Trying to define what a global city is is a difficult exercise. Indeed, the number of cities of large population is increasing rapidly and the simple criterion of the number of inhabitants is today largely insufficient. It is this complex exercise that was attempted in a presentation entitled: What is a World City? The present text therefore proposes to give a brief return on the main points raised by this presentation as well as during the short debate that followed it.
What is a Global City?
In general, the most characteristic feature of a global city is that it is unformed, scattered and proliferating: so its limits are (very) difficult to identify, so that we do not really know where she begins and ends. For example, Tokyo is a globalized metropolis with a population of 33.5 million, integrating into a vast urban fabric made up of several urban areas (Tokyo, Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto) which account for more than 50 million inhabitants. However, global cities, referred to this way following the work of Saskia Sassen (1996), cannot be seen as being in complete rupture with their historical origins: the world city has indeed been articulated on the historic city to redraw it spatially and “urbanistically” as well as to redefine it socially and economically. It concentrates on its territory new tertiary and quaternary activities bringing together what is best – most innovative and efficient – in finance, research, consulting, communication, law, media, design and marketing, architecture…
Which territory? Which populations?
At what spatial scale should the study of the term “world city” be inscribed? Beyond the administrative and political limit determined by the territory of the city-center which gives the whole an international identity and visibility (the image of cities like Paris, New York or London goes through the existence a few symbolic monuments or the boldness of a vertical architecture, a visible manifestation of power), the world city fits more broadly on the scale of the metropolis or the megalopolis (American, Japanese and European). Indeed, phenomena of loosening of activities, specialization of neighborhoods expand the territorial framework of the Global City. New York (the world city par excellence?) thus presents new centralities in the peripheries: Jersey City, where finance accounts for 32% of jobs, is one of the best examples of these “edge-cities” need to consider the world city at the widest scales of study.
Distinguish the “global city” from the “International city”?
Geographer Cynthia Ghorra-Gobin proposes that these two notions should not be confused. If the “global city” and the “International city” both have a strategic position in the flow of communications, exchanges and transport and are part of strategies of attractiveness on a global scale, their assets are not identical.