GaWC Research Bulletin 169

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This Research Bulletin has been published in Geography, 90 (2), (2005), 172-176.

Please refer to the published version when quoting the paper.


Networking the City

R.G. Smith*


“The new millennium marks yet another urban milestone: not only is this the first urban century, it is the first century in which the world’s city dwellers will form part of a single networked globe”

Hall & Pfeiffer (2000: 5)

One of the key themes of the 21 st century will continue to be globalisation1. The consequences of globalisation for transforming our world’s cultures, economies, societies, environments, and politics are increasingly important and it is the increasing number of world-oriented cities that are in many ways both the producers of, and the foci for, the global trends which help shape the lives of much of the world’s population. The global cities of London , New York , Tokyo , Paris and Frankfurt2 are perhaps the most important cities for the world-economy. This is because they contain, amongst other things: international stock exchanges, the headquarters of multinational corporations, trans-national institutions, and the primary offices of global advanced producer service firms in sectors such as accountancy, advertising, banking, insurance, and law. The cities that possess these attributes are called global cities because they dominate the world economy and set the trends for other cities around our planet. However, it is not simply what a city contains that is important, rather it is the joining-up of cities through trans-national networks and flows of capital, people, information, practices and economic activity which is increasingly fundamental to the changing geography of the world.

In urban geography and urban studies in general the idea that cities (and to a lesser extent other human settlements) are linked together has become something of a new interest. For example, recently Peter Hall (with Pfeiffer) has written about “A networked urban world” (2000), John Friedmann (2002) has written about “Intercity networks in a globalizing era”, Saskia Sassen (2002) has edited a book entitled Global Networks - Linked Cities, and Peter Taylor has recently published a book on a World City Network (2004). This change in thinking is largely a product of a focus on globalisation and its flows - of money, information, knowledge, goods, people, images, cultural practices etc – which are seen to bring cities together into a world city network. Some have come to argue that through these flows a new trans-territorial network space has emerged that is produced and reproduced through the binding together of cities such as New York , London , Hong Kong , and Paris (see Beaverstock et al., 2000a). Clearly the emergence of a world city network is a very important geographical issue and it is the purpose of this brief article to introduce you to some of the landmark contributions, and some current topical ideas, in the development of our understanding of how cities are becoming increasingly joined-up. Let me begin with a popular illustrative example, before turning to the academic literature itself.


“… London and New York are very special cities and in this sense they represent the two poles of a transatlantic metropolis”

Hall (2003: 31)

Back in the year 2000 the front cover of Newsweek magazine (Figure 1) featured a young woman wearing a T-Shirt with the slogan “I ♥ NY-LON” rather than the familiar and famous slogan of “I ♥ New York ”. Accompanying the picture – and alluding to Dickens - was the headline: “A tale of one city: living, working and playing in New York and London ”. This image of a New York – London axis points to the fact that New York and London are in many respects the twin poles of globalisation, and as such are reconfiguring themselves to become more intensely connected to both each other, and much of the rest of the world, than at any time before in their histories.

In an article entitled “The NY-LON life” the journalists McGuire & Chan contend that One Big City (a downtown five time zones wide), a new bicontinental megalopolis, called NY-LON is emerging. In mapping out the events, people, and businesses that have a large stake in both halves of NY-LON (see Figure 2) they observe that “As different as New York and London are, a growing number of people are living, working and playing in the two cities as if they were one” (page, 42). Through accounts of some peoples lives as transatlantic commuters they reveal how more and more people are doing the JFK-Heathrow run and are resident to “… a place called NY-LON, a single city inconveniently separated by an ocean” (page, 41). The rationale of their article is to highlight how joined-up the two cities have become. Linked in a range of sectors such as theatre, film, television, pop music, publishing, and the new economy the two cities have come together more than ever before. That merging, competition and co-operation between the two cities has largely come on the back of the sheer volume of capital or money flowing through - and between - New York and London (these two cities are the world’s most important international financial centres). It is a sign of our ‘global times’ that - following McGuire & Chan (2000) - London can be said to have more in common with New York than other UK cities, and that London can said be to encompass New York (and vice-versa).  

The 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in Manhattan led a number of other journalists to also notice the high level of connectivity between New York and London . And in 2003 an article appeared in The Evening Standard (Johnson, 2003) entitled “We’re the Nylons” which presented the lifestyles of ‘Nylons’, those New Yorkers and Londoners with homes in both cities. Furthermore, in the August of 2004 Channel 4 television in the UK broadcast a series entitled ‘NY-LON’, a romantic story about the relationship between a man living in London and a woman living in New York . However, it is important to note that despite all the popular superficial anecdotal evidence of the coming together of New York and London through networks there is very little publicly available information about their connection. It is the lack of information on the connections between cities such as New York and London that has led to an empirical shift of focus amongst some urbanologists from hierarchies to networks.  


