GaWC Research Bulletin 62

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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, 76-87.

Please refer to the published version when quoting the paper.


London and Frankfurt as World Cities: Changing Local-Global Relations

M. Hoyler and K. Pain


In November 2000, the Financial Times Deutschland ran a series of articles on the future of Frankfurt. In what has now, after the terrible events in New York, taken on a rather sinister meaning, a full-page advertisement announcing the series provocatively asked the question "Wie lange stehen diese Türme noch in Frankfurt?"1 (FTD 27-11-2000, 35). Clearly, the photograph of Frankfurt's prominent skyline did not allude to the possibility of a physical attack on the depicted skyscrapers. This was a symbolic blow to Germany's financial centre - Frankfurt's position within the world city network was seriously questioned ("Was wurde richtig gemacht, was falsch?", "Wie steht die Stadt im internationalen Vergleich da?")2. Not surprisingly, this visual scepticism was printed in the German edition of the leading British financial newspaper. Lurking in the back of the newspapers' and many a reader's mind were three recent events, that had each signalled an increase in Frankfurt's status relative to London.

First, the launch of the single currency, the euro, with the UK on the outside, and the establishment of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt. Second, the success of Frankfurt's DTB (now Eurex) in eclipsing London's Liffe in the futures exchange market. Third, the protracted, and ultimately failed, negotiations for the Deutsche Börse/London Stock Exchange merger, which fuelled the idea that the relationship between London and Frankfurt was one of equivalence. All of a sudden, London versus Frankfurt had become a common story, enframed in metaphors of fierce competition. In 1998, to name but a few examples, the Financial Times reported on "a bitter war for supremacy" and "a battle between London and Frankfurt" (FT 10-7-98 and 7-7-98), while, a little later, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung commented on London's "threat" and Frankfurt's "powerplay" (FAZ 4-5-00 and 19-3-99). This metaphorical war raises important questions about the nature of inter-city relations under conditions of contemporary globalization. London and Frankfurt are both part of the same world city network, tied together through the office geographies of advanced producer service firms that provide financial and other services around the globe (Taylor 2001; Taylor et al. 2001b). We therefore need to consider the mutuality between London and Frankfurt in the world economy at least as much as the proclaimed rivalry.

In this paper, we take a closer look at the linkages and connections between London and Frankfurt and discuss the relevance of Castells' (1996) notion of a 'space of flows' coming to dominate the familiar 'space of places'. Castells emphasizes the significance of cities as 'process' constituted by flow within networks and it is this conception that underpins our study of London-Frankfurt relations. The argument proceeds in three stages: First, we locate London and Frankfurt in the world city network and outline our specific approach and methodology. Second, we identify global service firms as key agents in world city network formation and explore the complexity of London-Frankfurt relations using the idea of tensions that these firms have to overcome in the day-to-day operation of their global office networks. Third, we consider inter-city flows beyond the office linkages and identify four important networks that constitute London-Frankfurt relations. Finally, our conclusion returns to the initial question of competition in the world city network.


The latest available financial market figures highlight London's dominant position within the global economy in comparison to Frankfurt (Figure 1; see also Seifert et al. 2000). These figures reflect both distinctive historical developments (King 1990; Holtfrerich 1999) and different roles of the two cities within their respective national urban systems. Whereas, in advanced producer services, "Great Britain is London", Germany's system of cities and metropolitan regions is characterised by complementary functional specialization (Blotevogel 2000; Kujath et al. 2001). In financial services, Frankfurt has acquired a leading role in continental Europe (Bördlein 1999; Schamp 1999), but London remains unrivalled as a truly global service centre (Table 1).

Both cities gain their current position in the world city network through the locational strategies of global service firms (Sassen 1991). These firms are at the centre of our research into contemporary London-Frankfurt relations. Rather than adding to the existing mass of attribute data for each city, we take a different, relational, approach. During two census periods in 2000 and 2001, in-depth interviews were conducted with key decision makers at the grade of partner and/or vice-president and above, in 48 global service firms in both cities. Most of these firms rank in the top ten of their respective service sectors (banking, accountancy, management consultancy, law and advertising). In addition, face-to-face interviews were held with a selection of regulators, professional bodies and state agencies. Our aim, therefore, is not an additional quantitative analysis, but an attempt to uncover some of the ongoing processes involved in world city formation as seen through the eyes of key actors in London and Frankfurt.


