Urban research is unreflexive toward its object of study, the city, compromising its methodologies and theoretical capacity. This polemic draws on examples such as ‘creative cities’, which have been profiled and analysed for their local recipes for economic success. ‘Global cities’ have become stereotypes of a neoliberal form of the ‘good life’ to which much recent urban research is a handmaiden, a hegemonic knowledge project. These ‘metro‐poles’ of value are a form of urban pedagogy that presents lesser local elites with lessons to be followed. A form of cargo cult theory suggests, build it and wealth will come — hence the symmetry of urban scholarship with the fad for city rankings in pop journalism. In contrast to neo‐structural analyses of the global city, other research focuses too closely on regional geographies, local forces and urban affordances. A synthetic level of theory is proposed to bridge the divide which marks urban and regional studies. The ‘urban’ needs to be rediscovered as a central question. The urban is an object of theory and the city is a truth spot. The urban is more than infrastructure and bodies but an intangible good or ‘virtuality’ that requires an appropriate methodological toolkit.