Saturday 2013-04-06

Triumph of the City by Ed Glaeser

Glaeser makes the case for high-density urban living in that it's more environmentally friendly than rural living, and the economies of scale make for a more varied life. On the downside, there's more traffic, more change, and housing is expensive. To which he replies: a] you should tax cars and traffic like the sins that they are, b] here are some tissues for your issues, and c] you're obviously not letting people build enough housing.

At least once he falls into pushing data in the direction of his argument, i.e.

Cities aren't full of poor people because cities make people poor, but because cities attract poor people with the prospect of improving their lot in life. The povery rate among recent arrivals to big cities is higher than the poverty rate of long-term residents, which suggests that, over time, city dwellers' fortunes can improve considerably.
-- What's good about slums?
Of course the long-term residents are richer, they're the ones who could afford to stay!

Places like New York and San Francisco, which claim to care about providing low-cost housing for the poor, are generally unaffordable. Texas, which has never shown any commitment to social housing, leads the country in building inexpensive homes. If older cities with high prices are going to compete, then they must act more like Houston and allow more building.
-- Why has sprawl spread?
Perhaps the most common error was thinking that these cities (in the Rust Belt) could build their way back to success with housing projects, grandiose office towers, or fanciful high-tech transit systems. Those mistakes came out of the all-too-common error of confusing a city, which is really a mass of connected humanity, with its structures.
-- Why do cities decline?
After an illustrious career was a civil engineer, he (Sir Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya) returned to Bangalore and in 1908 became the prime minister of Mysore. Along with the maharaja, who was both fabulously wealthy and remarkably progressive, Sir MV pushed through a sweeping modernization program, including dams, hydroelectricity, steel mills, and, most important, schools. Sir MV's motto was "Industrialize or perish", but instead of just pushing big construction projects, he emphasized the eduction needed to build projects efficiently. Infrastructure eventually becomes obsolete, but education perpetuates itself as one smart generation teaches the next.
-- What do they make in Bangalore?
the bigger problem with drawing lessons from Bilbao is that its experience is far from standard. For every Guggenheim, there are dozens of expensive failures, like the National Centre for Popular Music, built in Sheffield, England, with the hope of four hundred thousand new visitors every year. It attracted a quarter of that number when it opened in 1999 and closed the same year.
-- Why do cities decline?
More important, he (Henry David Thoreau) was one of a remarkable concentration of minds brought together by Ralph Waldo Emerson in Concord, a town filled with creative thinkers. Emerson assembled, and occasionally funded, brilliant minds, including Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Margaret Fuller, Bronson Alcott, Louisa May Alcott, and Thorough.
-- Is there anything greener than blacktop?
(Only the Great get to have middle names.)