GaWC Research Bulletin 59

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This Research Bulletin has been published in Stadt und Region: Dynamik von Lebenswelten, Tagungsbericht und wissenschaftliche Abhandlungen, 53. Deutscher Geographentag Leipzig, 29. September bis 5. Oktober 2001. Edited by A Mayr, M Meurer and J Vogt. Leipzig: Deutsche Gesellschaft für Geographie, 2002, 110-128.

Please refer to the published version when quoting the paper.


Christaller for a Global Age: Redrawing the Urban Hierarchy

P. Hall

Just under seventy years ago, Walter Christaller published his famous study of central places in Southern Germany. Later discredited by reason of its use by the Nazi administration in the planning of occupied territory in eastern Europe, it was nevertheless a pioneering attempt to apply spatial modelling in geography. What is most interesting to the modern geographer, however, is that the world it sought to describe and analyse has so profoundly changed, that in important respects it has almost ceased to exist.

Christaller identified a seven-level hierarchy that ranged from the Landstadt with a population of 500,000 and a catchment population of 3.5 million, represented by centres such as Munich, Nürnberg, Stuttgart and Frankfurt, and immediately below this the Provinzstadt with 100,000 and a regional population of 1 million, represented by places like Augsburg, Ulm, Würzburg and Regensburg, all the way down to the tiny Marktorte with a typical population of 1000 and a catchment area of 3000 people (Christaller, 1966; Dickinson, 1967) (Table 1). Even then his system did not provide fully for higher levels in the hierarchy, in particular national capitals. Today, it has been profoundly affected by the changes about which all geographers write: the increasing globalization of the world; and the informationalization of the economy, the progressive shift of advanced economies from goods production to information handling, whereby the great majority of the workforce no longer deal with material outputs. Manuel Castells has described this as the transition to the informational mode of production: a shift as momentous, in his view, as the shift from an agrarian to an industrial economy in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (Castells 1989; Castells 1996; Hall 1995b, 1995c).

Neither process is of course quite new. The shift from manufacturing to services was already recognized over half a century ago (Clark 1940); by 1991, in typical advanced countries, already by 1991 between three- fifths and three-quarters of all employment was in services, while between one-third and one-half was in information handling: for information, the proportions were 48 per cent for the United States, 46 per cent for the UK, 45 per cent for France, 39 per cent for Germany and 33 per cent for Japan. Typically these proportions have doubled since the 1920s (Castells 2000, 304-324). The trends are very strong and consistent, so there can be little doubt that the proportions will continue to rise, so that by 2025 80-90 per cent will be in services, and up to 60-70 per cent will be in information production and exchange.

Neither is globalization new. Ancient Athens and Renaissance Florence were global cities for their worlds, as was London from the sixteenth century onward (Hall 1998). Thirty foreign banks were already established in London before 1914, 19 between the two world wars, another 87 down to 1969. Then the pace accelerated: 183 in the 1970s, 115 in the first half of the 1980s; in all, between 1914 and the end of 1985 the number of foreign banks in the City grew more than fourteen-fold, from 30 to 434. Both London and New York now had more foreign than domestic banks (Thrift 1987, 210; King 1990, 89-90, 113; Moran 1991, 4; Coakley 1992, 57-61; Kynaston 1994, 1995, passim).

The result of these two processes is the increased - and steadily increasing - importance of cities at the very top of the hierarchy, the so-called world cities or global cities. These, too, are not exactly a new phenomenon. Patrick Geddes already recognized World Cities and defined them, as long ago as 1915, in a book that has become a classic of the planning literature: Cities in Evolution (Geddes 1915). And just over thirty years ago I published a book entitled The World Cities (Hall 1966), defining them in terms of multiple roles: they were centres of political power, both national and international, and of the organizations related to government; centres of national and international trade, acting as entrepôts for their countries and sometimes for neighbouring countries also; hence, centres of banking, insurance and related financial services; centres of advanced professional activity of all kind, in medicine, in law, in the higher learning, and the application of scientific knowledge to technology; centres of information gathering and diffusion, through publishing and the mass media; centres of conspicuous consumption, both of luxury goods for the minority and mass-produced goods for the multitude; centres of arts, culture and entertainment, and of the ancillary activities that catered for them. And, I argued, these kinds of activities tended to grow in importance; so, in the twentieth century, the world cities went from strength to strength: even as they shed some kinds of activity, from routine manufacturing to routine paper-processing, so they took on new functions and added to existing ones (Hall 1966, 1984).

In the 1980s John Friedmann was the first to deepen this analysis, by suggesting that processes of globalization were resulting in a global hierarchy, in which London, New York and Tokyo were "global financial articulations", while Miami, Los Angeles, Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Singapore were "multinational articulations", and Paris, Zurich, Madrid, Mexico City, São Paulo, Seoul and Sydney were "important national articulations", all forming a "network" (Friedmann 1986; Friedmann and Wolff 1982; q. Smith and Timberlake 1995, 294).

