Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier

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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.

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.

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Editorial Reviews

The Economist
“This is popular economics of the best sort. Mr. Glaeser clearly believes that hell isn’t other people; heaven’s more like it, for all our faults. He’s right, and he says it well.”
Diana Silver
Edward Glaeser…has spent several decades investigating the role cities play in fostering human achievement. In Triumph of the City, he has embedded his findings in a book that is at once polymathic and vibrant…Clearly, Glaeser loves an argument, and he's a wonderful guide into one. Triumph of the City is bursting with insights and policy proposals to debate…you'll…walk away dazzled by the greatness of cities and fascinated by this writer's nimble mind.
—The New York Times
Christopher Shea
…provides an illuminating mix of history, statistics and polite polemic, while displaying a basic faith that cities are sufficiently interesting to hold the reader's attention.
—The Washington Post
From the Publisher
"You'll...walk away dazzled by the greatness of cities and fascinated by this writer's nimble mind." —The New York Times
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594202773
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/10/2011
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 476,746
  • Product dimensions: 9.32 (w) x 6.40 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Edward Glaeser is the Fred and Eleanor Glimp Professor of Economics at Harvard University. He studies the economics of cities, housing, segregation, obesity, crime, innovation, and other subjects, and writes about many of these issues for Economix. He serves as the director of the Taubman Center for State and Local Government and the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston. He is also a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1992.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: Our Urban Species 1

Chapter 1 What Do They Make in Bangalore? 17

Ports of Intellectual Entry: Athens 19

Baghdad's House of Wisdom 21

Learning in Nagasaki 23

How Bangalore Became a Boom Town 24

Education and Urban Success 27

The Rise of Silicon Valley 29

The Cities of Tomorrow 34

Chapter 2 Why Do Cities Decline? 41

How the Rust Belt Rose 43

Detroit Before Cars 46

Henry Ford and Industrial Detroit 49

Why Riot? 52

Urban Reinvention: New York Since 1970 56

The Righteous Rage of Coleman Young 58

The Curley Effect 60

The Edifice Complex 61

Remaining in the Rust Belt 63

Shrinking to Greatness 64

Chapter 3 What's Good About Slums? 69

Rio's Favelas 72

Moving On Up 76

Richard Wright's Urban Exodus 79

Rise and Fall of the American Ghetto 81

The Inner City 85

How Policy Magnifies Poverty 86

Chapter 4 How Were the Tenements Tamed? 93

The Plight of Kinshasa 95

Healing Sick Cities 97

Street Cleaning and Corruption 101

More Roads, Less Traffic? 104

Making Cities Safer 106

Health Benefits 114

Chapter 5 Is London a Luxury Resort? 117

Scale Economies and the Globe Theatre 119

The Division of Labor and Lamb Vindaloo 122

Shoes and the City 126

London as Marriage Market 127

When Are High Wages Bad? 129

Chapter 6 What's So Great About Skyscrapers? 135

Inventing the Skyscraper 136

The Soaring Ambition of A. E. Lefcourt 140

Regulating New York 142

Fear of Heights 144

The Perils of Preservation 148

Rethinking Paris 152

Mismanagement in Mumbai 157

Three Simple Rules 161

Chapter 7 Why Has Sprawl Spread? 165

Sprawl Before Cars 167

William Levitt and Mass-Produced Housing 174

Rebuilding America Around the Car 177

Welcome to The Woodlands 180

Accounting for Tastes: Why a Million People Moved to Houston 183

Why Is Housing So Cheap in the Sunbelt? 188

What's Wrong with Sprawl? 193

Chapter 8 Is There Anything Greener Than Blacktop? 199

The Dream of Garden Living 202

Dirty Footprints: Comparing Carbon Emissions 206

The Unintended Consequences of Environmentalism 210

Two Green Visions: The Prince and the Mayor 213

The Biggest Battle: Greening India and China 217

Seeking Smarter Environmentalism 220

Chapter 9 How Do Cities Succeed? 223

The Imperial City: Tokyo 224

The Well-Managed City: Singapore and Gaborone 227

The Smart City: Boston, Minneapolis, and Milan 231

The Consumer City: Vancouver 238

The Growing City: Chicago and Atlanta 241

Too Much of a Good Thing in Dubai 244

CONCLUSION: Flat World, Tall City 247

Give Cities a Level Playing Field 249

Urbanization Through Globalization 251

Lend a Hand to Human Capital 253

Help Poor People, Not Poor Places 255

The Challenge of Urban Poverty 257

The Rise of the Consumer City 259

The Curse of NIMBYism 260

The Bias Toward Sprawl 264

Green Cities 276

Gifts of the City 268

Acknowledgments 271

Notes 275

Bibliography 307

Index 325

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Customer Reviews

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( 24 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 25 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 24, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    How can living in a city make you healthier and happier?

    Today our world is focusing on making it a greener planet. More environmentally friendly and protecting our resources while in the midst of the one of the worst economic failures.

    So how does one make our world a better place? Everyone has their own practical solution but did you ever look around at your current city and the cities around the world and ask yourself how are they moving forward while others are growing more and more vacant and abandoned?

