America is an urban nation. More than two thirds of us live on the three percent of land that contains our cities. Yet cities get a bad rap: they're dirty, poor, unhealthy, crime ridden, expensive, environmentally unfriendly. Or are they? As Edward Glaeser proves in this myth-shattering book, cities are actually the healthiest, greenest, and richest (in cultural and economic terms) places to live.
New Yorkers, for instance, live longer than other Americans; heart disease and cancer rates are lower in Gotham than in the nation as a whole. More than half of America's income is earned in 22 metropolitan areas. And city dwellers use, on average, 40 percent less energy than suburbanites. Glaeser travels through history and around the globe to reveal the hidden workings of cities and how they bring out the best in humankind. Even the worst cities---Kinshasa, Kolkata, Lagos---confer surprising benefits on the people who flock to them, including better health and more jobs than the rural areas that surround them. Glaeser visits Bangalore and Silicon Valley, whose strangely similar histories prove how essential education is to urban success and how new technology actually encourages people to gather together physically. He discovers why Detroit is dying while other old industrial cities---Chicago, Boston, New York---thrive. He investigates why a new house costs 350 percent more in Los Angeles than in Houston, even though building costs are only 25 percent higher in Los Angeles. He pinpoints the single factor that most influences urban growth---January temperatures---and explains how certain chilly cities manage to defy that link. He explains how West Coast environmentalists have harmed the environment, and how struggling cities from Youngstown to New Orleans can "shrink to greatness." And he exposes the dangerous anti-urban political bias that is harming both cities and the entire country.
©2011 Edward Glaeser (P)2011 Tantor
"You'll...walk away dazzled by the greatness of cities and fascinated by this writer's nimble mind." (The New York Times)
mostly nonfiction listener
The best books help illuminate the contradictions of modern life. Edward Glaeser's masterful Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier is such a book.
Glaeser, an uber-productive and prolific Harvard economist, makes 4 big arguments in Triumph of the City: Cities Drive Economic and Social Progress: The density, diversity, energy, low barriers to communication, mixing of talents, and opportunities to specialize have always driven innovation and invention. Cities are the most productive places in any society, a productivity that is reflected in both higher wages and strong in-migration. Large numbers of people living closely together can catalyze and nurture ideas and connections, while providing a market for these new inventions. It is no accident that the best art, the best restaurants, the best publishing, and the best retail can all be found in cities.
Cities Are Good for the Environment: Cities are green because city folks tend to take public transportation or walk to work instead of driving. City residences are smaller, and often staked vertically, and are therefore cheaper to heat and cool than suburban homes. City infrastructure, such as water, power, and sewage can be provided at scale - where suburban or rural residents rely on individual septic tanks and wells. City parks can serve many many residents, where suburban lawns take up land (and lots of water) for the pleasure of a few homeowners.
Public Resources Should Go to Disadvantaged People, Not Disadvantaged Places: Public efforts to revitalize dying cities that have lost their economic rationale, such as Detroit or New Orleans, are usually misdirected into unwanted building rather than people. Investments in public schools pays off, as these investments both raise the human capital of the students and attract parents into cities looking for good schools. Large publicly funded projects, such as professional sports stadiums or tax payer subsidized office parks (such as Detroit's Renaissance Center) only benefit millionaire owners and builders.
While I enjoyed the historical sketches of Detroit and NYC, I found his theory of "consumer cities" and the elevation of rich people in general offensive. Glaeser sees workers and poor people as only another renewable resource that bond traders and politicians can move around like chess pieces to create a product. He obviously sees the benefits and success of urban landscapes in a way few others have dared to take on: cities as a connective social mechanism that produced engineering marvels and artistic genius. I really appreciate the criticism of sprawl and urban mismanagement that has been so curiously prevalent in most of my lifetime. As resources decline and cities condense back to their core, I hope both city and rural people can value cities again as a resource for adaptability and innovation. I only wish Glaeser could move outside his bubble of intellectual elites and value public education and unionism as much as he loves wall street innovation and fast trains.
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