Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Triumph of the City
From California Planning and Development report:
In Triumph of the City, Ed Glaeser has written a love letter to his lifelong object of study, the global metropoles in which a majority of the world’s population now resides.
When planned and managed well, cities exemplify the best of civilization. The subtitle of the book, “How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier,” sounds a bit like the sales pitch in an infomercial, but Glaeser’s enthusiasm for cities is sincere and infectious. To be precise, the title of the book refers to the triumph of the city, as opposed to all cities or any city in particular. Industrial cities in America, for example, are dead, and this book does not argue for their revival.
Whereas some might argue that the ability to conduct many forms of business from virtually anywhere made possible by modern communications have rendered the modern city less relevant, Glaeser maintains that the riches to be gained from agglomeration in the postindustrial urban economy have only begun to be mined. In fact, his is a deeply humanist book, with the “triumph” referring to the heights of invention and creativity achieved when people cluster together. Glaeser conceives of cities first and foremost as consisting of people and connections, and secondarily of places and buildings.
Predictable though the comparison may be, it’s true nonetheless: Glaeser is Jane Jacobs with a pocket square and, importantly, a spreadsheet. Triumph of the City adds crucial data and analysis to the story that Jacobs first told decades ago, when Glaeser himself was likely toddling about the parks and sidewalks of his native Manhattan. The Jacobs book that he most embraces is not Death and Life of Great American Cities but rather her lesser known but equally compelling Economy of Cities.
Glaeser draws on anecdotes of urban success and failure from Manhattan to Mumbai. But it is the abundance of statistical comparisons in Triumph of the City that serve as the real basis for understanding trends and correlations among variables – such as density, education, wealth, and even climate – that one might not normally associate with one another but that, he claims, bear heavily on a city’s wealth and success.
Keep on reading: