There’s a lot of smaller communities that cater to the super-rich. There are places like Scarsdale, NY, or Winnetka, IL; towns that boast a high proportion of rich residents. But that’s not really where the wealth is found. No one made their fortune in Scarsdale – it’s just a place to build a big house and throw parties. The town has a median family income of almost $300,000 – the best such figure in the U.S. It’s not a coincidence though, that you can get from Scarsdale to the middle of Manhattan in a half hour by train. The money in Scarsdale is really New York City’s money.
So what are the hottest cities on the planet? Where are the cities that create and hold the most wealth? Where are the metropolitan areas that generate or attract the fancy of the super-rich? That’s what this list registers.
This is a list of the favorite cities for rich people. But there is an irony: many of these same cities are also home to large populations of helpless poor. Many of the cities on the list, despite their iconic skylines and world-renown cultural amenities, are also blighted by large slums and are bedeviled by all the challenges of large urban centers.
Another aspect of the list is that it charts the emergence of a number of rising global economic powers. Many of the homes of the super-rich are the usual suspects: European and American cities that have been attracting investment and tourists for generations. But there are newer wealth centers on the list as well, places that are just in the last few decades becoming synonymous with high living. Places like Korea, India, China and Russia, have entered the big leagues of international finance, and their cities are becoming havens for the wealthy and powerful.
We start in perhaps a surprising place. Turkey is not what you’d call an economic power. The country has long been locked out of the European Union and it has been in the news lately because of a failed coup. Still, Turkey has long been one of the most stable and Western-friendly countries in the Middle East. It also happens to be one of the most culturally significant cities in the world going back more than a millennium, from the Ottoman empire, further back to when it was known as Constantinople and was the jewel of the Byzantine Empire, and even further back, into the Roman Empire. Istanbul is currently home to more than two dozen billionaires, more than many of the other cities on this list. The contingent of the city’s super-rich is led by Murat Ulker, who controls the country’s largest food company and is worth almost $3 billion.
Tokyo has long had a reputation of being unique. Its cultural landscape is like no other on Earth. Whether it’s the movie Lost in Translation or the recent storyline on the TV show Girls, the city has a prominent media reputation of being on the cutting edge of life in industrialized countries. It also happens to be the largest city in Japan, one of the world’s economic powerhouses. It’s no surprise then that Tokyo is also home to quite a few wealthy residents. There are 18 billionaires who call the city their home. Tadashi Yanai is the richest of these. The founder of Fast Retailing, the parent company of Uniqlo, is worth nearly $18 billion.
Chicago likes to flaunt its status as the second city. Not an international hub like New York or a glamor spot like LA, Chicago is a proud blue-collar town – “Hog Butcher for the World” and the “City of Big Shoulders,” as Carl Sandburg’s famous poem put it. But Chicago is almost secretly one of the country’s top havens for rich people. There are more than 280,000 wealthy residents in the city, representing wealth of about $1.2 trillion. It has one of the country’s wealthiest suburbs in Winnetka, Illinois. It has a thriving arts and cultural scene. It is the only city in the U.S. outside of New York, California and Las Vegas, to have a restaurant with the top, three-star rating from the distinguished Michelin food guide. And Chicago, IL, doesn’t just have one of these world renowned restaurants; it has two of them. Not bad for the home of the Super Fans…
Of course, Paris was once THE city in the world. It helped breed the Impressionists. It’s where Hemingway wrote his best work. It’s still one of the key cities of fashion and culture. In the past 100 years or so, it has been passed as the world’s cultural centerpiece, first by cities like London and New York, and then (as we’ll see later in this list) by even more recent upstarts elsewhere in the world. But Paris is still Paris, and the super-rich continue to find the City of Light irresistible. It also has a number of home-grown billionaires. For example, there’s Liliane Bettencourt, the richest person who calls Paris home. She’s the daughter of the founder of L’Oreal and worth more than $35 billion. She’s one of 22 billionaires who live in the French capital.
