Global City (+ World City, Ecumenopolis)

  1. Terminology and Characteristics
  2. Examples of Global Cities
  3. Examples of World Cities
  4. Globalization and Globalizing Cities
  5. Evolution of Global Cities
  6. The Impact of New Technologies
  7. References

1. Terminology and Characteristics

Global City
Saskia Sassen has first coined the term “global city” in The Global City: New York, London, Tokyo. Instead of “global city”, the term “world city” might be used. Both terms come from the urban studies and geography. However, a distinction can be made: the global city is directly associated with globalization. Because the transnationalization of economies has grown sharply and cities have become increasingly strategic for global capital, global cities have gained significant global importance and share several unique characteristics. Population size is not primarily important, although all global cities are large cities. More importantly, the function and assigned role in global capital and flow of resources will define the cities place in the global economy, and it’s possible ranking within the complex spatial hierarchy. Global cities are those that function primarily as hubs for global networks of business firms, financial institutions, and non-governmental organizations and include corporate headquarters and advanced business services, such as accounting, advertising, consulting, and financial legal services. The global dispersal of economic activities, helped by both space-shrinking technologies and deregulation measures, creates a huge demand for theses expended central management functions (Kim & Short, 2008). Most global cities would be considered to be in the category of world cities.

World City
World cities on the other hand are locations of significant diversity that form world-interconnections. The term was coined first by Pattrick Geddes in Cities in Evolution (1915). World cities are characterized by a lively cultural scene and play an important role in terms of socio-cultural means. These certain cities stand out for their role in facilitating transnational flows of people, and cultures. World cities may house world-renowned universities, museums, and other cultural institutions. This contributes the mixing of groups and nationalities. Immigrant communities also represent a key feature of world cities (Abrahamson, 2004).

Ecumenopolis is Greek and means a city made from the whole world (ecumen: world, polis: city). The Greek city planner Constantinos Doxiadis invented the word in 1967, representing the idea that there would be a single continuous worldwide city in the future because urban areas and megapolises would fuse as a result of urbanization and population growth rates. So far, ecumenopolis so is only fictional, but the concept has become a frequent topic in science fiction. Planets are often the capitals of galactic empires (such as the fictional planet Coruscant from the Star Wars Universe, mentioned first by Timothy Zahn).

Couruscant - a city covering an entire Planet (Zahn, 1999)

2. Examples of Global Cities
The described services (see Terminology) tend to concentrate disproportionately in global cities, such as London, New York, and Tokyo. These leading global cities stand in a league of their own, and are key-locations of most aspects of globalization. One may also focus on international airline networks to explore the global influence of an individual city. The possible ranking within the complex economic hierarchy can be seen when taking a look at global revenues:


International passenger traffic, April 2005-March 2006

3. Examples of World Cities
Hall first identified seven world cities in The World Cities (1966): London, Paris, Randstad, Rhine-Ruhr, Moscow, New York and Tokyo. Later Friedman’s essay The World City Hypothesis situated world cities within the international division of labor. Some recent examples of World Cities characterized by these socio-cultural elements and broad diversity would be New York City, Toronto, Paris, Buenos Aires, or Berlin.

American cities with highest percentages of foreign-born residents

4. Globalization and Globalizing cities

Kim & Short write about the effects of the forces of globalization on cities and vice versa in the sixth chapter of Cities and Economies (2008). The authors state that globalization does not mean homogenization, like other authors have stated, who linked globalization to a universalizing power of certain economic, political and cultural forces across national boundaries (Kim & Short, 2008). Instead, many insist on remaining significance of governments, cultural differences and national identities. The authors also argue that previous historical processes, such as modernization, industrialization, capitalism and colonialism were as revolutionary in their days, as globalization in ours. They therefore conclude that a truly globalized world will be anything but homogeneous.
At the same time, we can observe a strong trend of convergence. Landscapes, filled with identical office buildings, easily recognizable retailers and common fashion trends greatly resemble each others. Globalized comsumption patterns have materialized in large cities in both the Wester and the non-Western World (Kim & Short, 2008). However, while globalized comsumption patterns make many different places look, feel, and taste the same, a closer look on the ground reveals distinctly local activity, alongside those globalized practices. Micro-scale studies note the coexistence of global space (Wal-mart stores) and local space (public buildings with historical memory). Individual places, they find, rework globalizing effects, instead of being completely consumed by them.

5. Soja on the Evolution of Global Cities

Edward Soja, a postmodern political geographer and urban planner on the faculty at UCLA, is a distinguished Professor of Urban Planning. He is the author of Postmetropolis - Critical Studies of Cities and Regions, which is a comprehensive text in the “growing field of critical urban studies to deal with the dramatically restructured megacities that have emerged world-wide over the last half of the twentieth-century” (
Soja writes that Globalization is “global culture-society-economy-capitalism, social theory, and societal development, economic restructuring and the urban regional process, a new international division of labor, the formation of global regions, the representation of identity, transnational citizenship, and a reassertation of the power of the local” (190). Soja also states that the empowerment of globality primarily as the product of a dramatic expansion in the scale and scope of capitalist industrial production. The earliest capitalist world system began with the globalization of commercial or mercantile capital in the sixteenth century in world cities such as Amsterdam or Hamburg (192). The author lists many different forces responsible for the postmetropolitan transition during the restructuring process in a new age of globalism, such as the industrialization of major segments of the old Third World, the creation of globally networked manufacturing (such as the “world car” or the “Beneton sweater”), the accelerated movement of people, goods, services and information across national borders, or new trading blocks (such as NAFTA). However, all these processes are clustered around the globalization of capital (new international, fast markets, and labor that are more flexible and easier to move).

6. The Impact of New Technologies

In The Impact of the New Technologies (2001) Sassen writes that telecommunications and globalization have emerged as major forces shaping the organization of urban space. Whether in electronic space or in the geography of the built environment, the reorganization involves a repositioning of the urban centrality in particular. The massive trends towards the spatial dispersal of economic activities at the metropolitan, national and global level, which we associate with globalization, have contributed to a demand for new forms of territorial centralization of top-level management and control operations, writes Sassen. This spatial dispersal of economic activity is made possible by new telecommunications and contributes the continuing concentration in control, ownership and profit appropriation that characterizes the current economic system and enable instantaneous transitions of money and information around the globe. The integration of a growing number of stock markets has also contributed to raise the capital that can be mobilized through stock markets. The growth of investment as a major type of international transaction has contributed to the expansion in command functions and specialized services for firms (such as accounting, top-level financing, legal, managerial, executive, and planning functions necessary for firms). These agglomerations of firms producing central functions for the management and coordination of global economic systems are disproportionately concentrated in highly developed countries – particularly in the kind of city we call “Global City”. Such concentrations of functions represent a strategic factor in the organization of the global economy. Significant is the extent to which significant portions of economies are now digitalized and the extent at which hey can travel at great speed. At the same time, however is the city remains an integral part of these new configurations, concludes Sassen.

7. References

Abrahamson, Mark. (2004). Global Cities. New York: Oxford University Press.
Hall, P. (1966). The World Cities. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
Kim, Y-H., & Short, J.R. (2008). Cities and Economies Cities and Economies (Routledge Critical Introductions to Urbanism and the City). New York, NY: Routledge.
Sassen, S. (2001). The Impact of New Information Technologies and Globalization on Cities”, Cities in Transition. Rotterdam: 010 Publishers.
Sassen, S. (1991). The Global City: New York, London, Tokyo. NJ: Princeton University Press.
Soja, E. (2000). Postmetropolis: Critical Studies of Cities and Regions. Oxford:Blackwell.

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