Welcome to the era of the megacity. More than half the global population now lives in urban areas, and there's no going back to the farm. With China leading the way, today's global cities are surging ahead in population and economic heft, powering the world economy -- and posing some very difficult problems for governments. But it's not all about the Beijings, the New Yorks, and Tokyos. Drawn from the McKinsey Global Institute's index of the world's 75 Most Dynamic Cities, some of these up-and-coming commercial hubs -- including Belo Horizonte, Fuzhou, and even Philadelphia -- may surprise you. How many can you honestly say you've heard of, or visited?
Since being pried open by the British during the First Opium War, Shanghai has served as China's window to the world. Home to the world's busiest port, China's largest stock exchange, and twice as many skyscrapers as in New York, Shanghai today is China's financial center and most cosmopolitan city. Often called the birthplace of modern China -- the Chinese Communist Party was founded there -- it is the centerpiece of the country's rapid march toward prosperity, its glamorous skyline marking the city as a symbol of China's arrival on the world stage.
Above, a view from the waterfront Bund provides a general view of the Huangpu River and the Lujiazui financial district in Pudong New Area on Dec. 22, 2010, in Shanghai, China.
Four years after the 2008 Olympics, Beijing represents a microcosm -- if a microcosm can exist on such a massive scale -- of the challenges facing China today. The city's gleaming financial center and landmark architectural projects announce a newfound Chinese swagger, but when massive storms arrived this year, the drainage system failed, killing nearly 80 people. And while Mao Zedong's serene portrait overlooks a now calm, expansive Tiananmen Square, activists like artist Ai Weiwei are refusing to be silenced by the Chinese regime, using their international stardom to expose corruption and abuse.
Above, fog obscures the China Central Television tower in Beijing. On Mar. 17, 2012, more than 400 flights to and from Beijing's international airport were canceled or delayed due to the thick fog and strong air pollution covering the city.
In the shadow of Beijing, its neighbor to the north, Tianjin is one of China's most overlooked megacities. Just over 11 million people live in this city, but for many, especially in the West, Tianjin is essentially unknown, another anonymous Chinese megalopolis churning out goods for the world market. The foreign concessions of the late 19th century have left the city with a touch of colonial-era European architecture, but today Tianjin's aesthetic is distinctively modern Chinese: wide boulevards and gleaming office towers.
Above, a man enters a building with solar panel glass windows in the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city in Tianjin Binhai New Area, China, on Nov. 30, 2011. A joint project by the Singaporean and Chinese governments, the Tianjin Eco-city is a 30 square-kilometer development built with the latest green technologies to serve as a model for future eco-cities in developing countries.
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Marked by a warren of concrete structures and an elevated roadway known as the "Big Worm," São Paulo often plays second fiddle to flashy Rio de Janeiro. The Brazilian city's inclement weather has earned it the moniker Cidade da Garoa (City of Drizzle), and São Paulo is blanketed in a form of homegrown graffiti called pichação, which, depending on your perspective, is either high art or glaring urban blight. But as the financial capital of a country on a historical upswing, São Paulo is starting to stand out. The boom years have seen an explosion of art galleries, and there is serious talk of tearing down the Big Worm, a move that may herald an urban-planning revolution in this city of nearly 20 million.
Above, Buddhists monks of the Busshinji temple attend an early morning meditation session at the top of the Copan Building in downtown São Paulo, Brazil, on Nov. 19, 2010. Once a month the monks climb the 37 floors of the building to meditate.
The biggest city in China's Pearl River Delta, Guangzhou is the manufacturing hub of southern China, which is in large part responsible for driving the country's decade-long, export-driven boom years. Today, Guangzhou epitomizes China's rapid urban growth and is home to a stunning opera house designed by Zaha Hadid and an innovative bus system that's trying to combat the city's massive traffic jams. When the cities of the Pearl River Delta -- with Guangzhou at its heart -- are connected into one giant megacity, the region will include some 40 million residents.
Above, policemen keep order outside the Guangzhou Railway Station on Jan. 30, 2008. A snow storm left more than 800,000 people stranded around the station.
In 1979, Shenzhen was little more than a Chinese fishing village, but 33 years later it is a gleaming metropolis, the clearest and most direct beneficiary of Deng Xiaoping's economic reforms. Shenzhen was the first city Deng selected as a special economic zone, and today it is a manufacturing center rivaling Guangzhou and home to some of the world's largest electronics factories, including the infamous Foxconn City. In recent years, Shenzhen has tried to retool its economy to move up the value chain -- to focus more on gadget design rather than manufacturing -- and labor costs have begun to increase in China's coastal cities, which have traditionally housed most of the country's manufacturing facilities.
Above, an elevated view of Shenzhen's downtown area at the Yantian District on June 29, 2010.
America's biggest city is rebuilding. In the financial district, One World Trade Center nears completion; the inauguration of the High Line park in the city's old meatpacking district marks New York's most successful urban renewal project in decades; and the city's vaunted financial services district at least limps toward a comeback. Even though Mayor Michael Bloomberg has launched a crusade on New Yorkers' waistlines, New York remains itself: the idiosyncratic, dynamic, cranky capital of American commerce.
Above, pedestrians walk down the newly opened second section of High Line Park on June 7, 2011, in New York.
As China continues its headlong rush toward urbanization, cities like Chongqing may represent its future. A smoky, urban behemoth with as many as 30 million inhabitants, depending on how you count, Chongqing has embarked on a frenetic building spree in recent years, rapidly expanding to accommodate an exploding population. The growth represents an effort by Communist Party officials to extend to the country's interior the fruits of growth that have long been bestowed on China's coastal enclaves. Before his ouster, Bo Xilai was the powerful party boss in Chongqing, where he embarked on ruthless anti-corruption campaigns and a revival of Maoism that presented a direct challenge to his Beijing overlords.
Above, thousands flock onto the Caiyuanba Bridge over the Yangtze River as it opens to traffic on Oct. 29, 2007. The bridge, a structural blend of tunnels and flyovers, cost 2 billion yuan and took nearly four years to build.
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Out of the ashes of the fall of the Soviet Union, liberalization, and subsequent hyperinflation, Moscow has emerged from what Russian President Vladimir Putin once called the "greatest geopolitical disaster of the last century" as an economic dynamo. Buoyed by a resurgence in the Russian financial and energy sectors -- and led by nouveau riche plutocrats -- Moscow is today Europe's most expensive city and has the highest number of billionaires of any city in the world.
