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Which functions are important within large urban areas?

Finance: Cities such as London, Hong Kong and New York have developed their financial cores. Functions include currency exchange, purchasing stocks and shares, insurance, futures trading and banking. The advent of 24 hour trading has been a vital factor in the growth of world trade ie when one financial center closes for the day, transactions are made in another center in a different time zone e.g. London followed by Singapore.

Manufacturing: Capital intensive, automated and large scale. Dominated by MNCs. Activity often concentrated in special zones on the periphery of large cities. e.g. Shanghai.

Administration: Some governments have decentralised decision making away from capital cities e.g. Sydney, Shanghai, Los Angeles, Toronto. Other cities are home to organisations which have an international decision making role e.g. Brussels (EU), Washington (World Bank), London (Commonwealth)

Cultural: Cities display a global influence in setting and inspiring ideas and trends. Religion eg Mecca (Muslims), media e.g. London (BBC) , education e.g. Oxford (University), fashion e.g. Paris (YSL, Dior) can be used as examples here.

Trading Centers: Historically, these have been cities which have developed around a port eg Rotterdam and Shanghai where manufactured goods could be imported and exported. However, with the development of the service economy, which involves the transaction of intangible goods, some cities have become major trading centers e.g. Zurich (Finance).

Recreational: Tourism is now the world's largest industry and large cities generate significant amounts of revenue from travel and tourism e.g. Bangkok

Transport and Communication: Major cities are a focus for a highly centralised road, rail and air network. The advent of fiber optic cables and the increased use of the internet both for information and e-commerce have secured the position of many large cities in the developed world within the global market.


What economic and social impacts do World Cities have?

- Corporate Decision Making: Concentrated in a few cities but the effects of those decisions are felt worldwide e.g. 10 cities house the HQs of over half of the world's largest 500 MNCs

- Reinforcing the Time Space Collapse: Decisions are made more quickly and actions taken promptly due to improvements in Information and Communication technology (ICT). Conversely, this could enable decisions making to be spread to more remote areas.  However, current trends suggest that this has not taken place as:

  1. some places in the world have better ICT connections than others

  2. up to date ICT is found in the major cities

  3. ICT can reinforce the dominance of developed world cities

- Demand: Demand for services within World Cities e.g. finance means that they influence the global economy 24 hours a day.

- Globalisation: They act as a focus for the transfer of new ideas across different cultures and reinforce the use of English as the global business language. Major motors of the global economy.

- Migration: Economic success has attracted migrants to such cities. Skill and gender differences. Can lead to resource imbalance and overpopulation in some regions.



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Theme : World Cities

The concept of "World Cities" was reintroduced by Sir Peter Hall in 1966. It is an important idea which links together components from the MEDC and LEDC themes of the OIB Geography course. Whilst the concept can be used to address issues relating to urbanisation, it is also useful when assessing the impact that globalisation has made on the changing economies of both cities and countries in the developed and developing world.


What is a World City?

A World City is a metropolitan area "in which a disproportionate share of the world's most important business is conducted" (Hall, 1966)


What is the difference between a World City and a large metropolitan area?

Not all major urban areas or capital cities display the characteristics of a World City. Urban areas may be significant at regional or national level but not internationally.

Urban areas are dynamic and complex. Although this makes it difficult to make generalisations, there are key aspects that are common to large cities:

- multi-faceted: different roles and functions performed within the city and its hinterland (surrounding area influenced by the city). This hinterland can extend to an international audience in the case of a major world city e.g. London.

- single function cities: one role dominates the city e.g. Canberra (governmental)

- multi function cities: more than one role dominates the city e.g. Shanghai (trade, manufacturing, port activities), London (government, trade, finance)

- multi-faceted international significance: a city which has a global role/function in several spheres e.g. retailing and manufacturing and finance.


Case Study: Harare (Retailing)

Tobacco markets attract a range of international buyers. However, whilst these markets make Harare significant on an international scale, it is insufficient to make Harare a World City.


Thus, in order for a large urban area to be classed as a World City, it has to have a global role in several spheres.


What are the characteristics of World Cities in the 21st Century?

It is important to emphasise that not all large urban areas can be considered to be World Cities. World Cities have to display many of the functions listed above and there is a hierarchy amongst those who claim to be included.

World Cities can be defined as:

"those cities that have outstripped their national urban networks and become part of the global economic system. World cities tend to perform similar functions, including being centers of political power, world trade and communications, leaders in banking and finance and places where major entertainment and sporting spectacles are staged. They typically house headquarters or offices of NGOs and are centers that attract large numbers of tourists. Their influence extends beyond the national boundaries of their own countries." (Codrington,2002)

World Cities often display the phenomenon of "convergence", whereby cities become similar to each other, either in terms of function or of architecture. However, they are categorised in terms of function rather than population size e.g. London (pop 7 million) is considered to be a World City, Kolkata (pop12 million) is not.

London, New York, Tokyo and Paris are considered to be the only four "genuinely world cities" in terms of the number of HQs of major service, industrial and trans-national NGOs. Other cities do exhibit a range of world city functions but in smaller numbers than these four e.g. Chicago, Frankfurt, Los Angeles, Sydney. Brussels is significant in international affairs but less so than business, Osaka visa versa.

The concept is hotly contested, especially as, if the criteria of number of HQs is used, Hong Kong, Singapore and Shanghai fail to make the list. Therefore, there is a constant debate as to which cities should be classified as World Cities. However, it is widely acknowledged that there is a hierarchy of world cities. A suggested hierarchy is outlined below:



World City


Top level

London, New York, Tokyo

Multi-faceted international significance

Second Level

Frankfurt, Los Angeles, Singapore

International importance within their region

Third Level

Madrid, Seoul, Sydney

Lesser international cities

Fourth Level

Houston, Milan, Osaka

Smaller number/less balanced range of functions


John Friedmann has also extended this concept by linking it to his Core-Periphery model. The cities in the global core are linked to those in the semi-periphery.



World City

Core: Primary City

London, Paris, New York, Tokyo, Los Angeles

Core: Secondary City

Miami, Chicago, Houston, San Francisco, Sydney, Madrid, Milan, Vienna

Semi-Periphery: Primary City

Singapore, Sao Paulo

Semi-Periphery: Secondary City

Johannesburg, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Caracas, Mexico City, Toronto, Seoul, Taipei, Manila, Hong Kong, Bangkok





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