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Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier MP3 CD – Audiobook, March 31, 2011
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About the Author
Lloyd James has been narrating since 1996, has recorded over six hundred books in almost every genre, has earned six AudioFile Earphones Awards, and is a two-time nominee for the prestigious Audie Award.
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I greatly admire Edward Glaeser. He revived the field of urban economics, almost single-handedly. He has investigated every aspect of city life. He masters theory, statistics, and history. He is not ideological. All his qualities transpire here.
Yet The book reads easily. The economics and statistics are clearly explained. Examples abound: New York, Detroit, Houston, Milan, Mumbai, Rio, and then some.
As a non-ideologue, Glaeser heaps both scorn and praise on both markets and governments. Want to make house affordable? Let developers build up and out (in passim he criticizes the “eyes on the street” theory.) Do not look down on suburbia: many embraces it because life is cheaper and better than in the center. But you need governments to take care of public health, congestion and global warning.
Glaeser endorses water utilities, congestion taxes and some infrastructure. He lambasts the mortgage-interest deduction, most building restrictions (including for Conservancy and Preservation) and most efforts at urban renewal, like conference centers.) On the eternal struggle over the merits of centralized versus decentralized government he takes a middle ground: different levels are needed to look over each others' shoulders. I appreciated such nuanced views
This is the best pop-econ book I have read. Highly recommended
Yes, successful cities need other basic things like clean water, good schools, alert and aggressive policing, an abundance of good housing options, safe and attractive public places, and a pro business, pro development public sector, but it is the gathering together in close proximity of large numbers of bright, entrepreneurial people that is the ultimate life-source of great urban living....Ultimately, for Glaeser, it is great wealth that makes for great cities. New York, Boston and Houston are - each for partially different reasons - the exemplar cities of his thesis. LA,though he doesn't say it, would seem to be the anti-city of his thesis.
This is a wonderful book..full of engaging and interesting facts...that builds to a compelling thesis about the value and importance of great cities, and of the bedrock foundational conditions underlying their greatness.
The book might be seem a bit outdated, yet it still rings true on most topics. Would love to hear more from Glaeser on the current state of San Francisco and Seattle.
Last, the author makes some compelling arguments for high rise buildings, but I am still not giving up on old buildings.
For example, he argues that telecommunication and technology cannot replace face-to-face interaction, but this is not necessarily true. More and more people work from home, and some studies have demonstrated that these people are actually more productive than those who are in a face-to-face office environment. I think that this type of interaction will become more pronounced as technology advances, eventually eliminating the need for a centralized office environment altogether.
Glaeser is more successful with his economic arguments, which makes sense, since he is an economist. However, he relies too heavily on correlation to prove his points, and we all know that correlation does not necessarily equate to causation. When he delves into environmentalism, his arguments just seem tacked on and unsupported in order to add a PC chapter on climate change. How stuffing more and more people into an urban setting without addressing the underlying problem of population growth makes little sense. His arguments are solely based upon carbon emissions as the issue.
Overall, this is not a bad book, but it is not a great book either. The historical bits are more interesting than the persuasive bits. It is a bit longer than necessary and jumps around without clear structure. I also have a major issue with him not directly citing his sources throughout the book via footnotes or endnotes. Instead, he has a section of sources at the end that aren't linked to anything in particular, so actually fact-checking some of his statistics or suppositions is a fairly difficult endeavor, as if he were intentionally trying to obfuscate his sources.
Top international reviews
It builds up the story from different angles, the history, the set backs, their triumphs and the overall case for them ; all with real stories for various cities themselves.I didn't give it a higher mark as I have two criticisms. First, it could be more punch and concise. It looped around some of the same themes and it could have been about half the length on that basis. Second, you would think the city had started in American, in recent times and most of the noteworthy points were about a small number of cities in recent history. Surely there is a longer story and more impactful lessons from the previous three thousand years other than clean water and crime?
Anyway, I'd still recommend, it's a worthy read.
Glaeser also makes clear the transformative effects of education in creating great cities, with Singapore, Boston and others given as strong examples of how good educational policies create a virtuous cycle; better educated populations create new ideas which drive forward economic growth, art and culture, which in turn attracts other well educated people, who continue the advance. The destructive effect of the best educated people leaving areas, putting this cycle into reverse, are exemplified in Detroit which has lost almost 60% of its population over the last 40 years and is now one of poorest cities in the USA.
This book is largely focused on the USA, but makes important points about Europe, China, and India too - where allowing greater concentration of building in city centres, particularly high rise building, is shown as the route to economic growth, whilst minimising environmental damage.
Whilst all of this is presented in an interesting, and easily read style, there are times when the messages can be a little repetitive - but it is an entertaining and informative read
Glaeser discusses the merits of planning vs free market, and comes to the conclusions you need some of both. He cites many case studies of cities around the world, but I was left with the impression his picks of case studies was not methodical enough. Often it seems to have been dictated by where he lived.
Interesting to note that during the "dark ages" (about 1000 AD) Europe had only four "cities" with 50k+ people, and, besides Costantinople, the other three had Islamic rulers (Palermo, Seville, Cordoba), reflecting the predominant culture of the time. Cities have always been a conduit of cultural mix, and I was surprised to learn that as of 2008 half of New Yorkers speak a language other than English at home.
It is not obvious that asphalt covered cities with tall buildings that take light away from narrow streets are environmentally sounder than leafy suburbs with tree-lined roads, but the author makes a convincing case they are. The skyscraper is greener than the suburban home, as it takes less energy to heat and cool, to get there and away, to run its water piping and sewers.
And, perhaps less obviously, cities continue to be the focus of innovation even in the internet era, when some argue that multimedia communication makes physical meetings redundant.
About the content I wouldn't be so excited, data is not for "the city" more of mega urban centers.