In my last article, I wrote about Frankfurt’s high ranking amongst German cities with regard to locational qualities, and I discussed the city’s high livability. While reasons for the good ranking of Frankfurt are found quickly, the logical next question is about the reasons for Frankfurt’s actually good standing. Obviously, we could turn to a multitude of (partly wrong) theories on how cities become successful, ranging from planning utopia to hard neo-liberal recipes, or from the eco city to the creative city.
However, when I tried to figure out what might ensure that cities like Frankfurt have been prospering for quite some time and have not been struggling too severely during the economic crisis (the banks in Frankfurt were struggling, but not necessarily the city as a whole), Frankfurt’s position in international rankings came to my mind: Frankfurt as a second-row global city. A city of less than a million residents. A city not able to compete with the big players like New York or Tokyo. And maybe that is the crux here.
What might make Frankfurt and other comparable cities (see below) more resistant to the difficult complexities and extreme socio-economic inequalities of the ‘true’ global cities, is its lack of exactly those features that make a city the center/hub of the global economy in every major sector. Frankfurt is big enough to play this game, but it is still small enough to be governed efficiently. Frankfurt is amongst the leading cities in some sectors, but by far cannot offer a whole range of first-class competitive industries. Frankfurt attracts people and goods and channels flows, but it is part of several interdependent regional systems in Germany and Europe.
For sure, I do not want to argue that a city like Tokyo is a stand-alone spaceship of ‘world cityness’ in a Japanese ocean of global-economic mediocrity. But it is apparent that Frankfurt is just not ‘the’ global city in Germany. And I would contend that this is an advantage. It takes off pressure from the city, its decision makers, companies, and residents.
And I am sure we can think about other countries, where cities in the ‘second row’ are better off than their ‘big brothers’. Even though the following cities appear all over the list of global city indexes, I think they exemplify how advantageous it can be to not constantly stand in the spotlight. Because as every star should know: With the spotlight come all the good, but also all the bad things. I would say, for the big players amongst the global cities, the distortions in both directions (if one can tell the difference between ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ developments) are more extreme.
Similar to Frankfurt, I can think about Milan, Guadalajara, Barcelona, Vancouver, Lyon, Fukuoka, Manchester, Chennai, Munich, or Krakow. While these cities are vastly different to each other, they share some similarities of not being number one in their country, not being considered a full-grown global city, and not having to deal with all the extreme complexities that come with the competition at the top (since there can only be a few ‘superstars’).
Now for cities, issues about size and growth or the aspect of being the political and economic center are often rooted in history. Therefore, some might follow my arguments about where Frankfurt’s roots for its reasonably well standing might have developed from: ‘systemic coincidence’. And this does not tell us something about a ‘recipe’ for cities to become successful. But much can be achieved by key decision makers when they (together with the public, private, and civil society sector) honestly assess what their city’s position is, what their niche might be, and where they can feasibly go (cf. another article on Uberlândia). A city’s vision should be as much of a future’s dream as a realistic look on historic roots. And then, every city can adjust and flavor its recipe to its own needs and objectives.
This still leaves an empirically as well as theoretically weak blog article…but it also opens up space for discussion and ideas about the topic 😉