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.