Cities have been globalizing for many centuries. London and Amsterdam, for example, were global cities in the 16th century and still earlier cases of urban globalization can be found in commercial, imperial, and religious cities around the world. The link between globalization and urbanization processes is therefore not new, but there has been a growing realization that starting at least as early as the 1960s there has been a pronounced acceleration in the globalization of capital, labor, and culture and that this intensified globalization has been having significant effects on cities and urban life all over the world. Analyzing the impact of globalization on cities is thus the first step in understanding the concept of global city regions.
The effects of globalization on cities and urban development can be seen at two levels. Within cities and metropolitan regions, globalization has been playing a role in reconfiguring the social and spatial organization of the modern metropolis and in changing some of the basic conditions of contemporary urban life. Increasing global flows of labor and capital and the concentration of these flows in certain urban areas have contributed to the expansion of metropolitan populations to hitherto unheard of sizes, with several urbanized regions (or city regions) in East Asia now containing more than fifty million inhabitants. Beyond contributing to this expansion in population size, globalization has also fostered the creation of the most culturally and economically heterogeneous cities the world has ever known.
The concept of global city region is more directly rooted in the resurgence of interest in regions and regionalism than it is in the study of globalization or urban and metropolitan restructuring. Stated somewhat differently, the regional dimension of globalization and urbanization processes is what matters most significantly to the meaning of the term. It is the regional that absorbs and defines the interplay of globalization, urbanization, industrialization, and development, and grounds the concept of global city region in a particular form of analysis and interpretation. Over the past thirty years, there has not only emerged a pronounced cross-disciplinary turn toward critical spatial thinking and analysis but also a closely related development of specifically regional perspectives. This New Regionalism, as it has come to be called, has been playing a particularly important role in making theoretical and practical sense of globalization, economic restructuring, technological change, and other processes shaping contemporary life. Underpinning the New Regionalism is a significant re-theorization of the key concepts of region and regionalism.