by Despina Lytra,

The modern state system is a relatively new form of governance if one takes into consideration the thousands of ancient city-states that existed between 750 and 500 BC, which varied in administrative status from monarchies to early versions of “communism”.(Chang, S., 2015) Even in the contemporary status quo where borders define countries the world is filled with nation-states. A nation is defined as a group of people with similar “characteristics and attributes” (Barlett. J., 2007)  while a “sovereign state (or simply state) is classically defined as a state with a defined territory on which it exercises internal and external sovereignty, a permanent population, a government, and the capacity to enter into relations with other sovereign states”.(Lim J., 2012) The beginning of a formation of a more centralized entity for governance started after the industrial revolution when the technological advancements escalated and bureaucratic procedures grew alongside them. Attempting to manage the bureaucracy, ultimately it resulted to more centralized societies. (Barlett. J., 2007) Noticeably, those urban regions formed better administrative networks that had a catalytic role in defending their national interests. It is not a consequence that the American (1776) and French (1789) Revolutions started in urban centers. The model of nation states, from that period to these days, according to Barlett, has expanded rapidly and now counts 193 in the world. Chang (2015) follows by analyzing the characteristics of the 21st-century city-states as follows.

“City-states are porous, with open boundaries and multiple, unlimited citizen allegiance.

City-states have overlapping physical territories, with certain territories jointly governed for easy resource-sharing and management.

City-states have license to take swift action on global issues as intelligent knowledge exchange empowers objective and collaborative decision-making.

City-states regulate their own growth by understanding their optimal capacity. Military power has diminishing value as security and expansion become much less relevant.

City-states take an agile approach to optimize efficiency while building value-based identity through diversity. Performance is much more important than power.

City-states practice open governance and shift between many different political ideologies to accommodate changing needs.

City-states celebrate humanity and creativity and are deeply entrepreneurial.” (Chang, S., 2015)

As inferred from the above we see that city-states can replicate the authorities of a nation and it is estimated that by 2050 the sovereign decision making will be moved towards the city centers indicating that the city-state would be an officially autonomous recognized entity which is “unlikely to collapse overnight. There are no barbarians at the gate”. (Barlett. J., 2007) Khanna (2011) already from almost a decade ago it had predicted that the 21st c. would be dominated by the City as cities are the visual projection of any human activity, successful or failed. Already “the world’s most important cities generate their own wealth and shape national politics as much as the reverse” (Khanna P., 2011). Approximately about  $53 trillion will be invested in urban infrastructure by 2031as the topology of cities is changing. Cities can be divided into three main categories, global, mega and gateway cities. The global cities are the most influential capitals of the world in terms of capital and talent, like Hong Kong, Tokyo, and London. The megacities are the populous urban centers in their regions that set the urban dynamics, like Istanbul, Mumbai while gateway cities are the newly hatched and growing urban centers like Cape Town. (Khanna P., 2011)

Singapore is one of the three city-states, alongside Monaco and the Vatican City and the only island city-state (Lim J., 2012). Singapore committed to technology to complete its transition from a former colony to one of the most advanced nations worldwide (Martinez, M.,2018) while the state owns 75% of the land (Etienne. A., 2019). On the other hand Hamburg without being an official city-state, its residents have organized their city structures without the central’s government help, forming a Smart City (Martinez, M.,2018).

The reason why city-states have always been so successful is due to the competitive factor. But  “there is a notable difference between the past and the present: city-states of today are not self-sufficient. They depend on external commerce” (Martinez, M.,2018) thus city-states either will form a cluster where they would be able to form alliances, or they would act independently as players in the existing status quo maintaining their independence.



Barlett. J.(2007) «Return of the city-state». Aeon, Available here.

Chang, S. (2015). «The time with significant upgrades», THNK. Available here.

Etienne. A. (2019). «Singapore, a city-state “compelled to power”: Étienne Achille’s viewpoint». Fabrique de la cite. Available here.

Khanna P. (2011). «When cities rule the world». McKinsey. Available here.

Martinez, M. (2018). «City-states never disappeared: Hamburg, Hong Kong, Singapore.» Smart City Lab. Available here.








[11] Etienne. A. (2019, November 28). Singapore, a city-state “compelled to power”: Étienne Achille’s viewpoint. Fabrique de la cite.

[12] Martinez, M. (2018, September 6). ibid

[13] Martinez, M. (2018, September 6). ibid