Monday, 21 June 2010

City 44

Nat O'Connor In its 2008 Index of Global Cities, Foreign Policy ranked Dublin 44 out of the top 60 'global' cities on the planet (specific article here, subscribers only). The world map and index diagram can be seen here.

The premise is that "The world's biggest, most interconnected cities help set global agendas, weather transnational dangers, and serve as the hubs of global integration. They are the engines of growth for their countries and the gateways to the resources of their regions." In this context, "The cities that host the biggest capital markets, elite universities, most diverse and well-educated populations, wealthiest multinationals, and most powerful international organizations are connected to the rest of the world like nowhere else."

I'm interested in the "engines of growth" idea and also in the changing role of cities and city-regions vis-à-vis nation states in the world economy. To add to Michael Taft's post on urgent priorities, a focus on the specific policy required to develop Dublin can possibly complement the generic approaches needed to boost the whole Irish economy. In this context, I think the Dublin Development Plan is important and likewise, an elected mayor for Dublin could have an important role in the long-term, if given sufficient powers.

To put the rank of 44th into context, Dublin is not even ranked in the largest 600 world cities in 2010 by Clearly, cities in China and India dominate the list, but a total of 43 EU cities are in the top 600 world's largest cities (Dublin is 49th in size, according to's data). However, in the Foreign Policy listing, Dublin is the 14th highest EU city. So it is worth digging into our ranking to see what 'good things' are helping us compete above our size.

The Global Cities Index ranks cities according to 24 metrics across five dimensions: business activity; human capital; information exchange; cultural experience; and global political engagement. The latter two measures go beyond economics and illustrate that other factors, like quality of life and engagement in world affairs, matter for success.

Dublin ranks (out of 60) as follows:
41st for business activity
39th for human capital
48th for information exchange
30th for cultural experience
48th for political engagement

The Foreign Policy article suggests that global cities can play different roles, depending on their strengths and weaknesses. As such, it is not just about Dublin being 'more global', but about finding a niche for Dublin among the cities of the world. And the choices made about Dublin's development will help or limit the econoimc opportunities the rest of Ireland can seek in the global economy. What follows is my guess on the kind of factors Dublin scored well on and some thoughts on how we might develop our strengths and weaknesses in order to support the development of the whole Irish economy.

Business activity (41/60): Foreign Policy defines business activity as the value of a city's capital markets, the number of Fortune Global 500 firms headquartered there, and the volume of the goods that pass through the city.

I guess the IFSC model positioned Ireland well in terms of business activity, with Dublin providing access to financial markets and the offices of many global firms. Obviously, the global financial system is in a mess. Moreover, TASC has highlighted that many of the tax avoidance aspects of the IFSC are unsustainable, if not counter-productive. Hence there is a need to ensure a sustainable and useful direction for the IFSC model. In the past, there was talk of converting the IFSC into a centre for global carbon credit trading. Professor Ray Kinsella (UCD) recently spoke at TASC's stimulus seminar about his long-standing ideas for an International Medical Service Centre, along a similar model, tapping the knowledge and interests of the pharmaceutical industries already investing here. I think the IFSC probably does need a new direction and/or a replacement as an engine for growth. That will require a broad consensus and  strong Government leadership to create something big that is also sustainable.

Human capital (39/60): This includes how well the city acts as a magnet for diverse groups of people and talent, the size of a city's immigrant population, the number of international schools, and the percentage of residents with university degrees.

In this context, emigration (including the exodus of recent EU imigrants) is not helping Ireland. As ever, people with degrees are also likely to be among the most mobile, which lowers the education profile of the remaining population. Initiatives like DCU's collaboration agreement with Indian universities shows an awareness of the global market, and last week's conference, Re-Inventing the University, is part of the conversation we need about how ideas fuel economic activity and provides some ideas for moving beyond the clichés about the 'knowledge economy' and formulating what role we want universities to play.

Information exchange (48/60): This is how well news and information is dispersed about and to the rest of the world. The number of international news bureaus, the amount of international news in the leading local papers, and the number of broadband subscribers.

