There is a growing awareness in urban social science of the importance of commercial real estate as a medium by which large cities are embedded within global capital networks. City centre transformations emphasising office development focussed on financial and business services firms tie cities into international employment cycles while the capital sunk into the real estate locks those cities into global capital markets through ownership and finance. This trend is most pronounced in developed world cities whose focus is on financial services. The process has become more marked with the globalisation of commercial real estate markets. RCA data for major office deals 2007-2014 show 35% of those transactions were cross-border. Investment is strongly concentrated: 20 cities account for over 67% of deals by value. Major global investors and international chains of brokers and agents play a key role in this process.

While urban research has become more aware of these tendencies, the nuances of market processes are often lost in over-simplistic categorisations such as Òinternational financial capitalÓ or Òproperty developersÓ. There is considerable diversity in the nature of office investors with substantial differences in motivations for building international portfolios and in the impacts of investment for the cities concerned. Further, there is a substantial separation between the process of development and the process of longer term investment that often seems downplayed in academic research.

This paper aims to address that gap with a detailed examination of the City of London office market. The study draws on a unique database identifying ownership of offices for over 40 years, allowing analysis of the shift over time from predominantly local domestic ownership to 2014 when over 60% of space is non-UK owned. We analyse changing tides of ownership linked to transformation of the City economy, the data revealing waves of ownership which differ nationally, regionally and by entity type. We trace the new developments in the City revealing the processes that link development and investment activity. These analyses will be placed in the context of employment trends and the investment performance of the City office market in national and global context and draw on evidence of the motivations and objectives of global real estate investors. The paper concludes by examining the implications for the planning, governance and economy of cities.