Big urban areas have converged culturally and commercially, fusing them into a common market as an archipelago of global cities that share more with each other than the regions in which they are uncomfortably situated.

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Big urban areas have converged culturally and commercially, fusing them into a common market as an archipelago of global cities that share more with one another than the regions in which they are uncomfortably situated.

The economic importance of cities to the global economy is well understood, and has been documented extensively.  The cultural and political divides between urban and rural areas are also well understood, and these divides have been decisive in recent elections and referenda across the globe.

What has not been fully appreciated is that big cities are now so similar that they have, in effect, merged into a single market.

In parallel with these dynamics, another cultural force has been at work.  Not only are cities different from rural areas as well as disproportionately powerful and prosperous, cities are becoming more like one another.  Cities are becoming more uniform in terms of the cultural, lifestyle, and commercial  elements that define the experience of living in these cities.  While differences remain, it is the similarities that now dominate what life is like and the expectations of urban consumers.

Much of this comes from more widespread use of best practices in building codes, particularly for climate reasons.  It also comes from the fact that certain tastes and styles are preferred by most people, so naturally, these will be adopted everywhere.

Localism is a long-standing but recently re-energized counter-trend that is driven by a desire to preserve local color and heritage.  Yet, as a global trend, localism is a shared attribute of regional cultures, and thus itself a common cultural element.

Paradoxically, one of the biggest similarities shared by urban areas is the diversity of experiences they offer.  The ability to enjoy many different kinds of things is just as much a shared characteristic of urban areas as the ubiquity of look-alike coffee shops, workout facilities, hotel chains, cocktail bars, and luxury brands and shopping strips.  Certainly, differences between urban areas remain, but it the similarities have become the defining elements of urban life, not the differences.

This coming-together of culture has become so pronounced that a backlash has arisen in protest.  Most of this quarrel is about the nature of the culture that is taking over cities around the world, rather than the fact that cities are becoming more similar.  Similarity is taken for granted.  The dispute is over what sort of shared culture is more engaging and enlivening.

The challenge for marketers and retailers is to figure out how to profitably scale offerings with mass appeal to urban consumers with shared tastes who are spread across disparate geographies and disconnected transportation and communications hubs.

NOTE: These brands and symbols are intended only as illustrative of the convergent culture of Cosmopolica


How It Matters

  • What are the unmet needs of urban culture?
  • What is the common currency of engagement to work across a conglomeration of global cities?
  • What current business practices would have to be updated or substituted in order to best reach an urban-only audience that is spread across a variety of global geographies?
  • Is mass production in a limited number of locations practicable for consumers located in distinct, disparate, and separate geographies? What new distribution and logistics systems are required?
  • Are there other smaller cities where these kinds of urban tastes are also dominant yet are currently under-served?
  • What are the underlying factors driving cultural convergence across urban centers in different geographies? Going forward, what will these factors look like? Will their influence on urban tastes and preferences intensify or weaken?
  • What are the tastes and preferences shared across cosmopolitan urban areas? In what direction will future tastes evolve?
  • What does brand loyalty and lifetime value look like for urban consumers who may be living in cities during a transient lifestage before settling permanently in suburban or rural areas?
  • In what ways will localism affect or redirect the convergence of urban culture? In what ways could localism be made available or satisfied as a mass offering for urban consumers?
  • Is an urban-only strategy viable? What would it mean to walk away from rural consumers?
  • Can products and services for urban consumers be profitably repackaged or reconfigured in ways that would broaden appeal to rural consumers? Are urban tastes a seedbed for mass appeal?
  • Can urban appeal work as an aspirational status symbol for consumers in general?
  • In emerging megacities, what does the transition from countryside to urban areas mean for the development and learning of new lifestyle habits and new product purchasing?

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Dig Deeper:

  • The importance of cities as “nodes” in the global economy has been recognized at least since the mid-1980s as the service economy began to outpace and displace the manufacturing economy.
  • McKinsey has comprehensively documented the economic importance of the top 600 global cities, most of which are in emerging economies.  Similarly, the Brookings Institution has documented the economic importance of the top 300 global cities.
  • Looking ahead to 2025, emerging megacities will significantly outperform developed megacities, particularly in share of global GDP.
  • Kyle Chayka is leading a cultural backlash against what he calls Airspace, the tech-inspired minimalistic look of the latest wave of urban gentrification that is remaking all cities with the ”same sterile aesthetic.”
  • The new cities arising in China and Africa are being built on the same planning model, making them all alike.
  • Historic preservation has given way to the homogenizing effects of ”destination culture” at work in globalization.
  • Economist Tyler Cowen takes issue with columnist Megan McArdle’s contention that cities around the world are all becoming alike.
  • Cities are no longer the magnet for the working class that they were a generation ago, thereby decreasing class diversity in urban areas.
  • Global cities are shrinking as property values push people out of the core, yet the economic importance of cities remains undiminished.
  • The demographics of big urban areas skew higher for single households, young people, and wealthier consumers.
  • Neighborhood divides within cities account for more inequality of opportunities and life satisfaction than regional divides.
  • Some footwear brands have committed to urban-only strategies — Nike is focusing on 12 key global cities; Adidas on 6 key global cities.
  • Whole Foods built its business by targeting large urban areas with large clusters of upscale consumers.
  • Dollar General, long a rural-focused retailer, has launched a new small-format DGX store for urban areas.  On the other hand, Family Dollar has closed nearly 400 stores, many of which were in urban areas where competition is greater and it struggled to be profitable.

More to Know

Note: The majority of people now live in urban areas, making the culture of Cosmopolica the mainstream lifestyle. And urbanization will continue to grow in the future.

Urban vs. Rural Global Population

Note: The megacities dominating Cosmopolica, and the globe, will represent an enormous market f urban markets chained together culturally and commercially.

By 2030, these 39 megacities — all metro areas with 10+ million people by then — will comprise 9% of the world’s population and account for 15% of global GDP

Note: European regions that share the characteristic of high cultural diversity are urban areas.  Those with the least are rural areas.  This shows two key things about Cosmopolica.  First, urban areas are similar to one another, and different from non-urban areas, thus creating a common market of values and lifestyles.  Second, the paradox of diversity is that it is a common element of the archipelago of disparate urban areas that constitute Cosmoplica.

Note: The cultural identity of U.S. people living in Cosmopolica sets them apart from non-urban dwellers, and this has even become a mobilizing force for political factions.

‘There are people in New York that feel closer to people in London and in Berlin than they do to people in Kansas and in Colorado,’ Steve Bannon, the white nationalist ideologue now tapped to counsel Trump in the White House, grumbled at a meeting with European conservatives two years ago.

Note: The distinctive values and tastes of Cosmopolica can be seen in many ways, but particularly in entertainment and media.