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Triumph of the City

How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier

By Edward Glaeser

Being in a city brings higher wages bc network effect gives you more experience and knowledge. Success of Bilbao's Guggenheim Museum seems to imply that all you have to do is build some extreme gallery or exhibition center Google excerpt

America is an urban nation. More than two thirds of us live on the 3 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 twenty-two 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 L.A. 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.

Exerpt from NY Times Review of Books:

While he understands the lure of big houses and lush lawns, he's against subsidizing them. And he chastises city planners in Paris and Mumbai, making a passionate argument for building up - and up and up.

Though he admires Jane Jacobs's insights into the virtues of mixing residential and retail together, he thinks her prescription for small-scale neighborhoods is wrongheaded. He'd much rather see neighborhoods of skyscrapers than acres of suburban developments. Greater density is the goal: more people means more possibility. Even when writing about the developing world, Glaeser is unfazed by threats of overwhelmed sanitation systems, unsafe housing or impossible congestion. These, he suggests, are problems more readily solved than the environmental consequences of sprawling suburban life.

Read full NY Times review here

Excerpt from National Geographic Dec 2011:

Urbanization is now good news. Expert opinion has shifted profoundly in the past decade or two. Though slums as appalling as Victorian London's are now widespread, and the Victorian fear of cities lives on, cancer no longer seems the right metaphor. On the contrary: With Earth's population headed toward nine or ten billion, dense cities are looking more like a cure—the best hope for lifting people out of poverty without wrecking the planet.

One evening last March, Harvard economist Edward Glaeser appeared at the London School of Economics to promote this point of view, along with his new book, Triumph of the City. Glaeser, who grew up in New York City and talks extremely fast, came heavily armed with anecdotes and data. "There's no such thing as a poor urbanized country; there's no such thing as a rich rural country," he said. A cloud of country names, each plotted by GDP and urbanization rate, flashed on the screen behind him.

Mahatma Gandhi was wrong, Glaeser declared—India's future is not in its villages, it's in Bangalore. Images of Dharavi, Mumbai's large slum, and of Rio de Janeiro's favelas flashed by; to Glaeser, they were examples of urban vitality, not blight. Poor people flock to cities because that's where the money is, he said, and cities produce more because "the absence of space between people" reduces the cost of transporting goods, people, and ideas. Historically, cities were built on rivers or natural harbors to ease the flow of goods. But these days, since shipping costs have declined and service industries have risen, what counts most is the flow of ideas.

The quintessence of the vibrant city for Glaeser is Wall Street, especially the trading floor, where millionaires forsake large offices to work in an open-plan bath of information. "They value knowledge over space—that's what the modern city is all about," he said. Successful cities "increase the returns to being smart" by enabling people to learn from one another. In cities with higher average education, even the uneducated earn higher wages; that's evidence of "human capital spillover."

Spillover works best face-to-face. No technology yet invented—not the telephone, the Internet, or videoconferencing—delivers the fertile chance encounters that cities have delivered since the Roman Forum was new. Nor do they deliver the nonverbal, contextual cues that help us convey complex ideas—to see from the glassy eyes of our listeners, for instance, that we're talking too fast.

It's easy to see why economists would embrace cities, warts and all, as engines of prosperity. It has taken a bit longer for environmentalists, for whom Henry David Thoreau's cabin in the woods has been a lodestar. By increasing income, cities increase consumption and pollution too. If what you value most is nature, cities look like concentrated piles of damage—until you consider the alternative, which is spreading the damage. From an ecological standpoint, says Stewart Brand, founder of the Whole Earth Catalog and now a champion of urbanization, a back-to-the-land ethic would be disastrous. (Thoreau, Glaeser points out gleefully, once accidentally burned down 300 acres of forest.) Cities allow half of humanity to live on around 4 percent of the arable land, leaving more space for open country.

Per capita, city dwellers tread more lightly in other ways as well, as David Owen explains in Green Metropolis. Their roads, sewers, and power lines are shorter and so use fewer resources. Their apartments take less energy to heat, cool, and light than do houses. Most important, people in dense cities drive less. Their destinations are close enough to walk to, and enough people are going to the same places to make public transit practical. In cities like New York, per capita energy use and carbon emissions are much lower than the national average.

Cities in developing countries are even denser and use far fewer resources. But that's mostly because poor people don't consume a lot. Dharavi may be a "model of low emissions," says David Satterthwaite of London's International Institute for Environment and Development, but its residents lack safe water, toilets, and garbage collection. So do perhaps a billion other city dwellers in developing countries. And it is such cities, the United Nations projects, that will absorb most of the world's population increase between now and 2050—more than two billion people. How their governments respond will affect us all.

Many are responding the way Britain did to the growth of London in the 19th century: by trying to make it stop. A UN survey reports that 72 percent of developing countries have adopted policies designed to stem the tide of migration to their cities. But it's a mistake to see urbanization itself as evil rather than as an inevitable part of development, says Satterthwaite, who advises governments and associations of slum dwellers around the world. "I don't get scared by rapid growth," he says. "I meet African mayors who tell me, 'There are too many people moving here!' I tell them, 'No, the problem is your inability to govern them.'"

Read full National Geographic article here

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