Within their sectors, global service firms are engaged in competition in world markets for knowledge products. This competition brings forth highly complex issues facing participants in such rapidly changing global markets. We conceptualize this complexity as a series of tensions within the sector markets that each firm has to manage in order to operate successfully. The fundamental tension facing firms in both London and Frankfurt is negotiating trans-border (global) reach against local sensibilities. The increasing need to respond to processes of globalization was seen as the prerequisite to successfully doing business in the local contexts of London and Frankfurt. However, great diversity of global-local organizational and business relations was found to exist within and between the service sectors studied. Examples from two sectors illustrate this point.

Advertising: The respondents spoke of advertising as a product that crosses borders more easily than those of other service industries, but localization (niche marketing) was vital to appeal to different cultural sensitivities. As an advertising executive based in London commented "If you took our advertising in the UK or Germany, it's still the same car or it's still the same media, so it's the cultural difference which you have to understand". While London is the European headquarters for most agencies and is widely regarded as a global creative centre of excellence, business in both London and Frankfurt was generally perceived as localized activity within a global network. Thriving business in both cities was seen as beneficial for all parts of the network. Regardless of differences in agency nationality, management styles and the degree to which the networks are locally integrated and embedded into local cultures, specific business relationships between the two cities were generally seen by those interviewed as an irrelevance.

Legal services: Relations between law firms in London and Frankfurt were generally perceived to be framed by, first, the London-based business need for local depth and strength in Germany to access the German market and service international cross-border clients and, second, the need within Frankfurt for access to London-based international and English law expertise to meet the requirements of a changing German legal market. In the wake of a spate of mergers and strategic alliances between English and German partnerships, evolving London-Frankfurt business relations were represented by respondents in both cities as reflecting strong national cultural differences in professional and business service including systems of remuneration, decision-making, profitability and a change from a German service-based to an Anglo-Saxon transaction-based business model. Despite these differences, the development of legal services relations between the UK and Germany was widely perceived to be important for business expansion in both countries.

From our interviews, we have identified four specific tensions, which produce these local-global interdependencies and underlie the production of business relations between London and Frankfurt (Figure 2).

Organizational tension (consolidation vs. disaggregation): Critical mass was seen as essential to operate on a global scale as client demand for seamless cross-border service and market competition require size to maintain profitability. In law, for example, global service was seen as essential to meet the needs of multinational clients. During the year of our research, mergers and acquisitions between UK and German law firms reached a point where, "anything that moves has merged" (UK law firm in London). Yet, at the same time, flexibility, outsourcing and focus on core functions were identified as a counter trend, leading to the de-merging and vertical break up of traditional organizational structures across business services.

Tension in knowledge production (specialization vs. diversification): Similarly, a knowledge tension was identified between a perceived market demand for increasing specialization across business services and the need to diversify and differentiate services from competitors. Again, in legal services, attempts to build specialist teams were said to lead to "whole teams being poached" in both cities. At the same time, new alliances are also being formed to achieve diversification, for example cross-industry international strategic partnerships in management consulting.

Operational tension (centralization vs. decentralization): The demand for cross-border seamless service was also seen as driving the need to centralize functions within service networks. For example, a German bank headquartered in Frankfurt increasingly bases key global functions in London. At the same time, the need for operational decentralization and local interpretation was seen as a priority to build customer relationships and engage with local markets.

Locational tension (concentration vs. dispersion): Competing needs of global service firms affect London-Frankfurt relations in terms of locational tensions. The high costs of city locations and skilled workforce were seen as a continuing push to locational decentralization supported by developments in ICT. Yet, the need for locational proximity within the cities of London and Frankfurt remains a key priority for corporate functions and knowledge transfer.

