What is an Alpha City?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
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  • Last Modified Date: 23 May 2020
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An alpha city is a city which plays a major role in the international community. Alpha cities have tremendous economic, political, and social clout, and they are viewed as primary hubs for global industry, in addition to centers of culture. Some examples of alpha cities are: Paris, London, Tokyo, and New York City. There are also beta cities such as San Francisco, Singapore, Beijing, and Brussels, which play an important role in the global community but lack the power of their alpha brethren.

Several characteristics are used to define an alpha city. The first is first name familiarity around the world. For example, when someone says “Paris,” it is unnecessary to add the clarification that one is referring to the Paris in France, because Paris is so well known. When given the name of an alpha city, most people can say which country that city is in, and they may be aware of several major landmarks in the city, such as the Eiffel Tower in Paris, or events involving that city, like the French Revolution.

Alpha cities are also economic powerhouses. They are meccas for the international business community, and they usually house the core of their national financial industry, including stock exchanges. Many international companies have offices in every alpha city so that they can be in touch with the most current events going on around the world, and alpha cities are major waypoints for shipping as well, with the city often being situated on a port.

To be an alpha city, a city must have a well serviced international airport, along with hubs for trains, shipping, and trucking, and an extensive public transit system. The community of people in the city are diverse, with people from many nations, religions, and socioeconomic classes represented. Alpha cities tend to have tremendous political influence, not only in their own nations, but in the world in general.

Finally, an alpha city is a cultural center. Alpha cities are rich in arts and culture, with museums, theaters, resident symphonies, and other forms of culture. They tend to be arbiters of taste and fashion, with new trends emerging first on the streets of alpha cities, and they are also powerhouses of information exchange, media, and publishing. Every alpha city houses major international and national publishers, media outlets, and information technology companies.

Many alpha cities are popular tourist destinations, thanks to the large role they play in society and culture. At any given time, tourists from all over the world can be found sharing the streets of an alpha city with business travelers, residents, and transients in the city temporarily for work, artistic performances, and other activities.

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Post 4

How many top-100 multinational corporations are headquartered in Honolulu? How about top-100 universities? How about a stock exchange? A famous fashion designer, symphony, or theater district? An airline hub? A major league sports team? A major league anything?

I'm sure Honolulu is a nice place, and I don't mean to speak negatively about it. I'm just saying it's unrealistic to put it in the same category as New York, London, or Tokyo in terms of being an international economic and cultural hub with worldwide influence. In some other ways, perhaps quality of life (as someone pointed out), it could rank near the top, but that's a different ranking.

Post 3

It's a shame that Honolulu doesn't rank in the list of global cities. Honolulu has plenty of culture and history, is an international city, and has a high quality of living. I was reading the Mercer Quality of Living report, and Honolulu Ranked as the highest American city on the list again. They were followed by San Francisco, and Boston. The city was only ranked at number 32 worldwide, but the mercer report tends to favor cities that have universal health care. The rankings change and cities can fall in and out of favor as an alpha city. Maybe one day Honolulu will become an alpha or beta city.

Post 2

@ Aplenty- Honolulu is neither an Alpha, Beta, nor a Gamma city. Honolulu is a great city, it does serve as a link between Asia and the United States, and it is known on a first name basis across the world, but the city does not meet enough of the criteria for being a global city. This is arguably due to the size of the city, which is limited by the size of the island. The city is hard to do business in because of the isolation. This isolation causes a scarcity of resources. In addition, the quality of life in Honolulu is too good to be ranked as a global city (just being honest).

The Globalization and World Cities

Research Network created the alpha, beta, gamma, ranking system based on four indicators of producer services. All in all, these rankings put a heavier emphasis on economic output rather than culture, politics, and quality of life. This is why cities like San Francisco and Washington DC are considered Beta cities while cities like Warsaw, Toronto, and Chicago are Alpha cities.
Post 1

What is the difference between an alpha city and a beta city? I used to live in Hawaii, and Honolulu meets most of the requirements for an Alpha city. Would Honolulu be considered a Beta city, or does it even rank at all?

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