City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.

Cosmopolitan cities

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Cosmopolitan_canada_1This graph was in last week’s Economist, in an article on the cosmopolitan nature of Canadian cities. The data shows that Vancouver and Toronto are more ‘cosmopolitan’ than many US cities, for instance. The graph notes that the data is from ‘selected cities’, yet if this is indeed a list of the top eleven countries ranked in terms of how cosmopolitan they are – measured by foreign born as % of local population – then it’s also interesting how many are examples of ports and outposts of the great trading nations of the 1700s. With the exception of Dubai and Muscat, which was briefly Portuguese, all are essentially New World colonies (New York, Toronto, Melbourne etc.) or Old World capitols (London and Amsterdam). The influence of trading over those 400 years would seem to be leaving an indelible stamp on those cities and their citizens (though it’s odd not to see cities like Rio de Janeiro or Johannesburg there too.) History pervades.

The Economist: Cosmopolitan Canada


7 responses to “Cosmopolitan cities”

  1. Adam Richardson Avatar

    I wonder if that chart also takes into account the variety of countries/cultures the people are coming from? I was surprised London is so far down the list – on an absolute % level I’m sure it isn’t as high, but it’s got about as wide a variety as anywhere, far greater than Miami I think.


  2. Dan Avatar

    Right, so you mean the spread of countries within that percentage? That would be interesting too. I’m not sure about the other cities, but the Economist article did have an overall breakdown for Canada. Permanent residents admitted to Canada during 2005 breaks down as: Asia & Pacific 52.7%; Africa & Middle East 18.8%; Europe 15.6%; South & Central America 9.4%; United States 3.5%.


  3. Dan Avatar

    And I’d guess you’re right about London in particular having a very high spread of nationalities, certainly compared to other European cities.


  4. Jonathan Biddle Avatar

    Does the data take into account second or third generations from immigrant families? London does indeed appear cosmopolitan at first glance, and I am sure many of those were from settled London-born and bred families.


  5. Anne Avatar

    This article does give you some hints as to why I keep returning to the idea of convergence without consensus – or why it continues to make so much sense to me – but it’s a shame they conflate cosmopolitanism with multiculturalism. The latter is state-sanctioned and bureaucratic: it is how we organise people. The former may be understood demographically, as the chart suggests, but more importantly cosmopolitanism suggests a particular attitude to cultural difference that often conflicts with official multiculturalism as a kind of governance, or the codification of ethnicity. We do not, in fact, live and let live; if you are willing to live the principles of liberal democracy then the Canadian government will ensure that you can do just that. Nonetheless, immigrants have a really hard time here economically, if not necessarily socially or politically.
    What I got out of this article is that multiculturalism as a response to demographic cosmopolitanism has been difficult, but relatively successful here. But we still have a small population, and a huge land mass. We also have a postcolonial history that in many ways shares more in common with Scandinavian countries than with any of the republics to the south, or to our British overlords. What I mean is that cosmopolitanism is inextricably connected to history and politics, and its “success” is very site-specific. For example, I wouldn’t ever want to advocate the kind of cultural cosmopolitanism currently evidenced in Dubai.


  6. Rick Pan Avatar

    I found this 2004 article from The Globe and Mail, where they refer to a list from a UN report that had the top five in 2000/2001 as being: Miami, Toronto, LA, Vancouver, NY. Assuming we can compare the two lists, it’s interesting that in the last few years Dubai has gone from not being in the top five to being number one, and that Muscat and HK now round out the top five.
    The variety of originating countries/cultures is an interesting point – the article does mention that for Miami, 96 per cent of foreign-born are from Latin America, according to 2002 U.S. Census Bureau data.


  7. Glen Avatar

    I don’t think % of foreign born is any indication of cosmopolitanism. Miami, for example, is heavily populated with low income Latin American immigrants struggling to make ends me. Perhaps my definition of “cosmopolitan” is different, but cosmopolitan is far more of a social perspective than a demographic stat.


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