Ronald Wall (Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies, Erasmus University Rotterdam/University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa) in this lecture calls a new paradigm on how to empirically address globalization and urbanization using big data on investment flows between cities worldwide. 

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"Global Economic Competitor" - Ronald Wall 


The lecture calls a new paradigm how to empirically address globalization and urbanization. Using “big data” on investment flows between thousands of cities worldwide, the relative position of every city is determined. Next, significant statistical relationships between global economic connectivity and local urban development are demonstrated. It is argued that future city planning needs to smartly match a city’s urban development, to changing economic demand, at regional and global scales. Using econometric and GIS techniques, it is shown how a city can identify its true economic competitors, and forge sustainable urban strategies.

Ronald Wall demonstrates an approach to empirically understanding the relative position of any city within the global economic system. The method reveals thousands of cities connected to each other through foreign investments. In this, the power and position of any city is revealed, but also the network structures of the global system. The study is based on a database of hundreds of thousands of major investments that took place between 2003 and 2013. Using other databases of the social, infrastructural, economic, cultural and environmental indicators of these same cities, it is shown how econometric modeling can be used to identify the significant attractors of investment. Lastly, using techniques like GIS, Maya visualization software, and 3D printing, it is demonstrated how complex data can be made easily understandable and aesthetically appealing.

Propositions for addressing the issue:
1. The Within and Between Proposition: generally cities are studied as isolated entities and very little is known about how they interact and impact on each other. Most studies focus on developments “within” cities boundaries, while in a globalizing world the fate of cities is also strongly determined by the flows taking place “between” them.
2. The Relative Understanding Proposition: most studies on cities can make straightforward rank comparisons at attribute level, but cannot explain from which other cities these come from. Network analysis explains a city’s “relative” position within the entire system. A city will not only know its relative position in the system, but more importantly will know where these flows are coming from.
3. The Competitiveness Proposition:  a database which contains the entire system of investments is useful to calculate any city’s relative level of competitiveness, based on a number of criteria.
4. The Attractiveness Proposition: Once a city’s competitors are known, it is important to find out which urban characteristics statistically explain the attraction of these investments.
5. The Resilience Proposition: blindly attracting any investment would not be smart, or sustainable. In Africa for instance, many investments are predatory, or in sectors which do not necessarily benefit urban societies. Where investment can lead to progress in some cities of the world, in many cities investment leads to increasing inequality. It is therefore important to study investment networks by industrial sector, to measure its impact on city development, and explore variations in different world regions. More importantly, cities should develop policies about the types of investment that will not only lead to increased “wealth”, but more importantly greater “wellbeing” of their citizens.

Ronald Wall is Head of the Urban Competitiveness and Resilience (UCR) department at the Institute for Housing and Urban Studies, Erasmus University Rotterdam, and holds the Johannesburg City Chair in Economics at the Faculty of Law Commerce and Management, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa. He is an appointed Senior Research Fellow at the Turku School of Economics, Turku University, Finland. In 2009 he received his PhD as an Economic Geographer at the Erasmus School of Economics, Erasmus University Rotterdam, specializing in global city network analysis. He also holds a Masters degree in Urban Planning, from the Rotterdam Academy of Architecture and Urban Planning. Ronald has published on the topic in various leading journals e.g. Economic Geography, Journal of Economic Geography, and Environment and Planning A. He has carried out economic urban research for the European Rhine Zone, the Dutch government, Chinese and South Korean cities, and for cities in the Middle East. Recently he (under IHS), together with Oxford Economics, has been commissioned by UN-Habitat Nairobi, to develop the 2017 State of African Cities Report (with Jos Maseland of UN-Habitat), which will explore the role of African cities within changing global investment networks, the attractivity and impacts on these cities, and ways forward to more sustainable investment in Africa.


UCR Department, IHS, Erasmus University Rotterdam:

List of selected publications

Recent research example Rhinecon 2015:

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