Notes from Prof Ed Glaeser’s keynote at the 2011 American Planning Association Conference in Boston, 12th April 2011
A city’s “innovative density” is provided by its urban connections.
Historical urban growth and decline
Historically, cities grew by water.
As transport costs lowered (now 10% of a century ago) people and production did not need to be near water hubs – leading to suburbs and low density living.
Warmer cities grow faster.
The car is a product of a city (Detroit) but not the kindest of progeny.
Average US car commute 24min
Average US pub transport commute 48min
The hallmark of declining cities is that they have an abundance of infrastructure. Governments need to invest in people not in infrastructure. This was the mistake of the Detroit people mover, passing over empty houses on empty streets.
Cities that come back eg NY through the influence of financial markets – a fact that is not discussed enough.
Wealthy people live in and work in cities because, in terms of making money, intimate knowledge is more important than having lots of space eg the Bloomberg bullpen, modelled on wall-less financial market settings.
By being around smart people we become smarter.
More skilled areas have grown more quickly.
Cities are places of promise and poverty. Urban poverty is not sign of failure but of success. Dharavi attracts people with a promise of a better life; better than the enforced sterility of the suburbs.
If, when a subway stop is built, poverty levels rise in the vicinity of that stop, is that a bad thing? No, it shows that subways attract people who can’t afford to drive – this fact should be celebrated.
Roads and driving
The answer is not to build new roads.
Turner showed that “If you build it they will drive”.
Congestion charging is the solution. There is no right to drive in the Constitution.
Conclusions – Policy changes needed
1. change the US obsession with home ownership, especially large houses. Typically, even lower income homes in the US are 2x those in the UK and Germany – by making urban housing expensive, the federal government is socially engineering poor people into suburbs
2. change the US federal obsession with building highways, especially in low density cities
3. reform the schools system that is forcing people to suburbs in search of good schools.
Thank you for coming and thank you for what you do. Planning matters because space matters.