Recent Russian graduates dance after their commencement ceremony in Red Square in the center of Moscow on June 24, 2012.
Tokyo, whose neon lights and craning towers have inspired generations of futurist writers and filmmakers, remains evocative today, finding itself in the strange position of an established megacity in a neighborhood of fresh-faced upstarts. Despite Japan's decades-long malaise, Tokyo is still home to the single largest collection of Fortune 500 companies and serves as the financial center of much of East Asia. The Japanese capital has also become a cultural landmark -- boasting the most Michelin stars of any city in the world -- and is emerging as a global center for fashion.
Above, shoppers walk along Takeshita Street, a popular pedestrian-only shopping strip, in the Harajuku area of Tokyo, Japan, on May 25, 2010.
A transportation hub in central China, Wuhan at the turn of the 20th century was dubbed the Chicago of China for its rail links. Today, China's gleaming new high-speed rail system has become the face of its transportation system, but Wuhan still occupies a key node in the country's interior network. The controversial Three Gorges Dam has made significant strides in controlling the massive floods that have crippled the city in the past, and with a slew of high-caliber universities, Wuhan is emerging as a center for higher -- and drier -- education.
Above, a Chinese woman carries her daughter along a busy intersection in Wuhan, in China's Hubei province, on June 11, 2012. The young girl is wearing a mask to protect against the thick air pollution.
Hit hard by the meltdown in the U.S. housing market, Los Angeles's economy has begun its slow march back, but over the course of the past decade the city's character has also shifted significantly. A growing Latino population now occupies some of the city's historic black neighborhoods. And though much of the global entertainment industry remains headquartered in the City of Angels, fewer movies are now made in Hollywood. But Angelenos are still innovating: Los Angeles was ground zero for the food-truck craze that has swept the United States, and the city will anchor one end of California's proposed high-speed rail network -- the country's first -- which was finally approved in July.
Above, a view from the Baldwin Hills neighborhood shows two isolated palm trees against the backdrop of Los Angeles, California.
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A historic center of Chinese ceramics production, Foshan is one of several major manufacturing hubs in the Pearl River Delta, which forms the backbone of China's export economy. The city is a major car-manufacturing powerhouse, and German automaker Volkswagen has selected Foshan for its factories in southern China, where the company is trying to expand its market share. Foshan is also a labor innovator: Two years ago, workers at a Honda plant staged a protest for higher wages and, surprisingly, were able to win concessions from management, which many observers interpreted as a sign of growing power for Chinese workers.
Above, ominous storm clouds cover the city on April 17, 2011, in Foshan, Guangdong province, China.
The world's only city with a serious claim to straddling two continents, Istanbul is the center of a burgeoning Turkish economy, which has seen a tripling of per capita income over the past decade. Bisected by the strategically important Bosphorus strait, Istanbul has throughout its history served as a vital intersection between East and West. But with Europe in turmoil, Turkey's sometimes tortured position outside the European Union has begun to look like a boon. Many Turks now joke that it is the EU that should petition to join Turkey, which has seen steady GDP growth despite the eurocrisis brewing next door. Istanbul has also gained a powerful voice on the international literature scene in Orhan Pamuk, the 2006 winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, whose evocative descriptions of his native city have opened the eyes of many Western readers to Istanbul.
Above, the Yeni Camii, or New Mosque, provides a blue skyline in Istanbul, Turkey.
The site of the infamous 1937 Nanking Massacre, Nanjing is an eternal geopolitical hot spot, as the mass slaying of some 150,000 Chinese remains a sticking point in Sino-Japanese relations. Today, Nanjing boasts a booming art scene that has succeeded in attracting young people, marking it one of China's hip, up-and-coming cities. Breakneck economic growth has been underwritten by rapidly expanding transportation networks, but Nanjing's growing population of young people is also drawn to the city by its excellent universities.
Above, the public enjoys the colored lanterns at the Nanjing Confucius Temple on Feb. 17, 2011, in Nanjing, China.
As Chinese manufacturing shifts from coastal areas, Chengdu is one of China's rapidly expanding inland megacities seeking to position itself as the next center of the country's export-oriented economy. Although China is often lauded for its massive investments in infrastructure, quality construction has often been lacking. Nowhere was that more clear than in 2008, when a magnitude 8.0 earthquake struck Chengdu, leveling thousands of structures and killing 80,000 in surrounding Sichuan province. As a result, the city has become a centerpiece of artist Ai Weiwei's anti-government activism, which has in part centered on the shoddy construction standards used in the many Chengdu schools that collapsed in the earthquake.
Above, migrant workers labor at a construction site in Chengdu, Sichuan province, China, on Jan. 23, 2005.
The southern terminus of China's Grand Canal, Hangzhou for many years epitomized the environmental problems of the Middle Kingdom's drive toward industrialization. Pollutants from nearby textile and chemical factories left the water black, and the city's stench was all one needed to know that one had arrived there. Today, Hangzhou is an environmental success story, and the city's millennia-old canal has been restored. The iconic West Lake, a masterpiece of Chinese garden design and a UNESCO World Heritage site, can be found in Hangzhou, which has been the beneficiary of vast luxury-hotel construction in recent years.
Above, the sun scales the skyscrapers of Hangzhou.
Whether the Chinese economy experiences a "hard" or "soft" landing -- the difference between a rapid or slight slowdown in growth -- will in large part depend on cities like Dongguan. For years, this southern city was the center of Chinese shoe manufacturing, at one point producing as much as a quarter of China's footwear output. But now much of that business has evaporated from Dongguan, one of several manufacturing boomtowns in the Pearl River Delta. Today Dongguan businesses are trying to move up the value chain, designing rather than manufacturing goods and seeking industries with greater margins.
Above, spectators watch a ceremony to launch the "Tomato War" -- an imitation of the tomato fight in the Spanish town of Buñol -- at the Wanjiang township in Dongguan, Guangdong province, China, on Oct. 19, 2008.