Seoul is the largest city in South Korea and one of the top business capitals of Asia. With nearly 25 million residents in its metro area and 10 million in the city proper, it ranks as one of the top 20 biggest cities in the world. Along with Japan and (more recently) China, South Korea is one of the key industrial powers in the region. It has the world’s 13th biggest economy (despite having just the 27th highest population) and is home of global brands like electronics giant Samsung and car maker Hyundai. The richest man in Seoul is Kun-Hee Lee, chairman of Samsung. His fortune is estimated at just under $10 billion. Meanwhile, his son, Jay Lee, himself a high-ranking Samsung exec, is worth $6 billion. The two Lees are among 30 billionaires who call Seoul home. Together, this super-rich community is worth about $74 billion.
Among economists and international investors there’s a group of countries known as the BRIC countries. It’s an acronym standing for Brazil, Russia, India and China. These four countries are supposed to be the up and comers on the economic scene. They are seen as developmentally behind the so-called G7 countries (the world’s major industrialized democracies, namely: the U.S., the U.K., France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Canada). But they are growing fast, taking advantage of large populations and abundant natural resources. On this list, we’ll talk a little more about Russia and China later. Brazilian cities like Sao Paulo and Rio, just missed the list. India, meanwhile, is represented by Mumbai. Though the Indian city is widely known for its slums (think Slumdog Millionaire), there’s another, more glamorous side as well. It’s the home of Bollywood, India’s thriving movie industry, which gives the city a bit of LA-style glitz. It is also the home of more than 30 billionaires, led by Mukesh Ambani, whose control of the oil and gas giant Reliance Industries is the cornerstone of his $19 billion fortune.
There are very few cities in the U.S. with a more storied history than Boston, Mass. One of America’s first major cities on the continent and the starting point of the American Revolution, Boston’s status as a premiere city goes back to the 17th century. Over the last couple hundred years, Boston has been passed by a number of new cities in terms of overall importance. It’s now only the 23rd largest population area in the country, behind cities like El Paso, Charlotte and Phoenix. Even places like Columbus, Ohio, and Indianapolis, Indiana, have larger populations. But Boston’s still a premiere city for the wealthy. Just under 10 percent of Boston households rank in the top 5 percent of U.S. earners. Its total population of wealthy residents tops 160,000, with more than $600 billion of total wealth between them.
8. Washington DC
People don’t think of Washington as a city of money. In fact, it has the opposite reputation. The Capitol and the White House are there, sure. But there’s also areas that are infamous for poverty and crime. Don’t forget, this is a town where a mayor got caught smoking crack, went to jail, and then get elected again as mayor. There’s a secret to DC, though, that’s hiding in plain site: the government has a lot of money to spend. So this creates wealthy people and draws wealthy people to the area. The DC area has nearly a quarter million residents who are considered wealthy, with a total wealth of about a trillion dollars. This despite the fact that the District itself only has about 700,000 residents (though the metro area, stretching out into Virginia and Maryland, has just over 6 million).
China has been the econ darling in the last 20 to 30 years. The country remains nominally communistic, but since the time of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, world opinion about the country has changed. China has chased an openly pro-business agenda, encouraging U.S. companies to source manufacturing from the country. There’s also been a growing urban market in China for U.S. companies. Gone are the Mao days of communist austerity. The country has, somewhat miraculously, become a haven for rich people. A number of Chinese cities could have made this list. Shanghai is an international destination. So is Hong Kong (we’ll talk about that one in more detail later in this list). But for now, we’ll focus on Beijing, the capital of a communist country that is also the favored home of billionaires. There’s actually more than 50 of them there now, with a combined net worth of around $150 billion.
Speaking of cities with a strong communist past… Turn back the clock 50 years. Or even 30 years. No one would have predicted then – in the middle of the Cold War, when the U.S.S.R. was the world’s dominant communist country and Moscow was the center of anti-capitalist rhetoric – that a decade and a half into the 21st century, Russia’s capital city would become a haven for billionaires. Somehow it has happened though. In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet state, a number of businesses were privatized. This gave rise to what are now called “the oligarchs,” the group of businessmen who grabbed former state resources (many of them taking advantage of Russia’s ample natural resources) and put them in their own private hands. Fortunes were made and Moscow was at the center of it. The city now has about five dozen billionaires, with a combined net worth of nearly $220 billion. The richest is Leonid Mikhelson, a former communist bureaucrat, who now controls the gas company Novatek. He’s worth about $14 billion.
5. Los Angeles
LA is the city of glamor. It’s the city of Hollywood, the city of dreams. Of course, it’s going to have a high spot on a list of the places where the richest people live. The Los Angeles metro area has a population of about 3.9 million people. Of these, more than 350,000 are considered wealthy, with a total wealth figure of $1.3 trillion. The city is also home to 20 billionaires. Who is the richest? Now, when you think of LA, you probably think of movie stars. Maybe you think, “Well, movie stars are rich, but the real money is with the studio executives.” That’s probably true, but the richest person in LA isn’t in the movie business. It’s Patrick Soon-Shiong, a healthcare magnate. A walking sign of the diversity of LA, Soon-Shiong is of Chinese heritage, but was born and raised in South Africa. He studied in Canada, before finally coming to LA to become a surgeon.
Maybe we should review this again once the Brexit stuff gets figured out. But going into 2016 at least, London was one of the top financial centers in Europe – basically the New York across the pond. Even if the U.K.’s departure from the European Union gums up the works a bit, it’s still one of the world’s iconic capitals and the kind of place where the world’s richest people at least keep a secondary residence. But London is more than that. It’s got its own cadre of home-grown super-rich. The city has nearly 50 billionaires, representing a combined worth of almost $200 billion. As a testament to the appeal of London, the richest of these is Len Blavatnik, who was born in Russia but is now considered the richest man in the U.K., worth more than $15 billion.
3. San Francisco
If any part of the U.S. is the symbol of the last 20 years, it would be the San Francisco Bay area. It’s up the road from Silicon Valley, where some of the biggest players of the new economy, companies like Google and Apple, are busy changing the world. Meanwhile, over the bridge in Oakland, the Golden State Warriors just added Kevin Durant to Steph Curry and the rest of the record-breaking lineup of dominance. The area also has other wealth magnets, like San Jose, which is itself among the country’s richest towns. But San Francisco is the iconic spot in Northern California, with more than two dozen billionaires living in the city. There’s about a quarter million other residents that qualify as wealthy. All told, San Francisco’s total wealth comes in at about a trillion dollars.
2. Hong Kong
Hong Kong is one of the most iconic cities in China, a country that has had one of the world’s most dynamic economies over the past several decades. The one-time British colony was given back to China in 1997. Its more than 100 years under British control gave the city a special character that carries over to this day. It is considered a Special Administrative Region that operates differently than much of the rest of China. Taken as its own country, Hong Kong would have the tenth highest per capita income in the world, according to International Monetary Fund figures, coming in just above the U.S., Hong Kong currently boasts more than 60 billionaires as residents, who control more than a quarter trillion dollars in assets. The richest of these is Li Ka-shing – the second richest person in Asia. He was born in mainland China but came to Hong Kong as a child. He started his own company in 1950 and now controls a diverse group of businesses.
1. New York City
It’s no surprise that New York is at the top of the list. It’s not just the city that never sleeps. It’s also the financial center of the world, possibly the most iconic place to make a fortune. New York has nearly 1 million wealthy residents and represents total wealth of $3.5 trillion. It also has about 80 billionaires who call the city home. This includes Michael Bloomberg, possibly New York’s richest resident with a net worth of around $40 billion. You know you live in a rich-friendly city when the wealthiest citizen is also its former three-term mayor. It’s also the hometown of 2016 Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, who was the state’s U.S. senator for eight years.