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World Cities Sportification

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As cities around the world increasingly aspire to become more innovative, progressive and sustainable, they typically view large population centres of global dominance as potential sources of inspiration. This SPORTIFY CITIES report thus argues that some cities – such as the top-tier World Cities, for instance – are generally better positioned to have significant and durable impact on urban developments, socio-economic trends and cultural movements in cities around the globe.

On this basis, a novel conceptual framework of World Cities Sportification will be outlined in this report. It implies that in future a selection of dominant and influential cities with sporting tradition could have a transformative capacity to popularise their evolving urban sporting cultures and create healthier cities across the developed and emerging world. Such sporting lifestyle powerhouses, the so-called Sportified World Cities, could potentially act as benchmark and catalyst cities, attracting global attention and inspiring other cities around the world to embrace the compelling idea of urban sportification.

Throughout the history of civilizations numerous cities have emerged as weighty population centres in which global socio-economical trends and futuristic infrastructure were initiated. Those urban powerhouses have also been known for being innovation hubs, inspiring other cities around the world to embrace their original ideas and inventions. In modern times, for instance, Paris’ urban beautification plans with its tree-lined boulevards, the construction of the London’s Underground railway, or the breath-taking rise of New York’s illustrious skyscrapers have unarguably had major impact on city developments worldwide.

Yet the influential power of such pioneering population centres has not been confined to the elements of urban design and city planning. Similarly, a large number of noticeable urban lifestyle characteristics, mass events and cultural movements originated – or were popularised – in such dominant and influential cities: for instance, the Parisian fashion culture, Tokyo’s Manga culture, New York’s City marathon, London’s various music subcultures, New York City’s hip-hop and graffiti street culture, the Parisian Nuit Blanche arts festival, New York City’s Time Square, London Eye, or Vélib’ bicycle-share system in Paris – to name a few.

Cities across the globe have been eager to emulate these inspirational concepts and compelling ideas, implying the existence of an expansive dimension of innovative trends that originate in the key influential population centres. As for the potential emergence of a novel urban sporting lifestyle movement, it is reasonable to argue that, on this basis, top-tier World Cities with established sporting traditions could possibly initiate a societal trend, resulting in a worldwide popularisation of urban sportification.


In the past 150 years ideas, policies and trends that originated or were popularised in London – the influential centre of the former British Empire – have had major impact on the evolution of cities around the world.


With the Tour de France arriving in Paris each year, the European city has been crucial to the worldwide popularisation of road cycling (left photo). Panoramic high-rise, high-density urban developments have mushroomed throughout the world; the global expansion of this defining urban feature can not be disentangled from the heart of all skylines, the stunning Manhattan borough in New York City.


Seoul has a significant impact on the youth, fashion and pop culture across the entire East Asia and South-East Asia region.

The Dominating Influence of World Cities

In his seminal book titled ‘The World Cities’, published in 1966, Sir Peter Hall, a highly influential British urbanist and geographer, described the most dominant cities as major centres of political power, trade, finance and communication, technology, education and culture. In the early 1980s John Friedmann wrote his ground-breaking and widely-cited work on ‘The World City Hypothesis’, suggesting a new global urban hierarchy with the rise of such primary cities as control centres of the world’s capital.

Friedmann’s work had sparked a lively academic debate among urban theorists and sociologists over classification and significance of World Cities, eventually expanding their sphere of dominance and influence to other crucial categories – such as financial planning and information exchange, human resources, international connectivity, power and prestige, prowess in global service, environmental quality and social progress, cultural interaction and urban transportation infrastructure. In other words, World Cities are believed to play a key role in dictating and shaping the world’s progress in the areas of economics, technology, infrastructure, culture, society and politics.

On this note, it needs to be pointed out that over the years the phrase ‘Global Cities’ – which in 1991 was coined by the urban sociologist Saskia Sassen in her influential book of the same title – has become tremendously popular in economic and political circles. Yet, by definition, there seems to be no clear distinction between World Cities and Global Cities; hence, both phrases have been used rather interchangeably, in both academic literature and mass media. In this report, however, the most influential cities are called World Cities.

