700 words on... globalisation

Interested in learning about globalisation? Is London a synonym for globalisation? History and politics modules may be for you…

London is not just a city; it is a global city.

London: shockingly expensive, unimaginable congestion, tonnes of pollution, murky river waters and huge numbers of rats. Yet, despite all this, London is one of the most dynamic, creative and influential cities in the world.

There's more to London than the River Thames and Houses of Parliament. There are daring new buildings, some of the world’s most prestigious museums, award-winning musicals and more libraries and bars than possibly countable. London's cultural cred is strong, with boutique hotels and trendy eateries that are as ubiquitous as the Hackney Taxi. This trendiness quotient soars with each new season so that London is always the avant-garde of city fashion. High street names swamp the city yet the nexus of rich, diverse culture still protrudes. Home to the City, London is a leading, global financial sector. London is not just a city; it is a global city.

Cities are such a common part of our life that it is hard to imagine a world without them. Urbanisation was one of the most important economic developments of the twentieth century. The Industrial Revolution and subsequent urbanisation during the 19th Century changed the way the world spun. By 1950, 30% of the world's population lived in urban surroundings. In 2008, there were over 400 cities with populations of over 1 million and 19 cities with over 10 million inhabitants. In 2050, 70% of the world's population are expected to be urban dwellers. And the UK follows suit too: since 1950 there has been a huge increase in the number of British people moving from the countryside to live in a city environment. Although the percentage was already quite high in 1950, at 79%, it is expected to continue to rise to 92% by 2030. There is no stopping the urban environment’s magnet pull.

The city landscape may be omnipresent, but the DNA makeup of a global city, on the other hand is somewhat unique. An extra chromosome is required if your city is to make to global city status. The term for global cities was first coined in 1986 by Friedman. They are cities that act as our Global Village’s town hall; they are now the prefects of the urban environment, they are the chair of the global committee meeting. Their power and influence reverberates and is felt around the world. Through the ever increasing dominance of Globalisation, these global cities have begun to exert more power in recent years. London is one of the world's elitist cities. Membership to the global city is exclusive with only a small number of cities are deemed to be truly global. New York and Tokyo are just two that join London in this VIP area.

Globalisation affects every aspect of people's lives. Economic globalisation is the most obvious through the enmeshment of national economies through various and previously unimaginable trade links and foreign investment. The creation of the World Bank in 1944 reflects the contemporary importance of globalisation and introduces a sense that the world now lives in a single global village. Globalisation is not merely a monetary phenomenon; it encompasses the growing impact of the integration and intensification of world wide social relations. Globalisation has politically amalgamated countries; the UN and increasing numbers of NGOs have helped control the formerly unregulated world. Globalisation is, for many, "an inevitable trajectory of development" (Cochrane, 2000: 22).

However, the globalisation of a broad range of processes is unsettling the significance of the term 'border'. Through increased interpenetration of societies and social relations the meaning of the word border is radically altering, even when the geographic lines that demarcate territories have not been altered. Crossing borders does not merely refer to the migration over geographic borderlines but indeed the crossing of virtual borders, borders that governments can no longer control.

The global city is at the vanguard of such changes to the interpretation and meaning of the word border. Economic globalisation has led to spatial restructuring of the urban environment: the London Stock Exchange is indifferent to national borders whereby it sees millions of pounds turn through its stock exchange on a daily basis. London as a global city is extremely powerful in determining the direction of the rest of the world's economic situations to such an extent that power no longer resides in the locales in which it is immediately experienced.

We all know that globalisation is an ubiquitous and awe inspiring process; the enmeshment of national economies with each other, the new divisions of global labour, as well as the increasing cultural and social contact between far flung people. But Globalisation is also a process that generates contradictory spaces that are characterised by contestation, internal differentiation and continuous border crossing. These increasing and intensifying transformations are happening with an unprecedented speed and seemingly out of our control. All these changes can be seen as typical features of the global city.