Some argue that the advanced global service activities still depend basically on underlying production (Gershuny and Miles 1983; Cohen and Zysman 1987); but evidently, the important point is that the locus of production of advanced business or producer services becomes increasingly disarticulated from that of production. As Saskia Sassen (1991) has put it:

The spatial dispersion of production, including its internationalization, has contributed to the growth of centralized service nodes for the management and regulation of the new space economy ... To a considerable extent, the weight of economic activity over the last fifteen years has shifted from production places such as Detroit and Manchester, to centers of finance and highly specialized services (Sassen 1991).

Thus there are contradictory trends: as production disperses worldwide, services increasingly concentrate into a relatively few trading cities, both the well-known "global cities" and a second rung of about twenty cities immediately below these, which we can distinguish as "sub-global". These cities are centres for financial services (banking, insurance) and headquarters of major production companies; most are also seats of the major world-power governments (King 1990, Sassen 1991). A recent study of four world cities (G.B. Government Office for London, 1996) distinguished four key groups of advanced service activity:

  1. Finance and Business Services: including banking and insurance, commercial business services such as law, accountancy, advertising and public relations, and design services including architecture, civil engineering, industrial design and fashion;

  2. "Power and Influence" (or "Command and Control"): national government, supra-national organisations like UNESCO or OECD, and headquarters of major organisations including transnational corporations;

  3. Creative and Cultural Industries: including live performing arts (theatre, opera, ballet, concerts), museums and galleries and exhibitions, print and electronic media;

  4. Tourism: including both business and leisure tourism, and embracing hotels, restaurants, bars, entertainment, and transportation services.

All these are service industries of the process differs somewhat from sector to sector, but often it involves centrally involving the generation, transmission and consumption of information. The nature a very high degree of immediacy. Whether one considers the investment analyst trading shares, or the lawyer offering advice, or the board of a major corporation in a meeting, or the television producer at work on a show, or the tour guide taking a group sightseeing, specialised information is being processed and transmitted by highly-qualified people in real time. Further, much though not all of this activity involves face-to-face exchange of information, either as a central feature or as an essential ancillary (as when the stock analyst has lunch and picks up important market information). Therefore, an extremely strong force of agglomeration operates throughout these sectors.

It goes almost without saying that these categories tend to be highly synergistic with each other, and that many activities fit effectively into the interstices between them: thus hotels and conference centres and exhibition centres are simultaneously business services and part of tourism; museums and galleries are creative/cultural but also parts of tourism; advertising is both creative and a business service; and so on. For this reason, not only does each of the sectors have strong agglomerative trends set by the need to process and exchange information, but there are also strong agglomerative forces as between the four main sectors.

Thus, globalization plus informationalization meant that the informational industries locate in order to gain access to their central raw material, information. To understand the significance, we need to understand how this informationalization of the economy has occurred. We can say that, with every successive major technological development of the last century and a half, the information content of the innovation wave became more and more pronounced. This suggestion depends on a long-wave framework derived from Nikolai Kondratieff and Joseph Schumpeter (Kondratieff 1935, Schumpeter 1939). In the first so-called Kondratieff long wave, during the first half of the nineteenth century, it was negligible: the only contribution was indirect, through transport technology in the form of the turnpike roads and the fast mail coach, which significantly speeded the exchange of letters. In the second, dating from the second half of the last century, as well as transport technology in the form of the railway and the steamship, came the significant innovation of the electric telegraph, for the first time (experiments in semaphore and similar telegraphy apart) effectively separating the message from the human carrier. The third Kondratieff, in the first half of this century, saw one of the greatest bursts of information technology innovation; yet oddly, since electrical generation and transmission were also an outcome of this innovation wave, most were not electrical but mechanical in character. The real marriage of electricity and information through electronics had to await the fourth Kondratieff just after World War II, though of course the innovations themselves were made before and during the war. And in this wave, though there were also significant developments in transport technology (for instance, the jet engine), the fundamental innovations were informational. Information for the first time drove the economy, both through innovations in production technology (the computer, the copying machine) and also through developments in consumer technology (the transistor radio, the television, audio and video recording). And the fifth Kondratieff wave - which Kondratieff enthusiasts expect before very long - will undoubtedly see the effective convergence of these technologies into one, which will have the interesting characteristic of being simultaneously a producer and a consumer technology in a way that no previous technology has been.


A major review of the global cities literature has come recently from the Globalization and World Cities Study Group and Network at the University of Loughborough, led by Peter Taylor and Jonathan Beaverstock. Table 2, from their paper, compares some of the attempts over the last thirty years, beginning with the present author. They comment that over this long period, "the central facet of the world city literature has been to rank cities according to their disproportionate geoeconomic power in the world-system" (Beaverstock, Taylor and Smith 1999, 446).

