Global Cities Reach Beyond National Boundaries to Advance International Agendas

April 8, 2015
The rise of global cities is taking on a new dimension as cities increasingly pursue their own international engagements, agreements and trade policies independent of their national governments.  What this means for international relations and diplomacy will be the subject of a discussion featuring former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, chair of the Albright Stonebridge Group, at the Chicago Forum on Global Cities on May 29.
“As global cities evolve into ever more vibrant hubs for commerce, education, culture and innovation, they will undoubtedly have a more pronounced influence, not only within their countries’ borders, but also on an international level,” said Albright.  “This trend will only accelerate as global cities grow, so we need to better understand the dynamics between global cities of the future and traditional nation-states in order to tackle 21st century challenges.”
Albright will be among the leaders in civics, arts and culture, education and business who will converge in Chicago May 27-29 to discuss the increasing influence of global cities.  London, Shanghai, Rio de Janeiro, Dubai, Sydney and other major cities will be represented.
Albright will be joined in a panel discussion on the foreign policies of cities by Benjamin Barber, a professor at the Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society at The City University of New York; former Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio; Mayor of The Hague and former Dutch Foreign Minister Jozias Van Aartsen; and Financial Times chief political commentator Philip Stephens.
“This is a fascinating discussion with literally far-reaching implications that deserves more attention,” said Saskia Sassen, sociologist and Columbia University professor whose book, The Global City, explored how New York, Tokyo, Paris, Chicago, Singapore and other cities have become magnets for power and resources.  Sassen also will speak at the Chicago Forum on Global Cities.
“By pursuing their own business ties, trade missions, cultural exchanges, and agreements with each other, global cities may even have the ability to disrupt the foreign policy agendas of their nations,” said Sassen.  “Cities are more nimble and often less weighed down by national politics than central governments are, and that means they can push the envelope further and faster by working with other cities that share a similar set of social and economic issues and interests.”
Already, cities around the world have formed associations and networks to work together and share information on such issues as the environment, transportation, energy efficiency, and economic development.  These include the C40, comprising some 70 global cities working together on climate change; Cities for Mobility, with its 650 members in 85 countries focusing on transportation; and Metropolis, in which more than 100 cities network on environmental issues.
“With countries struggling to reach basic agreements, city-to-city communication and coordination is not just innovative, it has the potential to change the nature of the conversation about international commitments,” said Sam Scott, chairman of Chicago Sister Cities International, a knowledge partner of the Chicago Forum on Global Cities.
Global cities have always had trade agendas and unique influence on commercial issues, given their concentration of both human and economic resources.  But some experts predict that cities may one day seek to open embassy-like institutions in other countries to ensure their interests are advanced and protected.
“We’re going to see cities like London, Paris, Chicago and Sao Paulo frame their own civic foreign policies, with their own offices and representatives -- sort of embassies and ambassadors -- in the great cities of the world,” said Richard Longworth, a senior fellow at The Chicago Council whose report, On Global Cities, will be issued in advance of the forum.  “This won’t usurp the prerogative of national governments.  But cities, like nations, have their own interests that they need to promote and defend. If their nations can't do it, cities can and will.”
Generous sponsorship for the Chicago Forum on Global Cities is being provided by AbbVie, Aon, The Boeing Company, Hyatt Hotels Foundation, Kirkland & Ellis LLP, Motorola Solutions, Northern Trust, UL, United Airlines and Walgreens Boots Alliance.  Foundation support is provided by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.
A list of confirmed speakers and panel topics are available on the Forum's website –  Updates will be made on an ongoing basis.
Additional information:
  • Follow the Forum on Twitter @ChicagoForum and use #GlobalCities2015
  • Follow the Chicago Forum on Facebook
  • Follow the Chicago Forum on LinkedIn
  • For more information about The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, visit 
  • For more information about the Financial Times, visit