Los Angeles: The Global City of the 21st Century

In the 19th Century, London was the global city.  In the 20th Century, New York became the global city.  In the 21st Century, that honor, and responsibility,  goes to Los Angeles.

When we speak of “global cities” we mean an urban area that is the leading world city with global reach and influence. It is the central node in a vast web of power and influence, the place where things happen, trends start, stars are made and broken, where people go to make a difference. The global city is the alpha city, the big dog that wields widespread power and is the place where others look to as the wave of the future.  Los Angeles is fast becoming that city.

For the past five hundred years, we have looked to the nation state as the leader, the influence maker, the power source.  But with globalization, nations are losing their grip and control.  Decisions are increasingly slipping through their hands.  And where is that power going?  Largely to the mega-cities of the world.

In the twentieth century, the earth’s population quadrupled. While it took 200,000 years for us to reach the 1 billion person mark, we have added that many people in the first fifteen years of the twenty-first century.  And we will add another billion in the next dozen years.  By 2050 it is estimated that the earth’s population will be over 9 billion (with roughly 90% of those new additions born in the developing countries).  And virtually all these added people will end up living in cities.  The population of our megacities has already increased tenfold in the last 40 years.  By 2050 more people will be living in cities than inhabited the entire earth in 1990.

In 1900, two in ten people lived in cities. Today, more than five in ten live in cities. In coming years, seventy-five percent of world’s population will live in cities. In 1970 only two cities, New York and Tokyo, had populations of ten million. By 2030 about 40 cities will reach that size.  The twenty-first century, according to the United Nations, “is the Century of the City”.

While urban density, pollution, poverty, crime, and other problems inherent in city-living will frazzle and provoke us, cities also make us more connected, more productive, and more creative.

Some environments stifle innovation, others – like the city – foster innovation. Why?  Cities are ideally suited for connecting people with ideas.  Creativity and innovation are rarely acts of a lone genius locked away in a study, office, or lab.  Idea generation is a social process. It thrives on the interaction and exchange of ideas and new ways of thinking and seeing.  Networks of interaction, referred to as “liquid networks” stimulate creativity.  And the most vibrant and robust location for exchange, interaction, and networking is the urban environment.  Teeming, bustling, alive with possibilities, the city is the idea factory that links people and new ideas together.

What are the key dimensions and attributes of a great global city?


  1. Human Capital: Attracting the Best and the Brightest.  Great cities must attract the creators, the super-brains, the innovators .  Cities like Los Angeles, with large, diverse populations, with our neighbors drawn from across the globe, allow for what Richard Florida calls a “super creative core” of scientists, entrepreneurs, academics, architects, and artists. This collection of people and disciplines will drive creativity and change.
  2. Effective Government: To attract and keep the best and brightest, institutional or political effectiveness is key. City governments must master the mundane tasks of picking up the garbage, supplying police and fire services, paving streets. Good governments keep crime in check, make communities safe and secure, have a modern physical infrastructure. These basic services are the foundation for the effective city. Good government, responsive government, efficient government, open doors to excellence.
  3. Masters of Entertainment and the Media: Los Angeles is already the center of creativity in the arts. With over 300 museums, and the global influence of Hollywood,  LA is a dream maker and influence wielder.
  4. The Education Imperative: A great K-12 educational system will attract the top workers to Los Angeles, and become the feeder-schools for higher education.  Sadly, we have a way to go here.  But our university system is outstanding, with top ranked public and private schools such as the University of Southern California (USC has more international students than any other school on the globe), UCLA, and Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles is a center of thought, research, science, idea manufacturing, and innovation.  Great cities have great universities, and here, Los Angeles is among the top.
  5. A Financial Center: The global city is a center of international financial services, a major force in international trade, and a magnet for new capitol.  They are places that make it relatively easy to do business.  With the development of Silicon Beach, and a political culture that rewards innovation and investment, Los Angeles is poised to become the global leader in finance and trade.
  6. Infrastructure and Environment: In the United States, we have done a dismal job of upgrading our physical infrastructure.  As a city, Los Angeles can and must continue to devote resources to modernizing and maintaining our freeways, bridges, rail service, public transportation, and ports.  We must also make the city more welcoming and livable.  Parks, green spaces, clean water and air, all attract and help keep the best and brightest in our city.
  7. Gateway to the Pacific Rim: Many maintain that the Pacific Rim is the key to the future both politically and economically, and as the central hub in that Rim, Los Angeles has the opportunity to truly become the capital city of the Pacific Rim (and beyond).  It is an opportunity we must embrace and build upon.  It is our leadership moment and we must seize it, or others will.  Los Angeles will become the global city of the twenty-first century, if it is can harness its own energies, and grasp the leadership thread in the Pacific Rim.

What will it take for Los Angeles to both be and be seen as the great global city of the 21st Century? There are three essential ingredients: 1) leadership; 2) Vision; and 3) will.  Los Angeles still has a way to go to live up to its potential as a global city. But our agenda for reform is clear. Los Angeles: to lead or not to lead?



Michael A. Genovese is President of World Policy Institute at Loyola Marymount University. The Institute will have its public launch on February 9, 2016.