It was always an awkward conversation. As a New York City transplant to Chicago (for about six years), Chicagoans would invariably raise “The New York-Chicago rivalry” with me. The first few times, I must have looked really confused because there’s not a New Yorker alive aware that such a rivalry even exists (in fact, whenever someone visited us from New York, their reaction to Chicago was always one of pleasant surprise, not because they had negative expectations, but because what Chicago was like had never even crossed their mind).
We now live in a time where our President really, really cares about proving that both he and America are better than everyone else in every way. But our standing in the world is dependent on how much people need us. And when you look at how essential we are, no matter how much my former neighbors in Chicago wish otherwise, there are only three U.S. cities that truly matter globally and perhaps two more that matter at the edges.
Here’s who they are (and who they’re not).
Tier 1: The U.S.’s three indisputable global cities
New York City
- Why: Global capital of media, finance, marketing, fashion, art, tourism, theater, food, home to the U.N.
- Other factors in its favor: Growing tech sector, improving infrastructure, the Mets starting rotation.
- Threats: Corrupt local leadership, ending immigration cuts off city’s lifeblood, Brexit allowing London to take finance over, west coast tech companies becoming media companies.
- Why: The world endlessly consumes our pop-culture. For as long as LA remains the epicenter of tv and movies, it will exert massive global influence.
- Other factors in its favor: Thriving culture, art, food, hot tech sector, defense sector, still great weather, carmageddon wasn’t that bad.
- Threats: Netflix and Amazon are taking over tv and neither are based in LA (so if either moved production home, it’s a problem).
San Francisco/Silicon Valley
- Why: Most of the world’s most important and interesting tech companies are there: Google, Facebook, Twitter, Uber, Telsa, plus the intellectual tech nerve center in Stanford.
- Other factors in its favor: Great culture, mild winters, Draymond Green.
- Threats: Ending H1B visas, the tech bubble bursting.
Tier II: Two Surprising Contenders
- Why: Latin American political instability (Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela) has made Miami the media and financial capital of Latin America.
- Other factors in its favor: Art Basel, the Design District, lots of Russian money, a delightfully weird baseball stadium.
- Threats: Immigration changes and, conversely, more stability in Latin America. Climate change could also put the city underwater.
- Why: Despite not even being the best city in Texas, Houston is the energy capital of the world. Virtually nothing we do happens without power, gas and oil—and all of that is run in Houston.
- Other factors in its favor: The Menil, Rice, James Harden.
- Threats: Energy independence, Elon Musk.
Tier III: U.S. Cities Who Think They Belong on This List
- Why not: Chicago has world class architecture, art, food, sports, companies, and universities. It’s a wonderful, impressive city. But it’s not the global center of anything. It’s essential to the Midwest, not the world. Plus the weather is unbearable.
- Mitigating factors: Obama, the University of Chicago, Wrigley Field.
- Why not: The seat of government could be anywhere and it’d be exactly the same.
- Mitigating factors: The Washington Post is becoming the most objective, impressive major newspaper in the nation.
- Why not: Being the home to Amazon and Microsoft puts Seattle into the conversation but it’s not enough.
- Mitigating factors: Underrated skyline, very loud football fans.
Tier IV: Really Great Cities Who Don’t Care About Stupid Lists Like These
Austin, New Orleans, Charleston, Santa Fe, and in its own weird way, Vegas.
So three cities for sure, two more at the periphery. If we care about making America as great as possible, we’d look at all of the threats to their influence that we can control (or at least try to)—immigration, climate change, honest government, taxes and regulations that unnecessarily handcuff innovation and growth—and do as much as we can to eliminate them. None of the cities above voted for Trump, but when these cities catch a cold, Trump country gets the flu. So if we want to continue to be the most influential superpower in modern history, we’d take the health of these cities very seriously. Even Chicago.