Seoul 16th on Forbes The World’s Most Influential Cities List

A Forbes Magazine article, The World’s Most Influential Cities, hashed a summary of Joel Klotkin (et al.)’s findings in Size Is Not the Answer:  The Changing Face of the Global City.

London ranked first, and New York “ranked 2nd… in an essential statistical tie with London with virtually identical scores.”  Paris came in a distant third.

Here is a list of the top 20:  1) London.  2) New York.  3) Paris.  4) Singapore.  5) Tokyo.  6) Hong Kong.  7) Dubai.  8) Beijing.  8)Sydney.  10 Los Angeles.  10) San Francisco Bay Area.  10) Toronto.  13) Zurich.  14) Frankfurt.  14) Houston.  16) The Randstad (Amsterdam Area). 16) Seoul. 16) Washington Metropolitan Area.  19) Shanghai.  20) Abu Dhabi.  20) Chicago.

The report listed the top 51 world cities (see Appendix A).  Notable for their poor representation were BRICS (Beijing, Shanghai, 23- Sao Paolo,  31 – Johannesburg, 31 – Mumbai, 34 – Delhi, 47 – Guangzhou), Africa (Johannesburg, 47 – Lagos), and South America (Sao Paolo, 44 – Buenos Aries).

The report’s stated goal in ranking cities was to address “a growing need to re-evaluate which (cities) are truly significant global players and which are simply large places that are more tied to their national economies than critical global hubs.” Rather than rate cities by more traditional criteria, the authors concluded that “these new global hubs thrive not primarily due to their size, but as a result of their greater efficiencies.”

What are those new criteria?   Cities were assessed based on the following eight categories: 1) Air Connectivity.  2) Diversity.  3) Foreign Direct Investment. 4) Corporate Headquarters. 5) Producer Services. 6) Financial Services. 7)Technology and Media. 8) Importance of city as a strategic location or hub for key global industries not otherwise measured above.  The authors claim their rankings differ from other global cities surveys because they “focus on criteria that are directly relevant to a city’s global economic impact and power… when discussing the concept of the ‘global city’, global economic power is the sine qua non ingredient.”

Blah, blah, blah… So, What About Seoul?

Although the report did not state the relative weight given to each criterion, I surmise that Seoul did well in corporate headquarters and financial services.  Seoul ranks seventh in the world measured by value of shares traded in metropolitan area stock exchanges.  (New York is number one and trades in value as much as the other top 10 combined (see Figure C-1).  Seoul likely scored well in technology.  Korea is the most-wired nation in the world and has a tech-savvy netizenry.  Media, however, is a mixed bag.  Korea scores very high in its export of popular culture, but if media means print and broadcast news sources… Yikes!)

Other Findings (and my opinion of how Seoul stacks up):

“Global hubs are helped by their facility with English…. English dominates the global economic system… This linguistic, digital and cultural congruence poses concerns for major competing cities, including those Russia and mainland China.”  (…and Korea.  For whatever the reason, Korea’s investment in English has not matched its return vis-a-vis other Asian countries.)

“Since the late Enlightenment, great cities, often built around markets, were typically places not just for the rich and their servants, but also for the aspirational middle and lower classes. A great city, wrote Rene Descartes in the 17th century, represented ‘an inventory of the possible’.”  (Seoul seems every bit the promised land or land of opportunity to Koreans and perhaps Asians of every stripe save Japanese.)

“These global cities reflect a new model of urbanism that… rests on a simple economic formula: please and lure the ultra-rich, so that with the surplus wealth they generate, you can then serve the rest of the population.” (One word:  Chaebols)

“Much has been written about the emergence of powerful new cities, particularly in East Asia, but it is critical not to overlook the enormous power of historical inertia. ‘It is inevitable’, a manager at Shanghai’s Guotai, a large Chinese investment bank, boasted to the Washington Post, ‘ that we will take the US’s place as the world leader.’ Yet, it will be a long time, perhaps decades or even longer, before any city on the Chinese mainland approaches the global influence of the long-established global hubs.”  (I found their findings of “historical inertia” in their “new” approach ironic though consistent with their findings.  Historical inertia from yesteryear presently works against Seoul, but as the world becomes more aware of the Miracle on the Han and recent years become yesteryears, historical inertia will work for Seoul.)

