The role of cities cannot be overestimated in the 21st century, often called the metropolitan century (Kelly et. al. 2017), especially since 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.
In this blog posts series I aim at presenting a comprehensive analysis of the emergence of global cities as actors in contemporary international political, economic, societal and cultural relations. In doing so, I follow and expand Richard C. Longworth’s of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs categorisation. Economy and size of global cities have been tackled in Part I. Let’s have a look at two further sections.
III – knowledge and talents
Global cities are or aspire to become global talent hubs and knowledge economies. They pull talents and have their say in a global competition over bright minds: highly-skilled employees, ex-pats, international students, researchers and professors. They can do so due to agility, branding, GDP growth, as well as the quality of life they provide.
When it comes to pulling talents that are still in school, Singapore serves as an outstanding example. According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, there were almost 53,000 international students in Singapore in 2014 (40,000 in 2009) which put the country in 18th place globally—and in 1st when population size is taken into account (The Guardian 2014).
The 2016 edition of the Brand Finance – Nation Brands study states that “a high quality education system based in English makes Singapore a very easy place for ex-pats to settle” (Brand Finance 2016). This quality has been acknowledged also by the OECD in its annual PISA global education survey, where Singapore ranked 1st and strongly outperformed all other 71 economies in science (OECD 2015). The Global Human Capital Report delivered by the World Economic Forum (WEF) acknowledges Singapore as having “the world’s second-highest proportion of high-skilled employment with significant strengths in the quality of its education system and staff training” (World Economic Forum 2017). Moreover, the Global Competitiveness Index of WEF ranks Singapore 3rd in the world and praises it for its leadership in higher education and training, as well as for its public-sector performance (World Economic Forum 2017-2018).
It is said that the employment goes where the talent is – quite the contrary to the past (Lanvin, Evans ed. by 2017). If global cities want to retain their global status, as well their spirit of dynamism and innovation, they need to keep pulling talents from many sectors and provide for a melting pot of their ideas.
Interestingly, according to the Global Cities Talent Competitiveness Index (GCTCI) 2017, these are not necessarily truly global cities that attract the most talent. In the top 10 of the ranking, one can find such cities as Helsinki (3rd), Gothenburg (5th), Eindhoven (9th) or Dublin (10th). Santiago de Chile also serves as an example. Following the introduction of certain public policies, the city started to be called “Chilecon Valley”, particularly due to improving the business environment and living conditions, also for ex-pats. It is estimated that investors from approximately 80 countries operate there today.
Moreover, even though the Academic Ranking of World Universities, known also as the Shanghai List, has been always dominated by American and British universities, cities of these countries do not dominate the GCTCI. San Francisco (4th) and Los Angeles (9th) reached top 10 but New York is placed relatively low (14th), and Boston or Chicago are not included in the ranking.
London also did not perform best and is placed only on the 16th place (Lanvin, Evans ed. by 2017). This may be caused either by the fact that this was just the very first, beta-version of the index (and authors remind the readers about this limitation) or by the fear of possible effects of the Brexit referendum. Interestingly, in the 7th edition of PwC’s 2016 “Cities of Opportunity” study, based on data from 2014-2015 (before the Brexit referendum) London strongly outperformed other cities in the categories of intellectual capital, innovation and city gateway (1st) and performed very well in technology readiness (2nd) (Dougher, Galal, Sviokla, ed. by, 2016). The 2017 edition of the report has not been published.
The GCTCI 2017 states that costs of living are lower in such cities as Gothenburg or Dublin than in global metropolises, but the quality of life there is higher and includes also a modern infrastructure and connectivity. Therefore, these cities may suit digital nomads and millennials much more than larger ones. Millennials, the best-educated generation in the humankind history, expect a lot from the countries and cities they live in, as well as from their employers . According to “Forbes”, millennials want to be “connected to causes”: this generation wants to live, study and work in places and conditions, where they can have a positive impact on their community and where they can ensure a good future for their children (Godfrey 2016). These factors are presumably easier to find in smaller, quieter cities than in noisy urban spaces of global cities.
IV – connectivity
When connectivity is concerned, both online and offline infrastructure matters. By that, one should understand the best possible broadband connectivity (there should be no spot without the most sustainable Wi-Fi in a global city), the airports with as many international flights and transfer options as possible, and (often) highways that will drive people wherever they wish to. The business of airports is the most visible characteristic of a global city. For instance, according to Airports Council International, the Hong Kong International Airport had 70.5 million passengers in 2016 (with just 7 million citizens), Beijing had 94 million, and Shanghai, with two airports combined, crossed the number of 100 million passengers (Airports Council International 2017). According to Parag Khanna and his book “Connectography”, “the more a city invests in physical, online and financial infrastructure, the greater its future role will be in a world where connectivity is the chief commodity” (Lanvin, Evans, ed. by 2017).
The significance of connectivity for global cities, is confirmed in the Arcadis Sustainable Cities Mobility Index that examines the urban transportation systems, no matter what they are based on: underground, bicycles, ferries or other means of transportation. Major global cities reach high positions: Hong-Kong ranks 1st, Paris 3rd, London 7th and Tokyo 13th, but New York is only 23rd, behind regional stars like Prague (5th), Munich (14th) or Lyon (15th) (Arcadis 2017).
American cities do not perform well in the Index presumably due to relatively low, especially in comparison with the European ones, spending and investments in public transport and the prevailing position of private cars. Other important indicators include modernity of the transport network, operating hours, the quality of internet connection (especially in the underground), network’s density in the suburbs and access to transportation to the airports, usually located outside of cities (for instance, it takes just 6 minutes to get to the Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport from the business Zuldas district). There are also environmental factors, like initiatives towards lower transport emissions, and economic ones, including time spent on commuting and prices of tickets. This shows how complex the issue of connectivity and transportation within a global city is, how much of innovation may happen in a city and how many layers of cooperation and know-how sharing between cities may happen in the field of connectivity.
The networks of global cities matter to nation-states because another phenomenon linked with connectivity – or rather “disconnectivity” – emerges: the disappearing bonds of global cities with their hinterlands. Global cities often have more interactions with each other than with other regions or countryside in their states. This phenomenon influences the coherence and development processes in many states of the world. The results of the Brexit referendum in the UK serve as probably the most striking example.
This is the end of Part II. Stay tuned for two further parts with even more answers to the questions concerning urbanisation and cities.
This series includes also following articles:
Airports Council International (2017), “Preliminary 2016 World Airport Traffic Rankings”, http://www.aci.aero/News/Releases/Most-Recent/2017/04/19/ACI-releases-preliminary-2016-world-airport-traffic-rankingsRobust-gains-in-passenger-traffic-at-hub-airports-serving-transPacific-and-East-Asian-routes.
Arcadis (2017), Arcadis Sustainable Cities Mobility Index 2017, https://www.arcadis.com/assets/images/sustainable-cities-mobility-index_spreads.pdf.
Dougher B., Hazem G., Sviokla J. (ed. by 2016), “Cities of Opportunity 7”, PwC.
Godfrey Neale (2016), “The Young And The Restless: Millennials On The Move”, https://www.forbes.com/sites/nealegodfrey/2016/10/02/the-young-and-the-restless-millennials-on-the-move/#4a96f67e3ba8
Kelly J. et. al. , „City Momentum Index 2017 Edition”, JLL 2017.
Lanvin B., Evans P. (ed. by, 2017), “The Global Talent Competitiveness Index 2017. Talent and Technology”, INSEAD, The Adecco Group, Human Capital Leadership Institute.
Longworth R. C. (2015), “On Global Cities”, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
OECD (2015), “PISA Results in Focus”, http://www.oecd.org/pisa/pisa-2015-results-in-focus.pdf.
The Guardian (2014), “Top 20 countries for international students”, https://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/blog/2014/jul/17/top-20-countries-international-students.
World Economic Forum (2017-2018), The Global Competitiveness Report 2017-2018 https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-competitiveness-report-2017-2018.