Global Cities – Cities Changed Social-Cultural Space


In this article, we analyze different approaches to the term global city and reveal the process of formation of this phenomenon in social sciences. We consider the specifics of such concepts as a global city, a world city, town information, a creative city. The global city is seen as a factor of influence on the socio-economic processes of the modern world, which determines the impact depending not only on the size of the city. The modern urban development goal - to become visible on the world map of politics, economy, allowing the city to develop, involving active and creative actors in their own space. This article discusses the methods and mechanisms that contribute to changes in the urban space by different examples. The instability, volatility of urban space, the dependence on a huge number of factors and side effects of decisions are the main problems of the modern management of urban space. For the world city, as a system that defines and forms these processes, the author introduces the concept of a control point, which is a landmark, setting the direction of development and changing the dynamics of socio-cultural space.

Keywords: The Global cityworld citiesthe social-cultural spaceurban planningcity management


The modern stage of society development can rightly be called the time of great cities: agglomeration, megacities, alpha-cities become the main players on the map of big politics, business, culture and science. A number of factors facilitate it. These factors have different nature and different causes: historical, geographical, political. The relevance of the research of great cities characteristics and problems is determined, on the one hand, by the increasing role of cities themselves in the world, and, on the other hand, by extreme complexity and poor handling of socio-cultural processes that occur in these systems.

The classics of sociology, created their own theory, starting from the study of society and ending with the study of a great city. Their followers - the Chicago School, followed the new direction: they studied modern society directly through the study of a city.The founder of urban sociology, Park (2002), connected a general idea of the process of social change in the society with the development of the city that, in his opinion, could help to solve problems in modern cities.

A variety of terms describing the types of major cities is an indicator that reflects the ambiguity and complexity of this phenomenon in the social sciences, as well as the diversity of approaches in its study. From the perspective of social constructionism, the construct expressed in specific words, inherent in the one or another definition, has a decisive influence on the process of social reality construction, specifying the dynamics of development as well as ways to solve social problems. However, we would like to select two basic, in our opinion, concepts used in the researches of urban sociology: "global cities" and "world cities".

This selection allows us to consider the possibility of grouping a number of social problems, associated with the phenomenon of the great city, in two directions: the first is determined by rapidly developing processes of globalization (first of all, economic), and the second is determined by the geopolitical processes, initiated by the major world powers.

Literature review

The concept of "global city" is one of the most common in sociology from the beginning of the 80s. Clark (2003) in his “Urban World/Global City” points out that such cities become command and control posts of the global economic system, the focus of key individuals, institutions and organizations that manage, manipulate, dictate and determine the formation and reconstitution of capitalism worldwide.

The author of the term "global city", a sociology professor at the University of Chicago, Sassen (2001), in her "The Global City" says that in the twentieth century, special megacities endowed with enormous financial, managerial, information and political functions began to stand out among the largest cities. They are the main centers of the international community activity.

According to the Sassen’s (2001) definition, "global cities are post-industrial centers, occupying a strategic position in the global economy due to the concentration of management and control functions, as well as specializing in the field of professional business services; the most integrated in the global economy and deriving resources and development opportunities in many ways due to or as a result of the interaction of global city networks".Emphasizing the difference between the global city and the world city, Sassen distinguishes defining centuries-old, world-historical significance of the world city, whereas for the global city, it is more important to have its functioning in the global world economy.

However, the global cities clearly reflect the contradictions of "global - local": involved in the global economic system, they exclude the local functionally redundant population from it. Castells argues that the marginalization of local communities is a consequence of the economic, political and cultural expansion of global cities (Castells, 1989; Clark, & Moonen, 2013).

Castells was one of the first who noticed a new feature of the global city - its informational content: global cities play the most important role in the development of the informational society, creating the necessary variations of decision-making at the highest level in different fields, significantly differing from other cities on a global scale.

A logical extension of the idea of a global informational center development by global cities was suggested by Professor McQuire’s (2008) from University of Melbourne, Australia, in conception "Media City: Media, architecture and urban space". He believes that the global city becomes a media city: digital networks of the information field begin to form a social profile of the global city inhabitant, his thoughts and attitudes, but digital technologies "format" the view of time and space, thus developing competitive strategies of the global city among other cities. So the social-economic competitive gap is created within the global city by maximizing the use of media technologies of the information environment.

The collection of articles by Russian sociologists and culturologists "Microurbanizm. City in the details" is dedicated to the problem of information space in the theories of the network society. A culturologist, Lapina-Kratasyuk (2014) introduces the concept of "interactive city" - a city that exceeds the limits of its physical boundaries, thanks to the network quality, and this feature facilitates uncontrollable incarnation in the physical world.

