What is it about?

Worldwide, most global cities are located in coastal zones, but a paradox of sustainability is especially striking for U.S. global cities. This article examines such a paradox, involving globalization-induced urban development and coastal ecosystems. It focuses on two developmental components found principally in global cities: the agglomeration of foreign waterborne commerce and global business services; and the accelerated activity and mobility habits of a global professional class. Despite formidable gaps in research, some anecdotal evidence suggests that unique hazards exist for the coastal ecology as globalization pressures expand a global city's urbanized footprint.

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Why is it important?

In the U.S., only a few a few large coastal cities are global cities, but nearly all global cities are coastal cities. More than 20 percent of today's U.S. population live in a handful of global cities, but these metropolitan areas contain nearly half of those living in coastal zones. Although recognized as core places for the global economy, their comparative impacts on the coastal ecology are seldom the subject of global cities research. Nevertheless, given the unique attributes of this form of urban agglomeration, its socioeconomic activities and its coastal location, a global city appears to have different and more problematic impacts on ecological sustainability than other metropolitan areas.


This article carries forward a theme of the author's 45 years of research which focuses on governance in a social-ecological context. As an incremental addition to this theme, its focus is on questions about a sustainability paradox in urban economic development. It asks whether the governance of socio-ecological systems is essentially about managing inherent and unresolvable tradeoffs or whether it is about coexistence where urban development without a degraded ecology is achievable.

San Jose State University

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This page is a summary of: Global Cities Are Coastal Cities Too: Paradox in Sustainability?, Urban Studies, October 2012, SAGE Publications, DOI: 10.1177/0042098012462612.
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