Fri, Jul 03, 2009 - Page 8 News List

It’s not size that counts in ranking global cities

By Lin Cho-shui 林濁水

Must a city be large to be competitive? An annual report entitled the Global Urban Competitiveness Report prepared by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and a group of international academics is very helpful in answering this question. While the report focuses on different aspects each year, it is clear that the size of a city is not in direct correlation to competitiveness. Some very small cities lead others in terms of competitiveness.

While the 2006 study was headed up by metropolises such as New York, London, Paris and Los Angeles — all several times bigger than Taipei in terms of population — the top 20 also included Copenhagen, Philadelphia and Santiago, which are much smaller than Taipei. Last year, there were slight changes in the makeup of the top 20 cities. New York, London and Paris were still in the lead, but the number of cities with populations smaller than Taipei increased to 10.

In 2006, Taipei ranked No. 48, and last year, 112, while cities that ranked in the top 20 such as Copenhagen, Stockholm, Washington, Boston and Helsinki only had populations of 500,000 to 600,000, a mere fifth of Taipei’s population. Megalopolises such as Mexico City, Chongqing and even Shanghai often lagged behind Taipei in terms of competitiveness. The rankings of cities around the world clearly show that it is not true that cities must be large to be competitive.

If it is true that cities must be large to drive a nation’s development, like the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has been saying, smaller nations such as Sweden with a population of only 9 million, Switzerland with about 7 million, Denmark and Finland with 5 million each and Norway with only 4 million would never have developed at all.

Their populations are not even half the size of Shanghai or Mexico City and even if their populations were combined, they would still be smaller than Chongqing’s. However, these countries always rank high in national competitiveness, way ahead of China with its population of more than 1 billion people. In addition, while the population of their capital cities may only be several hundred thousand, they rank far ahead of metropolises like Beijing, Shanghai and even Tokyo and Hong Kong in competitiveness.

Less developed or newly industrialized countries need to make a conscious effort to concentrate their resources in large cities and using the countryside as a base for providing markets and cheap labor to support urban development. However, this strategy is not necessarily applicable to a developed nation, and totally unsuitable for a small nation like Taiwan.

Taiwan did use rural areas as a base from which to gather and send resources to cities to aid urban development.

Before its economy took off, Taiwan adopted a strategy of using agriculture to support industry that involved exploiting villages to support the development of Taipei, which at the time had a population of only 200,000.

The combined population of Taipei and Kaohsiung is now more than 6 million and when the population of the combined metropolises of Taipei, Taichung and Kaohsiung surpasses 10 million, it will be impossible to keep Taiwan’s main economic base within Taiwan. By that time, Taiwan’s base must be located outside of Taiwan itself.

Taiwan was already a developed nation when it joined the WTO.

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