Looking back over these thirty years of work, they identify four major approaches which have led to 'standardised' rankings of major cities. The first phase sought to identify the strategic domination of certain world cities in the world-system by analysing and ranking the locational preferences and roles of multinational corporation (MNC) headquarters in the 'developed' world (Hall, 1966; Hymer, 1972; Heenan, 1977). Then, building upon Hall (1966) and especially Hymer (1972), a second approach centred upon the decision-making corporate activities and power of MNCs, in the context of the new (spatial) international division of labour discovered in the late 1970s (Fröbel et al 1980). This approach, which includes such key works as Cohen (1981), Friedmann and Wolff (1982), Friedmann (1986), Glickman (1987), Feagin and Smith (1987) and to some degree Knox (1995a, b) and Thrift (1989), has enriched the 'theoretical' approach taken to world city studies, but has also acted as a major catalyst for work in the 1990s.

A third approach has firmly associated the cities within the urban hierarchy with their propensity to engage with the internationalisation, concentration and intensity of producer services in the world economy. The key work here is undoubtedly that of Saskia Sassen, in The Global City (1991) and Cities in a World Economy (1994). Finally, a fourth approach identifies major cities and their relative positions through rankings of international financial centres. The pioneering work here has come from Howard Reed (1981). These four approaches, they suggest, are perhaps not quite as distinct as they may seem: thus Sassen's producer services includes Read's financial services.

A key argument of the Loughborough group is that many of the approaches - even the classics, such as Friedmann (1986, 1995) and Sassen (1991, 1994) - concentrate simply on measuring data on global city attributes, while ignoring the critical importance of understanding the mutual relationships between individual members of a system of cities. Perhaps the best recent example of the attribute approach comes from John Short and colleagues at the University of Syracuse, who present comparative data in order to try to disprove much of what they say is the conventional wisdom about so-called global cities - in particular, the primacy of London and New York. Their data (ranked in Table 3) show that in 1995, in terms of the head office location of the largest banks ranked by assets, the score was Tokyo 16, Paris 11, Frankfurt 6, New York 5, and London 5; in terms of headquarters of the world's largest industrial corporations in 1993, the scores were Tokyo 17, New York 6, London 5, and Chicago, Seoul and Osaka 4 each; in terms of Stock Exchange market valuation, the order in 1992 was New York $3888 bn., Tokyo $2321 bn., London $933 bn., Paris $328 bn., and Frankfurt $321 bn.; in terms of headquarters of the top 50 foreign banks [in terms of assets in 1994] in the USA, the score was Tokyo 14, Paris 6, Osaka 4, Toronto 3, and London 3. Finally, in terms of international air passengers [in 1992] the numbers were London 59,003, Paris 32,369, Frankfurt 23,711, Hong Kong 22,061, New York 19,609, and Tokyo 19,022 (Short et al 1996, 703-8).

These data are very suggestive, but - as the Loughborough group argue - they tell us nothing about the mutual relationships among the members of this system of cities; we have to infer for instance that, because of a concentration of high-level service activities such as international banks, a city is exceptionally well-connected. To some degree, as Beaverstock and Taylor point out, this emphasis is simply due to the abundance of data on attributes and the relative paucity of data on relationships. There are some exceptions: for instance, air traffic data and telecommunications traffic data. But they suffer from lack of differentiation: air traffic figures for Miami, for instance, are distorted by the huge tourist traffic into and out of Florida - and similarly, though perhaps to a lesser degree, with the figures for London as compared with other major cities, presented in Figs. 1-2.

However, this raises yet another complication. As the Four World Cities study suggested, high-level global cities can be distinguished by a high degree of concentration of four particular clusters of advanced services. And, as already suggested, these activities prove to be highly synergistic: thus business services attract business travellers who may also use cultural facilities; urban tourism and culture are mutually supportive). The fact that London is the first international airport system in traffic terms reflects the fact that it is simultaneously a major business centre, and a major cultural centre and a major tourist centre, and that all these are synergistic; likewise with competitor cities like Paris, Amsterdam or Rome (G.B. Government Office for London 1996; Association of London Government 1997). The degree of interrelationship among cities is a reflection of the concentration of advanced services within them; but, conversely, this concentration reflects the degree of actual and potential connectivity between them; the process is circular and cumulative.

