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What’s Next for City Leaders as City Rankings Shift?

Management consulting firm, Kearney publishes the 2020 edition of the Global Cities Report, revealing intensifying competition amongst cities for global status in an increasingly fragmented and volatile environment. For cities in the Middle East and China, long-term investment in governance and economic well-being are paying off and they are rapidly catching up to their North American and European contemporaries. Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Shenzhen all gain ground.

The 10th edition of the report includes the Global Cities Index (GCI) and the Global Cities Outlook (GCO) – together they provide a comprehensive analysis of global cities’ current competitiveness and future prospects. This year the report also outlines the destructive impact of COVID-19 on the attributes that position cities as prominent global hubs and outlines the challenges city leaders now need to address. It highlights the persistent benefits of urban concentration, even in the face of unprecedented pressure and provides actionable guidance for how cities can not only emerge from this crisis – but be better prepared for the next.

The GCI results present a mix of stability and surprise -Beijing replaces Hong Kong in the top 5, illustrating the power of combining stability and growth with strong investments in human capital, while elsewhere on the Index cities with strong showings in entrepreneurship and innovation gain ground. Chinese cities made significant improvements in personal well-being, innovation, and governance scores, while the marked advance of Middle Eastern cities was led by the strong emphasis on national transformation and economic diversification in Gulf countries. Still, New York, London, Paris, and Tokyo retain their respective top four positions, highlighting the breadth of advantages needed to reach and maintain the highest levels of global status.

The GCO results, in comparison, show more volatility in the rankings, reflecting intensifying competition to secure future global status. London retains its leading position, but most other cities rise or fall dramatically. Cities that saw a rise in their outlook performance mainly improved in the areas of innovation and economics, where long-term investments were beginning to show results. Abu Dhabi and Dubai topped the economics metric in infrastructure, thanks to their openness to the private sector and robust engagement in public–private partnerships. For cities of the United States, the future outlook is particularly uncertain – several drop out of the top 10, 25, 30, and 50.

“While the full ramifications of the pandemic will only be understood in the coming months and years, it has shattered the status quo, revealing new challenges and opportunities for city leaders. What is already abundantly clear in the emerging reality is that previous status will not be enough to secure continued global prominence. Instead, city leaders will need to make strategic choices and investments, which are likely to look very different from years past, if they are to emerge stronger and more resilient,” commented Rudolph Lohmeyer, Partner, National Transformations Institute, Kearney Middle East.

While each city will necessarily adapt in its own way to cater for variations in geography, demography, and industrial strength—among other factors— there is a need for leaders to drive innovative progress in three vital areas;

  • Urban value creation: Global cities will have to deepen their focus on creating public value – centered on the common good across all sectors and segments of society – in order to ensure their competitiveness in an uncertain future. 
  • Global city connectedness: Cities will have to revitalize and expand their global connectedness in order to sustain the cross-border flows of goods, ideas, and people that are at the heart of global cities’ power and influence.
  • Transforming urban space: Cities must reimagine urban planning in a way that makes the lived environment more sustainable, resilient, and inclusive in order to address the many challenges tied to physical space that have been revealed by the pandemic.

“As cities prepare for life after COVID-19, the Global Cities Report provides a snapshot of where they stood as they entered the crisis – a recent, but very different, past. This year’s results can be used as a reference point by city leaders to assess where they have come from as they prepare for a future of unknowns,” concluded Antoine Nasr, Partner, Government Practice Leader, Kearney Middle East.


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