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Crossing the Globe: -- Global Cities Compared and Contrasted

Tokyo and Istanbul

By Paul Padegimas



        Global cities are those which are not only large but are interconnected with the rest of the world.  These cities are interconnected in a cultural and economic sense, as well as with the media and politics.  Global cities are essentially intertwined with each other; while able to function completely on their own, they draw on other global cities in order to create at least a part of the city’s atmosphere.  This is the transnational aspect of global cities.  The transnational is the global aspect of the city.  This aspect is easy to see in most cities, for example New York City.  Walking through Times Square, it is almost impossible not to notice the international companies represented in all of the signs, the international restaurants, even the people standing on street corners pleading with you to listen to them about events going on in other countries.  The transnational aspect of a city is generally very apparent in certain areas, while much of the city must be examined a little bit closer to see it.

Global cities exist all over the world, and are centers of commerce and culture wherever they are located.  This draws people from outside to the city, which leads to the growth of the vernacular aspect of the city.  The vernacular is the exhibition of local culture throughout the city.  The vernacular aspect is what differentiates different global cities from each other, more so than geography does.  Think about how New York City would be different from Tokyo without hot dog and roasted nut vendors on every corner and amateur rappers trying to sell you their demo albums while you walk down the street?  What about San Francisco and Istanbul?  Language aside, these are the kind of things that truly define an individual city, while the transnational aspects are what truly make them global.  In this essay, the cities of Istanbul and Tokyo will be explored.  Based off of two previous shorter essays, the transnational and vernacular will be compared and contrasted to show how global cities from different sides of the world can be very similar yet different, reflecting their own character.

First read about each city, and then come back for my analysis:


            As far as the transnational, both of these cities have all of the signs.  International restaurants and hotels are abundant.  Advertisements for products of other nations can be seen everywhere.  If shopping is what you crave, catching a taxi to Taksim Square provides an incredible selection of shops from international companies.  Taksim Square is very similar to the Ginza district in Tokyo in the sense that it caters very much to tourism and international culture with restaurants and shops and nightlife.  From my experiences in both cities, Taksim Square and Ginza are incredibly similar, with Ginza being a little larger simply because of the larger scale of Tokyo as a whole.  The architecture is also somewhat different; with Ginza presenting itself more in the form of high rise buildings, mainly due to the fact that in Tokyo, and Japan as a whole, there are more constraints on space.  With space at a premium in Tokyo, construction is forced to go up rather than out, whereas Istanbul is not so focused on the vertical but is an expansive city with its share of skyscrapers, but more growth horizontally.

            As far as the vernacular, a main feature of both cities is the focus on the water.  The people of both cities are heavily involved with what the water around them can do for their cities as one of their richest resources.  The sea is one of the main sources of food for both, with the fishing culture being a main focus.  The difference is that in Istanbul, if you were to walk around the waterline, you could find people fishing at any time of day or night.  There were always people fishing, on the piers, the rocks, from bridges, it didn’t matter.  Anywhere that was available, people would fish.  This led me to believe, along with the smaller scale of the fish markets in Istanbul, that small scale is much more emphasized in Istanbul than in Tokyo.  This makes sense to me, partially because of the incredibly developed waterline in Tokyo, as well as because of the much larger population of Tokyo which is consuming the fish from these markets.

            In the end, by just examining a few aspects of a city it is easy to tell that both are certainly very much global cities, containing all of the requirements to be considered truly international.  At the same time, these cities each have distinct vernacular cultures which distinguish them from one another.  Given that the topics in the vernacular explored in each were similar, one can tell that there are certainly differences which reflect the character of the individual city.  Overall, these cities reflect many transnational features which tie them together, while each city is distinguished from other global cities by parts of the vernacular culture which, upon examination, are intertwined throughout everyday life in the city.


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