Attempts to resolve the many tensions that service firms face in their provision of cross-border and global financial and business services take many forms. In a dynamic globalizing world these tensions are never 'solved'; rather they are managed in ways to accommodate, as competitively as possible, to contemporary conditions. Managing tensions may involve either intra-firm actions or inter-firm relations and in both cases cities are directly implicated as business service centres (see also Dicken 2000).

The situation is best summed up by two of our respondents. A London institution commented, "London is the European interface" and therefore the "increasing strength of Frankfurt is feeding into London not draining away from it". A Frankfurt banking respondent put the point, "If you ask me 'Is Frankfurt part of London?' I would be happy to say yes . if it was one place, then Frankfurt would have a chance". As a globally connected city, London does not seem to challenge or be threatened by relations with Frankfurt - so far the growth of both cities has been boosted. The primary inter-city outcome of inter-firm competition is a co-operative relationship between London and Frankfurt within a wider network.


London-Frankfurt service business relations illustrate the great complexity of the space of flows through which firms negotiate a fundamental global-local tension. We find that relations between the cities can only be understood as a 'process' within a dynamic juxtaposition between stretching and integrating network relations across space. Our findings support Castells' thesis that cities such as London and Frankfurt perform as hubs or nodes within a network society in which the space of flows has come to dominate the space of places (Castells 1996). Flows within service firm networks can be seen as constructing relationships between the cities, however, there are many interactions within the space of flows beyond these office linkages. Here, we identify four particularly important interweaving networks of flows that shape London-Frankfurt relations (Figure 3).

Networks of knowledge have the potential to revolutionise existing geographies of service business and redefine spatial relationships between London and Frankfurt. Knowledge was discussed as the central product of business services or a "product of the production process" (Castells 2000, 78). It was described as being made available anywhere in the world through global networks reconciling the need for increasing specialization with that for global reach. 'Local' London-Frankfurt inter-city business flows are therefore highly interconnected with wider networked flows of knowledge. In advertising in Frankfurt, for example, we were told, "It is out of the network that ideas are being generated . [people] take their network with them". The liquidity of intellectual capital associated with ICT was found to open up possibilities for new spatial relationships not only between individuals within global networks but also between firms and markets. While a presence in both the UK and Germany was widely seen as important to cross-border activity across business services, not all firms saw a physical presence in Frankfurt as necessary. For German banks with offices in London, for example, engagement with German markets may, or may not, flow through Frankfurt. The scale of city-based operations can also be highly fluid; the balance of resources across the cities was reported as a constantly shifting flow. Significantly, the main reason for London's continuing predominance over Frankfurt as a global business location was reported to be its critical mass of skills and globally networked knowledge.

Networks of culture were found to be both a key determinant of and stimulus to inter-city business relations. Interviews emphasized that the people who constitute firms are individuals who are locationally situated and personally and socially, as well as corporately, motivated. It was apparent that, beyond the "common cultural code" associated with network enterprises (Castells 2000, 214), the basic human needs and preferences of skilled personnel play a key role in determining the spatial configuration of business networks. The location of workforce has become as, or more, important than location of clients for many employers. Despite the seemingly free movement of capital and information and increased global business travel, we were told, "people still have to live somewhere". This simple interpretation of the role of the cities as places in a space of flows has resonance with Wittgenstein's understanding of spatial relations as arising from lived experience that occurs in places (Curry 2000). The importance of cities as places of excitement, cultural mixing, social status and symbolism was prioritized in reactions to living and working in London and Frankfurt, supporting Bourdieu's notion of an interdependency between cultural, economic and other forms of capital within a relational social space (Bourdieu 1990). City cultures, amenities, architectural heritage and cultural life, were found to be critical to inter-city business relationships. The popularity of London as a place to live amongst global business elites emphasizes the significance of the cities as places of consumption in the space of flows. While the cities are constituted by flow, they are experienced as places. Perceptions of the cities, "almost fashion" as one respondent put it, were therefore found to be a key factor in the construction of inter-city flows. For firms, the cities function as corporate resource bases for the accumulation of skills, knowledge and cultural diversity within global networks. The embedding of cultural difference in city-based 'command' centres was viewed as essential to engagement with world regional and local markets. For example, for a US investment bank interviewed, cultural diversity is a key staffing priority for, and advantage of, its London-based European headquarters.

