GaWC Project 43

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How US Cities Plug into the World: Identifying and Measuring America's Multiple Global Links

Funded by: The Brookings Institution

The Brookings Institution

Grant Holders: Rob Lang, Paul Knox and Peter Taylor (Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech)

Research assistant: To be appointed at the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech

[Media Coverage]


This project is a continuation of the research on “US Cities in the World City Network” supported by the Brookings Institution. That project assessed the connectivity of US cities in a world city network defined by the global practices of financial and business service firms. While these inter-city relations are critically central to contemporary globalization, they are by no means the only practices in world cities that constitute global spaces of flows. In this project we investigate a range of global practices, economic and non-economic, that are characteristic of today's major metropolitan areas across the world.

The main finding of the initial project was that US cities are relatively under-connected within the world city network. By looking at additional inter-city relations we are exploring the global space of flows to find out:

  1. the pervasiveness of US cities' under-connection;
  2. differences in the relative connectivity of US cities across different global activities;
  3. which US cities are globally important in which world city activities.

The research outcome will be a comprehensive assessment of US cities within contemporary globalization.


To facilitate comparisons we use the methodology employed in the first project. This is based upon an interlocking model of city networks in which the prime agents of network formation are firms and other institutions. It is through their everyday practices operating across cities that these social actors ‘interlock' cities in networks of flows.

The key methodological innovation of this project is the application of this methodology to a uniquely wide range of city network formation practices. The Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech, through its link with the Globalization and World Cities (GaWC) at Loughborough University (UK), has put together more than a dozen data sets that describe the organizational patterns of firms and institutions in very large numbers of cities across the world. It is from such data that city connectivities are derived to provide indices of how cities are faring in global spaces of flows.

Data Sets

Contemporary globalization takes many forms. It is commonly divided into economic, cultural and political globalizations. We use these categories in this research and add one other: several commentators have argued for the emergence of a ‘global civil society', here we include this as social globalization. We have data on all four globalization processes.

1. Economic globalization: we use a breakdown of the data from the first project to investigate cities sector by sector.
•  18 global accountancy firms/groups across 315 cities
  15 global advertising agencies across 315 cities
•  23 banking/finance firms across 315 cities
•  11 insurance companies across 315 cities
•  16 law partnerships across 315 cities
•  17 management consultancy firms across 315 cities

2. Cultural globalization: we use two separate data collections that provide three data sets.
•  33 media conglomerates across 185 cities
•  21 architectural partnerships/firms across 252 cities
•  32 engineering firms across 252 cities

3. Political globalization: we use three data sets here that trace a pattern from ‘international' to more global inter-city relations.
•  195 diplomatic presences across 320 cities
•  76 UN agencies across 155 cities
•  3 city government global organizations involving 451 cities

4. Social globalization: we use two quite different sets of information, one drawn from outside our research.
•  76 NGOs (humanitarian/environmental) across 612 cities
•  50,000 scientific research collaborations across 45 cities

This categorization is a pragmatic division of global practices (there are overlaps within globalizations (e.g. banking/finance and insurance, architecture and engineering) and between globalizations (e.g. advertising and media). We will be more nuanced in our discussion and interpretation of results.

Research Outcome

For each of the 14 data sets cities will be ranked in terms of how well they are connected. For each list, strata of world cities will be defined and US cities identified within each strata. For instance, using results from the first project (i.e. using the combined data from category 1. above) we could identify ten US world cities in four strata: New York, Chicago and Los Angeles as leading world cities, San Francisco and Miami as other primary world cities, Atlanta and Washington DC as secondary world cities, and Boston, Dallas and Houston as tertiary world cities.

The final research paper will present the results in tables and maps and interpret their meaning for US cities in global spaces of flows. The implications for US influence in the realms of economic, cultural, political and social globalizations will be assessed.

Media Coverage: Houston Chronicle 1 December 2006