Understanding the global environment


In this short article I will refer to the concept of global business cities and how they develop strategies to compete with each other, for the attraction of international capital and consumers. In the first section, I will discuss the concept of globalization and the interlinked ambiguities, while the second section is devoted to the description of the most important features of global business cities and their development strategies. I will then showcase that London is indeed a global city, which has turned its local cultural resources into a competitive advantage, in the context of the international competition.

Interpretations of the globalization

Some historians claim that globalization is not a modern phenomenon, as the human history provides us with many examples of interdependencies between autonomous regions, from the civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt, to the recent world empires (e.g. Britain).

Nowadays, globalization is perceived as an element of an era when:

a) the national states are no longer able to exercise their economic functions,

b) the international trade is increasing, affecting the movement of people and capital,

c) the use of digital technology is spreading worldwide, and

d) the new production processes create division of labor and social inequalities on a global scale.

There is, therefore, a general definition of globalization with references to a global functional integration through the use of new technologies and telecommunications – so not simply the expansion of economic activities beyond the national borders.

Based on the above definition, which refers to the concepts of the homogeneity of lifestyle and mentality, the systematization of the production process and the codification of transactions, there are some alternative interpretations of contemporary Geography, in the context of the “cultural turn”,i.e. a turn towards the concepts of specificity and differentiation (let’s sleep on these terms; I will probably elaborate on these in my next article).

So what causes the globalisation?

Globalization is not a linear mutation of human activity towards a particular model; its dynamics develop through opposing trends:

a) Trade and development of multinational enterprises unify the world and allow the spread of a particular type of labour market and production model.

b) The removal of economic borders between states and the abolition of institutional constraints are opening the way for the development of a global economic community.

c) Migration flows contribute to cultural homogeneity, while allowing cultural peculiarities to emerge and communicate.

d) New technologies, and especially networks, are a quite unique factor in enhancing globalization, as they also enable cultural diversification.

It is therefore perceived that globalization is ambiguous – and as such it is understood and experienced on one hand,networking in communication and information creates a cosmopolitan experience, and on the other, cyberspace not only does not negate territorialism, but instead it enhances spatial re-concentration of economic activities, creating new inequalities. The global city is just one of the results of the aforementioned international, reassignments.

What is a global city?

The global cities are nodes in the global networks of economy, technology, politics and culture.

Not all of them are similar, but they all have a significant economic power in the global system. The concept of a global city is associated to the presence of stock exchange markets, concentration of services and the operation of international political organizations. It is crucial to understand here, that global cities are not always the transformation of traditionally strong industrial cities that are being re-urbanized (like London). Some of them are set up as such from scratch (like Dubai).

Finally, key features of global cities are cosmopolitanism and, multiculturalism.

Global cities’ strategies

So global cities are urban centres evolving in the context of globalization in a specific way that distinguishes them from other major cities. Their urban development depends not only on economic but also on ideological and cultural factors, and of course on their ability to compete each other in attracting international capital.
These cities are developed and run in terms of a business, outside the conceptual framework of nationstate. Political power, decision-making and urban infrastructure financing are not limited to public institutions and resources, but also involve private agents. Their local government becomes the institutional framework, let’s say, in which the individual actors undertake the construction of the city, as a “business city” – a city that is managed as a business.

Key feature of their strategy is the modernization of the urban landscape and its promotion to the international audience.

Another feature is the development of specialized services such as financial services, b2b, IT etc.

Targeting alternative sources of financing (eg. European development programs, venture capital funds, business angels etc.) is also of major importance.

Extraversion is another element that business cities actively seek to develop – by this I mean both being literally accessible to the rest of the world (e.g. by building transport and telecommunications infrastructures), and establishing a number of cross-border business and cultural co-operations (e.g. town twinning),

Cultural diplomacy is high on the agenda of these extrovert cities and it takes place erthei within the traditional institutional frameworks (e.g. embassies), or by independentcultural institutions (e.g. institutes exercising cultural diplomacy).