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Of the original four Asian Tigers, Singapore has most retained the authoritarian political tendencies credited with helping jump-start the group, which also includes Hong Kong, South Korea, and Taiwan. A gleaming picture of Asian prosperity, Singapore has also become known for its stringent laws, which include a $1,000 fine for littering and led writer William Gibson to describe the island city-state state as "Disneyland with the death penalty." Even if its streets look too clean to be real, Singapore's economy is no joke. With one of the world's busiest ports and a trade-to-GDP ratio of nearly 300 percent, Singapore is highly reliant on a thriving export-import industry, which, while vulnerable to fluctuations in the global economy, has bounced back recently.
Above, a guest swims in the Skypark pool atop the Marina Bay Sands integrated resort and casino in Singapore on July 28, 2010.
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An industrial city in China's frigid north, Shenyang has over the past two decades been a pioneer among the country's industrial cities, experimenting with a range of inventive -- and at times controversial -- policies to revitalize the city's economy. Shenyang has long been known as a smoky, polluted factory town, and it played an important role in Mao's plans to industrialize China. But in recent years, the city has made strides in modernizing its industrial core, which has contributed to significant gains in air quality.
A worker picks up models for a housing project in Shenyang on March 23, 2010.
The site of this year's Olympic Games, London has benefited from an infusion of cash associated with the event, which has helped revitalize east London, the city's old industrial quarter. Today the city is led by Boris Johnson, a charismatic, eccentric Tory mayor (who in a bid to boost excitement for the games this summer found himself stranded on a zip line in Victoria Park). The Olympics cap a decade-long revitalization of London's eastern reaches, the centerpiece of which was the remodeling of an old power plant into a groundbreaking new art museum opened in 2000, the Tate Modern.
Above, players practice for volleyball ahead of the London 2012 Olympics at Horse Guards Parade on July 26, 2012.
Home to the Johnson Space Center -- of "Houston, we have a problem" fame -- Houston is the largest city in Texas and the center of a thriving U.S. energy industry. After the domestic energy business had been declared all but dead, American energy companies have sharply rebounded in recent years, driven in large part by increasing natural gas production. Named for the former president of the short-lived Republic of Texas, Sam Houston, today the city has become an increasingly vibrant, diverse metropolis with a thriving art scene -- Houston's density of theater seats is second only to New York's. Perhaps more importantly, the city is also home to the world's largest rodeo.
Above, construction cranes crowd the skyline in Houston, Texas.Lester Lefkowitz/GettyImages
The capital of big hair and big oil, sports-crazed Dallas holds the distinction of being the only U.S. city to have hosted the World Series, the NBA finals, and the Super Bowl in the same year. Jerry Jones, the megalomaniacal owner of the Dallas Cowboys, has left an indelible mark on the city, constructing a $1.15 billion stadium for America's Team that serves as a landmark to American bigness. The site of the first Neiman Marcus department store, Dallas has also proved itself to be an economic dynamo, cradling a booming energy industry and a slew of tech companies that led the city to be known during the 1980s as the "Silicon Prairie." Still, to many people around the world, Dallas may be best known for the schmaltzy 1980s soap opera -- in addition to the unimaginative 2012 remake -- that unfathomably became a global hit at the height of the Cold War.
Above, the Texas Star Ferris Wheel spins at the State Fair of Texas in Fair Park, Dallas, Texas.
The site of the burial grounds for China's ancient army of terracotta warriors and the eastern terminus of the Silk Road, Xian houses the control center for the burgeoning Chinese space program, which in June put its first woman in space. With a population of about 6.5 million, Xian is one of several rapidly developing inland Chinese cities and is one of the country's aerospace hubs, carrying out research in, among other things, satellite technology.
Above, a worker installs red lanterns for the Spring Festival Temple Fair at the Big Wild Goose Pagoda on Feb. 3, 2010 in Xian, Shaanxi province, China.
Fed by the spigot of federal funding, America's capital has managed to avoid the worst of the economic downturn, notching an unemployment rate far below the national average. The D.C. real estate market has also managed to avoid the worst of the housing crisis, dodging the mass foreclosures that have plagued markets elsewhere in the United States. But with prosperity has also come rapid gentrification, and with it controversy. Washington was America's first majority-black city, but in 2011 that came to an end when the percentage of blacks in the city dipped below 50 percent.
Above, the iconic restaurant Ben's Chili Bowl on U street is pictured on Dec. 22, 2011, in Washington, D.C.
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With some of the world's finest museums, restaurants, and cultural attractions -- and a population firmly convinced of these facts -- Paris stands out among modern cities for its ability to retain its old-school charms while embracing the present. I.M. Pei's pyramids at the Louvre and La Défense, Europe's largest business district, have aggressively modernized the city, whose metropolitan area accounts for roughly a quarter of France's GDP. Nonetheless, France suffers from persistently high unemployment, and in the banlieues surrounding Paris, the jobless rate is estimated to be four times the national average.
Above, venders sell pictures of Paris in front of the Sacre Coeur (Holy Heart) Basilica in the Montmartre area in Paris on March 4, 2010.
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Known for its canals, Suzhou is a popular tourist destination whose classical Chinese gardens have been held up as the paragon of Chinese landscaping. For centuries, China's artists have flocked to the city's quiet waterways for inspiration, but more recently Suzhou has also embraced China's rapid modernization. The country's economic landscape is dotted with industrial parks, but Suzhou's bears the distinction of being the only one built in collaboration with Singapore, an effort to export the city-state's economic know-how to China.
Above, an illustration of a shopping mall and office property jointly developed by Suzhou Industrial Park Jinji Lake Urban Development and CapitaMalls Asia in Suzhou on Sunday, Nov. 20.
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Built on the ruins of the ancient Aztec capital Tenochtitlan, Mexico City was responsible for more than a quarter of Mexico's GDP in 2010. The city also supports a growing art scene, one that the New York Times compared favorably to 1970s New York City -- "dirty and dangerous, yes, but comparatively cheap, majestic in its disarray and bursting with the energy of reinvention." Although Mexico's notorious drug violence has largely been confined to its border areas, recent signs indicate that violence may be creeping toward the capital. In January, two headless bodies were found in a burning car next to a ritzy mall. And in June, three federal police officers were gunned down at the city's international airport.
Above, Mexican students attend a concert at the Zocalo Square in Mexico City on June 16, 2012. The concert helped sponsor the "I Am #132" student movement.
Just over half a century ago, Riyadh was a "sleepy oasis town of 60,000 inhabitants, most of them still living in mud-brick houses," a National Geographic article states. But thanks to the oil boom of the 1970s, Saudi Arabia's capital and largest city is now home to about 5 million people. Riyadh hosts one of the world's tallest buildings, the Kingdom Center, a nearly 1,000-foot-high, bottle opener-shaped structure covered in reflective blue glass (seen above), and the adjoining Al Mamlaka mall holds 160 stores, with 40 separated off into a separate level for women, known as the "Ladies Kingdom." An environmentally sustainable financial district, whose Lower Manhattan-sized footprint is expected to be connected by monorail, is under construction on Riyadh's outskirts.
Above, evening lights brighten Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Even as it chafes under 15 years of Beijing's political rule, Hong Kong's open economy is among Asia's leading hubs of international trade and finance. Technically a special administrative region of China, Hong Kong is situated along the South China Sea and is ranked the world's top tourist destination in terms of number of annual travelers arriving. With 7 million residents, the port metropolis has also seen steady population growth, and a recent report found that Hong Kong's women live the longest of anywhere in the world.
Above, a pedestrian walks past high-rise buildings where land reclamation work is under way in Hong Kong on May 26, 2008. More than 10 percent of Hong Kong's developed land area has been reclaimed from the sea.
Sitting astride the Chao Phraya River, Thailand's capital and by far its largest city is home to 7 million people. The Stock Exchange of Thailand and major Thai banks are based in Bangkok, a financial and cultural hub, where residents and tourists find both the old -- think magnificent palaces and temples -- and the decidedly new. Chatuchak Weekend Market, for instance, boasts 10,000 vendors spread across 25 acres, and the 550,000-square-meter CentralWorld shopping mall -- the world's fifth largest -- offers more than 500 stores.
Above, commuters board a motorized express boat during rush hour to travel along the Saen Saeb canal in Bangkok, Thailand, on May 30, 2011. Hundreds of motorized boats serving nearly 60,000 passengers a day operate in Bangkok, a city largely built on canals.
With 13 million residents, Buenos Aires is Latin America's second-most densely populated city (after Santiago, Chile) and accounts for about 30 percent of Argentina's population and 50 percent of its GDP, according to the McKinsey Global Institute. The cosmopolitan capital boasts a high per capita income (about $21,000) and widespread health care, covering 90 percent of the population, and the Port of Buenos Aires, on the Río de la Plata, is a major South American trade hub, moving hundreds of thousands of tons of cargo each month. The city is also a popular destination for gay travelers these days, after Buenos Aires opened Latin America's first gay-themed luxury hotel in 2007 and Argentina legalized same-sex marriage in 2010
Pro-government supporters gather outside parliament in Buenos Aires on May 3, 2012, as deputies vote on a bill that would expropriate the oil company Repsol YPF.
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Although the tiny emirate of Qatar is just the size of Connecticut, Doha's 1.3 million residents are some of the richest in the world: 29,000 Qataris are estimated to be millionaires, largely concentrated in their oil-rich capital. Aside from being home to Al Jazeera's headquarters and the massive Education City, where Cornell, Georgetown, Northwestern, and a range of other U.S. universities all have outposts, Doha is building fast. As Qatar prepares to host the 2022 World Cup, it is spending some $220 billion on construction projects, including outfitting 12 stadiums with outdoor air-conditioning, half of them in sweltering Doha.
Above, the West Bay district skyline is seen beyond moored boats in Doha, Qatar, on March 17, 2012.
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Tourists know Rio de Janeiro as the city wrapped around the mountains on the southern coast of Brazil, with its annual carnaval festival and iconic statue of Christ the Redeemer looming high overhead. With Brazil's growing role in the international economy, though, Rio is becoming a destination for diplomats as well. It hosted the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development this June, reprising its role as the conference's inaugural host city in 1992, and it is preparing to host the 2016 Summer Olympics. Rio is already the financial center of Brazil, a country where an average of 19 people become new millionaires every day (that's millionaire in Brazilian reals). Rio's notorious crime remains a concern, but the Brazilian government is trying to address the issue with a "pacification" program in the favelas, the city's lawless shantytowns, though some draconian aspects of the program have rattled human rights observers.
Above, Rio de Janeiro's "Christ the Redeemer" statue guards the top of Corcovado mountain on July 27, 2011, in Brazil.
At various points in its history, the British Empire, Japan, Russia, and later the Soviet Union each vied for control of this peninsular port on the Yellow Sea. In 1984, Dalian became China's first designated special economic zone to cater to international investment. The policy paid off through the 1990s, which saw marked growth. Today, firms in Dalian compete with India for outsourced jobs, and Intel chose the city as the site of its first chip factory in Asia. In June, Nissan announced it would open a new plant in Dalian. In fact, the city's economic ventures have been so successful that now Dalian-based companies are emerging as international investors, among them Wanda Group, which this year bought the second-largest North American movie-theater chain. All that growth arguably hasn't come at the expense of quality of life; in 2006, a Beijing polling group found Dalian the city "most suitable" for living in China, and the World Economic Forum chose to meet there in 2011.
Above, the sun rises over Zhongshan Square in Dalian, Liaoning province, China, on Sept. 17, 2011.
Nelson Ching/Bloomberg via Getty Images
About 50 miles west of Shanghai, alongside island-speckled Lake Tai, Wuxi has become a manufacturing hub for textiles, microelectronics, and semiconductors, and it will be the location of a new plant to manufacture touch screens for smartphones and tablets. Like Dalian, it was designated a special economic zone -- the Wuxi New District, with its export processing zone -- to invite international trade. Wuxi is building a new subway system for the city of 3.5 million people. Not just an industrial center, Wuxi also hosts the Wuxi Classic, an annual snooker tournament, and the city is being billed as the Hollywood of China on account of its television and film studios.
Above, a boat sails on the ancient Jinghang Canal on June 8, 2007, in Wuxi, Jiangsu province, China. China's longest canal, the Jinghang Canal links Beijing and Hangzhou.
Although it was established more than 2,000 years ago, Seoul seems built to be the city of the future. Residents travel by bullet trains and subways and have near-constant access to high-speed Internet. Still, Seoul's electricity grid has struggled to cope with a recent heat wave, and the city's development has left it with a $16 billion debt. Leading the pack of Asian Tigers, South Korea has nonetheless weathered the global financial crisis relatively well; Seoul-based companies -- including the cabal of influential industrial giants sometimes collectively called chaebol -- are doing brisk international business in automobiles and cell phones, and the construction arm of Seoul-based Samsung built the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.
Above, people walk past illuminated advertisements in the Sinchon district in Seoul, South Korea, on June 24, 2012.
SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via GettyImages
Chicago may have grown up as an industrial town and freight hub, but this is not Carl Sandburg's "City of the Big Shoulders" anymore. Consistently ranked as the third-largest metropolitan economy in the United States, the Windy City is also one of the most resilient. It's bouncing back after the economic crisis and ranks high in terms of business-sector diversity. A balanced economy doesn't make a world-class city, though, and Chicago's redevelopment has come at a cost: the country's highest municipal sales tax.
Above, clouds cover the Chicago skyline.
India's leaders may be trying to plan the country's next generation of cities from the ground up, but that's a luxury they don't have with Delhi. It is considered one of the world's 10 worst cities for commuters, and its electrical grid recently suffered the largest blackout in history. To many Indians, these are inconveniences, but to investors, they can be significant strikes against the city. As the seat of government for the world's most populous democracy, Delhi will be relevant, but whether it's a place anyone will want to go is another matter.
Above, Indians jog in the early morning as the sun rises over the historic India Gate in New Delhi on Oct. 1, 2010.
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The port of Ningbo is the world's second-largest, and growing. Located on China's eastern seaboard, it is a key shipping point for both the country's north and south. China is also developing Ningbo as an international city. In addition to relaxed investment regulations, Ningbo hosts the Nordic Industrial Park, wholly owned and operated by foreign companies. The first line of Ningbo's subway system is expected to open in 2014, with five more lines planned.
Above, a window cleaner works outside on the 23rd floor of a hotel in Ningbo on June 21, 2012.
Like Ningbo and many other Chinese cities on the rise, Jinan has capitalized on relaxed regulations on foreign investment. The Jinan High-Tech Industrial Development Zone, designed to cater to top-tier companies, has attracted companies as diverse as Coca-Cola, LG, and Volvo. The city is also home to two major universities, Shandong University and the University of Jinan. Jinan has a decent soccer team too, Shandong Luneng, which has won nine championships in the past 20 years.
Above, a high-speed train arrives at Jinan West Railway Station on June 30, 2011, in Jinan, Shandong province, China.
Xiamen's history includes centuries as a flourishing port, including several decades when it was administered by the British. Now, it's looking to grow. Port traffic is increasing, partially due to the 1997 opening of trade relations with Taiwan, which lies just six miles off Xiamen's coast. The city is also China's fastest-growing tourist destination, second only to Hong Kong. And Xiamen Airlines is getting ready for more growth -- it just placed a $3.5 billion order with Boeing that will increase its capacity by half.
Above, cars and pedestrians crowd Lianqian West Road in the evening.
Jakarta's strength is its location. The largest Indonesian port in the Java Sea, situated just east of the Strait of Malacca, the city has been a significant center of trade for centuries. This shows no sign of changing soon; spurred by the rise of East Asian economies and with new investors from the United States and China, Jakarta will stay a relevant transportation hub for the foreseeable future. The city's development, though, is coming in fits and starts. A planned transit system was abandoned in 2007 but may be revived, and a recent bout of protectionist trade policies has the potential to undercut its role as a regional leader.
Above, high-rise buildings under construction surround a market in Jakarta on July 5, 2011.
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This southern Florida beach town is working to expand its image from just a party city to a progressive, cultured metropolis. Even as new hotels make the skyline look "like a kid with too many teeth," as Travel & Leisure recently put it, events such as Art Basel, Miami Beach, mark Miami as a destination for artists as well as revelers. Miami's concentration of foreign banks attracts many investors who want access to Latin American markets. Although it has taken a beating over the last few years, Miami's housing market is still doing pretty well compared with Las Vegas, for instance, and thanks to its booming tourist industry, the Magic City boasts a gross regional output of $250 billion.
Above, an excited crowd gathers at Bicentennial Park on March 25, 2011, in Miami, Florida.
In Kuwait City, high-rises and luxury hotels tower over dwindling few ancient palaces and souqs, or traditional marketplaces. In 2010, Kuwait, the country, passed a $130 billion economic development plan that outlined preparations for diversifying the economy, which is now mostly dependent on oil revenues. Its biggest city will probably benefit the most from this plan, and new projects include the expansion of Kuwait International Airport and the $7 billion construction of a new four-line metro system. Although Kuwait City seems increasingly overshadowed by neighboring Doha and Dubai, more than 25 hotels are being built to accommodate business travelers to the city, according to the Kuwait Hotel Owners Association.
Above, Kuwaiti traders anxiously follow the market's movement at the stock exchange in Kuwait City on Nov. 27, 2008.
Home of the Tsingtao Brewery, Qingdao boasts one of the fastest growing GDPs of any city in China, about 16 percent annually over the last decade. Formerly a colony of Germany, Qingdao still retains many of its economic ties to the country, and the large influx of foreign investment from there and elsewhere has helped already flourishing local businesses. In 2011, the city began work on a metro construction plan scheduled to be fully functional by the end of 2014. Qingdao is also home to many educational and research institutions, making it a growing destination for China's upwardly mobile.
Above, a general view shows many residential buildings in downtown Qingdao, in eastern China's Shandong province, on March 2, 2012.
Australia's leading tourist destination, Sydney is perhaps best known for its iconic opera house. But this beachfront city also pumps out almost a quarter of Australia's GDP and has a rapidly growing population. Sydney is looking to expand its infrastructure and attract more investors and businesses. Although it has a relatively high unemployment rate, the city is taking steps to address this problem, including through the Nation Building Program, which plans to invest $36 billion in Sydney's railways and roads.
Above, New Year's Eve fireworks decorate the Sydney Harbor Bridge on Dec. 31, 2011.
The capital of the U.S. state of Georgia has the third-largest concentration of Fortune 500 companies in the United States; Coca-Cola is headquartered there, as is UPS. Atlanta also serves as the travel hub of the southeastern United States via highway, railroad, and air, and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is ranked -- for now -- the world's busiest airport. Still, as Harvard University economist Edward Glaeser points out, the city's housing market has suffered since 2008, and many major construction projects have fallen apart or been scaled back. Atlanta still hosts the country's largest concentration of college-educated young professionals, though, and development projects like Buckhead Atlanta are an indication of the city's rapid gentrification.
Atlanta Braves fans arrive at Turner Field for the team's home opening baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers on April 13, 2012.
EPA/ERIK S. LESSER
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, Brasilia's skyline boasts impressive if dated modern architecture by Oscar Niemeyer. In this capital city and seat of Brazil's federal government, the public sector accounts for about 40 percent of the city's jobs, according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics. But the city is also attempting to expand industrialization and diversify its economy, which is the country's fastest-growing. Major projects include the construction of the Estádio Nacional de Brasília, which will be the second-largest World Cup stadium and is slated to be completed by this December.
Above, visitors enter the National Museum on May 4, 2011, in Brasilia, Brazil.
As the capital of the not-quite-country of Taiwan, Taipei is largely dependent on the island nation's product-manufacturing market, especially the export of electronic goods. Demand for those goods has faded this year as a result of the struggling world economy, and the Taiwanese government had to lower its growth forecast seven times in this year. But as the U.S. economy slowly stabilizes, Taipei's exports are predicted to rebound. The scooter-clogged city recently implemented a number of award-winning construction projects, including a new metro station.
Above, pedestrians walk through a display lit up by electric lights at a shopping area in Taipei, Taiwan, on June 9, 2008.
Maurice Tsai/Bloomberg via GettyImages
The largest metropolitan region in Germany, Rhine-Ruhr and its surrounding area account for more than 15 percent of the country's GDP. Once largely dependent on coal mining, Rhine-Ruhr has metamorphosed into an oil town. Although Rhine-Ruhr has a high unemployment rate and its reliance on oil has polluted the famous Rhine River, the city is still one of the richest and most populous areas in Germany. The ongoing construction of the Rhine-Ruhr Stadtbahn railway and initiatives such as the Dortmund Bundesbank Development project ensure that Rhine-Ruhr will remain an important logistical and commercial center.
Above, an aerial image captures the city of Cologne on March 5, 2012.
The commercial, financial, and entertainment capital of Canada, Toronto hosts the country's version of Wall Street, where the Canadian stock exchange is centered. Toronto, where more than 56 percent of employees have postsecondary degrees, has begun a concerted effort to improve the city's energy efficiency, cut down on waste, and implement a greener way of life. The municipal government recently launched a project to accelerate development along its waterfront. Luxurious hotels and residential buildings such as Trump International Hotel & Tower Toronto are also under construction or have recently been completed.
Above, cold winter temperatures freeze the harbor waters in Toronto.Peter Bowers/GettyImages
Formerly known as Bombay, Mumbai is India's commercial and entertainment center. The home of Bollywood also hosts the Bombay Stock Exchange and has the country's largest concentration of bank headquarters. According to the Times of India, Mumbai has seen its growth almost double in the last decade. The city's real estate market is booming and attracts foreign investors -- 461 projects bringing more than 54,900 jobs between 2007 and 2011 -- despite Mumbai's numerous reported corruption scandals.
Above, commuters crowd onto a packed suburban railway train as it makes its way on the Central Railway line in Mumbai on April 19, 2012. Mumbai's suburban trains, or "locals," carry an estimated 7 million people every day and are a lifeline in an overcrowded city with traffic-clogged, potholed roads.
The capital of the U.S. state of Arizona, Phoenix isn't just a place for the elderly to retire. In fact, the city's average age is 34.7, three years lower than the U.S. average. Although Phoenix's economy has taken a beating due to the collapse of the housing market, the Brookings Institution is advising the Greater Phoenix Economic Council on a business plan for the region that would decrease its dependence on housing and other industries. Phoenix is implementing a number of beautification projects, such as Black Mountain Boulevard, a $1.5 million landscaped roadway intended to make it easier to access the city.
Above, night falls on Central Avenue in Phoenix.
Harbin is the capital of northeastern China's Heilongjiang province and the country's 10th-largest city. The city has a population of 5.9 million and is peppered with distinctively Russian architecture, world-renowned ice sculptures in winter, and massive hydro- and thermal-power facilities that constitute about 30 percent of China's installed capacity, making it the county's power-manufacturing capital. Nicknamed the "Pearl on the Swan's Neck," Harbin is striving to become northeast China's principal shopping and trading hub, with year-on-year growth rates hovering around 14 percent. But it isn't quite there yet. As Isaac Stone Fish writes for Foreign Policy, Harbin is plagued by extreme pollution, frigid temperatures, and rampant alcoholism. Still, a rapidly expanding high-tech zone designed to attract investment in research firms and technical industries is channeling millions of dollars into the city and fueling its growth.
Above, sculptors busily work on a piece of art titled Romantic Feelings, which at 115 feet high and 656 feet long, was the world's largest snow sculpture. Romantic Feelings debuted at the 20th International Snow Sculpture Art Expo on Dec. 17, 2007, in Harbin, Heilongjiang province, China.
China Photos/Getty Images
Located in China's booming Yangtze River delta region, Changzhou is strategically positioned about an hour from megacities Shanghai and Nanjing by rail, making it a popular destination for tourists. It's also popular for investors: Forbes ranked Changzhou among the 25 best Chinese cities for business in 2011 because of its booming economy, with a GDP of $56 billion by the end of 2011 and annual growth rates as high as 18 percent over the past several years. The city's manufacturing industries -- ranging from machinery to pharmaceuticals -- have expanded Changzhou beyond an agricultural and textile producer over the past decade. Changzhou, nicknamed "Dragon Town," also matches the rest of China's fast-growing cities in promoting education, housing several technology institutes and universities specializing in science and higher-education training.
Above, an aerial image captures the contrast between modern and traditional styles in Changzhou, Jiangsu province, China.
San Francisco is one of the few U.S. cities making a buoyant recovery after the economic downturn, with high-performing industries helping the city prepare to slash its budget deficit from $260 million to $170 million. More than 815,000 people live in San Francisco proper, but the Association of Bay Area Governments projects that number to soar to reach 969,000 by 2035 -- growth that will require more than 92,000 new housing units. A tech boom, fanned by San Francisco's proximity to Silicon Valley and the influx of Internet and digital communications companies like Twitter, Yelp, and Zynga, account for most of the city's new jobs and its skyrocketing rent, though it is quickly becoming a hub for biotechnology as well. Despite its libertine reputation, San Francisco is one of the most productive cities in the United States, with an $8 billion tourism industry to boot.
