in·flu·ence [in-floo-uhns] noun: the power to be a compelling force on the actions, behaviors, opinions, etc., of others.
Influence is one of those tricky, hard-to-quantify concepts, so I was fascinated to see the data behind 15 of “The Most Influential Cities” laid out so clearly across three glossy pages of infograph in the November 2011 issue of National Geographic. Although the “list at this stage is fairly intuitive,” admits the management consultancy that provided the information via the Global Cities Index, their specific numbers for the chart are based on five major areas: information exchange, political involvement, human capital, cultural experience, and business activity.
Fierce jockying for “Global City Status,” as it’s called nowadays, has been serious business since Athens vs. Sparta, as we all know, but fortunately the big powerhouses have migrated away from the constant warfare of yesteryear into more subtle forms of seduction and diplomacy: today’s top cities compete to host the Olympics, go full monty for the boards of Fortune Global 500 companies in hopes of luring corporate headquarters in, campaign to get your tourism dollars, ‘go green,’ race to out-infrastructure each other, and so on, all things designed to make them more appealing, not scarier. So that’s good.
But whatever the means, the end is always a fundamental struggle for worldly influence, and interest in this field of relational strength between global cities is on the rise: since 2008 (recent enough to at least partially reflect the bubble bursting) there have been four significant studies that rank the metropolitan spheres of power — the Global Cities Index, the Global Power City Index, the World City Survey, and the Globalization and World Cities Research Network (GaWC). Given their healthy mix of convergence and divergence, the results of these projects provide a pretty well-rounded assessment when considered collectively. Sort of like the judges on American Idol.
That said, if these four sets of data are given equal weight, and if every city that’s neglected by one or more of the rankings is blackballed (which happened to Washington DC, Madrid, Amsterdam, and Vienna, since each of these made only three out of four lists), then the results are as follows:
No surprises, really, except maybe that there’s such a huge percentile gap between fourth and fifth place — NYC, London, Paris and Tokyo are literally head-and-shoulders above the others — but what all of these studies and analytics disappointingly fail to address is how global influence looks on the scale of the individual in each city . . . like, if you’re just going around and meeting people, what’s the ‘street view’ version of this data? Or, in other words, if you hypothetically meet a resident selected at random from each metropolitan area, which person is most likely to be, statistically-speaking, the ‘most influential’?
Well, by redistributing the cumulative values from the graph above equally amongst the respective populations for each metropolitan area [quick sidenote: a metropolitan area considers the whole “commuter belt” of a population and traces its perimeter around the pattern of people who overlap on a day-to-day basis — the metropolis-as-superorganism perspective — as opposed to city limits or the urban agglomeration area, both of which have narrower definitions that seem more skewed and inconsistent from city to city] I was able to determine the relative influence of each city per capita, which transforms the order of the list significantly:
So, in the individualized battle for the most influential people in the world, the Belgians win going away: they’re almost twice as powerful as the Londoners next in line. Maybe they should send a Trojan Horse across the English Channel as a consolation prize.