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The Global Cities That Offer the Most Opportunity

The Global Cities That Offer the Most Opportunity
SeanPavonePhoto / Shutterstock.com

New York tops the list of the world’s best "cities of opportunity," with London second and Toronto third, according to a report [PDF] released this week by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Partnership for New York City.

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The report gauges 27 of the world’s largest and most influential global cities on their ability to provide opportunity to their residents — both long-term residents and new immigrants. This is what I like most about the report: It seeks to gauge the ability of cities not just to grow and develop, but to provide opportunity broadly. It notes the adaptability and resilience of cities and highlights the connection between quality of life, or livability, and long-run economic growth and development.

The 27 cities covered by the report are global powerhouses, accounting for nearly eight percent of global economic output (measured as gross domestic product) while housing just 2.5 percent of its population. The report projects that these 27 cities will add 19 million more residents, 13.7 million more jobs, and $3.3 trillion more in economic output by 2025.

The table below, adapted from the report, shows how the 27 global cities stack up on their overall ranking of opportunity. The rankings are based on ten dimensions of opportunity (see below) for which the report collected data on 60 individual variables.

Overall Opportunity Rankings for All 27 Cities
Rank City Total Score
1 New York 1,112
2 London 1,111
3 Toronto 1,096
4 Paris 1,073
5 Stockholm 1,062
6 San Francisco 1,061
7 Singapore 1,045
8 Hong Kong 1,015
9 Chicago 997
10 Tokyo 974
11 Sydney 964
12 Berlin 955
13 Los Angeles 954
14 Seoul 915
15 Madrid 903
16 Milan 827
17 Beijing 769
18 Kuala Lumpur 761
19 Shanghai 729
20 Moscow 712
21 Mexico City 673
22 Abu Dhabi 650
23 Buenos Aires 597
24 Istanbul 578
25 Johannesburg 534
26 São Paulo 527
27 Mumbai 515

Table adapted from "Cities of Opportunity" (ranking numbers adjusted for clarity)

New York is first, even though it failed to top a single category. London is second, up from sixth in the 2011 version of the report (this is the fifth iteration). These two cities also came in first and second on a comprehensive listing of the world's most economically powerful cities I compiled last year. Toronto is third. Paris is fourth, also up four spots since 2011, and Stockholm is fifth. San Francisco, Singapore, Hong Kong, Chicago, and Tokyo round out the top 10. Los Angeles is 13th.

Cities in the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) do not rank as highly as centers of opportunity, according to the report. Beijing is 17th, Shanghai 19th, Moscow 20th, São Paulo 26th, and Mumbai comes in last at 27th.

The report also ranks the 27 cities across each of its ten key dimensions (see the table below). 

Top-Ranking Cities by Opportunity Category
Category City
Intellectual capital and innovation Stockholm
Technology readiness Seoul
Transportation and infrastructure Singapore
Health, safety and security Stockholm
Sustainability and the natural environment Sydney
Economic clout Beijing
Ease of doing business Singapore
Cost Berlin
Demographics and livability Paris
City gateway London

Table data from "Cities of Opportunity"

Two cities take the top score in multiple categories: Stockholm in intellectual capital and health, safety and security, and Singapore in transportation and infrastructure and ease of doing business. Seoul topped the list in technology readiness; Sydney took first place in sustainability and the natural environment; Beijing ranked first in economic clout; Berlin took first in cost; with Paris taking the top spot in livability and London topping the list as a city gateway.

The report notes that Asian cities perform well in several key categories.

Shanghai and Beijing move up 
the ratings, performing in the top five in economic clout and city gateway, the latter a new indicator that measures global attractiveness and accessibility. Four of the five leaders in inner-city transportation and infrastructure sit in Asia—Singapore, Seoul, Tokyo, and Hong Kong—versus last year when all five leaders were in America or Europe.

Another interesting aspect of the report is its projections of how these 27 cities are likely to grow and develop out to 2025. The chart below (from the report) arrays them on both their projected levels of employment and population in 2025. (Click on chart for larger image.)

Courtesy of "Cities of Opportunity"

Now the picture is quite different. By 2025, the world’s largest cites in terms of projected people and jobs will mainly be in the BRICs and emerging economies. Beijing and Shanghai lead, followed by Mumbai, Tokyo, Istanbul, São Paulo, and Moscow.

New York and London are in the middle of the pack with Mexico City, Seoul, Hong Kong, and Singapore. Most Western cities — L.A., Chicago, San Francisco, Toronto, Milan, Paris, Madrid, Berlin, and Stockholm — can now be found in the slow-growing bottom left-hand quadrant of the chart, along with Sydney, Abu Dhabi, Kuala Lumpur, Johannesburg, and Buenos Aires.

One last thing: The report contains fascinating interviews with a wide range of eminent city builders, former mayors, and thinkers, but also with some non-obvious subjects like E.O. Wilson, an emeritus professor of entomology at Harvard University who won two Pulitzer Prizes for On Human Nature and The Ants (the latter with Bert Hölldobler). The report authors asked Wilson if he thought that urbanization was "programmed into our genetic leash," to which he answered:

Cities just happen to be the aggregate of convenience. They’re becoming more and more necessary for high productivity in technologically advanced societies, and also becoming a necessity as natural resources, or transportation back and forth between dwellings and city centers, become scarcer. All those things conspire to move us into cities. What we have to do is make cities a lot more livable, and, by that, I mean more consistent with the fundamental emotional needs, the instinctive needs of human beings.

Top image: SeanPavonePhoto / Shutterstock.com

Richard Florida is Co-Founder and Editor at Large at The Atlantic Cities. He's also a Senior Editor at The Atlantic, Director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, and Global Research Professor at New York University. He is a frequent speaker to communities, business and professional organizations, and founder of the Creative Class Group, whose current client list can be found here. All posts »

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