Can a City Sway the Global Economy?

In this age of globalization and faster communication, cities are finding more and more ways to reinvent and renew their image. In Tim Campbell’s recent book Beyond Smart Cities: How Cities Network, Learn, and Innovate he explores the recent vehicle of urban development and integration of “urban communication.” Cities are communicating with one another in increasingly intricate ways, traveling to one another’s locations and learning about one city’s innovative ways of solving the issues others may face. Campbell prefaces his findings by stating that the world has grown to 1,000 cities of between 500,000 and 5,000,000 inhabitants.  In 1995,  less than 700 cities fell within this range.  By 2020, over 1,200 cities are expected to fall within these parameters. Once cities fall within this range, Campbell explain, they begin to have what he describes as enough “sway” to impact major geo-political decisions around the world.

Campbell derives his conclusions from a survey conducted by 43 people in 165 cities that fall within the range of nearly 1000 with a population size between 500,000 and 5,000,000 people that Campbell describes as “knowing the city well, but not enough to speak for it.” In looking at how these people communicate with one another, he found that much of the international communication facilitated between these 43 subjects traveled north to south, and that major regional centers for trade and exchange like Paris and Singapore were where much of the study’s subjects communicated frequently. Examining the communications between cities of between 500,000 and 5,000,000 people, Campbell found over 10,000 exchanges, and found that people from larger cities study the work of smaller cities because they’re easier to understand.

Campbell then separates the cities into two groups which he categorized as “reformers” and “non-reformers,” and labeled cities as “reformers” if they had at least 3-5 major policy shifts in recent years to which he asked what their most pressing concerns were. He found the major concerns of the reformers to be policy-oriented, while he found the major concerns of the non-reformers to be more budget-oriented. He concludes his research and the book that derives from it by looking at number of “city case studies,” to which he codes three types of cities to be either “technical, corporate or ad hoc,” and identifies three varied forms of communication “tissue of remembering, cloud of trust, or a sponsor.”   Those that are “technical” cities bring on smart people to brainstorm and implement new ideas, while those that are corporate cities have a structured way of doing things. Likewise, those that build “clouds of trust” build networks and partnerships that they work with to bring out common reform, while those that are “sponsors,” support business and civic exchanges and facilitate forums that spur ideas for better urban planning. All in all, smart cities base their reforms in social capital and collective learning, facilitating what Campbell explains as Ikujiro Nonaka’s concept of “Ba,” the art of externalizing one’s learning experience to build a network of trust, confidence, cooperation and innovation.


Click here to check out Tim’s event at the Wilson Center


Posted By: Jonathan Sherman

Sources: Tim Campbell’s Presentation of “Beyond Smart Cities: How Cities Network, Learn and Innovate” at the Woodrow Wilson Center on May 24, 2012

Credit: Photo Courtesy of Beyond Smart Cities Official Website by Tim Campbell and Routledge/Earthscan Publisher


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