This is one of Dublin's weaker rankings. Luckily they are only measuring broadband access in Dublin, not the rest of the country or it would be worse. Also, the fact that British media is readily available in Dublin may compensate for the relative weakness of national titles, and RTÉ, to covering global affairs. There is a valuable role the Irish media could take in cultivating a broader public interest in consuming news about the rest of the world. This could also put some of our economic problems and policy dilemmas into perspective, as well as provide an alternative English langugage analysis to the dominant voices in Anglo-American news reporting.

Cultural experience (30/60): The level of diverse attractions for international residents and travelers. That includes everything from how many major sporting events a city hosts to the number of performing arts venues it boasts.

Dublin's strongest rank was for cultural experience. In other words, Dublin is a relatively nice place to live. This illustrates the importance of culture in the economy. Cutbacks to sports and the arts - and even the visible deterioration of public space through closed shops and businesses - will impinge on future development opportunities. There is wisdom in the advice to paint the shop during a downturn; we should be looking at cost-neutral ways of making Dublin a great place to live, in lots of little ways, so that the next major international employer has more reasons to prefer Dublin to other cities in the EU. I think the city councils have been consciously doing this, with such things as DublinBikes, farmers' markets, festivals, etc. But cutbacks are likely to fall heavily on the staff who provide the 'soft' and intangible services at local authority level. There is a need to treat these things as part of Dublin's core offering, not as nice optional extras. This is one area where powers and budgets could be quickly transfered from central government to the elected Dublin mayor.
Political engagement (48/60): The degree to which a city influences global policymaking and dialogue. This was measured by examining the number of embassies and consulates, major think tanks, international organizations, sister city relationships, and political conferences a city hosts.

I imagine the new national conference centre has been identified as an asset for the international market, but overall this is a weaker area for Dublin. Ireland hosts many NGOs working in developing countries. As an example, this could be built on, positioning Dublin as a centre for expertise in development. Universities could be encouraged to supply appropriate degrees. Another example is that when Sweden closed its embassy there was concern in the news, possibly because of the fear that Dublin would lose out on positive externalities if a lot of EU countries closed their embassies here. It remains to be seen if the EU can function well enough to replace the need for each member-state to have representation in the other 26 countries. This would probably require a much larger EU office in Dublin to replace the embassies, but that could be something small countries like Ireland encourage the EU to develop.

Overall then, if the Dublin city-region is an engine for Ireland's future economic development, then perhaps looking at the characteristics of a successful global city can help shape policy in a more productive direction than deflation and bust. Dublin in 2008 had major competitive advantages compared to other EU cities. Now is the time to consolidate remaining advantages and build more of them.


Gerarard O'Neill said...

I agree - if we don't get it right in Dublin then the chances are we won't get it right in the rest of the country. Readers might be interested in the excellent reports by DIT's Futures Academy on Dublin's future in a regional policy context here:

Rory O'Farrell said...

A largely ignored advantage of Ireland (and so also Dublin) is how easy it is to move to Ireland. This makes it easier to attract skilled workers.

On moving to Belgium you first have to phone (or get someone else to phone if you don't speak French or Dutch) the local council to find out the requirements for registering your presence in Belgium. Brussels has about 16 communes, each with different registration requirements (which include things like a fee, passport, photos, work contract, rental contract).

Then they send a policeman to your residence to make sure you actually live there.

As this is done during work hours a letter is left by the policeman. You have to report to the police station within a certain period.

Then you go to the station with your documents, and hopefully (after about 2 or more weeks) you are registered.

You can then, optionally, enter into a long drawn out process to get an ID card. If you don't get an ID card you have to carry your passport with you if you are more than 200m from your apartment.

There are other procedures for registering for social security, but your employer will likely do that.

This is a long and frustrating process.

In contrast for EU citizens in Ireland you get your PPS number and that's about it.

Also in Ireland everyone can speak a global language, so that makes it easier for immigrants.