Saturday, March 05, 2011

The Triumph of the City

Got a copy of Edward Glaeser's Triumph of the City. As usual, this is not a full review. Just some notes. This is a really cracking read - one of the best popularisations of Economics ideas I have read. It is in the best tradition of popular Economics works, condensing a huge body of research into tightly packed chapters, each of which says something counterintuitive, interesting and important. I think this is genuinely a must-read for anyone working on spatial policy, urban renewal etc,. but also more generally for people working on education policy and as a general interest read.

The book has nine chapters, and also an introductory and concluding essay. The overall theme of the book is that the dense environments of cities allow ideas to spread more rapidly, and that cities in general promote human progress in pretty much every domain of life. For cities to thrive, their planners must focus on building human capital through the education system and also through making the city attractive for people with high skills and business ideas to live and work.

Chapter 1 "What do they make in Bangalore?" explores the connecting role of big cities in the process of innovation. Chapter 2 "Why do Cities Decline?" explores the decline of Big Cities, focusing particularly on Detroit. Chapter 3 "What's good about slums?" explores the advantages cities hold for poor people and the role slums play in providing pathways out of destitution. Chapter 4 "How were the tenements tamed?" examines the progress made in reducing mortality and poor health in cities. Chapter 5 "Is London a Luxury Resort?" examines the role of consumer culture in making big cities attractive places to live. Chapter 6 "What's so great about skyscrapers?" offers ideas for improving planning regulations in cities. Chapter 7 "Why has Sprawl Spread?" explores the reasons for and consequences of urban sprawl. Chapter 8 "Is there anything greener than blacktop?" explores the environmental advantages of high-density living. Chapter 9 "How do cities succeed?", in particular, focuses on the development of human capital and attracting people with high skills. The concluding essay "Flat World Tall City" recapitulates the main themes that cities are good for prosperity, that cities must build and attract human capital, that dense cities are more environmentally friendly than urban sprawl and low-density living and that helping troubled cities is an inefficient policy compared with helping troubled people.

1 comment:

Monica Thompson said...

The end of the review, or book notes, was most interesting to me. I agree that helping cities depends on helping individuals, and yet American society seems bent on ignoring individuals of potential within invisible, lower-income areas of our cities.

Helping each citizen to have a life plan should be the goal of community organizations working at the grassroots level. In years past, I would have said that was a role of goverment, but government seems strikingly inefficient at writing meaningful requirements that still preserve individual freedoms and maximize individual preferences and skills.

Providing common frames of reference and knowledge bases for individuals struggling with community poverty right now is such worthwhile work. Let's put our society in high gear toward enabling every person to be productive.

Cities give proximity, so let's use that advantage so that people with creative ideas and the urge to innovate can come in contact with the poorest among us, with the goal of new businesses and new prosperity for America.