Following the thread of the previous post “The capital city: A model to articulate the State“, we highlighted the importance of choosing a city as an economic, political and/or cultural reference. However, in some cases the capital cities are not synonymous with supremacy and in the article by David Kaufmann, entitled Varieties of Capital Cities: The Competitiveness Challenge for Secondary Capitals, some theories are developed in this regard.


A Secondary Capital City (SCC) is defined as the capital city that does not represent the first economic power of the state. According to the authors Gottmann and Harris, these cities were initially chosen as capitals to favor territorial balance and avoid the concentration of economic and political power, independently serving the interests of the state compared to traditional cities, which have been thought as trade centers.

In summary, they arise from the need to mitigate the existing imbalance between regions and / or cities and to serve the state regardless of their capacity to generate flows of economic capital. Although it is true that there are examples in which its origin has a social component and self-determination, becoming the symbol of identity of countries that were once colonized (for example, Brasilia).

The decline of the Secondary Capital Cities

The political and symbolic centrality that these cities have in their geographical area is threatened in the 21st century by Globalization. The new global city model is more capable of attracting and generating both commercial and migratory flows, and therefore the SCC are being excluded in this scenario.

According to Mayer (2016; 2018), the SCC must look for new forms of competitiveness that position themselves again in the interurban global network, through the formulation of locational policies.

Global Cities vs Secondary Capital Cities

Friedmann (1986), Sassen (1991) and Scott (2001) point out that theories about Globalization explain how SCC have lost their importance, being displaced by global cities. This statement holds that, being much more relevant in the functioning of the global economy and controlling capital flows, global cities form the nodes of the global interurban network.

1. Megaregions in North America. Source:

In contrast, the SCC were planned from a national point of view, without taking into account their integration into this global network of cities, and according to some authors such as Swyngedouw (1997) and Brenner (1999; 2004), the SCC must find their niche in the periphery of the global economy.

Given this situation, we must take into account, as Campbell (2000) points out, that all cities experience a conflict of interest between public and private agents, but this effect increases in the capital cities.

Types of Capital Cities

Many authors have tried to establish a series of concepts that define a city as capital. Gottman and Harper (1990) describe it as the location of power and decision making that affect the lives and future of the governed state, and that can influence beyond its borders. Unlike other cities, the capital ensures power and centrality, hosting an environment that provides security and organization.

In turn, other authors have tried to classify capital cities based on several criteria, as it is the case of Hall (2006):

  • Multifunction capitals
  • Global capitals
  • Political capitals
  • Former capitals
  • Ex-imperial capitals
  • Provincial capitals
  • Supercapitals

Authors like Campbell (2000) add characteristics such as the size of the city, the structure of government or the date of establishment of the city as capital. Others like Zimmermann (2010) only distinguishes between two types of capital: those that can be , or not, the largest agglomerations of economy.

In short, these classifications differentiate especially the political and economic roles that a city can exert. While the political function is related to the status of the capital, it is not observed that there is a direct relationship between capital and economic wealth.

Secondary Capital Cities in the world

On every continent (except Antarctica) you can find SCC: Pretoria and Abuja in Africa, Wellington and Canberra in Oceania, Berlin and The Hague in Europe, Washington and Ottawa in North America, Jerusalem and Islamabad in Asia and Brasilia and Sucre in South America.

As we saw in the previous entry, the relocation of the capital has been a common decision in the political life of ancient empires, kingdoms and nations in relation to time and geographical space (Rossmann 2017). New capital has been created for this purpose, while other existing capitals have been relocated as economically secondary cities.

2. Percentage of SCC and Pimary Cities´national GDP (2014) . Source: Figure by GeographicMind, data obtained from

In the example that follows, ten of the 34 OECD countries have a SCC. Ankara, Berne, Canberra, Ottawa, The Hague, Washington and Wellington are paradigmatic examples of SCC, and although Berlin, Jerusalem and Rome are cities with secondary economies in their respective states, their history, symbology and culture is so important as to preserve the status of capital city.

Is there a relationship with the federalist states?

It might seem logical to establish a relationship between SCC and the states with a federalist organization, and in many cases it is concluded that the SCCare found more frequently in these states. This premise is sustained by the philosophy that the location of a SCC is based on the commitment of the state to balance the power relations between cities and to separate the economic power from political power.

However, the reality is not so simple. None of the four federalist member states of the OECD (Belgium, Spain, Mexico and Austria) have a SCC, although it should be noted the historical weight underlying these examples, since they were all great empires at some point in history.

Apparently, the charisma and personality of the cities is a factor to take into account when choosing a capital, especially when they were the capitals of a great kingdom or empire.

Nonetheless, the main problem and the great challenge for the SCC is still economic globalization, an event that forces these cities to abandon their dependence on national states and find new ways to place themselves in the global interurban competition.

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