Networks of power were found to exhibit shifting relationships and strong mutual dependencies reflecting established patterns of investment. London's openness to inward flows of investment, languages and cultures and critical mass of skills and knowledge was regarded as generative. The fact that more global leadership positions are still currently based in London than in Frankfurt has implications for flows of influence and power relations between the cities within global networks. For a Frankfurt based German lawyer, "the decision centre for many things is London not Frankfurt". A new German management consulting global leader could theoretically have moved European headquarters operations to Frankfurt but, "it's a bit of an effort because there's a little bit of infrastructure". Scale of infrastructure and resource investment were shown to reinforce existing spatialized power relations. In one sense then, relations between the cities can be seen as uneven with a concentration of power in London. Yet, in spite of their differential power relations, interview responses revealed that inter-city connections maintain and enhance the power of both cities. London has a pivotal global markets position that is beneficial to business in Frankfurt, aiding a shift in Frankfurt's connections to global markets. At the same time, London benefits from Frankfurt's connections to European markets. This interdependence supports an understanding of power as generated through networks (see Allen 1999; Taylor et al. 2001c).

Networks of governance were found to reach out between the cities regulating and shaping London-Frankfurt business flows through a web of public-private influence "mobilized through networked relationships" (Allen 1999, 216). Regulation was regarded as a key determinant of cross-border business flows. Continuing regulatory differences between the UK and Germany were widely seen as an impediment to business flows and London's 'openness' to flows of foreign investment was regarded as its key strength as a location for international business. At the same time, flows that constitute the cities were seen as increasingly produced in a space of inter-city connections that lies outside nation states, challenging the 'mosaic space' of public governance. A complex network of cross-cutting roles, motivations and actions was seen to influence business flows between the cities. In London, for example, the role of the Treasury as sponsor and taxer of the financial services industry was seen by some as contradictory in relation to Stamp Duty with potentially crucial consequences for inward investment flows. In Frankfurt, the governance of business flows was seen as limited by a lack of institutional thickness compared to London where networks are more focused on one place. In addition, the lines between people as market consumers, workers within and owners of firms, were reported as becoming increasingly obscure. In a potential future mass European shareholder society, cross-cutting socio-economic and public-private flows within interweaving city networks will be increasingly complex, reinforcing the thesis that London-Frankfurt business relations can only be understood within a global space of networked flows.


Studying London-Frankfurt relations through service firm activity supports the conception of the cities as constituted by flow within a network society. Business operations illustrate the stretching of service network relations across space through an 'interlocked' global network of cities; London and Frankfurt can be seen as intensities of flow within this network. However, it is evident from the breadth of interview responses that service networks are built and maintained through wider interweaving networks of knowledge, culture, power and governance that flow through, and are embedded within, city-based social and institutional infrastructures (see also Thrift 1994). Our findings therefore suggest a complex interdependence between what Castells has referred to as the two logics of a space of flows and a space of places (Castells 2000). Here we set out four specific conclusions with respect to the interrelationships between flow and place within a 'social hyperspace' enframing London-Frankfurt relations:

First, the tensions that underpin service business were seen to have spatial effects that were often paradoxical, reflecting an underlying local-global tension. A diversity of shifting organizational and operational responses across service networks produces dynamic flows that construct London-Frankfurt spatial relations. For example, global business flows that pass through London to reach out to German markets may either pass through or bypass Frankfurt according to industry and market conditions with potentially far-reaching implications for the space of places. The speed of construction and reconstruction of London-Frankfurt spatial relations within the wider space of flows emphasizes the transitional nature of the cities in a networked society.

Second, the space of places was seen to be generative. The spatiality of everyday life that occurs in places would seem critical to the production and reproduction of flows that construct the cities. In this sense, the cities can be conceptualized as a resolution of what Castells has dubbed the 'schizophrenia' between the human need to live in places and the networked space of flows (Castells 2000). Our interviewees experienced the cities as places of cultural, social and symbolic substance. Intensities of flow were interpreted and understood as, at least provisionally, embedded within a material space of places. 'Critical mass' and 'depth of infrastructure' were habitually cited by interviewees as key advantages of London that support wider networked flows of finance and knowledge. Theorizing the cities as process within a space of flows does not therefore de-materialize the space of places. As Massey et al. (1999, 18) contend, "any understanding of the produced-ness of things must also recognize (and include within that produced-ness) their material embodiedness". In an increasingly networked society, the specificities of place would seem to be a key component of relational space.

