100 Top Economies: Urban Influence and the Position of Cities in an Evolving World Order

October 13, 2016

By: Noah J. Toly, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Global Cities; Sam Tabory, Research Associate, Global Cities

Cities have long been hubs of the global economy, both concentrating and facilitating the flow of people, goods, resources, and wealth. Some, such as New York and Tokyo, have enjoyed a lasting reputation as global business destinations with a concentration of institutions that lead in commerce and trade, manufacturing, and business services. Others, such as Beijing, Houston, and Jakarta, are newer to contemporary global economic leadership. One thing is certain: cities—more specifically, metropolitan areas*—are decidedly at the center of the global economy.

In terms of sheer economic output, top cities belong among an elite class of influential actors that includes large nation-states and leading multinational corporations. To better understand the position of cities relative to national economies and multinational corporations, this report identifies the world’s top economic actors by total size, examines the relationship between city economies and the larger nation-state economies of which they are a part, analyzes geographic distributions and liabilities, and suggests avenues for future research. This study was undertaken to better understand whether and how cities might harness their economic influence for purposes of influencing policy and governance debates at both the national and international levels.

Key findings:

  • When looking at cities, corporations, and nation-states, cities comprise 42 of the world’s 100 largest economic entities, demonstrating their large footprint in the global economy.
  • Much of this urban economic vitality is concentrated in Asia. China alone is home to 8 metropolitan areas that rank among the world’s largest 100 economies, the most of any country except the United States, which is home to 12.
  • Cities among the top 100 economies contribute an outsized proportion of their respective national gross domestic product (GDP), accounting for an average economic share that is 1.5 times greater than their share of the national population. (For example, Delhi contributes 4 percent of India’s GDP but is home to just under 2 percent of the country’s population.)
  • Of the 42 cities among the top 100 economies, one-third are national political capitals.
  • More than half of the cities among the top 100 economies are located along or in close proximity to a seacoast. 


With this in mind, the authors offer the following recommendations:

  • National leadership, including legislators and executive office holders, should harness the economic vitality of cities by investing in infrastructure and institutions—both social and physical—that promote urban development. National leaders ignore the physical, social, and economic needs of urban areas at their own peril.
  • In concert with their national counterparts, city leaders must mitigate external threats posed by economic growth and concentrated wealth, such as some effects of climate change as well as the social and political effects of rising economic inequality at both the city and regional levels. 
  • City leaders should explore ways to use their economic performance to influence policy and governance debates to more explicitly address the needs of urban populations.
  • Political leaders at all levels should engage in constructive debate regarding how best to integrate cities and their unique interests into national and global governance processes.
100 Top Economies: Urban Influence and the Position of Cities in an Evolving World Order

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