There is an additional problem here, created by the existence of national boundaries. Despite major advances in European integration in the last decade - the Single European market, Economic and Monetary Union, the Schengen agreement for the effective abolition of borders - Europe is still a system of separate nation states, with separate languages and cultures, in a way that the United States and Canada and Australia (and other continental-scale nations, like China, Brazil and Argentina) are not. Very evidently, this combination of state power, language and culture creates protected urban systems in a way that more open and uniform systems do not. In Europe, small capital cities like Brussels, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki, Vienna and Lisbon have a command over their national territories - in terms of governmental systems, legal systems, and the mass media - that is quite disproportionate to their size. And this combines in some cases with traditional specialisms (such as Zürich in banking, Milan in fashion, or Paris in art) that create a non-hierarchical urban pattern (Hall 1995). Some cities in other continents also display niche specialisms (e.g. Boston and San Francisco for financial services, and Los Angeles for media), but because no other continent has so many small nation states with long cultural histories, no other presents quite this degree of non-hierarchical richness. And, of course, international boundaries completely distort comparisons of international air traffic: it is no accident that European airports figure so prominently in Figure 1a and 1b.

This poses a basic question: as Beaverstock et al (2000, 46) comment, on most indicators London is the most important city in Europe, but how in relational terms is it connected to other European cities? and does that place it at the apex of a hierarchy, or is the relationship more complex and non-hierarchical? Attribute data alone will not supply the answer to these questions. Nor even, perhaps, will relational data: Figure 2 is very suggestive, with its particularly strong linkages between London, New York and Tokyo but with regional or continental linkages between each of these cities and other cities in the same part of the world, but how far these relationships are symmetrical, suggesting equality between the centres, or how far asymmetrical, suggesting a hierarchy, cannot be read from the map.

The Loughborough analysis (Table 4) shows that about half the so-called Global Cities are in Europe and that a high proportion of these are in the Central part of the North West Europe region. Even more recently, Kyonung Ho-Shin and Michael Timberlake have measured world cities in terms of air connections. The technique they use is a rather complex one called equivalence analysis. They say: "by measuring the role of each city in the exchange matrix on the basis of the similarities in the pattern of air passenger flows to all other cities, we identify each city's location on a continuum of something like 'centrality' to the overall system of cities". Table 5 shows the results, which present some similarities to the Loughborough analysis, though they are not the same. In this system, of the top six cities, four are in the NWMA, and London stands at the top, as it has for the last quarter century.

What we can conclude is that the Christaller hierarchy now needs to be supplemented by at least two and perhaps three additional levels, producing a hierarchy of perhaps six or seven levels:

  1. Global cities (in the Loughborough terminology, "Alpha" Global Cities) typically with 5 million and more people within their administrative boundaries and up to 20 million within their hinterlands, but effectively serving very large global territories: London, Paris, New York, Tokyo;

  2. Sub-global cities (in the Loughborough terminology, "Beta" or "Gamma" Global Cities), typically with 1-5 million people and up to perhaps 10 million in their hinterlands, performing global service functions for certain specialised services (banking, fashion, culture, media) and an almost complete range of similar functions for more restricted national or regional territories: all European capitals apart from the global cities, together with "commercial capitals" (Milan, Barcelona) and major provincial cities in large nation states (Glasgow, Manchester, Lyon, Marseille, Hamburg, etc.) (Hall, 1995). This last category may overlap with Christaller's L-centres and may possibly be equivalent to it; but a special category must exist for the national capitals, which do not exist in his scheme.

  3. Regional (Christaller's Landstadt) (population 250,000-1 million); some of these have characteristics which cause the Loughborough group to describe them as "Showing Evidence of World City Formation".

  4. Provincial (Christaller's Provinzstadt) (population 100,000-250,000).

Below the provincial level, the five levels which Christaller distinguished have not physically disappeared. But the two lowest levels, his Marktort and Amtsort, have ceased to perform any significant role as central places; they have lost any service functions they may have had, such as a village store or post office, and have become purely residential villages. The next level up, the Kreisstadt, may have very limited village-store type services. The lowest significant level in contemporary Europe is probably his fourth level or Bezirkstadt, with a population of 10,000 and a service population of 100,000. It is at about this level, for instance, that one typically finds the establishment of a superstore and of a limited range of national chain stores. All this demonstrates the dramatic increase in mobility and thus in what he termed "the range of a good" in the sixty-six years since he wrote, which has effectively replaced the small village store by the superstore as the basic unit of convenience shopping for the average member of the population.

It is however at the next two levels upwards that some of the most significant changes have occurred, since over wide rural areas, depending on population density, one or other of these usually represents the largest available central place. They are the typical county market towns of rural Europe, found across much of southern England, southern Germany, and most of France. They have grown because they provide the local services for their populations, and sometimes national services (such as universities) also. In the less-developed, depopulating regions of Europe they have acted as magnets, attracting population outflow from the surrounding rural areas; in the more prosperous regions, likewise, they have attracted much of the out-migration of people and the growth of businesses from the major cities at the higher levels of the hierarchy, especially within the transport-rich sectors, as well illustrated by the case of London's western sector. Since 1990 this has been countered by a reurbanisation trend, fuelled in the case of London by migration from abroad and a high rate of natural increase due to a young population. But the net migration trend continues strongly outward.

