particular economic sectors like finance, financial services and trade, or in a couple of fields. For example, Mumbai specialises in global real estate development and cooperates with companies from, for example, Bogota and London. Sao Paulo and New York are major global hubs for commodity trading in coffee. London, New York, Chicago and Zurich dominate in global gold trading. Johannesburg, Mumbai, Dubai and Sydney are global hubs of metal trading (Sassen 2007, 2008).

Cities are the places where trends in global economy unfold: the digital economy, the sharing economy, the experience economy and the circular economy – they have all been born and developing in various cities (Kelly et. al. 2017). Just as other stakeholders of the global economy, contemporary global cities need to develop their niche or niches and become specialized, go-to places in certain fields. No global city can be an omnibus dealing with every sphere of the economy.

This is why networks and chains of cities that complement each other are of a great presence. Global cities need each other. Even though London and New York tend to win in the majority of rankings of global cities, they do not score 1st in every category that is taken into account. Therefore, the network – or a bloodstream of global cities – matters more than particular global cities. Following Richard C. Longworth’s example – global cities can be compared to airports. The latter compete for business with other airports, but any airport and every airport would be useless without other airports (Longworth 2015).

II – size

Tokyo, one of the biggest cities in the world, is a global city, but rather exceptionally. Usually global cities are smaller than megacities. London and New York are leading all the rankings and indexes of global cities, and they are not too large in terms of population when compared to Bangalore, Mexico City or Calcutta. Moreover, forecasts on where future global cities may emerge are not in sync with prospects on the emergence of new megacities. For instance, no megacities of India or other Asian countries, except for Tokyo, are included in the AT Kearney’s Global Cities Outlook 2017 that lists cities that will matter most in the future,. Interestingly, one can find Munich, Copenhagen, and Düsseldorf in top 25 (Hales, Dessibourg-Freer, Peterson, Chen, Mendoza Pena 2017). Similarly, the study “Hot spots 2025” presents a forecast that Zurich, Sydney and Stockholm will be among the most competitive urban areas in 2025, although not necessarily in the global sense.

Sao Paulo, the biggest city in the southern hemisphere and the most important economic hub in Brazil and the whole Latin America, serves as an interesting example. The city is acknowledged as the most improving city of the index in the perspective to 2025 and praised for progress in all the categories, including a young and growing manpower, good ICT infrastructure, openness and well-governed institutions. It is said that an easy access to ports will remain an important comparative advantage of cities. Sao Paulo has one. It develops also a high-speed railway to Rio de Janeiro, another important economic hub of Brazil.

Global cities build their position primarily on the economic leverage, the ability to pull talents and capital as a result of globalisation and technological revolution. As they need to be economic powerhouses, global cities cannot be too small; but being too big hampers global appetites, too. On the other hand, global cities need to be large enough to, i.e., establish an international airport in or to provide for enough leisure, education and healthcare for their inhabitants.

To be continued! Further articles will tackle such characteristics of global cities as knowledge, tourism, connectivity, and others.


This series includes also following articles:

What makes a global city? Prelude

What makes a global city? Part II

What makes a global city? Part III

What makes a global city? Part IV



Hales M., Dessibourg-Freer N., Peterson E., Chen K., Mendoza Pena A., “Global Cities 2017: Leaders in a World of Disruptive Innovation”, AT Kearney 2017.

Institute for Urban Strategies, Global Power City Index 2017, The Mori Memorial Foundation 2017.

Kelly J. et. al. , „City Momentum Index 2017 Edition”, JLL 2017.

Longworth R. C. (2015), “On Global Cities”, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

Mainelli M. Yeandle M., Knapp A., “The Global Financial Centres Index” (2008)

Pieńkowski Miłosz, Rybka-Iwańska Katarzyna, „Miasta globalne i ich znaczenie w polityce zagranicznej”, in: Słomka Tomasz (ed. by), „Studia Politologiczne” vol. 42 Warsaw 2016.

Sassen Saskia (2007), “Cities and City Regions in Today’s Global Age”,

Sassen Saskia (2008) “The Specialised Differences of Global Cities”,



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