“… in the new millennium, we cannot afford to ignore this new metageography, the world-city network”

Beaverstock et al. (2000a: 132)

A global perspective reveals how a city cannot just be studied in isolation but has to be understood as belonging to a network of cities that stretch across much of the world. This perhaps sounds obvious given the attention now paid to ‘global issues’ in the popular press, but the intellectual journey towards this perspective only really began back in the 1980s when John Friedmann proposed a ‘World city hierarchy’ (Figure 3). This was an ‘educated guess’ as to possible linkages between many of the world’s major metropolises because it was “ … based on the presumed nature of their [major cities] integration with the world economy” (Friedmann, 1995: 319)3. Friedmann’s article was important because it signalled the need for academics to begin to think about how cities are directly connected to the world-economy and so each other. Following Friedmann several other authors proposed hierarchies of cities (e.g. Reed, 1989; Thrift, 1989). However, they also had little appropriate empirical evidence on the linkages between cities that they imagined formed a hierarchy (usually with London , New York and Tokyo at the apex). Thus in 1995 Smith & Timberlake drew up a ‘wish list’ (a typology) of what inter-city linkages we could generate data on (see Figure 4).

Despite authors continuing to write and conduct research, real progress seemed to have reached an impasse due to the lack of empirical evidence, and consequently John Short et al. (1996) highlighted the problem as ‘The dirty little secret of world cities research’. Their paper highlighted a curious paradox in the world cities research literature: whereas the raison d’être of world cities is their relations one to another in terms of flows of capital, information and highly valued labour, most studies deal with simple attribute measures. Such measures tell us little or nothing about the relations between cities and so it became clear that what was required was an innovative collective research agenda dedicated to gathering empirical data on the actual relations between cities. In short, it was recognised that the key to getting at globalisation and urban networks was to get beyond state-centric data, generated by and for states (state-istics), by gathering trans-stat(e)istics on the actual flows between cities ourselves.

Subsequently, progress began to be made on this task by John Beaverstock, Richard Smith and Peter Taylor who collected data on the urban locations of the overseas office networks of four advanced producer service firms (global accountancy, advertising, banking and law firms). Their research led to the publication, in the millennial issue of the Annals of the Association of American Geographers, of an empirically grounded paper on inter-city relations and outlined a ‘World city network’ (2000a). Furthermore, their research (Beaverstock et al. 1999, 2000a, 2000b, 2003) laid the foundation for the establishment of the Globalization and World Cities Study Group and Network website4 which has grown into a useful portal for those interested in current research on the relations between cities. Their work is crucial in the story of the shift from the study of hierarchies to networks in urban studies because they produced the first published research that ranked cities according to their relations to each other, rather than simply according to what they individually contain (their attributes) in comparison to each other. This new type of research produced all manner of results that contradicted the previous attributional studies. For example, Beaverstock et al. (2000a) found that New York , Paris and Hong Kong are more connected to London than Tokyo is so questioning those previous studies that typically placed Tokyo alongside New York and London at the apex of a global urban hierarchy. 

Whilst some empirical progress is now being made in gathering empirical evidence on connections between cities (the empirical research agenda laid out by Beaverstock, Smith & Taylor has gathered considerable momentum), theoretical progress has lagged behind. Most writers continue to follow and develop the established neo-Marxist theoretical approaches of either world-systems analysis (invented by Immanuel Wallerstein) or historical-geographical materialism (developed by Henri Lefebvre, Manuel Castells, and David Harvey). However, neither neo-Marxist approach has the idea of connections and networks as its central concern. Fortunately, recent years have seen some theoretical progress in the sub-discipline as some writers have started to introduce ideas about networks from recent advances in social theory. The publication of a book by Ash Amin & Nigel Thrift (2002) outlining a new urbanism, and some papers by Richard Smith (2003a, 2003b), have together recently helped move forward the sub-discipline’s theoretical agenda by arguing for the value of post-structuralism, and poststructuralist-inspired connective theoretical approaches (such as actor-network theory and non-representational theory), for guiding research on global networks of cities. These connective theoretical approaches are fundamentally different from the established neo-Marxist approaches because they conceptualise the world as connected through relations and networks, rather than divided through sub-systems and geographical scales. In empirical terms a shift has been made from hierarchies to networks, and now that shift has to be mirrored in our theoretical approaches. Accepting, and engaging with, the emerging new urbanism is perhaps the most important and exciting challenge currently facing those who are trying to better understand the world’s city networks.


Thank you to the referees for their comments. Thank you to the Advanced Geography pupils at Leicester Grammar School and Leicester College for their enthusiastic questions about global city networks.


