Book Review: Edward L. Glaeser, Triumph of The City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier (The Penguin Press 2011)
Environment and Planning A, 2012
4 Pages Posted: 5 Dec 2011 Last revised: 8 Dec 2011
Date Written: December 5, 2011
It is always a bit unnerving to read someone else’s love letters, but even more so, when you have the same object of desire. Edward Glaeser’s TRIUMPH OF THE CITY is a love letter to cities and to New York City in particular. Glaeser provides a theoertical framework of the city, arguing that “Cities are the absence of physical space between people and companies. They are proximity, density, closeness.”
Glaeser prescribes three simple rules to protect the vitality of the urban environment: First, cities should replace the current lengthy and uncertain permitting process with a simple system of fees. Second, historic preservation should be limited and well defined. Finally, individual neighborhoods should have some clearly delineated power to protect their special character.
While Glaeser does not fully justify his set of rules, he does provide a thought-provoking discussion of the consequences of not following them. If you were to take nothing else from TRIUMPH OF THE CITY, you should attend to its cri de coeur: “the real city is made of flesh, not concrete.” But, notwithstanding its limitations, the book offers much, much more than that. It challenges broadly held beliefs and presents a theory of the city that helps to evaluate urban policy proposals with a clear eye.
Keywords: Cities, urban policy, environmentalism, land use, regional planning, housing, homeownership, sprawl, poverty, historic preservation, green, density
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