Despite their very different origins and history, Miami, Dubai, and Singapore are remarkably similar in their present economic profile and social structure.
Competition for recognition in the world economy is fierce. An essential element of this race is the branding of cities as desirable places for investment and consumption. Just as cars and airlines seek to gain favorable attention, cities also brand themselves, inventing catchy labels to advertise their most appealing features and promoting the city in various forms as a center for arts fairs, hi-tech expositions, concerts, and major sports and cultural events. These are deliberate attempts to attract investments and highly trained people in tech, banking and finances, law, healthcare, and the arts.
Miami has scored a major success that firmly positions it as an emerging global city. Lionel Messi, the most famous soccer player in the world, has signed with the Inter Miami, a club co-owned by David Beckham and the Mas brothers, Jorge and José, children of Cubans emigrees who escaped the 1959 revolution in their island. Miami is a powerful brand. Art Basel brings to the city reportedly more millionaires and billionaires in private planes than those who attend the Superbowl every year. Now the Messi global brand will help Miami strengthen an image that has wide appeal—from those who dream of buying top brands in Aventura Mall to those who want an exclusive unit in the Sunny Isles’ Porsche Design Tower.
The Messi deal speaks not only about a city that caters to the wealthy and the middle class, but one that is also attractive to the urban lower classes, which can relate to the lifestyle images produced by the city through the consumption of mass media and low-cost goods. Messi reinforces Miami’s place as a magnet for glamour, consumption, and as an aspirational destination. Having a creative economy has become part of the race to join a highly selective group of cities that appeal to the imagination of millions around the world.
The recent ascent of Miami as well Dubai and Singapore to positions of economic, financial, and cultural prominence represents an unprecedented global phenomenon. These emerging global cities, rising from positions of inferiority and insignificance in the world economy, have reached the status of important players in the fields of international commerce, real estate, finance, sports, and the arts.
Despite their very different origins and history, Miami, Dubai, and Singapore are remarkably similar in their present economic profile and social structure. All three boast enormous ports and airports serving as centers for international trade and points for the transshipment of commodities to other nations and cities in their respective regions. All three feature major banking and financial hubs operating as coordinating centers for multiple forms of investment, mergers, and acquisitions on an international scale. All three have developed a vast real estate sector, building and marketing office and residential space for investors worldwide, but especially in their respective regions.
Trade and finance, however, are no longer the sole drivers of the capital accumulation process. Established global cities such as New York and emerging ones, such as Miami, base their appeal not only on the density of corporate headquarters in finance, law, and technology, but also on the presence of international brands in sports, film, design, art, and architecture. Different from New York or London, Miami, Dubai, and Singapore have taken advantage of their locations fronting warm and attractive seashores. Tourism was always Miami’s raison d’être, having been created as a resort for northerners escaping frigid temperatures in winter. Building on this role, the city has become a year-round touristic attraction, with an emphasis not only on music, arts, and sports but also on its world-class architecture and culinary scene. For many, Miami is the haven of choice; its solid legal system, orderliness, rule of law, and familiar language and culture attract Latin Americans and many others who want to safely invest their resources and display their affluence, a luxury not always available in their countries. Now they will seat comfortably in the DVR PNK Stadium to watch the Messi magic.
Projecting a city into a position of global prominence is complicated and expensive. Multinational corporations and wealthy investors don’t easily locate their regional headquarters or trust their investments and wealth to just any one place. Similarly, highly skilled professionals are highly selective about where they plan to live, work, and invest.
The socioeconomic gap is also a feature of places like Miami. Cities have a duty toward their inhabitants to ensure good living conditions for everyone. These are highly segregated cities where the elites and the working poor live very different lives. Access to services, public spaces, and claims to effective rights, rule of law, and security vary dramatically across social divides. Visionary leadership turned Miami, a city that had the dubious honor of becoming the drug capital of the nation in the 1970s, into a glitzy global hub for travel, tourism, and finance.
Finally, one cannot ignore the immigration policy and ideological restrictions championed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, which arguably represent a potential setback on Miami’s unprecedented rise. The story of Miami is inextricably linked to immigration. Before it became the financial “capital” of the Americas, Miami was the place of refuge for the victims of so many institutional failures and political convulsions in the countries to its south. The initial migration flows that triggered its transformation were not prompted by local leaders, but foreign ones. Today, most of the population of Miami is of foreign origin. Immigrants are needed to satisfy the employment growth of the city. Freedom to exchange ideas and respect for multiculturalism and diversity are vital to continue building this global center.