Book Review: Triumph of the City by Edward L. Glaeser

Author: Edward L. Glaeser
Title: Triumph of the City
Publication Info: Penguin Press HC, The (2011)
ISBN: 9781594202773

Glaesar's book is an analysis of the city as one of the great inventions of humanity and the connections the city fosters being a moving force behind human ingenuity and progress.  Cities are seen as a place with poor people living in slums yet Glaesar demonstrates that cities actually draw poor people because cities offer them opportunities to improve their lives.  Glaesar also demonstrates that cities are more environmentally friendly than suburbs.  He criticizes how government policies tend to  encourage sprawl and expensive housing.  Several cities (including my own, Boston) are cited as examples of successful cities.  If there's one thing that does make me uneasy about this book is Glaesar's uncritical support of free-market capitalism, but he does make a good point that governments should spend money to help the poor but not spend money on poor places, an important distinction.  My opinion is already biased toward cities, but I believe this book makes a great argument toward encouraging dense well-managed cities as the sustainable way to go for humanity's future.

Favorite Passages:

“The strength that comes from human collaboration is the central truth behind civilization’s success and the primary reason why cities exist.  To understand our cities and what to do about them, we must hold on to those truths and dispatch harmful myths.  We must discard the view that environmentalism means living around tree and that urbanites should always fight to preserve a city’s physical past.  We must stop idolizing home ownership which favors suburban tract homes over high-rise apartments, and stop romanticizing rural villages.  We should eschew the simplistic view that better long-distance communication will reduce our desire and need to be near one another.  Above all, we must free ourselves from our tendency to see cities as their buildings, and remember that the real city is made of flesh, not concrete.” – p. 15

Recommended books: The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs, Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software by Steven Johnson, and The Cul-de-Sac Syndrome: Turning Around the Unsustainable American Dream by John F Wasik.
Rating: ****

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