Where are the world's most cosmopolitan cities?

Some of the cities with the largest foreign-born populations. Image: Statista/CityMetric.

So here's a stat for you. In the past half century, the population of the world has slightly more than doubled – from 3bn people in 1960, to around 7.1bn in 2013. But over the same period, the number of people switching countries has nearly tripled, from 77m in 1960, to 232m in 2013.

In other words, not only are there more migrants in today's world: they make up a higher proportion of the world's population, too.

People move from one country to another for many reasons: work, love, to escape people who are trying to kill them. But one thing that migrants the world over have in common is that they generally end up in cities, where economic opportunities are greatest and they're more likely to find people form their own country.

But, as the chart above shows, there are quite substantial differences in the proportion of different cities' populations were born in other countries. The figures come from the International Organization for Migration, and the chart was made for us by Statista. (It isn't a comprehensive top 14, incidentally: it's just a selection of cities.)

In 2014, at least, London and New York, both housed populations that were around 37 per cent foreign-born. These are the two unchallenged "world cities", hubs of cosmopolitan life, so one might expect them to be near the top of the chart.

Not a bit of it, though. Los Angeles and Sydney are both effectively in a statistical tie with the big two. So is Singapore, even though it has an advantage on this ranking (as a city-state, anyone who doesn't come from the city itself counts as a migrant).

More surprising are some of the cities at the top of the chart. Auckland, the largest city in New Zealand, has more foreign-born residents than London. (That said, one suspects these will disproportionately come from one country of origin – the UK – so whether that makes it "cosmopolitan" is a different question). Toronto, meanwhile, is home to substantially more foreigners than London or NYC: a reflection of a relatively easy going attitude to immigration, perhaps?

The two cities at the top of this chart are perhaps more explicable. Brussels is the de facto capital of the European Union, as well as the home of NATO; the whole city's economy is based on being a place where foreigners can meet up and argue with each other in a proximity to a decent restaurant.

Dubai, too, is a city whose economy has been built on attracting foreign Labour, but in a very different way.  Only around one in six of the city's population come from the UAE. An even smaller slice – perhaps as few as one in 30 – are from western countries.

In fact, the city's population is overwhelmingly drawn from the countries of Southern Asia: India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. And a full quarter of Dubai residents are thought to come from just across the Strait of Hormuz in Iran.


What’s behind the rise of the ornamental restaurant toilet?

Toilets at Sketch restaurant, London. Image: Nik Stanbridge/Flickr.

A few weeks ago, I found myself in the toilets of a zeitgeisty new Italian restaurant in east London called Gloria. As with so many contemporary restaurant toilets, those in question were an aesthetic extension of the establishment’s soul. The inventive menu was matched by two-way mirrored toilet doors.

The setup was this: cubicle occupants could see out while the unisex crowd milling around the taps could check their outfits on the exterior mirrors. All fun and games, I thought. But then I found myself mid toilet with a guy peering into my door to change his contact lens. Either he had spectacularly bad manners or he was unaware of the two-way door thing. (Let’s hope it’s the latter.)

Gloria’s toilets aren’t unique in their attempt to be distinctive. The loos at nearby Mr Fogg’s Maritime Club & Distillery are adorned with specimen boards of dead spiders. Meanwhile, Edinburgh’s The Sun Inn invites patrons to pee in buckets, and trumpets double as urinals in The Bell Inn in East Sussex. Men can wee into the vista if they’re dining in the Shard. And Sketch’s ovum shaped loos are the stuff of urban legend.

Further afield, transparent doors become frosted only after they’re locked at Brussels’ Belga Queen. In Otto’s Bierhalle in Toronto, diners can press a button to activate their own private rave. And the toilets in Robot Restaurant in Tokyo have gold-plated interiors and dancing robots.

What’s behind this trend? Are quirky toilets just a bit of fun – or an unnecessary complication to the simple act of going for a wee and checking you don’t have tomato sauce on your chin?

Yotam Ottolenghi’s London flagship restaurant Nopi crops up often in conversations about restaurant bathrooms. A hall of mirrors glitters enticingly ahead of loo-bound diners. “The bathroom needs to be the nicest part [of] the whole place because that’s where you’re on your own,” says Alex Meitlis, the designer behind the space.

But no one is truly alone in 2019. If surveys are to be believed, nearly 65 per cent of millennials take their phone to the bathroom with them. Mike Gibson, who edits the London food and drink magazine Foodism agrees that the bathroom selfie – searches for which, incidentally, yield over 1.5m results on Instagram – is part of the reason that contemporary lavatory design is so attention seeking.

“Any new venue that's opening will be super aware that there's probably not an inch of their restaurant that won't be photographed or filmed at some point”, he says. But bathrooms like Nopi’s predate this trend. Indeed, Meitlis believes he has created a haven from the smartphone obsession; Nopi’s mirrors are angled in such a way that means you have to seek out your reflection. “You can choose whether to look for yourself in the mirror or not.”

Another driving force is the increasingly competitive restaurant landscape. “It’s almost like there’s some sort of ever-escalating competition going on amongst new openings, which makes every visit a faintly terrifying experience”, says food writer and New Statesman contributor Felicity Cloake. Gibson agrees. “Restaurants want an edge wherever possible, and design definitely comes into that.”

So novelty bathrooms get you noticed, promote social media engagement and entertain diners who are momentarily without the distraction of company. (Although, it must be said, quirky bathrooms tend to make the loo trip a more sociable experience; a Gloria spokesperson described the restaurant’s toilets as somewhere you can “have a good laugh and meet people along the way.”)

Nevertheless, I’m not the only one who finds bathroom surprises disconcerting.  One TripAdvisor user thought the Belga Queen loos were “scary”. And a friend reports that her wonderment at the Nopi bathroom was laced with mirror maze induced nausea – and mild panic when she realised she didn’t know the way out. Should restaurants save the thrills for the food?

“I think it's important not to be too snarky about these things – restaurants are meant to playful,” says Gibson. Cloake agrees that novelty is fine, but adds: “my favourite are places like Zelman Meats in Soho that have somewhere in the dining room where you can easily wash your hands before sitting down and tucking in.”

So perhaps we should leave toilets unadorned and instead ramp up the ornamentation elsewhere. Until then, I’ll be erecting a makeshift curtain in all mirrored toilets I encounter in future. An extreme reaction, you might say. But, as I wish I could have told the rogue contact lens inserter, it’s not nice to pry into someone else’s business.