Edward Glaeser author of “Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier and Happier” offers a convincing argument that future suburban and rural development will languish as the benefits of dense urban development force rethinking of the here-to-for generally accepted American lifestyle pattern of urban, suburban and rural development.

Glaeser a Professor of Economics and Director of the Taubman Center for State and Local Government at Harvard, is probably the most noted spokesperson on the role of cities and the benefits of dense urban development.  An out spoken critic of past urban planning practices that result in low-density suburban and rural development, he offers clearly stated reasons that compact higher density development will make significant contributions benefiting a new American city-centered lifestyle.

Convincingly stated, Glaeser credits urban density as the remedy for many economic, social and environmental evils.  He claims that “urban density provides the clearest pathway from poverty to prosperity” and future environmental sustainability.

His arguments include that –

  • City workers earn 30% more wages,
  • Workers are 50% more productive,
  • Increasing city population by 10% results in 30% GDP increase,
  • City per capita income is 400% greater,
  • City folks report higher happiness, and
  • Cities serve as global cultural & market gateways.

all which contribute to the clustering of commerce, intellectual skills and entrepreneurial innovation in cities.   He credits the attributes of cities with the unique ability to magnify human creativity.

Glaser advocates public policy that capitalizes upon the fact that cities along with their economic benefits, use less energy, have a smaller carbon footprint, conserve land, maximize governmental supplied infrastructures, and offer pathways for elimination of poverty.

To grow this success he suggests:

  1. Giving cities a level playing field – don’t prop them up – letting them find their own competitive advantages for sustainability.
  2. Eliminating limitations on global free trade that will increase city transport economics.
  3. Allowing enhanced immigration which increases city population.
  4. Increasing city resident population education attainment.
  5. Eliminating public school monopolies to obtain better education delivery services.
  6. Eliminating government redevelopment subsidy programs.
  7. Eliminating government programs that sustain “live in place” unemployment lifestyles.
  8. Creating consumer centric places which attract creative class residents.
  9. Reversing NIMBY’ism and status quo biases.
  10. Redirecting mortgage interest rate dedication away from single-family homes on large lots.
  11. Refocusing transportation infrastructure funding away from suburban expansion projects.
  12. Equalizing per person tax burdens to geography redirecting urban tax generation from suburban/rural geographies.
  13. Creating a carbon tax.

However while well-intentioned, absent in this analysis is comment on “what will the suburban and rural communities of today look like in this future?”

Will we create “ghost towns” and dying pockets of rural poverty, a trend now emerging especially across the Midwest due to globalization and productivity innovation of the US manufacturing economy?

Will we abandon traditional smaller towns which sprang-up along transportation routes when the rail and highway system dominated the movement of people and goods?

Will we incent or regulate out-of-existence urban sprawl advancing the notion that a better life is always available in the more dense cities?

Aaron Renn the “Urbanophile Passionate about Cities” blogger takes Glaeser to task on this vary subject in his March 25, 2012 posting.

Aaron takes an exception to the idea that only the denser big cities can, or should survive, and become the catalyst for this preferred future.

Personally, I subscribe to a more middle road position advocated by Richard Longworth in his book Caught in the Middle: America’s Heartland in the Age of Globalism. He recognizes the Midwest of the future will be populated with more ghost towns, as we move to a more centric form urban development functioning on higher capacity and speedier transportation of information.

This new globalization transportation mode – the movement of information – will likely require more education and innovation of younger workers, skills likely to be more readily available in urban areas compared to rural areas.

This plays well into the idea, supported by Glaser, that cities leverage and magnify human resources for community and personal benefit.

The future is clear under Glaser’s scenario. 

First, cities will “out shine” all competition for human and financial capital providing greater personal advantages than offered in suburban and rural settings.

Being close rather than farther is better. Suburbs will survive, as a personal choice, especially geographic locations with transport convenience to the denser urban cities with demonstrable advantages.

Bottom line – some additional ghost towns, some additional cities will depopulate over time into ghost towns and some additional economic stronger, yet unidentified, cities will revitalize.

Today, the questions before the smaller town and suburban planner and their local elected officials is which do we choose – do we take action to identify our true competitive advantages and leverage them to our future advantage or do we stick with our “status quo biases” and let time determine our future!

For me activism is called for!

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