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Global Cities: the New Urban Reality (November 2015): Emerging Areas

By Jane Marcus-Delgado

Emerging Areas

The early development of global city theory centered primarily on studies of urban centers in western Europe and the United States.  Those areas are broadly represented in the scholarship—prompting criticism of Western bias by some researchers.  Another source of disapproval has been some scholars’ predilection for establishing hierarchical rankings of global cities and the creation of criteria to determine which urban sites “merit” the distinction of being deemed “global.”  In response, a wide range of global city analysts have published critiques—particularly in the journal literature and in collections of essays—that both address this perceived geographical imbalance and enrich the field through theories and case studies of a panoply of urban centers.  Of particular value are David Simon’s “The World City Hypothesis: Reflections from the Periphery” (published in World Cities in a World-System, edited by Paul J. Knox and Peter Taylor), Jennifer Robinson’s “Global and World Cities: A View from off the Map” (International Journal of Urban and Regional Research), and Robert Grant and Jan Nijman’s “Globalization and the Corporate Geography of Cities in the Less-Developed World” (Annals of the Association of American Geographers), which clearly articulate the backlash against the US- and Eurocentrism that has dominated the field.  As Grant and Nijman write: “One of the ironies of the academic debate on globalization is its Western bias.  Much of the theorizing and empirical research is based on the experiences of the United States, West Europe, and other countries in the core of the world economy.  This is also true for most scholarly work on cities....  Overall, the globalization debate is not nearly as ‘global’ as it probably should be.”

To further “globalize” the field, scholars began offering case studies of a number of large urban centers, redefining the discourse of global city research.  Examples include Sydney: The Emergence of a World City, edited by John Connell; The Routledge Handbook on Cities of the Global South, edited by Susan Parnell and Sophie Oldfield; World Cities beyond the West: Globalization, Development, and Inequality, edited by Josef Gugler; Relocating Global Cities: From the Center to the Margins, edited by M. Mark Amen, Kevin Archer, and M. Martin Bosman; and Global Cities of the South (a special issue of Social Text), edited by Brent Edwards and Ashley Dawson.

Perhaps the most noteworthy development in the non-Western area is the proliferation of works on China’s rapid urbanization and the growth of its enormous urban centers.  China will undoubtedly gain even more momentum in global research studies as its government enacts a sweeping plan to promote urbanization—a plan calling for more than 60 percent of its nearly 1.4 billion inhabitants to move to cities by 2030.[1]  Tom Miller’s China’s Urban Billion: The Story behind the Biggest Migration in Human History provides an accessible overview of that broad-based migration, and the case studies in Shanghai Rising: State Power and Local Transformation in a Global Megacity, edited by Xiangming Chen with Zhenhau Zhou, neatly situate Shanghai’s arrival on the international stage.  Chen and Zhou’s collection, released in the “Globalization and Community” series, is especially useful for the multiple points of view of its contributors, who range from Saskia Sassen (who analyzes Shanghai) to Asian voices that enrich and broaden perspectives on global cities studies.  Additional valuable resources on Asia include John Friedmann’s China’s Urban Transition; Emerging World Cities in Pacific Asia, edited by Fu-chen Lo and Yue-man Yeung; and Worlding Cities: Asian Experiments and the Art of Being Global, edited by Ananya Roy and Aihwa Ong.


[1] Ian Johnson, “China Releases Plan to Incorporate Farmers into Cities,” The New York Times, sec. A, March 18, 2014.

Works Cited