The Paradox of Global Cities

Adam Gerstenfeld

NYC Photo

Global cities are becoming a more important part of international politics, but do our leaders fully realise their implications?  While states still hold military power, global cities are starting to siphon off economic powers, calling into question not only competing economic interests between global cities and their host countries, but also issues of citizenship and identity.  

Global cities can push policy agendas on the nations they reside in because of their strong influence in so many other markets. We can look to Hong Kong’s push for easing corporation restrictions after helping fuel China’s rapid growth in the last decade (though the territory is admittedly unique), the various non-profits and corporations in New York City that fueled US climate change initiatives and of course the ubiquitous example of London’s outsized pull over politics, economy and culture in Britain. The implications of policy injections coming from much smaller and less representative municipalities could drastically affect the way our democratic systems function. A new locus of power is forming at the lowest level of the political spectrum that can have disproportionate influence over the country they reside in.

As fulcrums in the global market, the political apparatus of the global city affects such a wide net of people, they can transcend the culture of a particular location. For instance, Miami is a North American city, but can also be seen a global city representative of Latin America. More places like Miami are likely pop up in the future, where a global city serves as a proxy for a foreign culture, which could lead to certain goods and commodities being traded in spaces far away from their inception point.

For example, despite the Cuban embargo, it’s not actually uncommon for Miami-Cubans to open us businesses in their native country. Miami’s influx of Cuban migrants, combined with its appeal as a global city, has a unique relationship with a foreign country that is not indicative of public policy expressed by the United States. While these are American citizens, they also assert a certain kinship to a different country.  These are the kinds of relationships that could blossom should global cities serve as proxy cultures in other countries.

Part of the reason this is problematic is because cities are still ultimately led by local governments, putting new pressures on city administrators.  To cope, some cities have created new government agencies, such as the Greater London Authority (GLA) in 2000 and Métropole du Grand Paris earlier this year. Unlike the GLA, Grand Paris is made up of officials who were not democratically elected. This discrepancy calls into question the oversight of global cities, especially in democratic countries, and how they derive their legitimacy.  New foreign policy initiatives created by cities can sidestep policies created by countries. This most directly affects trade policy, but also indirectly plays a role in immigration, climate change and peace.

Despite this expansion of power, global cities still cannot survive without the stability of their sovereign nation.  Furthermore, the development of these global cities is intimately intertwined with the economic trajectory of the country as a whole.  None of the global cities in the highest tier are found in any developing countries. Global cities need stable markets and governments in order to prosper, and this process seems to be a one-way street. Greater power has been moving towards cities for some time. But what if national governments start to bite back?


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