Furthermore, I cannot, but observe, the distinct effort of these cities to improve theirvisibility through the networks of world tourism and through attracting global events.

Last, but definitely not least, I would like to underline that a common feature of the global cities’ strategies is the open debate among public and private stakeholders, regarding the development and promotion of the concept of the city itself.

In the paragraphs to follow I am going to explain why London is a global city, highlight the key feature of its development strategy and note how its local cultural resources have been turned into comparative advantages in the context of the international competition.

The London example

In London, the urban tissue has been formed since the Middle Ages and especially after the 16th century, when the growth of entrepreneurship and trade accelerated – at this point ii is good to remember that it was then, that the property of the Catholic church was passed on to individuals, in accordance with the terms of the religious reform. The early consolidation of parliamentarism and the powerful liberal voices on the English political scene allowed for its further development in social, cultural and artistic terms. Today London is one of the world’s most powerful business cities and is one of the largest financial centres in the modern world: London is ranked 5th in the global economy based on GDP and Britain is at the top of the international ranking of robust economies, based on quantitative indicators of economic performance, for example, GDP, per capita income etc.. The most developed sectors in London are finance, commerce, b2b, telecommunications, IT, medical services and R&D. The liberal socio-political background of this city gives way in the human expression, from the media and public speaking, to the independent academic research, the arts, or the street fashion.

Since the last century, London is established as a global city and attracts investors, professionals and artists from around the world, who find here their viable space for personal growth and expression, and opportunities for high profitability and great networking. Today, around 300 different languages are spoken in London, which is considered to be the most popular tourist destination (according to the international arrivals in the London airports). At the forefront of technological developments and always willing to incorporate new concepts, London is considered to be one of the most scientifically progressive and socially diverse cities in the world.
London invests in preserving and advertising its particular architectural features and is considered by many (I do include myself here) to be one of the most interesting cities in the world by architectural criteria: Medieval castles (such as the Tower of London) co-exist here with Gothic temples (such as the Anglican Church of All Saints), Renaissance buildings (e.g. the Banqueting House and St Paul’s Cathedral), neoclassical buildings (for example the Bank of England), the glass skyscrapers in the city, Art Deco bridges on Thames, industrial buildings, modern buildings, and the Barbican’s beautiful brutalistic complex, composing a unique urban landscape. So, the London experience is not exhausted in the traditionally popular travel destinations, luxury hotels, museums and royal. The urban gentrification has highlighted various alternative aspects of the city: industrial buildings, factories, tobacco stores and open-air markets are being recreated and attract a new audience, which is interested in the city’s alternative narrative, in the shadow of luxurious areas, like Kensington, Mayfair and Belgravia. Post-industrial and underground aesthetics are in an open dialogue with the traditional urban landscape, creating new bold environments that serve and co-shape a new lifestyle, which is linked to the qualities of extroversion, tolerance to diversity, and focus on what underlies.

Examples of such areas are Covent Garden, Soho and Notting Hill, with their beautiful, colourful outdoor markets, improvised recreation areas, products, cuisines and music from around the world. The cultural footprint of London is this: pluralism, freedom, tolerance, social responsibility. This is what makes London different than any global business city. A place where people come not only to opt for high-profile jobs, but also to live the London experience: the social, moral and artistic freedom that forms the principal value of the city.
Does London’s strategy verify the validity of the cultural shift in Geography? It certainly does. In my next article I give another example of a global city, which has been set up as such, from scratch.

Lamprini Repouliou

Lamprini’s educational background includes a large number of topics, ranging from logic and computer science to philosophy and humanities. Her last job was with the Future of Humanity Institute (University of Oxford) and she is currently pursuing an interdisciplinary degree in the European Civilization. She spends her free time on classical literature, horse-riding and classical ballet and loves studying philosophy and travelling around the world.


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