Third, we see that the 'local' and 'global' are mutually constitutive in the spatiality of service business relations; "two sides of one ball" as one of our respondents put it. Keil and Ronneberger argue in relation to Frankfurt, "globalization is not a removed process" and does not "trickle down from the sky of the global economy" but is "a combination of articulated material processes" (Keil and Ronneberger 2000, 229). This conceptualization of a local-global nexus is illustrated by numerous interview comments on relations between London and Frankfurt that show an apparent paradox of increasing virtual connectivity and place-based proximity. Comments lend weight to dominant explanations of globalization that argue time-space distanciation makes location matter less (see Giddens 1990), raising the question whether "a new geography is being created within which physical distance is less important than electronic connectedness" (Cochrane and Pain 2000, 10). For example, "Frankfurt and London. What does it mean? Does it really matter? . You ask me questions about how big is our office in Frankfurt and London. I've no idea, I don't know. It's as big as that today and it's smaller or larger [tomorrow]" (German bank, London); "Actually which office people are based in matters not at all to us . people just arrive at the airport . I wouldn't actually know where they were sitting, I pick up the phone, I just ring the number" (Management consultancy, London).

Yet, we were also told that advances in virtual communication stimulate rather than replace the need for face-to-face contact and proximity (see also Meusburger 2000). For example, "Intelligent people who create something new are concentrated in a few special places" (UK bank, Frankfurt); "You have to look at the colour of people's eyes to get some real sense of what's going on" (UK bank, London); "At this point in time and historically, proximity has been a big issue . physical, mental, cultural . where relationships matter, facilitation matters, interpretation matters . we need proximity" (Management consultancy, London). Proximity intensifies flow and enables multiple cross-cutting linkages and connections to take place between interweaving networks acting as a 'magnet' or 'honey pot', as some respondents described London's Square Mile, for further flows. The shift towards increasingly networked relations would therefore seem to intensify interaction between local and global processes (see also Cochrane and Pain 2000). This understanding of the role of proximity in global service networks helps us to look beyond a spatial dichotomy and recognize the interdependencies between flow and place in a network society.

Finally, connections were found to be more important than boundaries in the space of inter-city flows, supporting Castells' argument that flows take precedence over borders in globalization. Dominant interpretations of London-Frankfurt relations as competitive appear simplistic in this context. The key dynamic of the local-global networks identified in the research is their connectivity across space. Borders were scarcely mentioned by our respondents; business was discussed in terms of flows and inter-city connections. The complexities of a network society are navigated by business actors through a strengthening of spatial relations. Increasing interdependencies between economy, society and governance and blurring of organizational, industry, market and role distinctions make relationship-building an integral feature of 'hyperspace'. As one respondent told us with regard to movement between London and Frankfurt: "It's amazing how this traffic increases. In that sense those two cities are moving closer together".


This paper is based on a research project 'Comparing London and Frankfurt as World Cities' funded by the Anglo-German Foundation for the Study of Industrial Society. We are indebted to Jon Beaverstock and Peter Taylor for their contributions to the project. For a full report of our findings, see Beaverstock et al. (2001).


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1. "How long will these towers still be standing in Frankfurt?"

2. "What has been done right, what wrong?", "What is the position of the city in international comparison?".


Table 1: Global network connectivity for leading UK and German cities*
(Scores are proportions on the highest network connectivity - that of London)


* For details on the calculation of global network connectivity, see Taylor et al. (2001a) and Taylor and Catalano (this volume).

(Source: Beaverstock et al. 2001)

Figure 1: Key financial market statistics for London and Frankfurt 

(Source: IFSL 2001)


Figure 2: Tensions in inter-firm competition 


Figure 3: Networks within the world city network


Edited and posted on the web on 29th 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, 76-87