Helwan Felappi and Estelle Tromeur
The theory around the very definition of a global city can seem quite complex and virtual, when in fact such a city is characterized by specific and very concrete facilities. London being ranked at the top of sociologist Saskia Sassen’s ranking of world cities, a study of the capital is an opportunity to acknowledge the factors of globalization within cities, and to fully absorb the definition of “global city”.
London. When spoken of, the city instantly evokes the capital of a powerful as well as immensely touristic country, yet it is rarely acknowledged that it also plays an immense role when it comes to globalization today. Indeed, although globalization depends on a whole network of global cities across the world, London remains one of the most important headquarters of the phenomenon, for it is able to balance expertise in world economy, politics, information and people, thus responding to all the major demands of a global city.
One of the main aspects of globalization is, without a doubt, participation in world commerce, without which the development of a city finds itself compromised. Throughout time, London has processed important flows of goods. Its proximity to water, for one hand, has historically allowed trade and easy access thanks to major port facilities on the navigable river Thames, with access to the North Sea and English Channel. The Port of London is amongst the biggest ports in the world, and allows huge exportations of manufactured goods, in which the UK specialized for many years. Capital of world’s fourth-biggest trading nation and 9th biggest export economy, London is considered a global city partly throughout its economic partnerships with other world powers across America, Asia and Europe. The balance between its importations of raw material and exportations of manufactured goods allows London to participate in a global economy. Although the British capital experienced a sectoral shift in the 1980s that reoriented its economy more towards services, it was an industrial power for years, which allowed it to gain power and to initiate economic partnerships with other zones of the world. Sassen gives “interconnectedness” as an aspect of globalization; it can be stated that London participates to a global trade interconnectivity, and that this flow of goods still participates in its qualification as a major global city today
If you’re reading this article, you’ve most likely come upon a news article by the BBC before, whether it be written out or on a television screen. Indeed, London plays a crucial part in a global flow of information, which goes along with Sassen’s idea of interconnectedness. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is based in London and broadcasts news and current affairs all around the world. Although it is a British corporation, its articles cover global politics and issues, and the company counts more than fifty foreign news bureaux. London’s implication in world affairs is of high importance and its voice is broadcasted around the globe. These key global communications connect London to the rest of the world and, reinforced by the fact that English is considered the first international language, enable it to glow as a global city, and promote its sphere of influence to a worldwide scale.
“In 2015, London welcomed a record-breaking 31.5 million international and UK tourists”, claims the Office for National Statistics. This leads us to another flow of globalization in which London masters: people. They are essential for a global city to have, seeing that to have an effective worldwide influence and attractiveness, it is important to build the city, both concretely and socially, with the influence of many people coming from different areas of the world. In London, this international flow of persons is represented by the many transport facilities available in the British capital, for the city can indeed be considered a major transport hub. It counts six international airports, and London Heathrow was nominated the world’s sixth busiest airport in 2015. Great numbers of people are thus able to access London, attractive for its cultural sites, as well as prestigious education: Oxford University, for instance, attracts a large international student population, within which 140 nationalities are represented. Other well known institutions include Imperial College and the London School of Economics. London is also a strategic travel hub since it is located on Western Europe’s rim. As a whole, such factors encourage hypermobility, yet another aspect of globalization. In addition, its attractive educational institutions also help train an efficient and creative workforce, which is instrumental to keeping the city an essential part of the world economy.
If all these aspects do indeed make London a world city, London’s dominant asset is finance. Since the end of its industrial years during the nineteenth century, it has entirely converted itself into a modern city of business, which has drawn interest from many investors: London counts 235 foreign investment projects from companies relocating and expanding overseas, with an estimated value of 52 billion pounds. Global Finance companies, such as HSBC, also seige in London and demonstrate once again it's key in the sector. To top it off, London’s Stock exchange is the third stock market in the world, after the New York and NASDAQ American stock exchanges. It can thus be said that London is completely adapted to our world of services and virtual finance, which links it once more to globalization. In addition, London not only welcomes thousands of new, modern service companies, referred to as Advanced Producer Services (APS), but these APSs form clusters in specific areas of the city depending on their functions: Insurance companies tend to regroup in Mayfair, Advertising agencies in Covent Gardens, Banks in The City: London’s organization also makes it a global city, since specialist Saskia Sassen describes globalization as being “deeply embedded” and specifically organized within areas.
It is therefore clear that London is a prime example of how a city can become perfectly integrated in our globalized and connected world. It occupies the world stage in an increasingly large number of areas, ranging from finance and politics all the way to tourism. All these factors contribute in extending London’s formidable reputation and influence, and make it one of a few truly Global cities. However, this does not exempt it from the many issues that it will be concerned with in the coming years, such as those that will result from the upcoming Brexit. Indeed, many experts suggest that leaving the European Union might harm London’s economy, as firms might relocate elsewhere. To deal with these challenges, it will need to stay a dynamic and enterprising metropolis which fosters progress and innovation, It will also need to retain its international mindset, which encourages the interaction of different cultures and points of view, and contribute to making London such an admired, distinctive and fascinating Global City.