ranking cities
July 25, 2011, 5:30 pm
Filed under: Cities | Tags: , , , ,

Below are the criteria for yet another attempt to rank world cities from FP: Global Cities Index.  I’ve pulled out their metrics in point form and then added my notes following:

  1. business activity: market value; number of Fortune 500s; flow of goods
  2. human capital: immigrant population, quality of higher education, international schools, number of people with university degrees.
  3. information exchange:  quality of flow, number of news bureaus, censorship, international news, broadband subscribers.
  4. cultural experience:  diversity, sports, performing arts, food.
  5. political engagement:  global influence through: embassies, think tanks, international organizations, conferences.

The FP Global Cities Index reads like prospectus for an exclusive golf or lifestyle community.  It reeks of upper middle class ghetto and should not be trusted as an accurate metric for the planning of a real city.

My first impression is that it is a very globally focused list:  corporations are mentioned and local business are not; education has an international bent; news needs to be international; and political engagement is focused on extra urban, international relations.  City policy can’t be exclusively externally focused as this index suggests.

Also it is very business centric, as if written – like everything else these days – by an economist.  Instead of, for instance, by an anthropologist or a social scientist or even an urban planner.  The business described is white collar, so no light industry or blue collar activity to speak of.  Which implies this city has a mono business culture, which by all measures is disastrous for a healthy city.

There is no mention at all of the physical environment which generally is the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of a city.  So, no vision of streets, public parks, waterfronts, amenities, public transportation, housing types, quality of workspaces, bikes, air quality, airports, and so on.

Furthermore, there is no mention of issues like racial diversity which major new studies are reporting are critical for harmony.  Nor is there mention of policing and crime; presumably criminal elements aren’t invited in the first place.

Weirdly, the only non business / non global market concern in this index is making sure all the cats from the Fortune 500s and embassies have a place to consume art and haute cuisine after their long, and no doubt productive, days at the office.

The index could – if you squint – be a definition of a country club or upper class ghetto, which is anathema to a real global city.  In his book The Triumph of the City, Edward Glaeser writes a whole chapter that champions the presence of the poor in vital global cities.  Their presence, he says, are indicators that cities, as generators of economic activity and social cohesion, are functioning as they should.  They act as magnets, because of their vitality, to people who need to improve the general condition of their lives.

Glaeser’s chapter on the poor is just one example of how much the FP Global Cities Index leaves out – glaring omissions that reveal the index for what it is: a charter for a wealthy enclave, not a proper definition of a real city at all.  My advice?  Don’t trust it with a ten foot pole.

The link to the findings are below and the metrics are in this paragraph from the FP website:

The Global Cities Index ranks cities’ metro areas according to 25 metrics across five dimensions. The first is business activity: including the value of its capital markets, the number of Fortune Global 500 firms headquartered there, and the volume of the goods that pass through the city. The second dimension measures human capital, or how well the city acts as a magnet for diverse groups of people and talent. This includes the size of a city’s immigrant population, the quality of the universities, the number of international schools, and the percentage of residents with university degrees. The third dimension is information exchange-how well news and information is dispersed about and to the rest of the world. The number of international news bureaus, the level of censorship, the amount of international news in the leading local papers, and the broadband subscriber rate round out that dimension. The final two areas of analysis are unusual for most rankings of globalized cities or states. The fourth is cultural experience, or the level of diverse attractions for international residents and travelers. That includes everything from how many major sporting events a city hosts to the number of performing arts venues and diverse culinary establishments it boasts and the sister city relationships it maintains. The final dimension-political engagement-measures the degree to which a city influences global policymaking and dialogue. How? By examining the number of embassies and consulates, major think tanks, international organizations, and political conferences a city hosts.

Global Cities Index Methodology, Foreign Policy


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