Joe Urban | Sam Newberg, Urbanist

Are Cities the Real America? Edward Glaeser’s Truimph of the City

Dateline: 9:09 am March 17, 2011 Filed under:

Are cities the real America? For the answer, just check out Jon Stewart’s interview with Ed Glaeser last month on The Daily Show.

Better yet, read Glaeser’s new book, “Truimph of the City.” In it, he presents a very clear-eyed view of the economic value of cities, and strongly argues that urban living is also greener. “We must discard the view that environmentalism means living around trees,” he writes. “We must free ourselves from our tendency to see cities as buildings, and remember that the real city is made of flesh, not concrete.” I like that very much.

Glaeser is unafraid to admit to living in the suburbs, but notes that government should allow people to live where they want, so long as they pay the cost for doing so. Yet today it still encourages people like him to sprawl. You don’t have to agree with his views on high-rises and preservation to appreciate his honesty about our current condition, particularly if we are to seriously address the issue of the myriad ways we encourage sprawl in this county, not to mention that sprawl is a leading export.

He forcefully argues of the economic benefits, efficiencies and opportunities of living in urban places, citing statistics that people are better educated, earn more and consume less in cities. Perhaps most important of all is his recognition that urbanization is occurring worldwide as people seek opportunity, and that America must lead by promoting a greener, more urban lifestyle in order to avert disaster. We must, he notes, “to reduce the hypocrisy of telling China and India to be greener while driving our SUVs to the mall.” Good urbanism is healthier for the entire planet.

Ed Glaeser represents a huge opportunity for urbanists. Rather than criticize him for living in the suburbs and apologizing for Houston, as Phil Langdon does on the New Urban Network, embrace him for being honest about the urban condition. Here is a conservative proposing, quite reasonably, to eliminate the mortgage interest deduction. We new urbansists must understand a that sweeping piece of legislation alone could help our cause immensely by encouraging less buying of large suburban homes and more urban living.

My experience with people in the development industry who believe in the virtues of and opportunities present in cities is they are not as liberal as you might think. Glaeser’s combination of economic potential and environmental friendliness in cities presents the foundation for a coalition of liberals and conservatives to agree on a platform to fundamentally change public policy, and tilt it in favor of cities. The time is now.

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