Urban duopolies

Source: elizabethan.org

Most often, the term “duopoly” is used the context of business to identify those markets that are dominated by two primary suppliers who exert great influence. Examples would be Fedex versus UPS in overnight shipping within the United States; Pepsi versus Coca-Cola for worldwide soft drink sales; Republican verus Democrat in American politics, or Kindle versus Nook in electronic readers.

I propose that there is a very similar duopoly pattern for urban areas both in the United States and in numerous countries around the world. Here is my list of duopoly urban areas in the USA and Canada, as well as a partial international list:

  • Anchorage and Fairbanks, Alaska
  • Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta
  • Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona
  • Louisville and Lexington, Kentucky
  • Kansas City and St. Louis, Missouri
  • Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska
  • Las Vegas and Reno, Nevada
  • Oklahoma City and Tulsa, Oklahoma
  • Toronto and Ottawa, Ontario
  • Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Montreal and Quebec City , Quebec
  • Saskatoon and Regina, Saskatchewan
  • Sioux Falls and Rapid City, South Dakota
  • Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin


  • Brussels and Antwerp, Belgium
  • Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  • Douala and Yaounde, Cameroon
  • Guayaquil and Quito, Ecuador
  • Cairo and Alexandria, Egypt
  • Athens and Thessaloniki, Greece
  • Nairobi and Mombasa, Kenya
  • Benghazi and Tripoli, Libya
  • Oslo and Bergen, Norway
  • Lisbon and Oporto, Portugal
  • Bucharest and Constanta, Romania
  • Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia
  • Madrid and Barcelona, Spain
  • Stockholm and Goteborg, Sweden
  • Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, Vietnam

The lists provided above do not mean there are no other significant cities in these states, provinces, or nations, but the two cities listed tend to dominate culturally,  demographically, socially, politically, and economically. Does that mean they always remain a duopoly? No. Just like companies, cities can falter and/or grow exponentially. In some instances a third or fourth city will rise in prominence to expand the duopoly into a triopoly or quadopoly. Four examples in the United States are:

  • Columbus, Ohio which has joined Cleveland and Cincinnati as dominant cities in Ohio by surpassing both in population, as well as being the political and educational epicenter of the state.
  • Orlando has joined Southeast Florida and the Tampa Bay region as an influential market in Florida, especially in the areas of tourism and  broadcasting and media influence.
  • Both Austin and San Antonio have moved up to contend in some areas of influence with Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston in Texas. Austin in particular, is a dominant player in politics, education, technology, and culture in the state.
  • Both San Diego and San Jose have risen to contest the long-term leadership of the Bay Area and the Los Angeles region in California. San Jose (a.k.a. Silicon Valley) easily competes with any urban area on the planet in terms of its influence on technology.

International examples of cities that are contesting an existing duopoly include:

  • Vancouver and Calgary competing with Toronto and Montreal as dominant Canadian cities.
  • Perth and Brisbane challenging the duopoly of Sydney and Melbourne in Australia.
  • Several large cities in China, including Hong Kong joining Shanghai and Beijing as important centers of commerce.
  • Incheon joining Seoul and Busan in South Korea.
  • Izmir joining Istanbul and Ankara as a major player in Turkey.

In a few instances, when a third city rises to contend with the duopoly, one of the original members of this twosome falls out of favor or dominance. A possible example of this could be Kolkata, India as both Mumbai and Delhi have surged past this colonial capital in economic and political importance in recent decades.

The rise of a new contender does not always have to be organic. In some instances it can be a single critical action, decision, or event can starts the wheels in motion. For example, a number of nations have established a new national capital. This step immediately places that city on the national and worldwide political stage. Given enough time, the city may also rise as an economic and cultural center. An historic example is St. Petersburg, Russia which was built by Peter the Great as his capital city. While it is no longer the capital, St. Petersburg and Moscow have been a very competitive duopoly for many decades. Today, several other large cities in Russia have begun to complete with this twosome to a certain degree. But, when most people think of important Russian cities, the first two that come to mind are nearly always Moscow and St. Petersburg.

The discovery of a large reserve of petroleum, natural gas, or precious minerals could be another factor that changes the dynamics – both Calgary and Edmonton have benefitted in such a way. On the flipside, war and natural disasters are examples of events that could lead to a city rapidly falling from its dominant position

In conclusion, duopolies can occur in many aspects of our lives, whether it be in business, economics, sports and entertainment, politics, or urban and regional planning. For economic development planners, the intrinsically competitive nature of a duopoly can provide an impetus for fostering new ideas and innovation. At the same time, the two member cities of an urban duopoly can offer valuable urban planning lessens to one another from each other’s successes and failures. Considering that the other member of the duopoly in all likelihood faces many of the same challenges and constraints, where else would be a better resource to find potential solutions?

Unlike business duopolies which would run afoul with regulatory statutes, urban ones can and should work in unison whenever possible and practical to improve the greater good of both cities. My guess is that those urban duopolies that transcend their differences and feed off of each other’s combined knowledge base, will tend to have greater innovation and general community prosperity in the long term than those who remain at odds with one another or attempt to go it alone.

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8 Responses to Urban duopolies

  1. Tertsouza says:

    In Brazil: São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.


  2. You should definitely add Minneapolis/ St. Paul MN. The Twin Cities is an interesting one because the two cities physically border each other and one is the state’s capital and the other its largest city. Their metro contains three fifths of the states population. It is definitely the state’s cultural and political center.

    In recent years, Bloomington, home of Mall of America and Best Buy headquarters, has risen as a third major city, but has a long way to go to rival the original two.


    • Rick Brown says:

      Thank you, Zack. I debated the Twin Cities for quite a while, but decided against it since they are one metro. Still not sure that is right decision. Sent from my LG phone


  3. Josh says:

    Great list! Perhaps Nashville and Memphis, Tennessee could be one? (with potential for Chattanooga and Knoxville competing for the third city?) Also, Richmond vs. Tidewater vs. NoVA in Virginia?


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