Two tales of a city.

AuthorWagner, Ethan
PositionTriumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier - Book review

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

Edward Glaeser

(New York: Penguin Press, 2011), 352 pages.

"As in the pseudoscience of bloodletting, just so in the pseudoscience of city rebuilding and planning," wrote Jane Jacobs in The Death and Life of Great American Cities, her scholarly assault on the field of city planning. (1) An iconoclast, Jacobs intended the volume as nothing less than an indictment of the prevailing urban orthodoxy. "Years of learning and a plethora of subtle and complicated dogma have arisen on a foundation of nonsense," she wrote. (2) In painstaking detail, Jacobs refutes the titans of city planning whose ideas dominated her era: Daniel Burnham, Lewis Mumford, Le Corbusier and Robert Moses, among others. In time, she was hailed as a pioneer in urban thought and a champion of those who see cities as living communities, not mere lines on a map. Though the faceless high-rises she disdained still tower over many metropolises, her vision has become required reading for urban planners everywhere, and her ideas form the basis of some of the most successful efforts to revitalize life in the American city over the past twenty-five years.

Fifty years after Jacobs's seminal work first appeared, Edward Glaeser, an urban economist who teaches at Harvard and writes for the New York Times, has set out to overturn conventional thinking about our urban landscapes once more. In Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier, he presents an avalanche of data to argue that our fundamental misunderstanding of the way cities work and their importance to our future have led to poor policy choices and misguided attempts to salvage failing urban areas. In an era when advances in communication technologies have led some to predict the death of distance, Glaeser contends that physical proximity--and the competition and collaboration that such closeness promotes--is more important than ever. Like Jacobs, Glaeser extols the city as an incubator for intellectual dynamism and an engine for new ideas. A thriving metropolis, he insists, requires recognition that the fundamental building block of the city is not made of steel and concrete, but of flesh and creativity.

But where Jacobs invited us to reevaluate our understanding of the city by strolling its sidewalks and peering into its storefronts, Glaeser prefers to take a...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP