Review of Edward Glaeser’s Triumph of the City

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:

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.

Cities Done Right Generate Comprehensive Improvements

Edward Glaeser’s, Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier ©2011 has been enlightening. Most importantly he emphasizes how cities make people smarter when they interact with more smart people because it helps them connect and create. He also clarifies that it is people who make cities great, not things. Smart, idealistic, driven people make cities better, not great buildings.

Cities that spend money on buildings rather than helping people improve and have a better life was referred to as the “Edifice Error”. The Edifice Error is the belief that abundant new buildings lead to urban success. Good people are a leading indicator and great buildings become are a lag indicator. (see Money Is a Lagging Not a Leading Indicator) He documents the value of education and efforts that bring people together to help them develop skills abilities and common values citing these as the important precursors that enable cities to be great. As he documents in his TED Talk, “It’s Time to Embrace Our Cities”, income levels rise as population density increases. He also documents the more educated the population, the better that city does.

In other words, generating pervasive, reciprocal, selfish, selfless interactions such as education generates synergistic benefits when people converge and interact to make things better. Of course the pandemic makes face to face meetings difficult, however the technology enabling virtual communications are powerful and helpful. Another interesting point he discusses is the presence of poor people. He clearly demonstrates the obvious, cities do not make people poor, poor people come to cities for the potential to improve their lives. If people stay poor in a city, then things must be done to enable connection and contribution to improve. He also documents the value of diverse businesses in a city to provide the ability to ride difficult times for any organization.

I am not finished with the book, however I am amazed to see the same repeated themes as I have attempted to capture with the Paneugenesis Process to generate comprehensive improvements. From my understanding, people go to a city when they see and dream of a better future, or can “Operationalize an Idealized Outcome”. How good is the city doing at helping it citizens succeed? Cities help its citizens succeed by having having the “Precursors” of a good infrastructure and a good education system to build better people. Of course all this can only be possible if they “Optimize the Process” so they can create beneficial interactions. How well has the city done in making movement and interactions likely? This also means cities must continue to document or “Plot Progress” as they create the institutions and systems that make better possible. If progress is not happening, the process must be adapted, adopted and improved. This is another example of using Deming’s Plan-Do-Study-Act process to generate a better process. All this must be incorporated as we attempt to generate comprehensive improvements with the Paneugenesis Process.

Practice Paneugenesis using this 4 Step to Process

  1. Operationalize a Desired Idealized Outcome – Imagine and then clearly articulate the future you want that is not possible now
  2. Develop Necessary Precursors to make Desired Outcome Possible – Generate and bring into existence those things that will be necessary to make the idealized outcomes possible that do not exist now
  3. Optimize the Process to Develop Skills and abilities that  Precursors possible – Continually find out what you must start doing, working with, thinking about and making possible that will in time ripple out to make that new idealized outcome a future possibility
  4. Plot Progress to document, demonstrate, and celebrate Improvement – Continually take note of progress and then build upon that success to make it even better

To me Glaeser’s work documents that improved quality of life can be created through effort toward an envisioned better future. Please share how you can or are using a similar process to generate comprehensive improvements. Please let us know how we can work with you to to generate pervasive, reciprocal, selfish, selfless, synergistic interactions so everyone and everything benefits.

Be Well’r,
Craig Becker

Be selfish, selfless, & synergistic so everyone and everything benefits!


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