In order to identify the top-tier World Cities regarding their level of dominance and influence, various academic analyses and non-academic rankings have been conducted over the past three decades. Despite their differences in methodology and selection of criteria, there appears to be a broad consensus as to which cities currently qualify for a top-tier World City status: London, New York City, Tokyo, Paris, Singapore, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Chicago and Seoul have been consistently ranked at the top of the World Cities hierarchy.

The influential weight of such top-tier World Cities must not be underestimated. They regularly serve as models and sources of inspiration for other cities, possessing a tremendous capacity to shape the view of what urban living will look like in the 21st century. And contemporary urban policymakers, in particular, view top-tier World Cities as the geographic points of reference for long-lasting and eye-catching trends.

World Cities Sportification – A Conceptual Framework

Given the growing socio-cultural tendency among city-dwellers towards embracing the concept of body and nature unity, among other trends, there has recently been growing interest among various top-tier World Cities in improving their reputation as ‘Healthy Cities’ and ‘Green Cities’. Thus it is reasonable to argue that health and environment aspects could become long-term features of improved city liveability – and not merely a temporary lifestyle trend of secluded communities residing in high-class districts and municipalities. This urban movement could eventually inspire other cities to emulate health and environment elements by putting greater emphasis on reducing carbon emissions, diversifying their urban transport systems and promoting healthy urban lifestyle.

By the same token, World Cities with noteworthy urban sporting cultures, too, could potentially have a transformational impact on future-city-living and the state of city health across developed and emerging countries. As boosting physical health, maximizing personal physical achievements and monitoring physiological parameters are increasingly becoming lifestyle choices for health-conscious city folks, there appears to be huge potential and demand for a large-scale, global expansion of urban sporting lifestyle aspects. Besides, with large numbers of cities attaining middle-class purchasing power, more disposable income will be available for sporting purposes.

In order to initiate an urban sportification of global dimension a number of the most suitable top-tier World Cities would first need to solidify their own urban sporting cultures; this could be achieved by successfully building on their existing sporting traditions (solidification). For this decisive transformation to occur, ambitious, progressive and influential local policymakers with a knack for innovative sports development would have to start creating urban environments in which sporting cultures can flourish and mature (aspiration). Once these prime World Cities succeed in epitomizing impressive urban sporting cultures, they could be labeled Sportified World Cities; and ultimately, they would serve as benchmark and catalyst cities, setting the tone for future global expansion of cities sportification.


The multifaceted World Cities Sportification framework is influenced by models and findings from a variety of areas, ranging from political science and urban studies to neuroscience, human physiology, behavioural sciences and climatology.

Crucially, providing their city residents with sufficient sporting and recreation urban space as well as establishing suitable socio-economic environments will emerge as the key preconditions for the most effective transition towards Sportified World Cities. Equally important, the identification of local characteristics and, most notably, their subsequent incorporation into the cities’ sporting lifestyle strategies will be crucial to successfully developing and consolidating the cities’ distinctive urban sporting cultures – that is, innate rather than generic approaches should be applied (locality factor).

During this city sportification process the to-be Sportified World Cities are expected to foster links with each other and exchange valuable ideas. Yet at the same time they should be encouraged to compete with each other for the profitable sporting lifestyle powerhouse primacy. Due to the complexity of such urban sporting evolution and the relatively slow nature of socio-cultural acceptance, however, the formation of sportified cities could take many years, if not decades.

This compelling idea of city sportification could eventually resonate beyond the (to-be) Sportified World Cities. Given their intrinsic nature of advancement and competitiveness, numerous large municipalities receptive to new trends are likely to be fascinated by the notion of becoming a sporting lifestyle hub; and consequently, they would take inspiration from the appealing city sportification features (desirability factor). Hence, the (to-be) Sportified World Cities would act as engines and facilitators of urban sporting lifestyle creation and global expansion, with other cities following their lead and embracing the most compelling city sportification strategies and elements. For numerous cities, though, establishing their own urban sporting cultures will presumably remain a secondary aim, with some cities finding this novel concept neither (financially) feasible nor desired. That said, once the city sportification dimension reaches a tipping point at the global level, cities might eventually adopt at least a few of the sporting elements.


