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Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier Hardcover – February 10, 2011
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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. 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 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.
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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
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.
Detailed review can be found in this link https://vivekbhan.wordpress.com/2015/04/05/book-reaction-triumph-of-the-cities-by-edward-glaeser/
Still, this is serious sociological work and the myriad entertaining stories throughout make it fun to read and recount over cocktails or dinner.