Above, the hills of San Francisco sink down before the city bay.
Hoberman Collection/UIG/Getty Images
The capital of eastern China's Anhui province, this city of 3.4 million is one of the country's fastest-growing, with annual growth rates averaging near 17 percent over the past several years to reach a 2011 GDP of $57 billion and a growth rate of per capita disposable income that is seven times London's. Hefei's breakneck pace of growth and a citywide beautification project are transforming the former byword for urban poverty and cheap labor. Hefei is a large focus of China's campaign to develop the Yangtze River delta with manufacturing and industrial facilities, a plan that has resulted in increased foreign trade and investment. Hefei has been able to sprawl outward after absorbing land from Chaohu, a nearby city that China "canceled" in August 2011 due to subpar growth.
Above, a Chinese worker carefully moves down a construction beam at a project in Hefei on April 14, 2011.
Lying on Saudi Arabia's western Red Sea coast, this city of 3.5 million is the country's second-largest and a major trading hub in the Middle East, a conduit for more than 80 percent of the country's imports. According to the Brookings Institution, Jeddah's economy had the world's third-highest growth rate for 2010, behind Riyadh and top performer Shanghai. Tourism is another source of revenue for Jeddah, a popular vacation spot with a more relaxed atmosphere than austere Riyadh. Scores of construction and development projects are attracting international investors and ratcheting up the city's GDP, which stood at $82 billion at the end of 2011. Jeddah has ambitious infrastructure plans, including a new metro, bridges, roads, hospitals, 1 million more houses, and -- most grandly -- the "Mile Tower," which will be almost exactly 1 mile tall, nearly twice as tall as the world's tallest building, Dubai's Burj Khalifa.
Above, a pink sunset colors the skyline of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
More than 4 million people reside in the metropolitan area of Melbourne, the capital and largest city of the Australian state of Victoria. Although Melbourne's economy took a nose dive during the global financial crisis, it has made a dramatic recovery, with annual GDP growth rates back up to an average of 6.6 percent, bringing its 2011 GDP to just under $575 million at the end of the fiscal year. Melbourne has overtaken Sydney as the critical hub for professional services in Australia, and it is becoming one of Australia's largest centers for computer manufacturing and biotechnology. Asia-Pacific's fourth-richest city, Melbourne also hosts Australia's largest cargo port and some of the country's premier cultural centers.
Above, a view from Williamstown captures the Melbourne city rim.
The Angolan capital is an oil-rich city of about 5 million and the world's second-most expensive city for expats, after Tokyo. The cost of food is about 123 percent more expensive in Luanda than in New York, meaning that a $6 fast-food meal in Manhattan would cost nearly $16 in this southern African city. A boom in oil exports saw the city's annual GDP, growing at annual rates as high as 10 percent, swell to $33 billion and its cost of living to skyrocket -- monthly rent for a city apartment costs about $6,440. Luanda's population is projected to bulge to 8.9 million in 2025, and its GDP to $93 billion -- almost the entire country's current GDP. To accommodate its burgeoning population -- including Portuguese arrivals looking to their country's former colony for jobs -- Luanda has launched plans to construct 1 million new homes and satellite towns.
Above, a giant portrait of Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos looms in the center of Luanda on Jan. 30, 2010. Following 27 years of civil war, the Angolan capital is undergoing a massive reconstruction.
Lying on the fringes of Jiangsu province near China's central eastern coast, Xuzhou is one of the country's transportation hot spots as the nexus of two major railway lines. The metropolitan area has been dubbed the "locomotive city" of the Huai River Economic and Development Zone, with an industrial GDP humming along at annual growth rates as high as 17 percent over the past five years. Traditionally an agricultural city, Xuzhou has abundant water resources, with more than 213 rivers flowing through its greater area, and the city supplies China's power-hungry economy with a good percentage of its coal. Specifically designated industrial zones are becoming targets for investors, and the city's 11 universities are propelling Xuzhou's research and development. According to Jiangsu's provincial government plan, Xuzhou is slated to be one of the province's four "super cities" and three "cosmopolitan circles."
Above, a low-income Chinese peasant climbs an enormous hill of coal scrap to scavenge.
Israel's financial capital and second-most populous city, the Tel Aviv metropolitan area is home to 3.3 million people and the famously resilient Tel-Aviv Stock Exchange. A stable business climate -- helped along by its distance from the Palestinian crisis -- contributes to Tel Aviv's ability to host more than 50,000 businesses, a strong services sector, and abundant research and development firms. The city's bubbling GDP of $123 billion has barely reflected the economic downturn facing the rest of the globe. Tel Aviv has been hailed by Wired for being one of the world's most technologically advanced cities -- a "hotbed of innovation" and "the closest international rival to California's iconic Silicon Valley."
Above, Israeli children play in a fountain in the coastal city of Tel Aviv on July 5, 2012.
The capital of central China's Hunan province is a city of 3.1 million situated on one of the branches of the Yangtze River. Breakneck annual GDP growth rates have averaged around 15 percent in the past five years, and in the first half of 2012 alone, Changsha's GDP grew almost 13 percent. Its progress was in part buoyed by a massive stimulus package that amounted to one-fifth of the entire country's stimulus money in 2009. The city's government has fought off the global economic downturn with aggressive measures like the "100-day battle," a campaign launched in June that called for the start and completion of 41 development projects in 100 days. The city has plans for directing $130 billion toward airport expansion, road building, and beautification, plus a galactic-looking arts center near the city's Meixi Lake.
Above, a crowd gathers to buy train tickets at Changsha Railway Station on Dec. 28, 2011.
The capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) currently has one of the world's highest per capita GDPs, thanks to a surge in oil prices. But due to the government's concerted effort to diversify its economy, the city's non-oil industry actually outpaced oil-driven business in 2011. In 2009, the Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development unveiled the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030, a project to decrease the city's reliance on oil. The Abu Dhabi Investment Council is focusing its efforts on investing within Abu Dhabi and increasing the quality of life for the city's UAE nationals. Abu Dhabi is also implementing a number of large construction ventures, including a $36 billion development project on Yas Island, a luxurious artificial island that boasts a Warner Bros. theme park and a Ferrari World.