One of the report’s appendices presented a summary of findings and a special section that noted the ascendancy of East Asia, Fighting for the Future: The Battle for East Asia, singled out Tokyo, Seoul, and China.  “It seems likely that the primary challenge to the New York–London duopoly will come from East Asia.”

The report found Tokyo “no longer ascendant, but still important.”  The authors based their conclusion on two critical factors:  “the relative decline of the Japanese economy paired with the simultaneous rise of China (and other emerging economies like Korea).”   They found a third critical problem in Japan’s “cultural insularity—something that could have been overlooked when Japan dominated Asia’s economy, but now a severe liability going forward.”  Relating this to Seoul, I think that the rise of the behemoth that is China’s economy, the long-term decline in and aging of Korea’s population, and Korea’s cultural insularity will similarly work against Seoul’s ascendancy.

Here’s the special section on Seoul (see Appendix C):

Seoul Makes a Bid

Given the growth of the Korean economy and the expanding footprint of that country’s large conglomerates, Seoul must be considered a de facto global city.  Yet, like Tokyo, the Korean capital, although gaining in terms of the number of foreign residents, lacks the demographic diversity of a London or New York; few foreign large companies locate their regional headquarters in Seoul.  Due to major global players such as Samsung and Hyundai, Seoul is ranked 4th, tied with Paris, in the total number of Forbes 2000 global headquarters.

“Much has been written about the emergence of powerful new cities, particularly in East Asia, but it is critical not to overlook the enormous power of historical inertia. ‘It is inevitable’, a manager at Shanghai’s Guotai, a large Chinese investment bank, boasted to the Washington Post, ‘ that we will take the US’s place as the world leader.’ Yet, it will be a long time, perhaps decades or even longer, before any city on the Chinese mainland approaches the global influence of the long-established global hubs.”

Although I am happy for the boost in international prestige both the report’s (and Forbes Magazine’s) ranking and underlying criteria represent for Seoul, I can read into them caution for the rest of Korea.  A South African magazine’s observation about London’s ranking – why this is flattering, worrisome and deceiving – could easily and even more so apply to Seoul’s:

It’s almost 18 years since Newsweek magazine’s “London Rules” cover trumpeted the triumphs of what came to be dubbed Cool Britannia. Two years after that, though, the magazine ran an “Uncool Britannia” piece illustrating how little of the capital’s glamour had been distributed across the rest of the nation. London as a city-state is great for the capital city, terrible for the rest of the country. There needs to be greater decentralization, even if that saps a little of London’s swagger on the global stage.

Finally, the report, admittedly, ranked cities only by global influence factors and omitted quality of life considerations (you know, things that people rather than governments and global corporations find intrinsically critical):

Other surveys measure different things and weigh factors that we do not consider intrinsically critical. For example, the Mercer Quality of Living Survey and the Monocle Quality of Life Survey are focused on lifestyle in the city. These surveys frequently rank smaller cities such as Vienna (1st in the Mercer survey) and Copenhagen (1st in the Monocle survey) very highly, but these are generally not the most important or dynamic business hubs. It is notable that Monocle’s and The Economist’s headquarters remain in London, despite the city’s low score in quality of life rankings. Clearly, there is a difference between ease of living and economic dynamism.

A Google News search of “forbes ‘world’s most influential cities’” reveals that the piece got picked up by news outlets around the world (particularly in U.K., U.A.E., Russia, South Africa, and Australia).  The Toronto Star, in Canadian fashion, published an opinion piece, Others see Toronto as a success. Why don’t we?  Interestingly, I didn’t find a single U.S. paper that reported on the piece. I’m sure Korean media will soon pick it up.

  • wangkon936

    Los Angeles #10? Really? The home of Hollywood and the inspiration for the fictional city of San Andres in the Grand Theft Auto franchise is merely ranked 10th?

    I’m getting tired of your bull-shit Forbes.

  • Anonymous_Joe

    Which city, then, would you necessarily give the boot?

    “Here’s lookin at you, Syd.”

