Review of Edward Glaeser’s Triumph of the City

Edward Glaeser’s book, “The Triumph of the City: How our greatest inventions makes us richer, smarter, greener, healthier, and happier“. This book was quite good. It helped me adjust my understanding of city living. He recommends taller buildings and increased density in areas that are temperate and require less carbon intensive lifestyles. He explained that when one area stops construction for local environmentalism, the harm is not avoided, it just shifts to a less temperate area, an outcome that hurt us all. As Edward Glaeser, PhD emphasizes throughout the book, the engine for improvement is people, not cities. Cities are great because they enable smart people to interact with other smart people more regularly. These interactions generate ideas and productivity. Throughout the book he cites statistics of increased productivity from cities with higher density than areas with a lower density of people.

There were several other aha moments for me throughout the book. A developed a new understanding related to poor people in cities. Dr. Glaeser explained that poor people come to the city because they see it as an opportunity to create a better life, which many are able to do. If people remain poor in a city, then work must be done by that city. If new poor people keep moving in, this can drive improvement. According to Dr. Glaeser, these are the keys to helping a city thrive: a good education system so people become more educated, a good infrastructure with good transportation, clean streets and the rule of law. If these factors are in place, it attracts people and investment. Additionally, with those precursors in place, they can generate an optimized process to yield desirable results for the city and that city can then contribute to the world. If a city wants to thrive, it is Incumbent upon that city to have a good infrastructure so all people can get a good education, be transported to jobs and are likely to meet with and interact with other people. He also documented the cities are good for immigrants and immigrants are good for cities because interactions with a diverse set of people yields even better results. This is an outcome from which we all benefit. Developing new talent through education and interactions is a good investment for the city and the world.

He also caused me to rethink taxing and how it is used. He documented that cities pay higher taxes due to higher salaries and higher productivity but then that tax money goes to less productive areas. Overall, he wasn’t complaining about being taxed just that the tax system now is anti-urban and pro suburban. He also noted a reason this happens. Congress is over represented by suburban areas. Low density states get 2 senators like high density states. He cited 5 states with just 1.2% of the population have 10% of the power in the senate and this creates an imbalance of power for a minority of the population.

Overall, he had an environmental agenda. He questioned this policy because cities are significantly less carbon intensive per person than suburban living. Suburban living generates more emissions per person than city living because suburban living generally requires more driving and bigger houses, each of which requires more energy use. An example of the subsidizing of suburban living was the mortgage tax deduction. I wonder about his thoughts now since the mortgage tax deduction has been eliminated. Another question relates to the recent publication in Scientific American, “U.S. Cities Are Underestimating Their Greenhouse Gas Emissions: The errors could make it more difficult for cities to meet goals for reducing their planet-warming footprint” (at: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/u-s-cities-are-underestimating-their-greenhouse-gas-emissions/)

Overall, it is a good book and a thought provoking. I recommend this book. These ideas all seem to support the practice of paneugenesis because it suggests cities can help generate comprehensive benefits by creating pervasive, selfish, selfless, synergistic interactions with a good infrastructure from which everyone and everything will benefit.

Be Well’r, 

Craig Becker

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