Cities are the new states. Around 50 cities worldwide have more inhabitants in their metropolitan area than the entire population of Switzerland; almost one billion people live in these 50 cities alone. In the age of globalisation, life and travel routes lead around the world – and almost always from city to city. US political scientist Parag Khanna believes that cities will benefit from the fact that a multipolar, fragmented world is developing in international relations: as in the Middle Ages, cities will become the guarantors of security and progress.

And cities are the new rivals, competing for companies, for investment, for people. Companies’ investment decisions are primarily based on hard facts such as infrastructure or taxes, but their employees are also interested in soft factors such as the quality of leisure time or cultural diversity. For city mayors, this means having to offer powerful motivators in all categories. Without creative minds, companies are unlikely to invest, and high-potential employees are unlikely to stay long if they are not offered attractive job opportunities.

An important factor in this location race is ranking lists, particularly rankings that sort by factors other than size – a measurement by which many Asian and particularly Chinese cities are at the forefront. One such ranking is the world’s most liveable cities; in the Mercer Quality of Living Index, many comparatively charming and culture-heavy European cities make the cut. Another is the most cost-effective cities, where B-list cities rank more highly.

The Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute has calculated a somewhat different ranking of the most important cities in the world*: the most connected cities in the digital world. We have established how connected the 50 highest-ranked cities in A.T. Kearney’s Global Cities Index and the top cities in GaWC’s ranking are online: the total number of connections on English-language Wikipedia, the latest Twitter feed, and the world wide web as accessed by Google.

Top Ten in Global City Ranking

Rank City Mercer* Population
1 Paris 38 2,2m
2 Berlin 13 3,5m
3 Los Angeles 58 3,9m
4 London 40 8,8m
5 New York City 44 8,5m
6 Chicago 47 2,7m
7 Madrid 51 3,2m
8 Tokyo 47 9,4m
9 Brussels 27 1,2m
10 Toronto 16 2,7m

Mercer* Mercer’s Quality of Living Ranking 2017

The right-hand column in the table below shows the final placement of each city by the length of the bar; the longer the bar, the better-placed in the ranking. The three sections within the bar visualise which places the cities occupy on Twitter (blue), the web (black) and Wikipedia (red).

Rank City
Composition
1 Paris
2 Berlin
3 Los Angeles
4 London
5 New York City
6 Chicago
7 Madrid
8 Tokyo
9 Brussels
10 Toronto

See the whole table here.

European and North American metropolises come out particularly well in our ranking: five of the top ten cities are in Europe and four are in North America, with Tokyo as the most connected city in Asia. Overall, the network analysis shows exciting similarities to the network created by global flight connections (see image): many highly-placed cities are hubs of global air traffic.

The image shows 59,036 flight routes between 3,209 airports collected by the open-source project openflights.org in January 2012.

One notable exception is the two Swiss cities included in the analysis: despite comparatively high economic importance on a global level, Geneva only ranked 61st out of the 68 cities examined, while Zurich ended in last place. In comparison, the A.T. Kearney Global Cities Index puts Geneva in 14th and Zurich in 12th place. Two reasons are likely the deciding factors in this difference. Both cities have relatively tiny populations – almost all the other cities included in the ranking have populations in the millions. Fewer inhabitants means lower Twitter activity and less going on in the city.

A city’s global connectivity is often at odds with its national significance. Parag Khanna suggests that, in a similar way to the Hanseatic League, city networks have developed into the economic and cultural centres of a world society – yet each city is also anchored in its surrounding area by various traditional connections. Khanna writes: ‘Even if London wanted to, it couldn’t get rid of the country that surrounds it – and vice versa.’

In our next article, we will take a closer look at the role that these traditional anchors play in the digital world. We will show which websites are the most important in the city network and what a city needs to make it to the top of our Global City Index.

*The ranking is based on the networking indicator Reach2: how many points within a network can be reached with a maximum of two connections? The more central the position in a network and the larger the number of direct or indirect connections, the higher the Reach2 value.