  • wangkon936

    Beijing. Definitely Beijing. I mean, most days you can’t even see the freaking city. Maybe Dubai. Looks nice on paper, but large parts of it are empty.

  • redwhitedude

    All this is saying is that Seoul is in the map. Beyond that there has to be something special that Seoul has to do to become more prominent. Still it is an improvement from where Seoul was which was off the radar screen internationally.

  • redwhitedude

    I guess that is not the main thing about this ranking. The media and so forth. Perhaps if you weight that more heavily Seoul would rank higher. But really do most people care about things like Kpop and movies that are cranked out in Korea. Forbes being a business magazine probably weights factors that would attract expats to live and work and in certainly isn’t going to be things like Kpop.

  • redwhitedude

    Too many instances of skirting environmental regulations. China is a big legal mess. People would be taken for fools if what Xi Jinping is doing is really an “anti corruption” drive. It’s a purge of people that he doesn’t want with charges of corruption which practically everybody does, graft, money laundering, bribery, etc….

    Ultimately this will make Beijing hit a wall and not progress in rankings.

  • A Korean

    Boot out Dubai, too – a mere (albeit giant) airport. Abu Dhabi at least carry some weight as an important oil producer.

  • shah8

    Seeing Houston on the list, and above DC or Boston just makes me shake my head. Ultimately, Houston isn’t any more important than Atlanta, let alone *Chicago*.

    What a silly list.

  • eslwriter

    “Korea is the most wired nation in the world.”

    Well, that sentence works well on so many levels.

    But not on the information highway. Whenever I read about Korea’s internet acumen, I think Active X.

  • redwhitedude

    This pretty much covers it.

    Apparently they think just having the fastest internet should suffice. They don’t realize that one of the strengths is you could access at different places and can access it anywhere there is connection. They have ill advised laws that screw things up.

  • Anonymous_Joe

    shah8: What a silly list.

    What you more properly mean is what silly criteria. The point of the list was to measure city’s global influence by 21st century standards rather than the 20th century legacy of empires standards of population, city GDP, and city per capita GDP.

    Many of the criteria were objectively measured. For example, Dubai scored high on the air connectivity (world number 1 by far), global corporate headquarters, and strategic hub criteria:

    Located in a highly combustible region, this modern and relatively open city-state stands out as a safe place for business, real estate investment, and tourism. Dubai has already become a clear favourite for companies looking to establish headquarters or a “point of presence”in the Middle East; these are not just companies in the energy sector, but also conglomerates like Samsung, IBM, Google, Dow Chemical, Visa, and AON.

    Houston, like SF Area (technology), scored high on the strategic hub criterion:

    The rise of 14th ranked Houston is based largely on its role as the “Energy Capital of the World”. The world’s oil supermajors are dispersed geographically (and include a number of state owned firms), and Houston is clearly the centre of the industry. The majority of traded foreign oil majors have their US headquarters in Houston and companies that are technically based elsewhere boast a significant Houston presence. In fact, Houston seems to be becoming more dominant

    The point of the report was “smaller cities, such as Dubai, Houston, or the San Francisco Bay Area, have not been ranked as highly as they may have deserved.”

  • Anonymous_Joe

    redwhitedude: They have ill advised laws that screw things up.

    I hoped someone would pick that up. Active X is annoying, and regardless of how embedded into Korea’s virtual infrastructure, ultimately correctable. Korea’s ill-advised laws (regarding speech) are a reflection of cultural values and are Constitutional. The authors of the study, not on the ground here, could easily measure internet and technological connectivity; they likely did not know about the practiced law of the land.

  • MikeinGyeonggi

    That means you can play internet games while sitting in ANY bathroom stall on the entire peninsula!

  • RElgin

    I wouldn’t be caught dead in so many of these places – Dubai, Beijing, LA. Even New York is a tourist freakshow, complete with chiselers, hustlers and terrorism-fear©. Malmo in Sweden is more fun than these places.

    Seoul is better than these places but I do worry about the economy dragging it down; things are getting to be really tough here.

  • MikeinGyeonggi

    That was probably the best EYK post I’ve read. It touched on the most baffling part of Korean tech – HWP files. What other country exclusively uses its own proprietary (and buggy) word processor, available in only one language, where the files are not readable or writable with any other software??

