By Daniel Hunter

World cities are usually thought of in terms of their position as leading centres of trade, commerce and political power, but a major new study shows they are also cultural powerhouses as a result of the dynamism, scale and diversity of the activities they are home to.

In the biggest international survey of its kind, the World Cities Culture Report 2012 has collected an unprecedented amount of data on the scope and impact of the cultural assets and activities that are produced and consumed in 12 major cities: Berlin, Istanbul, Johannesburg, London, Mumbai, New York, Paris, São Paulo, Shanghai, Singapore, Sydney and Tokyo.

Using 60 indicators and reports from each of the participating cities, the report shows that culture is seen as important as finance and trade and sits at the heart of public policy.

It demonstrates that across the world culture is increasingly recognised as central to the prosperity of cities, for example attracting international visitors and inward investment. Culture is seen critical to the image that cities want to present on the international stage, not just those from emerging economies, like Mumbai, Shanghai and São Paulo, but also New York, Paris and London. It is also seen as a way of addressing complicated city-wide social issues, for example in post-apartheid Johannesburg and in Tokyo, following the East Japan Earthquake.

In London, culture has a critical role in ensuring its economic prosperity: 1,030 museums and galleries contributed to the city's ability to attract 15 million international tourists in 2011. The city's 214 theatres and their world-renowned productions result in more than £500m in ticket sales per year, while the 566 screens of London's 108 cinemas generated over £235m in revenue in 2010.

With 349 live music venues, 10 major concert halls, 337 night clubs and 37,450 restaurants, London provides its residents with a vibrant cultural environment appealing to industries and talents from around the world. 99,360 international students came to study in London higher education colleges in 2010 - 57 of which specialise in culture.

"From Ancient Athens to the present day, cities are where society makes the greatest leaps forward," The Mayor of London Boris Johnson said.

"World cities are international hubs for commerce and trade, but as this groundbreaking report makes clear, they are powerhouses for culture too — in London the creative industries alone contribute £19 billion to our economy and employ 386,000 people.

"In coming together as city leaders and policymakers we want to harness the full potential of culture, which makes our cities exciting and desirable places to live in and visit, but also makes a massive contribution to wider social and economic goals."

The World Cities Culture Report 2012 was commissioned by the Mayor of London in partnership with nine of the cities featured in it and produced by BOP Consulting. It is launched this week at the inaugural World Cities Culture Summit.

Bringing together cultural leaders and policymakers from cities involved in the research, this landmark event coincides with London welcoming the world for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and it hosts an unprecedented citywide cultural festival. The summit is being held at London House, which is being hosted at City Hall as part of an ambitious programme created by the Mayor to maximise the huge opportunities for London arising from the Games, including promoting London as a premium business and tourist destination.

Using 60 indicators, the World Cities Culture Report 2012 provides a robust evidence base the report aimed at helping world cities improve the quality of their cultural policies. Ranging from museums and concert halls, to bars, restaurants and festivals, it encompasses both formal and informal cultural activity.

The authors of the report demonstrate that in an increasingly globalised world, culture plays a key role in establishing world cities' distinctive identities. External ideas and influences, as well as the culture of migrant populations, are blended or "hybridised" with local artistic activities, transforming them into something new and unique.

They suggest that different approaches to cultural policy also help differentiate the cities, not just from others within their own countries, but from other world cities. However, the report also shows that some issues cut across all cities: among them balancing tradition and modernity; the development and use of new cultural infrastructure; and adopting a mix of private and public funding.

Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, who is giving a keynote speech at the World Cities Culture Summit, commented: "Commercial exchange and cultural exchange go hand in hand, in London as in all the other cities in the World Cities Report. London has for most of its long history been a cosmopolitan and diverse city, a meeting place for the world’s cultures, both old and new.

"The British Museum is a direct cultural consequence of the first global economy in the mid-18th century. It was set up as a place where any global citizen can come to understand the complex network of interconnected human cultures throughout history. London has always been a world city. The international partnerships the British Museum and other London cultural institutions have developed with colleagues from cities across the globe is a reflection of this and ensures the continuation of the UK’s most successful export — culture."

Paul Owens, BOP Consulting, who led the research team said: "Culture is an under-researched and poorly understood factor in the social and economic success of world cities. The World Cities Culture Report is the most comprehensive comparative study of its kind - a rich source of data and intelligence with the latest and best policy thinking about culture from across the globe. It will be a hugely valuable tool to policymakers as they devise future strategies for development and investment."

The breadth of the data and information contained in the World Cities Culture Report 2012 is a significant contribution to discussions about the role of culture in overall economic and social policy. The intention is that the data will be updated every three years.

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