Tag Archives: Chicago

The Pros and Cons of “Triumph of the City”

Editor’s note: This book review was contributed by Rust Wire’s economics expert, Lewis Lehe. If you haven’t already done so, make sure you watch his hilarious and informative videos on congestion pricing. – KG

The last ten years have stoked a renaissance in the genre of “books that make social science research accesible to laypersons while additionally developing the author’s own theory.” The king of the genre is the journalist Malcolm Gladwell, who set airport bookstores ablaze with “The Tipping Point,” “Blink,” and “Outliers.”

Jonah Lehrer is a journalist who wrote “Proust Was a Neuroscientist” and “How We Decide.” Tom Vanderbilt is a journalist who wrote “Traffic.” People love these books. One of my ex-roommates has severe dyslexia and, last winter, he hadn’t read a book in five years. I gave him “Outliers,” and within a few months he had read everything Gladwell ever wrote. Now Victor is truly an outlier.

Unfortunately, the genre’s weak spot has been that all these books are written by journalists, rather than the equivocating career researchers behind the original findings. That’s why it’s refreshing to read a book like “Triumph of the City.” Ed Glaeser is a respected Harvard economist who rejuvenated the entire field of urban economics by doing lots of messy data collection and statistical analysis. “Triumph of the City” is a popular exposition of three of his primary findings and a few of his political opinions.

The findings are:
(1) Cities raise incomes because people are more productive when they interact face-to-face.
(2) Zoning, historic preservation, and pro-home-ownership policies engender sprawl.
(3) Urban dwellers emit less carbon.
The book’s policy prescriptions could be summarized by the following:
(1) Don’t do anything that might cause someone to move to Houston.

Pros:
Everyone should read this book, because it challenges conventional wisdom within the urbanist community. He argues powerfully that many activists’ attempts keep out evil developers just push development elsewhere or make cities more expensive. He’s critical of revitalization programs like light rail and convention centers. He’s critical of historic preservation. One of the most novel cases made is that northern California should allow vastly more sprawl, because Californians emit very little carbon into their perpetually temperate atmosphere.  A liberal Republican, Glaeser’s broader opinions figure frequently and honestly, and he has what I would call the “standard economist political belief”–free markets combined with generous social insurance (see Denmark, Australia, Singapore). If you are fundamentally suspicious of unplanned economic activity, then none of the arguments will move you.

I wouldn’t read the book solely for the arguments, however. “Triumph of the City” is also just a great repository of interesting little piece of stat-porn like:
–“If an area has January temperatures that are 5 degrees warmer, its prices go up by 3%”
–“In Los Angeles, construction costs are 25% higher than in Houston, but housing is over 350% more expensive”
–“More than 85% of people living in multifamily dwelling rent their living quarters. More than 85% of people in single-family detached dwellings own them.”

One of the book’s greatest strengths is the immense index at the end. I predict the books and articles there found will soon become heavily cited in college papers, simply because its hard to find such a great listing of so much research in one place. The index explains a lot of claims which, for brevity’s sake, come off as a little brash or far-fetched.

Cons:
The book has a few drawbacks: Glaeser sometimes vacillates on the scope of the word “city.” He compares the Houston metro to New York City proper too often, and he treats  Santa Clara County (Silicon Valley) as though it were a singular city. Glaeser also seems to really love Chicago for being pro-growth, but a recent census release showed its population declined over the past ten years. And Glaeser comes close to using Detroit as a synecdoche for the entire Rust Belt, which is a pete peeve of mine. Pittsburgh is 68% percent white, and a third of its adults have a bachelor’s degree. Detroit is 77% African American, and only 12% of its adults have bachelor’s degrees. Both places are solidly Rust Belt, yet their demographic differences mean each city faces entirely different day-to-day challenges, as readers of this web site know.

Finally, Glaeser ignores the influence of illicit Codeine cough syrup consumption, which, to me, is the most salient feature of life in Houston, aka “Syrup City”:

Conclusion:
The book will give you lots of food for thought on how you can save your city. But most importantly, you will walk away feeling that your city is worth saving…that there are pressing global issues we can only solve by clustering together amid sidewalks and bus routes…that we can and should  defeat the suburbs of Houston in pitched, hand-to-hand combat.

-Lewis Lehe

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Filed under Book review, Featured, Good Ideas, Real Estate, sprawl, The Media, Urban Planning

Chicago to Redevelop Former Steel Site

The former US Steel South Works in South Chicago will be redeveloped, The New York Times reports.

