New York remains at the top of Kearney's Global Cities Index

20 November 2020 Consulting.us

New York topped Kearney’s Global Cities Index for the fourth consecutive year. London, Paris, and Tokyo maintained their positions at second, third, and fourth, respectively – also for the fourth year in a row. Beijing, meanwhile, jumped to fifth place, overtaking Hong Kong.

Kearney’s global cities index (GCI) assesses how globally engaged cities are across the dimensions of business activity, human capital, information exchange, cultural experience, and political engagements. The 2020 report also added the new metrics of “number of unicorn companies” and the “number of medical universities.” The report encompassed 151 cities across the world.

The top four cities’ ability to maintain their standing for four years highlights the breadth of advantages needed to stay at the top of the index, and how top global status is self-reinforcing.

New York extended its lead over the other cities, receiving the highest score in human capital due to strong performance in number of international schools, international student population, and medical universities. New York was also the top city for the business activity dimension, with top points for capital markets.

New York remains at the top of Kearney's Global Cities Index

However, the report was based on data captured largely before the virus struck, so city rankings did not yet incorporate the observed effects of the crisis.

Obviously the pandemic has had huge impacts on all the dimensions measured by the index. Covid-19 has devastated economies across the globe, with added impact on cities focusing on tourism. Human capital flows, meanwhile, have been rocked by border controls and travel restrictions. And what does cultural experience mean when most theatres and museums are closed, most public events are cancelled, and most indoor dining is restricted?

If the report incorporated Covid-19 impacts, cities in Southeast and East Asia, where the pandemic has had a less pronounced impact, would likely see higher scores.

The pandemic has caused many people to flee the extremely expensive cities that top Kearney’s list, especially if they have options for remote work and the means to do so – an exodus from Manhattan to the Hamptons. If Broadway theatres and glitzy resto-bars are closed, and a pandemic is running rampant, and you don’t have to work at the downtown office tower – what’s the point of living in the city? These global urban playgrounds for the rich hold little appeal in the current context.

A report from the New York Times found that 5% of the city’s residents (mostly from wealthy neighborhoods) left in the early months of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, 82% of company leaders intend to permit remote work of some kind, according to a Gartner report. Global air passengers numbers are projected to fall by 55% this year, according to the IATA.

The full ramifications of the pandemic and its lingering impacts on cities won’t be known for years to come, however.

Kearney’s Global Cities report notes several key challenges for cities adapting to the uncertain fallout of the global pandemic. One challenge is that Covid-19 has altered the actual perceived risk of the population density and close physical proximity that define cities. At the same time, the viability of remote work and the destruction of the cultural offerings of metropolises has shifted citizens’ cost-benefit appraisals of urban life.

Meanwhile, the economic impact of the pandemic has placed tremendous pressure on municipal budgets and added to debt burdens.

Next, rising localization and economic nationalism has been reinforced by the pandemic, creating new barriers to the flow of people and commerce. Self-sufficiency and strategic autonomy grew in stature as nations scrambled for medical supplies amid a broken supply chain. The globalization impetus that fuels the worldview espoused by the Global Cities Index is under more intense scrutiny than ever.

The pandemic has also exacerbated the social and economic inequality already present in the top global cities – as lower paid workers and diverse populations have been hit disproportionately by job losses and Covid-19. As automation increases in use in the years to come, even more pressure will be put on low-skill and low-wage workers.


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