Abu-Lughod J (1989) Before European Hegemony: The World System A.D. 1250-1350 ( Oxford University Press, Oxford )

Amin A & Thrift N (2002) Cities: Reimagining the Urban (Polity Press, Cambridge )

Beaverstock JV, Smith RG & Taylor PJ (1999) "A roster of world cities", Cities: The International Journal of Urban Policy and Planning 16 (6), 445-458

Beaverstock JV, Smith RG & Taylor PJ (2000a) “World city network: a new metageography”, Annals of the Association of American Geographers 90 (1), 123-134

Beaverstock JV, Smith RG, Taylor PJ, Walker DRF & Lorimer HN (2000b) “Globalization and world cities: some measurement methodologies”, Applied Geography 20, 43-63

Beaverstock JV, Smith RG & Taylor PJ (2003) "The global capacity of a world city: a relational study of London ", in Kofman E & Youngs G (eds) Globalization: theory and practice (Continuum, London ), 2 nd edition, pages 223-236

Friedmann J & Wolff G (1982) “World city formation: an agenda for research and action”, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 6 (3), 309-344

Friedmann J (1986) “The world city hypothesis”, Development & Change 17 (1), 69-83

Friedmann J (1995) “The world city hypothesis”, in Knox PL & Taylor PJ eds. World Cities in a World System (Cambridge University Press), pages 317-331

Friedmann J (2002) “Intercity Networks in a Globalizing Era”, in Scott A ed. Global City-Regions ( Oxford University Press, Oxford ), pp. 119-136

Hall P & Pfeiffer U (2000) Urban future 21: a global agenda for twenty-first century cities (Spon, London )

Hall P (2003) “Londra, metropolis riluttante”, Urbanistica, May-August, 21-31

Johnson S (2003) “We’re the Nylons”, London Evening Standard, 16 th June, page 25

McGuire S & Chan M (2000) “The NY-LON life”, Newsweek, 13 th November, 40 -47

Reed H C (1989) “Financial center hegemony, interest rates, and the global political economy’, in Yoon S. Park and Musa Essayyad eds. International Banking and Financial Centers (Kluwer Academic Publishers, Boston), pp. 247-268

Sassen S (1991) The Global City: New York , London , Tokyo ( Princeton University Press, Princeton )

Sassen S ed. (2002) Global Networks-Linked Cities (Routledge, London )

Short JR, Kim Y, Kuss M & Wells H (1996) “The dirty little secret of world cities research – data problems in comparative analysis”, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 20(4), 697-719

Smith RG (2003a) “World city actor-networks”, Progress in Human Geography 27 (1), 25-44

Smith RG (2003b) “World city topologies”, Progress in Human Geography 27(5), 561-582

Smith D A & Timberlake M (1995) "Cities in global matrices: toward mapping the world-system’s city system", in World Cities in a World-System (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge ), pp. 79-97

Taylor PJ (2004) World City Network: A Global Urban Analysis (Routledge, London )

Thrift N (1989) "The geography of international economic disorder", in Johnston RJ & Taylor PJ eds. A World in Crisis (Blackwell, Oxford ), 16-79


* Dr Richard G Smith is a Lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Leicester . He can be contacted at The Department of Geography, University of Leicester , University Road, Leicester , LE1 7RH , UK . E-mail:, Tel: 0116 252 3845 Fax: 0116 252 3854

1 There is a firestorm of debate over what the term ‘globalisation’ means. Broadly speaking the term is used by most to refer to the stretching of similar economic, political and cultural activities across much of the planet.

2 At a magazine issue launch in London (February, 2003) Sassen said that she now considers there to be five global cities, rather than just the three (New York, London and Tokyo) listed as the subtitle of her famous book (1991).

3 According to Abu-Lughod (1989) an earlier paper by Friedmann & Wolff (1982) mapped ‘world cities’ using a base map provided by Japan Airlines. Abu-Lughod’s claim is subsequently altered by Taylor (2004) to claim that the base map was the basis for Friedmann’s 1986 article. However, Abu-Lughod’s and Taylor’s claims are hard to substantiate as there is no mention or citation of such a map in either Friedmann & Wolff (1982) or Friedmann (1986).

4Visit the Globalization and World Cities Study Group and Network website at:


Figure 1: Newsweek Front Cover

Source: Newsweek 13th November, 2000

Figure 2: Working & Living in NY-LON

Source: derived from McGuire & Chan (2000: 42-43)

Figure 3: Friedmann’s world city hierarchy

Source: Friedmann (1995: 321)

Figure 4: Inter-city linkages: Smith’s & Timberlake’s ‘wish list’

Source: Smith & Timberlake (1995: 86)

Edited and posted on the web on 8th August 2005

Note: This Research Bulletin has been published in Geography, 90 (2), (2005), 172-176