The Great Powers and Urbanization Project

Over the course of the early twenty-first century, global economic and demographic trends have increased the relative importance of urban spaces, and cities themselves have organized collectively in the face of transnational challenges.

While cities and mayors have increasingly moved into the international arena, heightened geopolitical tensions have demonstrated that the nation-state, and tensions between nation-states, will still shape much of the future. Great power politics and urbanization are not separate phenomena. Peace, power, and prosperity in the twenty-first century will require urban expertise, as will solving global problems around climate change, migration, and equitable development. Successful powers will build stable and innovative cities at home while projecting influence, and at times military strength, in urban settings abroad.

The Great Powers and Urbanization Project, or GPUP, is a collaboration of global leaders in international and urban affairs: the University of Pennsylvania’s Perry World House, the University of Melbourne’s Connected Cities Lab, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and the Argentine Council for International Relations (Consejo Argentino para las Relaciones Internacionales).

GPUP takes as its premise that neither the city, nor the nation-state, nor geopolitical rivalry are in retreat at the start of the twenty-first century. To the contrary, while the international system slowly evolves in the twenty-first century, great powers are increasingly competing for influence in regions around the world. GPUP seeks to ask how can foreign policies be constructed, global governance reformed, and stakeholders represented in an era of competition and urbanization, including both the physical growth of urban areas and the increase in the number of people living in cities or otherwise urban spaces.

To begin to answer those questions, GPUP will examine the divergent approaches—often top down—being taken in cities within emerging powers; it will outline the institutions, networks, and infrastructures through which geopolitical trends are crossing borders to influence urban development; and, uniquely, it will explores the new modalities—including networks and cyber-attacks—through which states are projecting influence and power in urban spaces abroad. Through convenings and policy briefings around the world, written outputs, and multimedia communications, GPUP serves as a platform for scholars and practitioners to engage with the intersection of geopolitics and urbanization, and provides policy analysis and guidance for policymakers at the local, national, and international levels.


September 5-6, Perry World House, Philadelphia, PA
Workshop on Cities, Geopolitics, and International Legal Order

The first GPUP workshop was hosted at Perry World House, the University of Pennsylvania’s global affairs hub, on September 5-6, 2019 in Philadelphia. This workshop explored the nexus of urbanization and great powers, past and present, as well as national urban policies and national security strategies.

Globalization has produced tensions between economic space and governance space, leading to new forms of global politics and relationship building, along with questions around authorities and sovereignty. How do we situate these tensions amid the longer histories of both capitalism and geopolitical competition?

The workshop also focused on how cities are engaging international law and legal institutions, identifying the potential implications of cities’ expanded role in global affairs in creating and changing international legal norms. Finally, it examined how cities are shaping, and being shaped by, great power politics.


Released September 20, 2019
Podcast: A Tale of Three Cities

This is a special edition of The Global Cable, the podcast of GPUP partner Perry World House. 

In this special episode, we mark the launch of the Great Powers and Urbanization Project. Perry World House’s John Gans and Jocelyn Perry sit down with leaders from three major cities, and an expert on urbanization:

  • Ian Klaus, Senior Fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs
  • Penny Abeywardena, Commissioner for International Affairs, New York City
  • Henri-Paul Normandin, Director for International Relations, City of Montréal, Canada
  • Mauricio Rodas, Mayor of Quito, Ecuador (2014-2019)

Due to a range of factors, cities and city leaders are increasingly active in international diplomacy, something that was traditionally the preserve of the nation state. This special episode explores what cities can do, what they can't do, and what this means for a changing world.  

Listen now.

September 25, 2019
Analysis: Cities are advancing the SDGs through collective action

Mauricio Rodas, 2019-20 Perry World House Visiting Fellow, and Ian Klaus, Senior Fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, write for Smart Cities Drive on how cities are furthering the UN Sustainable Development Goals. 

"The diplomatic world is convening in New York City this week with all the speeches, cocktail parties and backroom meetings that make up High-Level Week of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

This annual event focuses the mind and schedules of heads of government and foreign ministers worldwide. Aside from a few wonky globalists, its policy debates and details have long been lost on casual observers, but that is changing.

Indeed, a new audience, and new set of voices, have emerged at UNGA and in the UN system writ large: mayors and cities."

Read more on Smart Cities Dive >>