Cities and Urbanization

These are the world’s top cities. Which one ranked highest for the 10th year running?

Image of London road, with Big Ben. It tops the list of the world's most magnetic cities

For the 10th consecutive year, London is ranked the world’s most magnetic city. Image: Unsplash/Heidi Fin

Douglas Broom
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  • London has been named the world’s most “magnetic” city for the 10th year in a row.
  • It held on to the top spot despite Brexit and COVID-19.
  • But there are challengers, with Madrid entering the top 10 for the first time.

When it comes to attracting people, money and business from around the world, some cities are clearly better than others. The latest Global Power City Index sets out to explain why.

Produced by the Tokyo-based Mori Memorial Foundation, the annual report ranks the world’s major cities according to their “magnetism” – in other words, their ability to attract people, capital and businesses from around the world.

The Index rates cities on the following six criteria: economy; research and development; cultural interaction; liveability; environment; accessibility. The report also shows how the pandemic has affected the world’s leading urban centres.

The world’s most “magnetic” cities

A chart showing how attractive cities around the world are.
London has topped the list of the world’s most “magnetic” cities for the 10th year in a row. Image: Mori Memorial Foundation

London is ranked the world’s most magnetic city for the 10th consecutive year. It improved its score for liveability and environment compared with a year earlier, although its previously high rating for accessibility fell because of the cancellation of flights to combat COVID-19.

However, the Index compilers raised a question over London’s future ratings in light of Brexit. “London ranked second overall in economy after New York, but it has declined for three consecutive years since 2019,” they said.

“The main factor is lost competitiveness in GDP growth and availability of skilled human resources. Changes over [the past] five years show other European cities are catching up to London, raising questions about London's ability to continue dominating its European rivals in economy.”

Big Apple holds its own

New York retained its number two ranking, improving its environment score as a result of efforts to make the city cleaner. But a lower rating as a working environment resulted in its overall liveability score slipping back.

Tokyo, at number three, improved its score and closed the gap with London and New York. Hosting the delayed 2020 Olympics in 2021 boosted the city’s rating for cultural interaction, while an improved score for workstyle flexibility meant its liveability ranking rose.

Aerial photo of Madrid.
Madrid entered the list of the top 10 cities for the first time in 2021. Image: Unsplash/Jorge Fernández Salas

Madrid entered the top 10 for the first time, moving up from number 13 to nine as a result of its very high score for liveability. The Spanish capital topped the table in that category thanks to its workplace flexibility and the sense of well-being, security and safety enjoyed by residents.

A total of 48 cities are ranked in the Index and the category ratings show how each has its individual strengths. For example, in the economy category, New York beat London, while also coming top of the global rankings for research and development.

Stockholm in Sweden was once again highest scoring in the environment category, followed by the Danish capital Copenhagen. The Australian cities of Sydney and Melbourne entered the top 10 in this category, placed third and fourth respectively, thanks to their high scores for urban cleanliness, greenery and low carbon dioxide emissions.

Scores in the accessibility category take into account the number of passengers arriving at and departing from a city’s airports, as well as tourism numbers. London, which topped this category in 2020, dropped to number three and was replaced by Shanghai in the top spot.

Impact of COVID-19

The Index’s compilers say the changed rankings reflect measures to control COVID-19, adding that traffic congestion in cities dropped as a result of the pandemic. Most cities had a third fewer visitors – the number in London fell by 26% while arrivals in Shanghai dropped by 51%.

Image of buildings, including the Gherkin in London, UK.
London has improved its ratings for liveability and environment. Image: Unsplash/

London topped the cultural interaction category, as it has done since the Index was first compiled in 2008, despite COVID-19 driving an almost 75% drop in the number of foreign visitors.

The top three cities in this category were the same as in 2020, although Paris (number two) and New York (third) swapped places this year. Amsterdam’s ranking rose from 16th to 12th on the back of improved scores for its tourist attractions and dining options.

The Index also ranks cities according to their attractiveness to different categories of people. London was rated most attractive for corporate executives, highly skilled workers and tourists, while Melbourne jumped from 9th to 1st in terms of places to be a resident.

The World Economic Forum’s report Net Zero Carbon Cities: An Integrated Approach points out that although cities cover only 3% of Earth’s land surface, they produce more than 70% of all carbon emissions.

Calling for an integrated approach to environmental, economic, health and social issues, the Forum says that by taking a holistic view, cities will have an opportunity to boost their resilience to withstand a range of potential climate and health-related crises.


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