Influence, not size, is key in defining today's global city. With Dubai and Beijing named among the world's ten most influential cities in a recent Forbes report, there is argument to be made that the power of civic influence could be the most important element of all
How is a city’s importance in the world measured? Traditionally, population combined with historical and financial worth has been the dominant measure, with London, New York and Paris all regarded as the major players on the world stage for centuries, let alone decades. But a new study from business magazine Forbes suggests that size doesn’t matter so much as influence. And by that rationale, Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong and Beijing are becoming global leaders.
All four cities ranked in Forbes’ top ten of the world’s most influential cities. But how is influence defined? Forbes looked at eight key elements, including how connected a city is to other global centres via air, how much foreign investment it attracts, its racial diversity, the strength of its financial services and its technology and media power.
So by those criteria, it’s no surprise that the newer cities of the Middle East and Asia are competing with the old powers. Earlier this year, Dubai International Airport hit the headlines when it overtook Heathrow in London as the world’s busiest aviation hub, while Hong Kong now boasts most of the world’s investment banks and insurance companies. Meanwhile, Beijing hosts most of China’s most forward-thinking companies and Singapore is the global leader in encouraging foreign direct investment.
Of course, city studies such as these hit the headlines all the time. The Economist also published a ‘liveability index’ last week, based on stability, infrastructure, healthcare and the environment. Melbourne, Vienna and Vancouver took the top three slots, and only three of the top ten weren’t in either Australia or Canada. Monocle magazine’s recent Quality Of Life survey heralded Melbourne, Tokyo and Copenhagen as the best 21st century cities in which to live, work and play. But they do fulfill a function. Civic influence is bound up in civic reputation. And reputation can only be built when people - workers, investors, businesses - come to a city and capitalise on its strengths.
Take Beijing as an example. As the capital of China and its political heart, one might expect it to have influence on the global stage - although of course it is not the country’s biggest city. But it is also the place, as Forbes notes, most large state-owned companies, elite educational institutions and innovative companies call home. Such a broad mix of talent means Beijing has become a vital city for the Asia-Pacific region. And such vibrancy not only projects importance upon the rest of the world, it draws the world into Beijing.
So while London might still top Forbes’ World’s Most Influential Cities list, there’s a sense that its pre-eminence as a financial, media, cultural, transport and technology hub might be coming to an end. And with new eras, come exciting new cities.