However, the precise form and degree of this development varies significantly from one part of Europe to another. First, it is most marked around the global and sub-global cities, and then predominantly in a few key sectors, representing the most important inter-regional (and sometimes international) transport corridors: around London, for instance, towards the north, west and east.

Secondly, in a few cases this may result in discontinuous corridors or axes of urbanisation, most notably in the so-called "Blue Banana" connecting Birmingham, London, Brussels, Amsterdam, Cologne, Frankfurt, Basel, Zürich and Milan (Brunet, 1989).

Third, it is not universal around every major metropolis: Paris, for instance, has disproportionately concentrated its own dispersal into the five giant cités nouvelles proposed in the 1965 Schéma Directeur, so that - in sharp contrast to London - there has been only minimal dispersal beyond their limits.

Fourth, the precise urban form that results is influenced strongly by the strength of planning powers: there is a sharp contrast between the highly constrained urban growth typical of the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, and the much freer pattern of suburbanisation found in northern Italy. However, in general, because of differential patterns of accessibility set by motorway interchanges and inter-city train stations, market forces by themselves tend to generate a quite discontinuous or punctiform pattern of development around existing central places which remain surrounded by wide green hinterlands. And local resistance, in the form of NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) movements, tends to limit the growth of many villages and smaller urban places.


Whereas the traditional Christaller central places were linked by radial public transport systems (trains, buses) connecting the towns with lower levels in the system and with villages, the higher levels are directly connected with each other by systems for business travel and information exchange (air corridors, inter-city and high-speed train routes, motorways, telecommunications links for voice and data) and by travel infrastructure in the form of hotels, restaurants and entertainment. This suggests that a new central place system needs to be defined, based on indices of business concentration (international bank transactions, stock exchange transactions, hotels) and flows of people and information. The logic here is that information is exchanged in two ways - by telecommunications and by personal travel - and that the IT revolution almost certainly will not mean that the need and desire for face-to-face contact will diminish. On the contrary: the historical record shows very clearly that the growth of telecommunications traffic is paralleled by the growth of personal travel; and this will surely continue to be true in the future. Far from telecommunications reducing the need and desire to travel, it is likely to multiply it: the growth in information exchange will bring with it a necessity for more and more face-to-face. Therefore a key question is where this activity will happen.

All the evidence, even from high priests of cyberspace like Bill Gates or Bill Mitchell of MIT (Gates 1995; Mitchell 1995), suggests that city centres will retain their unique role in providing the most efficient locations for much of this activity, simply because of the accumulated weight of interrelated functions that have historically accrued there, and because radially-oriented transport systems focus on them. Again, the empirical evidence suggests that the hierarchy of cities here in Europe has not changed very much in the last forty years and will not change very much in the future.

The main new influence is likely to be the development of the high-speed train system in Europe, on present plans largely in place shortly before 2010. We know from experience these trains will take about 80-90 per cent of traffic up to about 500 kilometres and about 50 per cent up to about 800 kilometres. This means that by 2010, when the system will connect all the principal cities of Europe from Bari right up to Glasgow and Umeå, virtually all traffic between key city pairs - Naples and Rome and Milan, Milan and Paris, Munich and Cologne, Cologne and Brussels, Brussels and London, Brussels and Paris, Copenhagen and Stockholm - will go by rail. The longer-distance traffic, even within Europe, will largely remain with air. Within the NWMA and specifically what used to be called the Central Capitals Region, business traffic will transfer overwhelmingly from air to rail within the next five years, and a critical planning question will be the linkages at the airports between the two systems. We can already see these at Paris-Charles de Gaulle, and soon at Amsterdam and Frankfurt. The likelihood is that these places will become effectively new urban centres, as Dejan Sudjic suggested a few years ago. They will not only attract a vast amount of business in the form of conference centres, exhibition centres and hotels; they are likely to become shopping centres in their own right, as you can see from the plans for Heathrow Terminal Five. So they will compete with traditional downtown areas as business hubs.

There is an emerging contrast between the Central Capitals Region, with its dense cluster of cities closely networked through air, high-speed-train and telecommunications links (London, Paris, Frankfurt, Luxembourg, Brussels, Amsterdam), and the "gateway" or "regional capital" cities in the more peripheral European regions, each dominating a large but less-densely-populated territory (Dublin, Edinburgh, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki, Berlin, Vienna, Rome, Madrid, Lisbon plus the eastern European capitals of Ljubljana, Budapest, Prague, Warsaw and Tallinn) (Table 6). These cities are connected by air into the central region, even though they may be (and increasingly are) the cores of local high-speed-train systems. Here, we find an interesting degree of competition between a higher-order city that appears to control such a wide sector of the European space, and next-order cities controlling parts of that space (as, for instance, Copenhagen versus Stockholm and Helsinki; Berlin versus Vienna; Madrid versus Lisbon). Additionally, in one or two instances, this critical Euro-regional role is divided between a "political" and a "commercial" capital (Rome and Milan; Madrid and Barcelona).

