Last week I discussed the book City 2.0 an anthology published by TED and Atlantic City. The book covered how cities will have to adapt in the near future to provide for the changing needs of our world. These recommendations included adapting our habits, such as driving, and our food consumption, such as using free space in a city to produce food through gardening. Now I am going to discuss The Triumph of the City by Dr. Edward Glaesar published by Penguin Press. This book serves more as an academic collection of city based case studies on why city living helps everyone and why implicit costs of living in the suburbs ought to be passed on to individuals.
Dr. Glaesar explains that city life, when performing properly, is best for everyone. He discusses that it is beneficial for the economically rich to live in cities because those who are in hiring positions have access to a substantial amount of working capital (people), access to collective wisdom from the brightest in a variety of fields all working in one area (Dr. Glaesar advocates that the top in each industry will network together and share ideas that can be adapted for each others’ industry), and access to people who cater to the lifestyle of the rich. For the average person there is the ability to gain a higher education, the opportunity to change careers because of the consistent need for labor, and the chance to build a family due to the amount of singles that tend to congregate in cities. Finally, for the poor there is the opportunity to find economic betterment. Dr. Glaesar advocates that the poor can have easier access to success through sharing their ideas and labor to the vast needs of the upper class, to produce their product or service. He often notes that cities do not make people poor but that poor people congregate in cities for the opportunity to prosper financially.
This information is vital because a substantial portion of the American population, including me before reading this book, viewed cities as a great evil that we only have to deal with; not viewed as a grace. We all have walked out of a sporting event, concert, or downtown area and viewed groups of economically poor people begging for money. We think that this is the great evil of the city, the very place that people call home, has made them poor. Why would we ever enjoy, let alone applaud such a place that causes this many people to become poor? This book proposes changing the cause and effect theory that the economically poor are a result of cities to the economically poor congregate in cities as a means of finding economic prosperity.
Another area that Dr. Glaesar discusses thoroughly is why cities succeed or fail. The key areas points that he emphasizes are weather, the variety of industries in the city, the educational opportunities, and the emotional happiness of the city. According to Dr. Glaesar, that currently the biggest indicator of a city’s growth in America is January temperature, followed closely by education levels. In the reverse, signs of a shrinking city are often emotional distress and sadness or having an entire city dependent on one industry for economic sustainability.
Dr. Glaesar’s book The Triumph of the City contains many valuable ideas, making it well worth the read. There are many worthwhile topics discussed in the work that I did not have the space to mention in this format; such as the true costs of driving, the reasoning why people choose living in the suburbs, and if skyscrapers are a good idea for a city. You can find the book on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Triumph-City-Greatest-Invention-Healthier/dp/0143120549 . The ideas of what factors encourage and discourage city growth are helpful practically in choosing a great place to live. I will attempt to look through these lenses and additional insights in the coming weeks to talk about some recent reconstruction attempts in the MENA region. We are all familiar with the turbulence found in the MENA region of the world and supposed nation building to counteract those struggles. These events, city building in particular, will be the subject of my next few mid-week blog posts.
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P.S. to learn more about cities and Dr. Edward Glaesar you can visit http://freakonomics.com/2011/02/18/freakonomics-radio-why-cities-rock/ .