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The global geography of world cities,David Satterthwaite

Various lists and indicators are used to determine which cities are deemed ‘world cities’. David Satterthwaite examines four lists of different indicators and discusses which cities come out on top.

What are termed ‘world’ cities or ‘global’ cities command and control the world economy, and are centres for transnational corporations (TNCs). They are mostly among the world’s wealthy cities; if not, they are at least among the wealthiest in their nation.

But the cities from where TNCs produce their goods are often not wealthy. Dhaka is a clothes manufacturing hub for global brands yet TNCs do not have headquarters there. When global brands cut their businesses, it is the million or so workers in Dhaka who are laid off.

Global cities play a key role in the world economy – but the playing field is increasingly unequal. Most cities are not able to engage seriously in global or regional contests for corporate headquarters. Some may be able to attract investment in production, especially where wages are very low. But being far from major trunk transport, communications and other infrastructure prevent them from genuinely competing.

There are many lists that rank cities by indicators – such as gross domestic product (GDP), GDP per capita or housing affordability. Cities are also ranked using composite indicators measuring, for instance, business environment or quality of life (or subsets of this). Some lists relate more directly to ‘global’ or ‘world’ city economies.

Here, we look at four of these lists – cities ranked by:

  • Their concentration of advanced producer services (accountancy, advertising, banking/finance, law)
  • Their number of TNC headquarters and their size and economic performance
  • Scores on global financial services, and
  • A composite indicator including scores on business activity, human capital, information exchange, cultural experience and political engagement.


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