In 2014, the results of international research devoted to the interaction of global cities and national states, which was held under the supervision of Professor Clark (2003) (ULI) London), have been published. In the project's boundaries, twelve global cities have been allocated: Hong Kong, London, Moscow, Mumbai, New York, Paris, Sao Paulo, Singapore, Tokyo, Toronto, Shanghai. The combined GDP of these cities is 10% of world GDP. The research was an analysis of the positive and negative aspects of global cities from the perspective of the international economic relations development. The positive characteristics of global cities included: the concentration of industries, the location of the headquarters of international companies, developed labor market, the attractiveness for tourism due to the political and cultural situation.

At the same time, negative aspects have been identified and marked: the dependence on the functioning of the administrative apparatus of the national state and government does not allow the development of an independent city management, congestion of the transport systems, addressing environmental issues, social fragmentation. They were the side effect of becoming a global city.

Analysis & Findings

Thus, the global cities are the cities that attract the majority of economic and political processes taking place in the world. For example, Moscow - a city determining the vast number of processes taking place in Russia. In two decades, it became one of the world's informational, political and economic centers of global proportions. This, in turn, was reflected in Moscow itself, its socio-cultural, informational space. At the same time, the space outside of Moscow is in a completely different economic and political era. This manifests a new feature that appears during the process of evolution of the global city. Trubina (2011) writes in the "City in the theory: understanding the experience of space": "the cities in spite of the variety of their functions, in principle, - from religious to military - ... were subordinate to a single function - to promote the centralization of capital".From the perspective of geography and sociology, the principal disadvantage of these classical works is that they focus only on the simple measurement of specification, while the spatial (actually, geographical) aspect and an important system (sociological) component as a socio-economical relationship between the individual elements of urban areas are ignored.

Despite the propinquity of the concepts, we would like to distinguish the specificity of the second direction in the sociology of the city - "global cities".

In 1915, the Scottish urbanist-sociologist, P. Geddes, in "The Evolution of Cities" has defined a category of world centers. Before, the concept of "world city" was used as a city of special cultural and religious type. New world cities appeared on the map of post-industrial society in the mid-twentieth century.

According to Geddes, socio-cultural space itself is an important factor in the development of social processes. Geddes recognized London, Paris, Berlin, Vienna, New York, Boston, Chicago as world centers, and he also noted the prospects of the formation of similar centers in other world regions, for example, in Asia.

It should be noted that P. Geddes was not just a theoretician in the study of city problems, but also a practician: according to his ideas, in 1925, Tel Aviv was built. It was a garden city in the desert, where the principle of regional development was applied for the first time.

To understand the genesis of the difference between the world city and the global city is an important observation of Marcuse, & R. van Kempen (2000), which they expressed in their work, "Globalizing cities: a new spatial order?". From their point of view, "the world city is understood not as a normative conception, not as a status that can be achieved, but as the direction of development, which is followed by many cities around the world in the process of globalization».

Together with common approaches in the study of large cities’ features, the conception of "creative cities" (cities, attracting creative people, developing innovative, creative trends in society at the global and regional levels) stood out highly. Today, this name becomes a new trend that allows overcoming a systemic crisis by the world cities with a rich history first of all. About a hundred cities in the world call themselves creative: there are New York, Amsterdam, Berlin among them. The involvement of global cities into the competition leads to a branding of territories. For example, many cities have their own mottos that help to influence target audiences. Main values allow positioning the city as attractive. New York is a Business City, which is aggressive and individualistic. London is a place where spirit of the British "high society" is.

The main factor in the transformation of the creative city is the development of art and creative environment. World cities were more receptive to creativity and, therefore, more attractive to creative people. The problem of global cities is in the absence of favorable conditions of identity existence first of all, or as Charles Landry (2003),the author of the book "Creative City", writes “in the absence of variety of feelings”. "The variety of feelings consists of buildings, urban environment, well-planned and well-kept streets, the car control and the possibility of citizen’s activities that allow people to feel involved members of the city life". Examples, given by Landry, allow us to understand these processes.

From the perspective of information theory, such "units" contribute to the development of information processes. In general, the process of modern society of transition from an industrial to information stage of development is reflected in the transformation of traditional social institutions and values inherent in a culture of industrial society. The introduction of modern information technologies in all the spheres of human activity has significantly changed the dynamics of social relationships that affected the stability of the socio-cultural system in general.

Manuel Castells (1989), one of the founders of the new urban sociology theory, developing the theory of global (informational) city, in the "The Informational City" says that the determining feature of these cities is the concentration of administrative, management and production functions worldwide. Cities form the information-power units, which make the most important decisions, broadcast into the global economic network.Periods of stable states of society are increasingly replaced by the states of instability and uncertainty under the influence of the accelerating pace of change. This peculiarity of human society development which is an open extraordinarily complex system is able to endure a huge number of bifurcations.


