Cover Image
close this bookEmerging World Cities in Pacific Asia (UNU, 1996, 528 pages)
close this folderIntroduction
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentThe functional world city system
View the documentWhat this book offers
View the documentReferences

(introductory text...)

Fu-chen Lo and Yue-man Yeung

In the last two decades of the twentieth century, it has become more evident that the process of globalization has become part of our daily lives. Choosing between domestic and foreign products, living with foreign neighbours or looking for a job abroad, facing a floating exchange rate and concerning ourselves with the global debt crisis or European Union integration, all reflect aspects of the globalization process. The world economy has changed in fundamental ways, particularly in the past few years, such that its driving force, its cutting edge, and its operating modes are being rapidly restructured and reshaped. A new international division of labour, with an accent on globally integrated production and the transnational corporation, has dawned. The multinational corporation, which rose rapidly during the 1970s, has now become common in every corner of the world. Global factories, global manufacturing production, and global financial networks and producer services have given new substance to global dimensions of economic production processes and the way in which countries and cities can contribute to them. Indeed, world cities, following the original proposition by Friedmann and Wolff (1982), have spawned a spate of provocative and original studies. At a recent meeting to review the status of research in world cities, it was declared that the world city hypothesis had become a paradigm, after noting the intellectual force that the idea appeared to have generated (Friedmann, 1993).

Although this volume can be situated in the context of world cities, its primary conceptual underpinning is global economic restructuring and how cities in the Asia-Pacific region have been responding to it. In this process, it is undeniable that certain large cities, especially world cities, have reaped the largest dividends because of the functions and services they provide, making them a class of their own and facilitating their wealth accumulation.

A central thesis of this study is the new concept of the functional city system. A functional city system is a network of cities that are linked, often in a hierarchical manner based on a given economic or socio-political function at the global or regional level. For instance, a worldwide network of airline hubs, global banking and financial headquarters, branches, and their networks, and even an Islamic network of cities, including pilgrim flows, can all be considered functional city systems. A given functional city system thus does not necessarily include certain cities with the same size population, nor will it coincide with an entire national urban hierarchy. The collection of different functional networks of a city serves to define that city's external linkages with the world economy and its status within the world city system. A city grows in importance if it performs effectively and efficiently a number of key functions that another one does not. It is submitted that this functional city system may more accurately depict the present evolving relations between cities in dynamic and interdependent interactions in a changing global economy, in preference to the hitherto popular formulation of cities in core-periphery, dependency, and linear relations. In contrast to the essence of the core-periphery theory, under the present regime of a highly integrated and evolving global economy the boundaries between the core and the periphery have become blurred. It is no longer necessary to subscribe to the simple concept of North-South dependency, because some of the multinationals from newly industrialized countries in the traditional South have started to penetrate cities in the North. These functional city systems are superimposed on a city, woven together into a mutually reinforcing, interdependent web. Cities are thus no longer defined by population size, but rather are defined by the operation of their externally linked functions. For example, Singapore serves as a hub of several functional networks, including imports and exports, telecommunications, international airlines, and international finance, thereby determining its extensive external linkages. In the present borderless economy, it is the acquisition and accumulation of functions that can determine the centrality and role of a city in the world economy.