These intermediate-size gateway cities have proved relatively dynamic in the 1970s and 1980s. They invariably act as regional airport hubs, with a range of long-distance destinations (Madrid) and as the hubs of regional high-speed-train systems (Madrid, Rome); they have a wide variety of global service functions, especially where they dominate linguistic regions (as Madrid for Latin America). With expansion of the EU eastwards, the eastern gateway cities (Berlin, Vienna) promise to play new roles in their respective areas, returning to the roles they played before 1914. However, policy does not appear to have played much of a direct role in this development; it is a function of European geography and its relation to the wider global economy.

Smaller cities seem to have experienced some advantages when they are clustered so as to constitute a wider economic area sharing labour markets and specialised services. The outstanding examples are the Greater South East region outside London and the fringes of Randstad Holland. But many other parts of Europe have developed corridors of intense urbanisation along major transport spines, as in the Rhine Valley above Frankfurt, the Rhône Valley below Lyon, or the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. In a few cases (as in South East England) planning policy has played a conscious role in this; elsewhere, again, it seems to have been a spontaneous evolution. But there is now a general agreement that such a form, which can combine small mixed-use urban developments clustered along strong public transport spines, represents perhaps the most sustainable form of urban development; and some national planning strategies are beginning to adopt it, for instance in the UK.

Many more isolated medium-sized towns, outside these major trans-European corridors but located on national movement corridors connecting larger cities, have shown remarkable dynamism. Examples include Nottingham and Bristol, Hannover and Munich, Grenoble and Toulouse, Naples and Ravenna, Zaragoza and Valencia. The key seems to be first that they are in "Sunbelt" rural regions that are themselves prosperous, either through efficient agricultural production, or (more commonly) because these cities themselves have become the main centres for advanced service employment. Public sector spending policies have played a role here, by concentrating such functions as higher education and hospitals in these places. But the sources of growth are more subtle than this, and such places show remarkable variations in fortune, depending on local socio-cultural factors that may go back for centuries - as, for instance, between northern and southern Italy.


This is why the European Spatial Development Perspective is highly relevant. It adopts a central principle of polycentricity, allied to decentralised concentration: a principle long ago adopted in Dutch spatial planning, which aims to disperse economic development from congested urban regions, but to reconcentrate it in urban centres in the less developed regions, thus benefiting both kinds of region.

However, it does so at the largest possible geographical scale. The aim is not so much to redistribute some fixed amount of activity in a kind of zero-sum-game; it is to encourage a significantly higher level of growth in less-developed regions and cities, some of which will be older industrial cities in need of restructuring, but a much larger number of which will be cities in the less densely-populated, less-developed fringe regions of western, southern, northern and eastern Europe.

Here, it is necessary to realise that the central word, polycentric, needs to be carefully defined: it has a different significance at different spatial scales and in different geographical contexts. At the global level, polycentric refers to the development of alternative global centres of power. Presently, there are a very few cities worldwide that are universally regarded as global control-and-command centres, located in the most advanced economies: London appears in all lists, Paris appears on some. Importantly, however, Europe has a number of "sub-global" cities, performing some global functions in specialised fields: Rome (culture), Milan (fashion), Frankfurt and Zürich (banking), Brussels, Luxembourg, Paris, Rome and Geneva (supernational government agencies) (Hall 1993, Hall 1996).

Within a specifically European context, therefore, one meaning of a polycentric policy is to divert some activities away from "global" cities like London (and perhaps Paris) to "sub-global" centres like Brussels, Frankfurt or Milan. But there is also a very important spatial dimension: while some of these cities are found in the Central Capitals region (Brussels, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Luxembourg), a much larger number are "gateway" national political or commercial capitals outside the Centre Capitals region: they include Helsinki, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Berlin, Vienna, Rome/Milan, Madrid/Barcelona, Lisbon and Dublin. They serve broad but sometimes thinly-populated territories such as the Iberian peninsula, Scandinavia and east central Europe. Because they are national capitals serving distinct linguistic groups, they invariably have a level of service functions larger than would be expected on grounds of size alone; they tend to be national airport and rail hubs, and the main centres for national cultural institutions and national media.