  • wangkon936

    If you’re ever in L.A. let me know. You’ll see why we all love L.A.

  • Bob Bobbs

    Yeah. Toronto. Shudder.

  • wangkon936

    I propose… we have a count down to AJ’s first non-Open Thread post that’s 500 words or fewer… 😉

  • Cloudfive

    Not familiar with Dubai or Beijing but only a very small part of LA and NYC are “tourist freak shows” as you put it. Los Angeles has many beautiful and charming areas and New York City has an almost infinite offering of cultural and gustatory diversions.
    Despite living in such a large city some Seoulites are quite provincial and you fit the bill.

  • RElgin

    You really have no idea what my tastes are or how far I roam but you do indulge your taste in generalizations and petty behaviour.
    (Manhattan) New York is not what it used to be though Brooklyn and the Bronx are better today than ever. If you like driving and traffic jams and bad air, LA is a great place to be. There are better places in California, IMHO.

  • Anonymous_Joe

    What you don’t know is that when I agreed to come aboard, I told RK that I wanted twice the word rate that he was paying you. RK told me, “you’re worth three times what I pay Wangkon.” When we get our paychecks, we’ll see who’s laughing then, LA** funny guy.

    Just to show you I’m not such a bad guy and since you offered to put us up when we come to L.A., drinks are on me for as long as that paycheck holds out.

    (**pronounced as in the feminine French article)

  • redwhitedude

    I have a feeling that Korea is microsoft land. They just blindly went with microsoft. I’m not convinced that Korea is as “dynamic” as some people claim it is such as PGH. You got thinking that just kills the internet. If somebody posts something that is objectable by some does anybody stand up for freedom of speech, or do they feel that it should be snuffed out to keep it from being “socially subversive”?

  • redwhitedude

    Well whomever set that up doesn’t realize that connectivity is key instead of setting up your own IT niche.

  • wangkon936

    My ‘rithmatic ain’t what it use to be but I think three times zero is still zero bro… 😀

  • gbnhj

    Interesting how the report actually uses Incheon International Airport when measuring Seoul’s air connectivity. ‘Cause Seoul and Incheon are like, um, different cities.

  • RElgin

    For cities that are more fun than “influential”, Madrid and Barcelona make my list.

  • RElgin

    I would never live in a place like Beijing or Tokyo, where the police will try to force you to give a urine sample just because you are a foreigner, not to mention fainting in the subway and the absence of any good Samaritans:

  • redwhitedude

    Beijing has other issues. Air quality. Maniacal driving(do they even know what lanes are?).

  • Anonymous_Joe

    I should’ve asked for 4X.

  • Anonymous_Joe

    True, but ICN services Seoul, is certainly close enough in both time and distance, and is there because of Seoul. Tokyo Narita Airport, which is Tokyo’s airport is much farther outside Tokyo, and both Dulles and Ronald Reagan are in VA.

    If within geographic limits rather than reasonable proximity were the criterion, then many of the world cities wouldn’t have air connectivity.

  • djson1

    I always thought it was 000.

  • djson1

    But I’d rather faint in a Tokyo subway than in a NY or Chicago subway. =)

  • djson1

    By the way, Tokyo is an awesome city to live in if you can speak Japanese. I lived there for a few years and absolutely loved it. No complaints except for the smelly men who don’t wash their shirts in the summer months.

  • RElgin

    Also, as another opinion, regarding Brooklyn, this explains some more of what I mean about NYC being more than passé:

  • gbnhj

    Really, IIA is there to service the international passenger traffic needs of people travelling in and out of the country, and not simply because of Seoul. The country’s other international airports, by contrast, offer relatively limited connectivity. That includes Seoul’s Kimpo International Airport, by the way, which had been the country’s primary international airport.

    People travelling to and from Seoul will of course use the Incheon airport in most cases, but it’s unquestionably outside the legal limits of that city, and clearly within the limits of another very large city. In other words, Seoul has air connectivity, thanks to another large city’s airport.

  • Pingback: Chosun Ilbo: Koreans ‘to Become Extinct by 2750′ | The Marmot's Hole()

  • RElgin