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Updated: Jul 4, 2023

Written by Tom Campbell & David Adam

July 2023

About BOP500

BOP500 is the global index dedicated to cities, culture and the creative economy. Pooling together over 25 years of knowledge and spanning 500 global cities. It is comprised of an index, GIS platform and expert insights, making it not only the first service of its kind, but also the only creative city index with truly global coverage.

There is a new cultural geography. This is being driven by rapid economic and population growth in cities around the world. As with 19th century Europe, urbanisation is leading to wealthier, better educated citizens who are demanding greater cultural provision. At the same time, city leaders are investing in new kinds of cultural infrastructure to maintain their visibility and economic position in the international landscape.

There are emerging cultural capitals, growing centres of creative production and consumption and increasingly popular visitor destinations. Dubai now receives 14 million international visitors a year – more than Rome, and it is tourism, rather than business, that makes up an increasingly larger share of this. In two decades, Seoul has become a creative industries powerhouse: from the K-Pop phenomenon to Academy-winning films, Korean artists, brands and performers are globally recognised.

Cities such as Paris and Rome are renowned for the architecture, historic monuments, and artistic treasures that they accumulated over the centuries. For the last thousand years, Europe’s greatest creative talents, from Michelangelo to Sir Christopher Wren, depended upon the patronage of kings and the church to produce the works that have shaped their cities. But the cultural centres of the 21st century are developing not just very quickly but also differently.

The Socio-economic Drivers of the New Geography

These cultural capitals are distinguished by rapid urbanisation, measured both in terms of population density and economic development. Seoul and Singapore are highly dense cities both with more than 10,000 people per sq kilometre, almost double that of London and Paris. Their populations have grown dramatically in little over a generation, in the case of Dubai from just over 250,000 in 1980 to three million by 20231.

As with the urbanisation of major European cities in the industrial era of the late 19th century, these fast-growing cities have undergone increases in population as their economies have developed.

The GDP per capita of South Korea increased from $US 1700 per annum in 1980 to $35,000 in 2021.2 In Malaysia, over the same period, it rose from $1,800 to $11,0003, while at the same time in Singapore it has gone from $5,000 to $72,0004.

These startling and historic increases in income have resulted in greatly enhanced levels of cultural consumption – whether measured financially or in terms of time spent. As citizens become wealthier, they themselves spend more on culture, entertainment and education and also expect their governments to do the same.

A More Competitive and Visible Landscape

Greater domestic demand – higher numbers of richer, better educated citizens with more leisure time is a crucial factor in how cities such as Seoul have changed in recent years and rapidly increased their level cultural provision. But it is not the whole story. Urban economies have grown in size, economic complexity and connectivity and so has the broader landscape in which they operate. Cities have not grown endogenously, but rather through a 30-year period of intense globalisation, they have been shaped by international economic and cultural exchange. Competition for inward investment has heightened, and skilled labour has become more mobile.

In Dubai, it is estimated that no more than 15% of the population are native to the United Arab Emirates, and almost 40% of Singapore residents were born outside of the country.

Seoul, Dubai and Singapore are all ranked in the top 30 cities of Kearney’s Global Cities Index. This measure of how cities ‘attract, retain and generate global flows of capital, people and ideas’ is essentially an economic metric. But it is also a reflection of, and partly driven by, the expansion of their cultural economies. City leaders are planning and investing in cultural infrastructure to maintain their position as centres of economic growth. The Seoul Metropolitan Government, for instance, has recently announced a substantial programme of investment to enhance the digital capabilities and exhibition spaces of the city’s museums.

Centres of Cultural Production and Consumption

This evolving cultural geography is being captured by BOP500. A clear finding from BOP500 is the speed with which the cultural offer of cities has developed. The palaces and national monuments of Europe are the work of decades – if not centuries. In just a few decades, the cultural capitals of the 21st Century have started to catch up. Kuala Lumpur, Seoul, Singapore and Dubai all now have opera houses.

Across the first 250 cities in the BOP500 index, the average number of cinemas per head of population is 1.20 per hundred thousand people. But what is more notable is how fast-growing cities compare with historic cultural capitals. Paris, long regarded as one of the great centres for film making and cinema, has only slightly more cinemas per capita as Kuala Lumpur.

Going beyond levels of cinema provision, consumption is a crucial indicator and BOP500 has developed the ‘cinema ticket index’ as a benchmark comparator. Through this, it is now possible to get a sense of how the consumption for that most immediate of cultural experiences, a visit to the cinema, differs in price across the world. Strikingly, the cost of watching a film is lower, in real terms, in emerging cultural centres than it is in some of the established capitals of Europe.


Cinema ticket price as % of net monthly salary





Kuala Lumpur










These trends are not confined to the more commercial forms of culture. As citizens become wealthier and better educated, they demand greater levels of cultural provision from their national and city governments. As BOP500 continues to build up its data, it will give us further insights into how city leaders around the world are responding to change, and map out the contours of the new cultural geography.

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