Monday, September 12, 2011

Some Republicans Still Live in Cities (But They Won't Admit It)

Edward Glaeser. Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier. New York: The Penguin Press, 2011.

The author argues cities are economically and culturally better places to live than non-urban areas. City residents have higher standards of living, healthier lives, and are more environmentally conscious.

Glaeser argues that January temperatures are leading indications of economic growth in cities. Our poor treatment of cities in recent decades has led to greater income inequality, greater economic difficulties, and more environmental problems nationwide.

Two thirds of Americans, or about 253 million, live on 3% of our land that is urban.

New York supplanted Boston as the busiest British colonial port due to shipping wheat and flour which went mostly to Southern colonies. Transportation improvements brought more people to cities. New York declined as a manufacturing area as the global markets grew, yet it remained as a place where people with ideas could comingle, in areas such as academic knowledge, financial innovations, and clothing designs. New York rebounded from financial troubles in the 1970s to where 40% of Manhattan employees are in financial services. Wages increased in Manhattan faster than in all large cities. Manhattan wages are 17% above the national average and 45% above Santa Clara County, a.k.a. Silicon Valley.

Nationwide, city employees earn 30% more than non-metropolitan employees.

Cities globally “are gateways between markets and cultures.”

The author argues Jane Jacobs was wrong that older and shorter buildings would be cheaper. Increasing the supply of housing by building more buildings that are taller decreases housing prices. The author agrees with Jane Jacobs that cities should be very accessible to pedestrians and they should exude creativity.

Historic preservation has its place, according to the author. Yet, Glaeser noted that reducing construction of new homes decreases its supply and increases housing costs. Paris, for instance, is well preserved yet only the wealthy can afford to live there.

Sprawl increases commute times, harms more of the environment, and decreases the sense of community amongst residents. Cities, by comparison, have fewer carbon emissions. Urban dwellers use more mass transit. New York City residents use less gas on average than do residents of any other city.

Athens was a great sixth century B.C. city where much of Western philosophy originated and was explored by many in close residence. Rome had fewer cities and collapsed in part because it had trouble maintaining its many roads and vast infrastructure.

One thousand years ago, three of the four cities with over 50,000 people had Islamic residents, namely Seville, Palermo, and Cordoba. The fourth was Constantinople.

Baghdad in Fifth Century B.C. was a center of exchange of scholastic, philosophical, and mathematical knowledge. Merchants were enriched with a collection of buyers in close proximity.

Nagasaki, beginning in 1543, became a major trading city with Western merchants.

Bangalore was a center of engineering advancements. It remains an international leader in computer and information technologies.

Entrepreneurial advances in information will be what guides future growth.
Cities that adapt to the demands of information will grow economically, Glaeser predicts. Those that don’t will not grow.

Cities that declined in recent years tried to hold on their industrial base, which itself was declining. The cities that grew reinvented themselves and attracted new and growing enterprises.

New York expanded through entrepreneurship. Financial sector employees eared over $78 billion in New York City in 2008.

Some cities declines decline, in part, by what the author calls the “Curley Effect”, named after former Boston Mayor James Michael Curley. Mayor Curley called Anglo Saxons “a strange and stupid race”, an intended insult for many wealthier Bostonians. Some cities that declined actively drove out its wealthier residents. Successful cities attracted wealth and investors.

The author argues the Federal government should allow all people to keep more of their own money. He opposes Federal government policies that help specific locations. He also notes more government programs divert money towards those who are political connected.

Many cities have large numbers of poor residents. Cities that have grown offered ways for poor people to advance themselves. This created new wealth that helped increase the city’s overall wealth.

Government programs on poverty typically target poor people in cities rather than in rural areas. Government programs that help the poor often encourage more poor people to move to cities to access these programs. This further increases urban poverty. A city will improve it is can enable its poorer residents to improve their economic situations.

Empowerment zones were a government program that successfully created jobs for low income workers. Yet it did so at a cost of about $100,000 per job created.

Glaeser argues housing vouchers to low income people allows them to move into improved housing. It also puts public funds into the control of residents rather than the control of builders. Builders often are politically connected and are more prone to use public funds exorbitantly. Studies, though, have shown mixed results with housing vouchers. Overall, African American women improve their lives with vouchers while African American males do not fare as well with vouchers.

Glaeser argues the best Federal policies for poverty are ones that lower artificial barriers between the wealthy and the poor. Policies that provide more to schools in wealthier schools than poorer schools, as often happens currently, only increases the gap between richer and poorer people.

School quality disparities have prevented urban growth in cities such as Detroit. Wealthier people leave urban areas for better schools in the suburbs.

Werner Troesken conducted an economic analysis that showed that, in the late 19th century and early 20th century, cities that invested in municipal waterworks significantly lowered deaths from water borne illnesses. Many troubled cities today, such as Dharavi and Kinshasha, would benefit from investments that reduce diseases and illnesses.

Gilles Duranton and Matthew Turner conducted economic analysis that indicates vehicle miles traveled increases with each mile of new road. Thus, constructing new roads does nothing to lessen congestion.

William Vickrey’s economic analysis shows that vehicle drivers do not factor the lost time costs to other drivers. The economic market answer would be to charge drivers for the congestion they create, such as increasing tools during times of high congestion. London adopted congestion pricing which greatly reduced congestion. So far, the concept of congestion pricing has not been politically viable in the U.S., even though its costs are in the billions of dollars.