Based on the fact that the bifurcation process includes a variety of objects and its course depends on their total harmonized action, the German physicist,Haken, gave the name “synergy” (from the Greek “synergeia” - cooperation) to the research area related to the study of processes in open nonequilibrium systems.The more intensive coverage of concerted action, the greater unity of the processes even those processes that are taking place in different areas and seem unrelated. The systematic consideration of the object suggests, first of all, the revealing the integrity of a self-organizing system and its relationship with the environment. The systematic approach establishes the common features of different complex systems where the processes of self-organization are observed.

Originally the city was founded as a project of the future: people moved from the village to the city to become free from the power of tradition and to build a new future that can be consciously identified and controlled. A utopian dream of full rationality, clarity and accountability of the urban environment leads to the deployment of the historical dynamics, which manifests itself in a permanent restructuring of all areas of the city life. Today, there is a diametrically opposite idea of a utopian city, a city where there is no control but the freedom and creativity. Such cities become the centers of technology and innovation, the new project of the future. The city and the urban environment are the most consistent and in general the most successful human attempt to transform the world where he liveslargely according to his innermost desires.


The phenomenon of modern creativity occurs in the late 1960s. It was during this period the socio-cultural environment begins to change under the influence of new challenges - technological, ideological, cultural. Since the 80-ies of the XX century, the ratio of routine and creative components in the creation of any product changes strongly. A post-industrial era comes; consumer society, the media world, postmodern philosophy, conceptual art, high-tech, networked transnational organizations appear. Production and distribution of knowledge are deinstitutionalized to a certain extent and begin to operate within local urban communities and even acquire specific subcultural forms, getting the "esoteric" nature in some cases. Knowledge becomes a more cultural product, and therefore, the role of the local cultural identity in its production increases. The global knowledge is combined with local knowledge that has historical and cultural traditions, which is better to do in the city. At the same time, the city loses its traditional role as an industrial center. Its development is increasingly associated with science, education, production of a wide range of information of innovation, expertise and organizational nature. The export of information, ideas, knowledge, techniques and technologies occupies the main place in the city economy. Becoming a strategic product, knowledge changes the employment structure of the urban population and, ultimately, its lifestyle, because there is an inextricable connection between the specificity of the knowledge and the typology of the communities where knowledge exists.

For example, in Seoul, several major transport thoroughfares of the city were removed and the river beds were restored. It is important to say that in major cities, there is a tendency of gradual withdrawal of production plants outside the city limits, and it allows significantly improving the environment and leads to positive structural social and demographic changes. Of course, this process is connected with a large financial outlay, but in the long term it can significantly improve the quality of population life.

In Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, almost a new city, a mega-project Banga Malaysia is built: on the area of hundreds of hectares, the urban space allowing access to all necessary communications and centers within seven minutes’ walk is organized. This urban development has been called "the city of seven minutes"

Another example of the urban space modernization in order to increase the comfort of living is New York: the city authorities expand pedestrian zones and fully reduce car traffic in the center. These changes allow the residents of the city to feel their dominant position in the urban space.

As a result of the transformation processes in the development of creative trends, there is a fact that administrative structures in the world cities have come to the conclusion: an increase of the financial benefit gained from the construction of one building often reduces the capital value of the city as a whole. This conclusion is based on the understanding of the world city perception as a single project, a single system. Only then, the city acquires a cumulative social capital, which can increase its value in the world and thus gives a new impetus to the development, allowing using all the resource capabilities.


So, in spite of the growing role of global cities in the information society, the importance of a global city is defined as follows: a global city accumulates all socio-cultural processes and determines the dynamics of socio-cultural development, changes in world space in a centripetal direction; and the specifics of this dynamic growth proceeds from the periphery to the center. This type of changes allows assigning the concept of repère (fr.repère - the point on which the measurement range is based). The term “repère”is quite common in the humanities such as psychology and history but not in sociology. However, this concept is quite clearly expresses the meaning of this phenomenon. From our point of view, the global cities are an "unattainable object" because of their "isolation" or the sharp difference from the rest world in the level of development. At the same time, the society that has a desire to change needs fixed and authoritative reference points. The global city becomes such reference point. The research prospect of this topic is to identify the mechanisms of the global city influence on socio-cultural space.


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  4. Landry, Ch. (2008) The Creative City: a Toolkit for Urban Innovators. Routlege, USA.
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  9. Sassen, S. (2001). The Global City: New York, Paris, London, Tokyo. Prinston University Press. USA

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20 July 2017

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Matveeva, O. (2017). Global Cities – Cities Changed Social-Cultural Space. In K. Anna Yurevna, A. Igor Borisovich, W. Martin de Jong, & M. Nikita Vladimirovich (Eds.), Responsible Research and Innovation, vol 26. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 641-647). Future Academy.