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Working Papers

Cities and Globalization

Working paper #475
Witold Rybczynski

Economic and cultural globalization are unprecedented phenomena, and have led to so-called global cities, which respond to global rather than national or regional forces. Yet cities have always played a trans-national role. From the twelfth to the sixteenth century, city-states in northern Europe and northern Italy were centers of innovation. City bankers pioneered long-distance trade and bills of exchange, accounting, and gold money. In other words, they invented capitalism. With the arrival of nation-states, the largest cities, which the author calls prime cities, had several roles. They were the engines that kick-started and powered the national economies. Goods flowed from the prime city across the nation-state, and beyond. In addition, prime cities were frequently the seats of political power, no longer merely the power of the city itself but the power of the entire nation. When globalization re-emerged as a force at the end of the twentieth century, the prime cities were particularly well-placed to become the command points of the new world economy. Cities were always richer than their surrounding hinterland, but in many parts of the world today, global cities differ not only economically but also culturally, socially, and even politically.

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