Ancarrow..the blog

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Monday, February 27, 2012

Triumph of the City

I read a great book this month - Edward Glaesar's Triumph of the City. In it, Glaesar makes the case that cities are one of man's greatest invention. Here are a few of the things that I found most thought provoking:

Cities are about flesh, not concrete -"Cities are a place for ideas to move person to person within dense urban spaces, and this occasionally creates miracles of human creativity." The power of the city lies in its ability for iron to sharpen iron through the exchange of ideas. Improvements in information technology have only increased the amount of face to face interactions amongst leaders.

Cites revive when they have a blend of: Competition (small and large business who are innovative), Connection, and Human Capital. Any city that is not diverse in its economic strategy will simply, long term, be a boom town.

Poverty is a sign of a city's success. Cities attracts the poor, as well as new immigrants, for the hope of a better life. Poverty becomes an issue in areas where there is multi-generational poverty, with little hope for improvement of life. Essentially, if the poor are staying poor, the area is failing. Otherwise, cities become the place for the "American Dream" to be actualized.

We should help poor people, not poor places. Glaeser uses New Orleans as his chief example. The effort to rebuild New Orleans rooted in the right intention, but, he argues, helped the wrong people. Essentially, the money spent rebuilding buildings could given every resident of N.O. and the metro area $400,000. Which would be more effective, long-term, to help restore the city? Glaeser cites a work in Harlem that is doing this well. Having been to the gulf region after Katrina and having seen people trying to dig out their lives a year after the event, this made a ton of sense.

Reurbanization makes for a greener world. While many would think that skyscrapers are hurting the environment, Glaser shares how the suburban sprawl has created an obsession with the car that could be dangerous to our future, particularly if developing nations like China and India pursue surburban sprawl. Living in a city reduces a family's carbon footprint significantly. A person walking through a busy lower Manhattan area requires 9 sqft of space, while a parked Honda Accord requires 100 sqft. Also, city living, even with a car, can help a person use up to 150 less gallons of gas a year.

Government Policy's should help, not hurt, individuals who are contemplating moving the city. Perhaps inadvertently, the US govt is encouraging suburban sprawl, largely through mortgage exemption, which encourages home ownership as a right. Rather than banning the policy, the author advocates a cap of $300,000 on the deduction.

There are tons of other things that made sense to me, but those would be better suited to a cup of coffee and a conversation, so that context could be established. Glaesar is quick to point out how school system SHOULD be legitimate concern for families - though, in all honesty, I think this is a question we'll be answering throughout all of America, not just cities, if we continue to do things as we are doing them.

Anywho, if cities fascinate you, give it a read. If it makes you want to move to a city and be a taxpayer for the glory of God and the good of man, I know one that needs you.