The Id·eal Global City

Issue 00/14

In the race for being a great metropolis of its time, only an obstacle can push back to a city to the square one: forget which makes it different.

In a globalised world, cities stand as the new decision centres and the chief catalysts of social development. Cities are now striving to host great events, capture investments, import talent or increase their flow of visitors; in short, they aspire to be more competitive on an international scale. But they do not only compete, they also exercise the power of collaboration: many are the occasions on which their strength and relevance are determined by their ability to generate links with other towns and weave a network of cities, international organisations or social agents able to provide the support required to complement and promote them.

Lucien Baylac: General View of Exposición Universal de París, 1900. Library of Congress, Washington DC

The group of global cities consists of the most advanced and complex metropoli of the twenty-first century. A number of requirements have to be met in order to belong to the group:

  • being an internationally known city;
  • influencing and participating in significant worldwide events;
  • forming a conurbation with an extensive population in the metropolitan area characterised by cultural diversity;
  • possessing an advanced public transport system that connects the city both;
  • having an advanced telecommunication infrastructure;
  • its own cultural identity as a reflection of the care and conservation of its heritage;
  • an important economic centre or ‘business city;’
  • a good quality of life;
  • efficient and sustainable services;
  • and a solid entrepreneurial spirit.

These great cities of the developed world, and others that are most attractive because of the growth potential of emerging economies, make up an environment characterised by progressive competitiveness.

Tate Modern & London Millennium, London

General view of São Paulo, Brazil

In this changing context, cities—like companies—must now make an effort to attract the capital, talent and human resources they need to assure higher standards of living and the perfection of citizen services through balanced and sustainable long-term growth.

This is how cities have gone from playing a reactive role to needing to develop another much more proactive role. As well as possessing values and advantages that are more competitive than those of other towns, cities must publicise their features and distinguishing traits, those that make them unique, which can range from their cultural heritage and economic fabric to the character of their inhabitants. Whatever their distinctive feature may be, the ‘ideal global city’ should, above all, be different to all others.

Finding the focal point of this difference, that which really makes a city and its inhabitants special and unique in a given territory, must be the first step in the race for global positioning. Quite likely, it will also prove to be the most difficult.