Tokyo, one of the top-tier World Cities and the host city of the 2020 Summer Olympics, will experience difficulties in creating and solidifying an urban sporting culture (for more information, please read ‘Tokyo’s sluggish CBD-running culture’).

Such a global expansion will be achieved more rapidly and more efficiently, if ambitious and competitive mid-tier cities, and eventually other cities, primarily focus on adopting city sportification features that originate – or are popularized – in comparable Sportified World Cities; that is, cities should put greater emphasis on evaluating and emulating Sportified World Cities that reveal high levels of resemblance in urban spatial structure, climate condition, political system, economic status as well as in the socio-cultural fabric of a city (compatibility factor as the key intensifier). In this way, the homogeneity of a cluster group would, vertically and horizontally, facilitate the transferability of urban sporting culture elements. By forming such groups of homogenous clusters of cities with slightly contrasting approaches and city sportification components, cities in different parts of the world would take distinct city sportification development paths.

Again, besides adopting the most suitable city sportification elements, the inclusion of local aspects (locality factor) will, by all means, be critical to a potentially global expansion of this Sportify Cities concept. Cities across the globe could establish such distinctive urban sporting cultures by developing novel strategies tailored to the demands of their sporty city folks. Augmented by internal dynamics within a given city and enriched by various external influences originated in other parts of the world, these evolving urban sporting cultures would ultimately remain in constant flux (progressiveness).

To be clear, the capital-intensive provision and rejuvenation of sporting infrastructure, rezoning of urban and green space as well as the creation of an adequate socio-economic environment will not be initiated and executed, unless both ambitious policymakers and powerful incentives for local governments exist (aspiration). As the aspect of return on investment is central to political decision-making (profitability objective), the local governments’ eagerness to channel the necessary efforts and available financial resources would thus be vital. That is, the key criterion for a worldwide urban sportification is therefore more – not less – government involvement.

For local governments the most lucrative prospect of becoming a sportified city could come, for instance, in the form of business relocation and human capital, potentially attracting residents of desired qualification (talent magnetism as a result of great city living attractiveness). To achieve this objective, a mid-tier city, for instance, that has yet to establish a more recognisable image of its city could make its distinctive urban sporting culture the basis of the city’s identity and branding, altering the worldwide perception of its city.

A comparable marketing strategy would also need to be adopted in the Sportified World Cities; they should hence be advised to promote their unique urban sporting cultures by embedding them into their city profiles and city identities (recognisability factor). In this way, cities around the world would be inspired and encouraged to emulate various city sportification features.


Singapore with its emerging urban sporting culture is a strong candidate for becoming a Sportified World City, projecting its features and policies across some parts of Asia (for more information, please read Singapore – a high-density city with sporting characters’).

In addition, Sportified World Cities should use their localised sporting cultures as a ‘soft power’ tool – Joseph Nye, a political scientist at the Harvard University, coined the term ‘soft power’ and describes it as the ability to exercise influence over the behavior of others and to get them to desire something. By featuring alluring images and presenting inspiring narratives of the evolution of the cities’ sportification, other municipalities around the world would eventually be inclined to adopt such Sportify Cities strategies and to incorporate the most appealing city sportification elements into their own future-city-living and Healthy Cities initiatives.

Given the continuous trend towards city living (the worldwide urbanisation rate has fairly recently exceeded the 50%-mark), sports organisations and sporting lifestyle advocacies should seek to exert more influence over urban policies and societal evolution in major cities. Hence, this novel World Cities Sportification framework could potentially make a transformative contribution to globally boosting the influence and prestige of sporting and physical activities in urban environments. By accelerating the expansion of sportified cities through the formation of distinctive urban sporting cultures, this City Sportification Framework could become a supportive component of a concerted effort to raise the international profile of urban sporting lifestyle.

This report was published in July 2016; updated in February 2017.

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