Above, a woman rests against a column in the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.
Buena Vista Images/GettyImages
Although the Peruvian capital has one of Latin America's fastest-growing economies, the distribution of wealth is far from equal and poverty is still rampant. Lima continues to reel from a two-decade-long war with Maoist rebels known as Shining Path that resulted in the loss of almost 70,000 lives. Still, a large and successful middle class has begun to emerge, replacing many of the shantytowns that once ringed the city of more than 9 million with vast suburban slums. The city is still a hub for Peru's thriving cocaine trade, an image that most of its residents are probably eager to dispel.
Above, pedestrians stroll past the Lima Cathedral and Archbishop's Palace in Lima, Peru, on April 5, 2009.
The capital of the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte is the country's third-largest metropolitan area. This city is located in a region rich in minerals and hosts a number of national and multinational corporations, including Google's Latin American research and development arm. The service sector is a major factor in Belo Horizonte's economy, making up approximately 85 percent of its GDP. While the state played a large role in Belo Horizonte's economic development at one point, foreign investors and companies have helped the city industrialize in recent years. An expansion of the Tancredo Neves/Confins International Airport is being planned, and Belo Horizonte's Mineirao Stadium is being rebuilt for the 2014 World Cup.
Above, an aerial view shows Belo Horizonte.
This industrial and commercial center is the capital of China's Fujian province, boasting a 13 percent increase in GDP in 2011. Ideally located, Fuzhou's port has become a hub of international trade, particularly benefiting in recent years from mainland China's growing economic ties to Taiwan. The city's success is also due to its highly skilled workforce, as it offers more than 100 research institutions, 23 colleges and universities, and 360 vocational secondary schools. New projects such as the recently built Wenzhou-Fuzhou Railway and the Qingzhou Bridge help to further link Fuzhou with the rest of the large Fujian province.
Above, migrant workers who live in a shipping container house at the south bank of the Minjiang River leave after work in Fuzhou on May 14, 2010.
Located in central Anatolia, Ankara is the capital of Turkey and the second-largest city after Istanbul. Rich in historical sites, the city can be traced back to the Bronze Age and serves as the center of Turkey's government. Long dismissed as Istanbul's ugly stepsister, it has recently experienced unprecedented economic growth, due in no small measure to Turkey's penchant for borrowing foreign money, a trend that worries some economists. Current development projects include the construction of the Ankara-Istanbul high-speed train, the country's first high-speed railway line.
Above, a photo from the Citadel hill on Nov. 26, 2006, shows smog and haze over Ankara, three days before the start of Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Turkey.
Although often overshadowed by California's better-known cities to the north, the town that immodestly calls itself "America's Finest City" has been coming into its own lately with a flurry of tech investment, including more than 400 firms in the burgeoning biotech sector. Its importance as a major naval base and a hub for the recession-proof defense industry has helped San Diego weather the economic storm better than many of its neighbors. For residents, the coastal hub is one of America's safest large cities and, thanks to smart investments in public transportation, an easy one to get around. Endless sunshine doesn't hurt either.
Above, Derek McHenry poses for a photograph on the last day of Comic-Con 2011 in San Diego on July 24, 2011. Comic Con International claims to be the largest comic book and popular arts convention of its kind in the world.
If your image of Philly involves Rocky and cheesesteaks, it might be time to take another look. After years of almost no population growth, some shrewdly targeted tax breaks in the early 2000s helped fuel a downtown construction boom. A burgeoning art scene, collegiate atmosphere, and still relatively low housing prices have made Philadelphia a destination for hipsters priced out of Brooklyn. Crime remains a serious concern in the City of Brotherly Love, however, with the highest homicide rate out of the 10 largest U.S. cities.
Above, a man cleans the sidewalk in front of Geno's Steaks during a blizzard on Dec. 26, 2010, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The largest city of northeastern Hebei province is best remembered outside China for its 1976 earthquake, which may have killed as many as half a million people and, as it closely coincided with the death of Mao Zedong, was seen as marking the end of an era in Chinese history. Since then, Tangshan has grown along with the rest of China as a major industrial hub hosting thriving steel and chemical industries. In recent years, the Chinese government has touted the city, surrounded by forests and a renowned coastline, as a center of ecologically sensitive development, though Tangshan's economy still relies mainly on heavy industry.
Above, an aerial photo captures the streets and high-rises of Tangshan on July 17, 2006.
At ground zero of Latin America's economic miracle, the BMWs and Mercedes that ply the streets of Chile's capital -- as well as the ever-present construction cranes -- are evidence of a newly confident metropolis, where new skyscrapers mark the city's "Sanhattan" district. In 2010, Santiago marked Chile's bicentennial with the construction of a major new cultural center to celebrate the city's growing art scene. Long-running tensions over economic inequality persist, however, and this year saw months-long protests by students over planned education reforms.
Above, a building forming part of the "Costanera Center" project is reflected on another building in Santiago, on Jan. 29, 2009.
MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images
In addition to global giants like Amazon.com, Boeing, Starbucks, and nearby Microsoft, a cluster of high-tech start-ups have buoyed Seattle's economy in recent years, leading to some of the highest salaries in the United States. Seattle is one of the few American cities outside the Sun Belt that is growing more quickly than the national average -- a remarkable turn of events given that in the 1970s, when Boeing scaled back its operations in the city, a much-discussed billboard asked, "Will the last person leaving Seattle turn out the lights?" Crunchy Seattle has embraced "smart growth" concepts like allowing taller buildings and greater density, helping the city maintain an efficient public transportation network and minimizing its environmental impact.
Above, a waterside photo shows a lighted sign for Pike Place Market and Puget Sound in Seattle.
The name Bangalore became virtually synonymous with the growth of India's high-tech industry in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Between 1994 and 2004, more than 1,300 software and outsourcing firms set up shop in the capital of Karnataka state, and the city's population grew more than a third. The rapid growth came with a cost, though, turning the once sleepy backwater into a teeming metropolis with choked roads, poor sanitation, and an erratic water supply. IT growth has slowed a bit in recent years, but General Electric is still betting big on the city, announcing an investment of $54 million this year to set up research and development labs at its Bangalore office.
Above, locals enjoy fast-paced night life on April 12, 2008, in Bangalore, India.
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