A couple of new rankings of global cities are just out, and Chicago scores big. For Chicagoans swimming in the swamp of the Blagojevich trial, the idea that their tarnished town might be leading the world's way into the 21st century is cause for astonishment, even derision. But these rankings aren't frivolous and a look at them might tell us something not only about Chicago but about what it takes to be a global city.
The first listing was done by A.T. Kearney and The Chicago Council on Global Affairs and is just published in Foreign Policy magazine. The top five cities are the ones you'd expect -- New York first, then London, Tokyo, Paris and Hong Kong, the true big apples among global cities. But Chicago ranks next, in sixth place among all the world's cities, ahead of Los Angeles, Singapore, Seoul and Shanghai. You can see the bare-bones listing in Foreign Policy. Kearney and the Council will publish a more detailed report in early September, showing why we ranked the cities as we did and comparing this year's lineup to the 2008 one.
Kearney, like the Chicago Council, is based in Chicago, so some hometown boosterism could be suspected here. But the other ranking comes from PricewaterhouseCoopers, the London-based accounting and consulting firm, and the Partnership for New York City, and they seem to like Chicago, too.
The Kearney-CCGA rankings, the 2010 Global Cities Index, rate 65 cities and are based on a variety of factors -- sheer business activity as measured by trade, financial clout, major corporate headquarters and the like: human capital as measured by great universities, college graduates, foreign-born residents, etc.; information exchange, as measured by openness to global information; culture, as measured by foreign restaurants, global sporting events, museums, international tourists, great orchestras, etc; and policy, as measured by the number of embassies, international organizations, think tanks, etc.
(I took part in putting this list together and can testify that it's a pretty subjective exercise. The big disputes centered on the weight given to each factor: foreign restaurants count, but we had to make sure that Paris didn't suffer because, for obvious reasons, it doesn't have many. I can only say that we truly tried to be fair.)
Capital cities like Washington lead the policy rankings and, because they have so many resident foreign correspondents, the information rankings. But Chicago is in the top ten in all other rankings and is in the top four in the human capital category.
The Pricewaterhouse "Cities of Opportunity" rates 21 cities on whether they are both a good place to live and a good place to do business. It starts with "power" rankings, listing cities by their sheer size and economic clout. This puts the same five cities at the top -- New York, London, Tokyo, Paris and Hong Kong. Asians cities like Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore, Seoul and Shanghai come next, then Chicago.
When quality of life is considered, though, Chicago shines brightly. It stands at the very top of a listing called "quality/intensity," which ranks cities on a combination of power and livability. Places like Sydney, Stockholm and Toronto, follow close behind. New York, London and Paris are in the top ten but well behind Chicago as a place to make a buck and have fun at the same time.
A lot of factors go into this ranking. Chicago rates high because of its transit system, diversity, relatively low costs, entertainment and culture, housing, green culture, its "political and social environment" and its relatively low crime rate.
Right here is where any Chicagoan would say, "Oh, come on!" The home of Rod Blagoevich, one of the most segregated American cities, has a good "political and social environment?" The city where gang-inspired killings are a staple of front-page news has a crime rate better than London or Paris and is as safe as Stockholm and Toronto? A city held together by the CTA?
None of this makes much sense unless you think about it. So let's think about it.
The faults of any city are more visible to the people who live there. There probably isn't a major city anywhere where citizens don't complain about the traffic, fear crime, decry inequality, wring their hands over corruption. Chicago traffic looks terrible, until you go to Tokyo. It's a law-abiding paradise compared to Sao Paulo. Paris is easily as corrupt. It's hard for Chicagoans to imagine, but their town is envied by many cities that wish they had its problems.
Inequality is a special issue in any conversation about global cities. Chicago is a hugely unequal and, in many ways, an unjust city, with about one-third to one-half of its citizens enjoying the excitement and prosperity that global cities offer, and all the rest living far from this honey pot, stuck with poverty, bad schools, bad health care and hopelessness.
The same is true for most other global cities. New York, London and Paris suffer inequality just as bad. Most formerly third-world cities now rising into global status -- Sao Paulo, Shanghai, Dubai, Mumbai -- have gaps between the rich and the poor that would shock the most complacent Chicagoan.
Saskia Sassen and others have written that widening class differences and inequality are endemic to global cities. As globalization wipes out industry in first-world countries, it also wipes out the industrial middle class, putting in its place a new lineup of wealthy "global citizens" and and poor "global servants," many of them immigrants. The people who used to work in industry, both white and black, are left behind, shut out of this new economy.
It's a cruel process, this globalization, and Chicago displays it vividly. But so do New York, London and other cities going through the same agonies. The struggle in these places is to hold on to the benefits of globalization while repairing its inequities.
Cities like Toronto, Stockholm and Frankfurt show it can be done. All rank high in global listings without condemning many of their citizens to post-industrial penury. The moral here seems to be that cities (and countries) with strong social safety nets are better placed to cope with the downside of globalization without sacrificing the upside.
I hope this provides some context for looking at these rankings. Kearney, the CCGA and Pricewaterhouse are listing the most potent global cities, the cities that are running the global economy, that are succeeding economically in this new competition. They are not saying that the most powerful cities are also good or kind cities, because many of them aren't.
Other weaker cities that want to play the global game have much to learn from places like Chicago. But places like Chicago have much to learn from cities that may be striking a better social balance. Despite Blagojevich and our other civic sins, Chicago is not the only city that needs this education.