The “ambitious” $4 billion plan will remake the 470-acre site with homes, a marina, commercial space and a school, the paper reports. It is the largest undeveloped parcel in the city.

You can learn more about the history of the site here; take a look at the before and after photos from the mill’s heyday (below).

This history site notes that 20,000 people once worked at the mill, which closed in 1992 after operating 110 years. It also notes that plans to redevelop the site have come and gone.

There is reason to be skeptical this plan will come to fruition. The Times notes, “the city is overwhelmed with unsold condos and housing units left over from the housing bubble. ‘We currently have years and years of oversupply,’ said James Kinney, the vice president for luxury sales at Baird & Warner real estate.”

Read more history about the site here and see some Flickr shots here.

-KG

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Filed under Economic Development, Featured, Real Estate, The Housing Crisis, Urban Planning

Examining Corruption in Chicago

This article from Chicago Magazine tries to examine Chicago (and by extension Illinois’) culture of corruption in politics.

Among the reasons cited for the state’s problem: old habits die hard, no will for reform, mob connections, racial tensions and more.

What do you think after reading this?

How many of the same things apply to your city?

-KG

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Filed under Crime, Politics

Is Your City ‘Water Sustainable?’

From The Nature Conservancy via the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

“Americans are collectively moving from the places that are best equipped to deal with climate change to those that are least equipped,” (a Nature conservancy blogger) writes.

The five cities at the bottom in water sustainability (Las Vegas, Phoenix and Mesa,  Tucson, and Los Angeles) grew by an average of 37 percent from 1990-2000.

But among the five most water-sustainable cities, only Chicago grew. The other four cloudy and water-rich towns Cleveland, Milwaukee, Detroit and New Orleans — all lost population.”

The article also has information about climate change impacting the Great Lakes, especially Lake Erie.

-KG

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Filed under Economic Development, Great Lakes, the environment

Mapping Race and Ethnicity

How segregated is your city?

You can see at a glance thanks to a project by developed by Bill Rankin, focusing on the city of Chicago. His idea was expanded to 40 US cities by Eric Fisher and posted on Flickr.

Using U.S. Census data from 2000, he created a map where one dot equals 25 people. The dots are then color-coded based on race: White is pink; Black is blue; Hispanic is orange, and Asian is green.

Let’s just have a look see.

Chicago

Chicago

Columbus

Columbus

Get a load of Detroit. Sheesh.

Get a load of Detroit. Sheesh.

-AS

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Filed under Headline, Race Relations, Real Estate, sprawl

Brookings: Great Lakes Metros Should Boost Exports

USA-ECONOMY/TRADE

The folks at Brookings released a report Monday on the importance of exports to the economies of Great Lakes cities.

Among the findings:

– Exports support 1.95 million jobs in Great Lakes metros

– Cities in this region have some of the highest volumes (dollar-wise) of exports and the greatest reliance on exports. Out of the nation’s top 100 metro areas, Chicago ranks third and Detroit ranks ninth in total dollar volumes of exports. Minneapolis, St. Louis, and Indianapolis all rank in the top 20, the study states.

How does your city compare?

“Now is a particularly critical time for Great Lakes areas to be smart about their export strategies,” the report’s authors write.

“There is new national attention to increasing the volume of US exports.  In his 2010 State of the Union Address, President Obama called for a doubling of US exports in the next five years.  Administration officials have also cited greater exports as a way to bolster the condition of the hard-hit manufacturing communities in the US.”

It’s part of a larger Brookings report on how the nation’s cities can lead export growth.

What conclusions should we draw?

“The metropolitan areas of the Great Lakes region are among the most globally engaged metros in the country,” says the report.

“They produce goods and offer services that are in demand around the world, particularly in rapidly emerging markets like Brazil, India, and China.  A national effort to double exports in the next fi ve years holds great promise for these metros that are already fairly export-oriented.  But this opportunity may be squandered if Great Lakes metros do not focus intensely on innovation, both in terms of expanding the range of products and services that they offer and in their specific product and service lines.  A legacy of success in exports does not guarantee future dominance, a lesson that Great Lakes metros should have learned through rough experience.”

What do you think?

-KG

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Filed under Economic Development, Featured, Good Ideas, regionalism, U.S. Auto Industry

The Future of the City

The Atlantic magazine has a special section on ‘The Future of the City.’

There’s  lot of really interesting stuff here, from local currencies to Robert Moses.

-KG

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Filed under Good Ideas, Real Estate, regionalism, Rust Belt Blogs, Urban Planning