    Believe it or not, cities are more greener for our environment than any other place. They use less resources and have lower pollution levels than suburban areas, but why?

    In the city, everything is close. Building offer dual purposes with lower, street levels offering all kinds of store fronts, restaurants and services people need to live, while higher up are where people are learning to live with less space. Less things to keep and less areas to keep clean and maintain. Not only that the more dense the city is, the more people will walk, bike and take public transportation than anywhere else. There is no need for cars, thus pollution in cities like New York are considerably less than Los Angeles.

    Now in cities like Detroit where the three major car manufacturers keep the heartbeat alive, with nothing coming out of the factory like before and everything going automated, people are out of jobs. No skills to help them move forward they are leaving in droves to places where work is plentiful and thus creating a huge place where nothing is existing anymore. Buildings are sitting vacant, lots are falling into ruin and rather than build them up because there aren't resources available to keep people here, the city has no choice but to bull doze them down to make green space available.

    So what can we do to bring the heartbeats back to cities all over the world? Check out the book, Truimph of the City by Edward Glaeser and find out. I was so impressed by all his research into what makes cities work over any where else and why some fail never to come back despite all the attempts to revive them. This is a great read and really makes you think about where we are headed and what we can do to ensure our own cities survival for the future.

    I received this book compliments of TLC Book Tours for my honest review and have to say 5 stars for this one. This one really educated me on some things I never considered and will keep on my own list when making my next move anywhere to live.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 15, 2013

    Good read, some reservations

    The guy lives in the burbs(do as i say not as i do) and holds some animosity toward teachers. Outside if that, he makes the same good points as every other author on this topic. A bit too much anecdotal 'evidence' can make him seem preachy. Still worth it.

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  • Posted February 1, 2012

    Good arguments; surprising irritations

    The book both enlightened and irritated. The enlightenment concerned new insights for me, especially from the developing world’s urban perspective. ‘Five million more people every month live in the cities of the developing world...’ (p.1). ‘...cities are expanding enormously because urban density provides the clearest path from poverty to prosperity’ (p.1). ‘There is a near-perfect correlation between urbanisation and prosperity across nations’ (p.7). ‘Cities are... the places where their nation’s genius is most fully expressed’ (p.8). ‘Cities... thrive as places of pleasure as well as productivity’ (p.10). The book is eclectic in coverage, weaves lessons from history and offers indicators for the rapidly urbanising developing world. It is written by an American Harvard economist. It therefore reads from an economist’s perspective (no problem here) and anchors central conclusions on American cities (slight quibbles there). However, New York City comes out really well (others do too but for different reasons). The frequent tribute to Haussmann’s reconstruction of Paris, while admiring its resulting urban splendour, acknowledges the danger of the ossification of the physical fabric (a sound economic argument against excessive conservation). He also acknowledges that Haussmann destroyed almost half of Paris in order to achieve this new classical urban form. Patrick Geddes, the founding father of the scientific town planning movement (Cities in Evolution), a biologist by original training (who did a great deal of his pioneering work in the developing world), recognised the ‘living organism’ of the city. He lamented the destruction of the human and physical capital of Paris, on its path to reconstruction. How else could it be done one might ask? Scotland offers one answer. The city fathers’ recognised that Edinburgh’s medieval core could no longer accommodate its burgeoning population. This was at the height of the Scottish Enlightenment. So, between 1780 and roughly 1820, the majority of Edinburgh’s New Town was designed and built, on open land! For those with no experience of this Georgian masterpiece, you can fit Georgian Bath into the New Town as least three times. The author did not cite Geddes in his polemic (though Howard’s Garden City Movement was). Yet, what Glaeser and Geddes have in common is a recognition of the central virtue of the city. The author refers to it as ‘our greatest invention’. Geddes viewed cities as ‘cathedrals to the people’. There is a brilliant vignette, comparing the Green credentials and practical results of their respective advocacy, between Prince Charles and Ken Livingstone (former elected mayor of Greater London) (pp. 213-217). The book is almost worth it just for that! His strategic conclusions attempt to draw lessons from urbanising America to that of India and China. It is a compelling way to view the urban future. The irritations all concern style and punctuation; quoting written text in double inverted commas and starting sentences with conjunctions to name just two.

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  • Posted August 4, 2011

    I Also Recommend:

    Polemical Hogwash

    Deceitful, simplified, and repetitive. In particular, Glaeser's analysis of the crisis in Detroit is pathetic. 'Detroit's middle-class escaped Coleman Young (mayor) by moving to the suburbs'. Would recommend that he read 'Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit'. The true cause is no less simple. 1) The migration of black workers to the rust belt alienated whites who prefer homogeneity (as Glaeser notes). 2) Jobs moved outside of Detroit, where land and labor were cheaper and taxes were lower. 3) Discriminatory housing practices were common and kept minorities in inner city Detroit. The Fair Housing Act wasn't signed until 1968 and many jobs had moved outside city limits by then. The cause was structural, not the result of the actions of Coleman Young. In fact, much more damaging than the policies of Young were the discriminatory policies of Albert Cobo, which isolated and disenfranchised the black populace. With no jobs and no mobility, the citizens of Detroit had little choice but to watch their home slowly decay.

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