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Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest…

Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter,… (original 2011; edition 2011)

by Edward Glaeser

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Title:Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier
Authors:Edward Glaeser
Info:Penguin Press HC, The (2011), Hardcover, 352 pages
Collections:Read but unowned

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Triumph of the City by Edward L. Glaeser (2011)


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Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
A pleasure to read from beginning to end, Ed Glaeser writes intelligently and provocatively about cities. If all you care about is the bottom line you need read no further than the title: "Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier." But if you want an enjoyable and intellectually interesting tour through the world's major cities, both past and present with some speculation about the future, you won't want to miss the rest of the book. ( )
  nosajeel | Jun 21, 2014 |
Well, in the end I did like this book - but along the way various things irked me. Above all, sometimes I felt like screaming at the book, as there were lots of counterarguments which seemed obvious to me but that the author did not mention.
Some of it may depend on the fact that mostly this is an argument for the triumph of American cities, so that a number of very apparent problems in Europe may be less of an issue in the less densely populated USA. But one argument in favour of the building regulations that Galeser sees as a curse is the environmental devastation they can bring, and the subsequent fall in demand which then leaves deserted, abandoned buildings - that is, what happens to the buildings in those cities that have been unable to reinvent themselves? Also, building tall buildings does not equate to building nice buildings, and many inner cities in Europe are blighted by ugly social housing that deteriorate and where people no longer want to live. In short, even embracing Glaeser's argument in full, I'd still see a role for at least some building regulations.

There is another argument that I think Glaeser's doesn't really address: it is not clear that building tall and beautiful residential blocks would stem demand - at least, this does not seem to be the case in Singapore. I may be missing something here, but it would have been nice if Glaeser had tackled this issue. Sure, you would expect that increasing supply of desirable accommodation would reduce prices. But elsewhere in the book we are also given the argument that building more roads does not decrease congestion, as more cars seem to use then. So in a world of flexible households where if California does not build more, people favour settling in Houston, why would desirable tall buildings in California, say, not encourage more demand for housing in California with the result that price would not fall? There is an easy argument to be made to explain why this analogy fails, and I think he should have made it.

And there is one last issue: inner city living in small compact spaces is not nice, and creates problems that design alone cannot eliminate. The neighbour that slams his door when going to work on an early shift; the neighbour with the newborn baby who screams at night; the kids in the next block who party when their parents are out, but that you can do nothing about as you cannot identify the flat they live in; the lady who is hard of hearing and keeps her telly really loud; the garrbage truck that comes at three in the morning and wakes you even if you are on the fifth floor (somebody must live on the fifth floor, too) - you do not need to live in a problem neighbourhood to experience all those little nags that make you long for your own private space, where you can either sleep in peace, or blast your stereo without the neighbours complaining.

Nevertheless, I'd recommend anyone to read this book, it is definitely engaging and thougth provoking. ( )
  PaolaM | Mar 31, 2013 |
This book should come with a surgeon general's warning: Reading this book may harm your brain and heart. The harm to the heart is caused by the author's extreme callousness. Glaeser is the poster-child of the "some are more equal" Reagan revolution. His Upper West Side Ivy Prep School features 113 faculty for 613 students, a ratio a struggling kid in the Bronx certainly will equalize by displaying greater effort. The unity in the school's Dutch motto "Eendracht Maakt Macht" probably applies only to the select few.

He applauds poor people's misery. Individually, the author claims that misery pressures poor people to seek to market and explore their true talents in a Social Darwinian competition. Collectively, poverty in a city, according to the author, is a sign of success, because the reserve army of the poor could be living in even more desperate places in the countryside. The struggling poor alone, however, are necessary but not sufficient for the triumph of a city. For this, a city needs to answer the question Glaeser asks multiple times: What makes a city attractive to a billionaire? Coddling the billionaires is the main purpose of this book. Let the poor, who, in a US context, are of a different pigmentation than the author, eat cake! In a twist of history, the poor today are no longer hungry (at least, those not on food assistance or food deprived) but obese (because, as Glaeser writes in another paper, they "have self-control problems".). A truly ugly mind.

Apart from his philosophy, his facts are questionable too. Much is pure "truthiness" of the David Brooks and Tom Friedman variety. One of his key examples for the triumph of the city is Silicon Valley which takes quite a bit of mind-bending before one can subsume it under the term "city". What he actually means is known as cluster development theory developed by Michael Porter or Paul Krugman (both absent in Glaeser's book intellectually and in the bibliography). In his muddled understanding of clusters, Glaeser's key recommendation is investment in education (which only works if the educated contribute and create to a city's unique competitive advantage which nowadays has to be near global). Glaeser also fails to understand specialization. His advice is for the world to become more like Manhattan, Singapore or London. The world, however, does not need multiple Manhattans. To the contrary, Manhattan's first mover advantage means that many industries cluster there and it would be futile to try to compete with them from afar.

The next idea Glaeser manages to misunderstand is urban density. Again, he sees Manhattan's sky scrapers as the perfect solution. Stupid Paris and London, which do not want to bulldoze their old buildings for skyscrapers in the heart of their city centers. At least, Glaeser acknowledges that in those cities, their sky scrapers are clustered outside the center, easily reachable by public transportation. Glaeser's view of Paris seems to be shaped more from Amélie than the real city, but facts have never been much of an impediment to anti-French sentiment in the US. If Glaeser had researched beyond his dream of urban business and condominium towers for the rich, he might have become aware that the anonymity and lack of public surveillance can create enormous social problems (see French HLM or Chicago or Philly projects). His skyscraper utopia could turn ugly really quickly (but then, it would only confirm his prejudices about "those people").