A major issue here is whether it will be either necessary or desirable to concentrate decentralised activity into a limited number of "regional capitals", each commanding a significant sector of the European territory - Copenhagen, Berlin, Rome, Madrid - or whether it would be preferable to diffuse down to the level of the national capital cities, including the smaller national capitals. Essentially, how far should Madrid be regarded as the dominant gateway for south west Europe, or should it share this role with Lisbon, Bilbao, Barcelona and Seville? And likewise with Copenhagen vis-à-vis Stockholm, Oslo and Helsinki. This could be particularly important in eastern Europe, where Berlin and Vienna may develop important roles for their hinterlands reflecting past geographies, but where also there is a real need to reassert the service roles of the different national capitals and selected provincial capitals (Gdánsk, Krákow, Plzeň, Szeged).

At a finer geographical scale, however, polycentricity can refer to the outward diffusion from either of these levels of city to smaller cities within their urban fields or spheres of influence. We have already noticed that such a process has occurred on a wide scale around London, which is now the centre of a system of some 30-40 centres within a 150-km. radius, while (for different historical reasons) Paris and Berlin in contrast have much more weakly-developed urban systems. At the next level, cities like Stockholm, Copenhagen and Milan also show widespread outward diffusion while other cities do not. East European cities, in particular, have had relatively little impact through decentralisation on their surrounding regions, though this may change in the future.

In general, at this scale a policy of "deconcentrated concentration" would suggest adopting the principle fairly widely, but adapting it to the specific development stages and problems of each city and region. Specifically, the general principle should be to guide decentralised growth, wherever possible, on to a few selected development corridors along strong public transport links, including high-speed "regional metros" such as those under construction around Stockholm and Copenhagen, and planned for London, or even along true high-speed lines such as London-Ashford, Amsterdam-Antwerp or Berlin-Magdeburg. These would not of course be corridors of continuous urbanisation, but rather clusters of urban developments, at intervals, around train stations and key motorway interchanges that offer exceptionally good accessibility. Some of these sites could be at considerable distances, up to 150 kilometres, from the central metropolitan city.

In the more remote rural regions, far from the global and sub-global centres, the pursuit of polycentricity must have yet another dimension: to build up the potential of both "regional capitals" in the 200,000-500,000 population range (Bristol, Bordeaux, Hannover, Ravenna, Zaragoza), and smaller "county towns" in the 50,000-200,000 range. The main agents will be enhanced accessibility both by road and (most importantly) high-speed train, coupled with investment in key higher-level service infrastructure (health, education); the systematic enhancement of environmental quality, to make as many as possible of these cities "model sustainable cities"; and finally the competitive marketing of such cities as places for inward investment and relocation. Again, but on a smaller scale, the growth of such centres could be accompanied by a limited degree of deconcentration to even smaller rural towns within easy reach. It is a complex strategy, and its further elaboration will be an important central part of the new programme for European Spatial Programme Observatories Network which begins work this year.


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Table 1: The Christaller central place system (1933)


Market area Radius, km

Population of town

Population of market area

M (Marktort)




A (Amtsort)




K (Kreisstadt)




B (Bezirkstadt)




G (Gaustadt)




P (Provinzstadt)




L (Landstadt)




Source: Christaller (1966), 67; Dickinson (1967), 51.


Table 2: Cited major cities


Major Cities Identified1

Budd (1995)2

Tokyo, London, New York, Paris, Frankfurt

Cohen (1981)

Tokyo, London, Osaka, Paris, Rhine-Ruhr

Drennan (1995)2

London, New York, Tokyo

Anon (The Economist) (1992)2

New York, Tokyo, London

Anon (The Economist) (1998)2

London, New York, Tokyo

Feagin and Smith (1987)

New York, London, Tokyo

Friedmann (1986)

London, Paris, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles

Friedmann (1995)

London, New York, Tokyo

Friedmann and Wolff (1982)

Tokyo, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, New York

Glickman (1986)

New York, Tokyo, London, Paris

Hall (1966)

London, Paris, Randstand, Rhine-Ruhr, Moscow, New York, Tokyo

Heenan (1977)

Coral Gables (Miami), Paris, Honolulu

Hymer (1972)

New York, London, Paris, Bonn, Tokyo

Knox (1995a-b)

London, New York, Tokyo

Lee & Schmidt-Marwede (1993)2

London, New York, Tokyo

Llewelyn-Davies (1996)

London, Paris, New York, Tokyo

Martin (1994)2

London, New York, Tokyo, Osaka, Chicago

Meyer (1986)2

New York, London, Paris, Zurich, Tokyo

Muller (1997)

London, New York, Tokyo

O'Brien (1992)2

London, Frankfurt, Paris, Hong Kong, Singapore

Reed (1981)2


Reed (1989)2

New York, London

Sassen (1991)

New York, London, Tokyo

Sassen (1994a-b2)

New York, London, Tokyo, Paris, Frankfurt

Short et al. (1996)

Tokyo, London, New York, Paris, Frankfurt

Thrift (1989)

New York, London, Tokyo

Warf (1989)2

New York, London, Tokyo

1 Limited to the top five cities identified in the global urban hierarchy.

2 Specific studies identifying International Financial Centres.

Source: Beaverstock, Taylor and Smith 1999, Table 1.


Table 3: World city data
Economic Command Functions
   Banksb Stocksc HQsd Air Traffice Populationf Olympic Gamesg Rolling Stonesh
New York
Los Angeles      
Mexico City            
Hong Kong   
Buenos Aires            

a Includes cities ranked among the top fifteen cities in any two or more categories.
b Hundred largest banks' head offices, 1995 (see Table 2).
c Major stock exchanges in the world, 1992 (see Table 3).
d Headquarters of the world's largest industrial corporations, 1993 (see Table 4).
e Airports having world's highest international passenger traffic volume, 1992.
f Largest population centres, 1991 (United Nations Demographic Yearbook).
g Cities which have hosted (1) or applied for hosting (2) the Summer Olympic Games since 1964
h Concerts of the Rolling Stones World Tour, 1995.
i Three concerts in Wechter, Belgium.
j Host City, 2000.

Source: Short et al 1996, Table 9.


Table 4: The Loughborough group "GaWC" inventory of world cities  

Cities are ordered in terms of world city-ness values ranging from 1-12.

European cities are highlighted


12: London, Paris, New York, Tokyo

10: Chicago, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Milan, Singapore


9: San Francisco, Sydney, Toronto, Zürich

8: Brussels, Madrid, Mexico City, São Paulo

7: Moscow, Seoul


6: Amsterdam, Boston, Caracas, Dallas, Düsseldorf, Geneva, Houston, Jakarta, Johannesburg, Melbourne, Osaka, Prague, Santiago, Taipei, Washington

5: Bangkok, Beijing, Rome, Stockholm, Warsaw

4: Atlanta, Barcelona, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Budapest, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Istanbul, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Miami, Minneapolis, Montreal, München, Shanghai


Di Relatively strong evidence

3: Auckland, Dublin, Helsinki, Luxembourg, Lyon, Mumbai, New Delhi, Philadelphia, Rio de Janeiro, Tel Aviv, Wien

Dii Some evidence

2: Abu Dhabi, Almaty, Athens, Birmingham, Bogota, Bratislava, Brisbane, Bucharest, Cairo, Cleveland, Köln, Detroit, Dubai, Ho Chi Minh City, Kiev, Lima, Lisbon, Manchester, Montevideo, Oslo, Rotterdam, Riyadh, Seattle, Stuttgart, Den Haag, Vancouver

Diii Minimal evidence

1: Adelaide, Antwerp, Århus, Athens, Baltimore, Bangalore, Bologna, Brasilia, Calgary, Cape Town, Colombo, Columbus, Dresden, Edinburgh, Genoa, Glasgow, Göteborg, Guangzhou, Hanoi, Kansas City, Leeds, Lille, Marseille, Richmond, St Petersburg, Tashkent, Tehran, Tijuana, Torino, Utrecht, Wellington


Source: Beaverstock, Taylor and Smith 1999.


Table 5: World city hierarchy based on air connections, 1997

European cities are highlighted

  1. London
  2. Frankfurt
  3. Paris
  4. New York
  5. Amsterdam
  6. Zürich
  7. Miami
  8. Los Angeles
  9. Hong Kong
  10. Singapore
  11. Tokyo
  12. Seoul
  13. Bangkok
  14. Madrid
  15. Wien
  16. San Francisco
  17. Chicago
  18. Dubai
  19. Osaka
  20. Brussels

Source: Shin and Timberlake 2000


Table 6: A typology of European metropolitan areas in the 1990s

Type of Region/Area


Chief Characteristics


London, Randstad

Growth plus deconcentration

Peripheral Capitals

Madrid, Copenhagen

Growth plus local dispersal


Bristol, Bordeaux, Stuttgart, Bologna

Growth plus local dispersal

Peripheral Regions

Oporto, Bari, Cork

General out-migration; selective growth of cities


Figure 1: Indices of international air traffic  

Source: London First Centre 1995


Figure 2: Busiest international air traffic routes 

Source: London First Centre 1995

Edited and posted on the web on 15th October 2001

Note: This Research Bulletin has been published in Stadt und Region: Dynamik von Lebenswelten, Tagungsbericht und wissenschaftliche Abhandlungen, 53. Deutscher Geographentag Leipzig, 29. September bis 5. Oktober 2001. Edited by A Mayr, M Meurer and J Vogt. Leipzig: Deutsche Gesellschaft für Geographie, 2002, 110-128