A Worldly Top 10 List: What Cities Need to Go Global

8.29.13 | This is the Summer of Metro Love for the Brookings Institution. The think tank’s meme that U.S. metropolitan regions’ resilience is bound hand-and-foot to their capacities to think—and act—globally began with the release of “The Metropolitan Revolution” and continued with the suggestion that it’s not enough to export to the world; metros also must import investment.

Now comes Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program and its list of top ten traits signifying a successful global metro area, which it’s been unveiling weekly since the end of June. The overall gist of the list is that the world is global and metros must become more global themselves if they want to compete. Each trait is basically a step toward achieving this global reach and perspective.

In Brookings’ order, those traits are:

1.  Leadership with a Worldview: In Denver’s case, this meant learning to overcome the deepest divisions between city and suburbs. Regional collaboration was instrumental in developing one of Denver’s key international assets: the Denver International Airport.”

2.  Legacy of Global Orientation: Due to their location, size, and history, certain cities were naturally oriented toward global interaction at an early stage, giving them a first mover advantage. Toronto’s case was made with political stability, access to US.markets (particularly on the East Coast), and global ties via the British Commonwealth.

3.  Specializations with Global Reach: Cities often establish their initial global position through a distinct economic specialization, leveraging it as a platform for diversification. We covered this angle in depth here.

4.  Adaptability to Global Dynamics: (This one may sound a familiar to BRR members…) Cities that sustain their market positions are able to adjust to each new cycle of global change. They will need to develop a resilient ability to adjust to constant flux. “In fact, once a region goes global it had better be ready to roll with change.” In other words, use it or lose it.

5.  Culture of Knowledge and Innovation: In an increasingly knowledge-driven world, positive development in the global economy requires high levels of human capital to generate new ideas, methods, products, and technologies. Helsinki, Finland, home to Nokia and Rovio Entertainment (ask anyone who plays “Angry Birds”), is cited as the exemplar, “underlining how global fluency has never been more valuable in an increasingly interconnected world.”

6.  Opportunity and Appeal to the World: Metro areas that are appealing, open, and opportunity-rich serve as magnets for people and firms from around the world. Immigration, in other words, is good; xenophobes need not apply. “Metro areas without a long history of immigration face greater challenges, but it’s never too late to learn a foreign language, and they can take lessons from their more globally fluent peers.”

7.  International Connectivity: Global relevance requires global reach that efficiently connects people and goods to international markets through well-designed, modern infrastructure. Is anyone in Congress listening?

8.  Ability to Secure Investment for Strategic Priorities: Attracting investment from a wide variety of domestic and international sources is decisive in enabling metro areas to effectively pursue new growth strategies. “Globally oriented metro areas have a better chance of attracting capital because they offer both public and private investors compelling development strategies with the attentive leadership to achieve them.”

9.  Government as Global Enabler: Federal, state, and local governments have unique and complementary roles to play in enabling firms and metro areas to “go global.” “While regional chambers and business groups often champion and implement new initiatives, it is frequently strong local mayors that prove to be the catalysts that set a new course for their regions at critical points in time.”

Coming this week is No. 10, a Compelling Global Identity: Cities must establish an appealing global identity and relevance in international markets not only to sell the city, but also to shape and build the region around a common purpose.

The traits list includes profiles of global cities. Just 15 US cities made that list: Boston, Chicago, Denver, Greenville, S.C., Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis-St. Paul, New York City, Omaha, Neb., San Antonio, Texas, San Francisco, San Jose, Calif., Seattle, Washington, D.C., and Wichita, Kan.

Others, who think their own cities should be on that list, would probably do well to consider what characteristics make those cities resilient, and what their own lack.

Photo / Christian Ramiro González Verón

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