An increase in population increases the number of criminal suspects. This makes it harder for police to solve crimes. A doubling of a population reduces crimes solves by approximately 8%.

“Close-knit” communities reduce crime, even in urban areas. Residents watching their neighborhoods that deal with problems when they arise have lower crime rates.

There seems to be no explainable reasons why crime rates fluctuate. The only correlation found is that increases in the number of young people, who commit the most crimes, account for about one fifth of increases in crime. John Donohue and Steve Levitt argue that legalizing abortion led to their being fewer troubled youth which led to lower crime rates.

Crime rates reductions correlate with arrest rates increases more so than with increasing incarceration sentences.

Tougher penalties for drug laws and other crimes increased the number of people in the criminal justice system (incarcerated, on parole, or on probation) from 1.8 million in 1980 to 6.4 million in 2000. Having fewer criminals on the streets lowered violent crimes by 40% during the 1990s. Much debates centers on the increased incarceration of nonviolent criminals. Many of the people who are incarcerated for nonviolent crimes would otherwise lead productive lives, yet some are also violent criminals who were caught more easily committing nonviolent crimes. Society has to weight the costs of denying freedom and reducing the prospects of nonviolent criminals versus lowering crime rates, Glaeser recommends.

Another factor in lowering crimes rates during the 1990s was that there was a 15% increase in the number of police officers. Steven Levitt claims this lowered crime by 5%. An advantage to hiring more police is they are less costly than incarcerating people.

Jack Maple mapped high crime areas in the New York transit system. The New York Police Chief then mapped crime areas in New York. A computer model helped them assign resources to where criminal activity was most occurring.

Cities began reinstating police officers patrolling neighborhoods which the officers knew. Good community contacts helps officers gain trust and to receive information from local residents. Neighborhood patrols were changes from previous concepts of rotating police officers. They were rotated after corruption cases where people were bribing officers known to them.

Neighborhood advisory councils often help police officers. It is noted that police officers who are female and/or of racial minorities have generally been more effective in establishing good community relations.

Suicides and accidents are major reasons of death for younger people. Urban areas have lower suicide and accident rates. New York vehicle deaths are 75% lower than the rest of the nation. The New York suicide rate is 56% less than the rest of the nation. Gun ownership is four times higher in smaller towns than in urban areas.

New York residents aged 54 to 64 have 5.5% lower fatalities than deaths nationwide, 17% less for New Yorkers aged 64 to 74, and 24% less for New Yorkers aged 75 to 84.

Urban residents are most active. Compared to rural residents, urban residents are 98% more likely to see a movie, 44% more likely to see a museum. 26% more likely to drink at a bar, and 19% more likely to go to a rock or pop concert.

Urban residents spend 25% more on footwear.

The 284 foot spire of Trinity Church was once New York’s tallest structure until 1890 when the New York World skyscraper opened and was taller,

Five of today’s ten tallest New York skyscrapers were between between 1930 and 1933. In 1933, New York enacted a 420 page code that regulated building limits that halted much construction. The code also removed New York’s noted setbacks requirements and instead used a system of floor area areas. “Wedding cake” buildings ceased being built as glass and steel slabs were the new norm.

Mumbai enacted a building height limit. This resulted in newcomers living in smaller units. It also created increased congestion.

The author advises cities to replace the permit system with a fees system. Fees should be charged to pay for the social costs of buildings.

Glaeser advises that preservation laws should designate a fixed number of buildings and that the list should be changed only slowly. He seeks to encourage building in areas that need not be preserved.

The author encourages neighborhoods to have the authority to keep their unique characteristics. People should have more influence than should city planners on the directions of their community.

An ironic consequence of efforts by Ian McHarg and others of building new suburban housing projects integrated with nature destroyed more nature from the resulting sprawl.

Housing prices increase by 1.35% for a 1% increase in family income in that area. An area with January temperatures that are 5 degrees warmer than the national average have 3% higher housing prices.

Houston has no zoning code. It provides more affordable housing than do most cities. Houston does have much sprawl and high energy costs.

A gallon of gas, from refining to driving, uses 22 pounds of carbon dioxide. The average family is involved in emitting ten tons of carbon dioxide per year. Gas consumption, according to Glaeser and Matthew Kah, decreases by 106 gallons annually with a doubling of the number of residents per square mile.

California has a good climate than doesn’t require as much energy throughout the year as the rest of the nature.

Centralized governments like Japan tend to have larger capital cities. People locate close to where political power exists. Many businesses want dealings with the government. Japan, even when economically poor during the 1960s, had a population better educated than in most other countries. Many young people started their careers in government employment. This educated workforce helped Japan achieve significant economic gains.

Singapore grew by using both free markets and government directed industrialization.

Cities with a highly skilled population are more apt to adjust over the loss of a major industry

Cities drew from immigration that brings in new talent. A good education system helps city grow and innovate. Poverty programs should help people and not places.

The U.S. population grew by 19.5% or more in every decade from 1790 through 1970 except once, the 1930s.

As Glaeser put it, “The central theme of this book is that cities magnify humanity’s strengths…Our culture, our prosperity, and our freedom are all ultimately gifts of people living, working, and thinking together…the ultimate triumph of the city.”


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