His final idea is uncontroversial in enlightened societies. Urban people use less natural resources than those living in rural areas. Glaeser examined a truly unhelpful question. Texas would naturally become greener if it looked like New York city, but how likely is that? A sensible approach would have compared energy utilization in Texas compared to one in, say, Southern Europe, thus exposing the giant energy waste in Texas. Glaeser straddles the idea of ecological behavior with a soft climate change denialism (either a personal opinion or in deference to his audience). As he is "not a climatologist", it "appears", "seems" etc. that climate change is happening. The science is in. Or does he think that the Holocaust "seems" to have occurred, because as a non-historian he can not venture beyond a guess? Climate change denial today is not far from denying the Holocaust. Only those who pursue a certain agenda have a need to engage in word play. It is truly strange that so called economists should have a problem with a carbon tax to compensate for externalities.

In sum, a book only partially grounded in reality, based on an incomplete and often wrong understanding of theory, mixed with a truly toxic political philosophy, is the perfect candidate to become a US bestseller and to be praised by The Economist and the usual suspects. Cities, if well managed, were, are and will be the drivers of economic growth. Glaeser's book only detracts from the discussion. Avoid. ( )
3 vote jcbrunner | Mar 18, 2012 |
Cities. Most of us live in them. Some days we wish we didn't, and then we can't imagine not to. In Triumph Of The City Edward Glaeser introduces the reader to what cities are made of. What makes them rise. What makes them fall.
I must confess right away that I don't see myself as a city dweller. As much as I can't imagine living in a big city, I still appreciate living in the vicinity of one. According to Glaeser we are indeed an urban species and it's the innovations and prosperity which comes along with it, that have literally paved the path for the modern metropolis.
A smart and insightful look on the modern city, its dynamics and economic perspectives, this book might appear to be a dry read on first glance, but it most certainly isn't. If you're interested in the topic, you will come to appreciate the mixture of informative content and its highly comprehensible presentation. Drawing from both historical examples and comparing them with various present day cities, I was amazed at the intricate web that makes cities what they are and how many prejudices about them simply aren't true, eg cities can often be greener than rural or suburban living.
Admittedly I might not appreciate city life as fully as the author does, though I definitely loved his thought provoking depiction of what makes cities tick.
In short: A fascinating look on what cities are made of! ( )
  BLehner | Mar 16, 2012 |
I don't agree with everything Glaeser says but overall I found it really interesting, thought-provoking and it opened my eyes to a lot of things. I already agreed with him that the density of cities is great and breeds connectivity, new ideas, and creativity. And I also knew that it is much better for the environment for people to cluster together in cities where they use less gas, less energy and contain their impact (as opposed to spreading out in suburbs and rural areas. But I used to be a big fan of preserving all old buildings and not allowing high rises. Glaeser makes a really good case for why we should build up and preserve strategically, not preserve everything blindly. Unless we want our beautiful old cities to only be playgrounds for the rich, and want builders to go elsewhere and sprawl all over the rest of the country....As environmentalists, we need to think about the good of the whole, not just the good of our neighborhood. I still think that there is perhaps an in-between strategy. between low two story buildings and sky-scrapers. And I don't have his blithe faith in the free market. But he makes a lot of really good points and has changed my mind on a number of issues. I hope that politicians, ecologists, and urban planners will all read and discuss this. ( )
  sumariotter | Nov 2, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
Refreshingly, Glaeser doesn’t rely on politics for his explanations. He cites providing clean water and healthy streets as necessary functions of municipal governments, but heaps dismissal on massive building projects to “revitalize” cities. His greatest scorn is reserved for the governments of cities like Mumbai, which excessively regulate new building projects while failing to provide basic services. Glaeser spends the middle portion of the book discussing new buildings and housing developments, and compellingly makes the case that cities like New York, Paris, and San Francisco, which heavily regulate new buildings, ill-serve the middle class, who move to places like Houston—fast-growing, affordable, and lacking building regulations.
added by sduff222 | editThe A.V. Club, Rowan Kaiser (Feb 17, 2011)
Full of characters - most are somewhat less familiar to us than Charles and Ken - and replete with lightly borne learning, this is a tremendous book, not least because, like me, you will find yourself constantly seeking reasons to disagree.
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To Nancy, for All the Days
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Two hundred forty-three million Americans crowd together in the 3 percent of the country that is urban.
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C'est un fait nouveau : depuis 2011, plus de la moitié de l'humanité vit dans des villes . L'espèce humaine est devenue une espèce urbaine pour le meilleur et pour le pire . Pourtant la ville reste un incomparable moteur d'innovation et de création, un accélérateur de civilisation qui attire la pauvreté davantage qu'elle ne la crée. Rien n'est pire qu'une ville-vitrine , car la vraie ville est faite de chair et non de béton
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 159420277X, Hardcover)

A pioneering urban economist offers fascinating, even inspiring proof that the city is humanity's greatest invention and our best hope for the future.

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.

Using intrepid reportage, keen analysis, and eloquent argument, Glaeser makes an impassioned case for the city's import and splendor. He reminds us forcefully why we should nurture our cities or suffer consequences that will hurt us all, no matter where we live.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:27:20 -0400)

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A pioneering urban economist offers fascinating, even inspiring proof that the city is humanity's greatest invention and our best hope for the future.

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