Global Cities Index: The world's 25 top cities to live and work in

18 November 2020 4 min. read

Combining traditional metrics with some new ones that reflect modern realities, Kearney has produced the latest iteration of its Global Cities Index (GCI). Here are the 25 most global and vibrant cities in the world.

Kearney has been ranking global cities every year for a decade now, judging their status as major global urban centres. Five dimensions form the basis of Kearney’s analysis: business activity, human capital, information exchange, cultural experience and political engagement. A few things have changed about the GCI this year, most notably the addition of two new metrics.

One is the number of unicorn companies – private startups valued at over $1 billion – in a testament to the global wave of tech startups. “We can no longer consider a city global if it is not at the forefront of entrepreneurship and innovation,” explained Mike Hales, at partner at Kearney in its Operations practice. This new lens fits within the ‘business activity’ dimension.

The second – a nod to the global health crisis and its predictably long-term impact – is the number of medical universities in a city. “As Covid-19 has shown, the well-being of residents, and access to cutting-edge medical knowledge and technologies, can make or break a city,” said Hales. This measurement fits within the ‘human capital’ pillar.

Top 25 on the Global Cities Index

The top 25

Despite a tweaked measurement strategy, certain cities continue their global domination this year. New York has sat at the helm of the GCI almost consistently over the years, interchanging occasionally with second-placed London. Following steadily in third and fourth each year have been Paris and Tokyo. This is the precise order for this year as well.

“The consistency of these results highlights the wide range of positive attributes a city must have to reach the top of the Index, and the difficulty of building such a broad platform of strengths. It also shows that for those cities able to do so, global status has so far been self-reinforcing. Even in a year marked by relatively low levels of business activity, New York City’s momentum across all metrics enabled the city to maintain its number 1 position,” explained partner in Kearney’s Strategy & Top Line practice Andrés Mendoza Peña.

Not all is set in stone, however. Hong Kong has rounded off the top five every year since the index launched in 2010, only to be displaced by Beijing this year. Already in 2012, Kearney had predicted that Chinese urban giants Beijing and Shanghai would level up with the top five over the next decade.

With a budding unicorn landscape and investments in education, Beijing has become a right spot for business activity and human capital, all while building an increasingly prominent cultural profile. No doubt, these factors played a role in Beijing’s rise, although the mass political unrest and consequent social and economic disruption in Hong Kong has also contributed to its drop from 5th to 6th.

Cities in the US dominated the remainder of the top 10, with Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington D.C. all making an appearance. Singapore – with its vibrant startup landscape and stable economy – is also in the mix in 9th place. Meanwhile, cities from all around the world constitute the rest of the GCI’s top 25.

Sydney and Melbourne are in 11th and 18th respectively, Toronto pops up in 19th, Moscow in 20th and Buenos Aires in 25th. Shanghai stands in 12th, while its regional counterpart Seoul placed in 17th. The US is well represented with San Francisco in 13th and Boston in 21st. For the rest, European cities – among the most liveable in the world according to some analysts – dominate the latter half of the list. Brussels, Berlin, Madrid, Vienna, Amsterdam and Munich all cover the ground between 14th and 24th place on the GCI.

Looking ahead

In this year’s index, Kearney predicts that change is afoot for global urban centres, driven by a host of new disruptive factors emerging worldwide. For instance, a key ingredient to New York and London’s success is packing millions of people into a small, vibrant space. All of a sudden, this is no longer possible under the Covid-19 paradigm.

Other factors include the economic devastation wrought by the health crisis, as well as a broader trend towards nationalism and localisation that was unfolding even before this year. For cities that rely on healthy economic activity and a global workforce, these trends threaten to tear apart their foundations. Then there are the fundamental challenges that have been lingering for years now – growing socio-economic inequality and climate change.

Combined, these trends might topple the traditional big cities off their perch, although Kearney suggests that targeted action can help stay relevant. Finding new ways to create value for residents and businesses, for instance, or securing new international trade and investment channels are all means to this end. Also imperative is a shift in urban planning and infrastructure, to facilitate new mobility and a more sustainable life.

“If we can be certain of anything, it’s that cities will adapt and evolve, and that they have the potential to come back stronger,” concluded Hales.