John Friedmann, “The World City Hypothesis,” 1986

Writing in 1986, John Friedmann’s article “The World City Hypothesis” built upon earlier works by himself (perhaps most famously his collaboration with Goetz Wolff "World City Formation: An Agenda for Research and Action" from International Journal of Urban and Regional Research), Saskia Sassen, David Harvey, and Manueal Castells. Friedman’s “world city” hypotheis gained momentum throughout the 1980s as some authors built upon or modified his conclusion’s (most notably Saskia Sassen in her tow works The Mobility of Labor and Capital and The Global City) while others viewed the world city system more skeptically (American anthropologists such as Gregory Stevens or Roger Sanjek) as tool by municipalities and corporate interests to employ development policies that favored multinational and local business interests. “The World City Hypothesis” emerged as one the earlier works to connect cities to the world economy, especially in regard to the resulting spatial aspects. Moroever, Friedmann’s article never implied an hard and fast conclusions but served as a starting point for further debate, “The world city hypothesis, as I shall call these loosely joined statements, is primarily intended as a framework for research. It is neither a theory nor a generalization about cities, but a starting point for political enquiry.”

Friedmann credits David Harvey and Manual Castells with revolutionizing how scholars thought about urbanization, “their special achievement was to link city forming processes to the larger historical movement of industrial capitalism … City no longer viewed as organic but rather “a product of specifically social forces set in motion by capitalist relations of production. Class conflict became central to the new view of how cities evolved.” Certainly, Harvey’s Marxist viewpoints find seem relevant regarding some of Friedmann’s conclusion, still the connection between Friedmann’s work and Sassen’s appears even more stark. Not only does Friedmann reference Sassen’s work on several occasions, as previously mentioned, Sassen’s subsequent works built upon many of his main arguments.

Seven basic assertions form the locus of Friedmann’s world city hypothesis. First, structural changes in cities will find themselves related to “the form and extent of the city’s integration with the world economy.” Within this factor, Friedmann notes the influence of “endogenous conditions” such as national policy toward immigration, policies such as South Africa’s Apartheid, and referencing Anthony King, “the spatial patterns of historical accumulation. Here, as among others Peter Marcuse and Ronald van Kempen (Of States and Cities and Globalizing Cities) suggest, the historical background of cities impact subsequent developments significantly. Second, certain cities function in part as tools of “global capital” that use such urban areas as “’basing points’ in the spatial organization and articulation of production and markets.” Linkages created by such conditions arrange cities into a “complex spatial hierarchy.” Third, the functions of “world cities” manifest themselves in the “structure and dynamics of their production sectors and employment”. Fundamentally, Friedmann suggests that the concentration of corporate headquarters, international finance, global transport/communications, and high level business services contribute to economic growth for both upper level workers and low wage laborers (consumer services, support staff for upper level white collar workers in the aforementioned industries) but also operate ideologically as metropolises like New York, Los Angeles and Paris “are centers for the production and dissemination of information, news, entertainment and other cultural artifacts.” Additionally, as such areas draw increasing immigration, the informal economy expands since its formal counterpart can not absorb them. This point relates another aspect of world cities, their role as a point of destination for migrants and immigrants.

Friedmann’s final three hypotheses focus more directly on transnational economic flows and their subsequent effects on urban populations and spatialization. First, global cities provide a location for he “concentration and accumulation of international capital.” While some nations and cities drew benefits from this development, others developed increasing amounts of international debt which ultimately damaged their positions. Second, for all their economic growth, world cities illustrate the contradictions of industrial capitalism, the most notable being “spatial and class polarization”. The demise of unionized employment and its replacement with non unionized personal/consumer services (domestics, boutiques, restaurants, entertainment) and low wage manufacturing (electronics, garments, prepared foods) further polarizes income and space as these burgeoning areas juxtapose with financial/business services. Under such pressures, middle income earners appear to be a shrinking demographic. Finally, the costs of world city status often outweighs the “fiscal capacity of the state” which results in continuing “fiscal and social crisis” that bedevil municipal governments. The economic infrastructure desired by transnational capital and social reproduction supported by elites serve as dominant forces in state policy/actions. Thus, “the burden of capitalist accumulation is systematically shifted to the politically weakest, most disorganized sectors of the population.” Police repression in the name of both corporate and state interests further marginalize poorer residents.

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