Comparative Imaginations

What is the impact of city benchmarking on global city thinking?

How do cities think of each other?

In an increasingly connected and urbanised age, cities are inevitably asked to pay attention to each other. As they seek a place on the world stage, cities not only draw inspiration from each other but also see themselves in competition with each other. Facilitating this competitive perspective is the proliferation of city benchmarking studies that seek to compare and assess the relative position of cities all over the world against increasingly numerous criteria.

Despite a mounting interest in comparative analysis in academia, in addition to the huge numbers of city benchmarking exercises, little is still known beyond anecdotally about the tangible impact of these ‘comparative gestures’ not only in urban policymaking and the development directions set by city leaders, but in terms of the ‘urban imaginary’ these gestures provide.

Seeking to systematically and empirically further academic understanding of the changing imaginary of ‘cities in a world of cities’, the Comparative Imagination is a research project in collaboration with the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) and The Business of Cities that aims to reflect on the changing imaginary of ‘cities in a world of cities’. Developed as a pilot insight project, the project unfolds over six months to offer an initial agenda-setting analysis of these themes and open up a broader, more evidence-based, discussion on the impact and role of benchmarking exercises in shaping the international comparative approach of cities in the Global North and South.

Project team

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Project partners


Acuto, M., Pejic, D. and Briggs, J. (2021), Whose City Benchmarks? The Role of the Critical Urbanist in Comparative Urban Measuring. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 45: 389-392.

Acuto, M., Pejic, D. and Briggs, J. (2021), Taking City Rankings Seriously: Engaging with Benchmarking Practices in Global Urbanism. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 45: 363-377.

Acuto, M, Pejic, D. (2021) Shaping a global comparative imagination? Assessing the role of city rankings in the “global city” discourseArea 53: 247– 256.

Acuto, M., Pejic, D. & Moonen, T. (2019) “Why city rankings matter” Scientific American 321(1) July 2019.