Notes on Triumph of the City, conclusion

The final installment of my four-part deconstruction of Ed Glaeser’s Triumph of the City. (Parts I, II, III and a brief coda.).

8. Is There Anything Greener Than Blacktop?
– It takes some juggling to claim Thoreau for cities, but our boy Ed manages it.

- “If you love nature, stay away from it.” I know he’s just trying to be pithy and clever in advocating for the (marked and abundantly well-documented) sustainability benefits of urban living, but this happens to be a fairly destructive line to take. By contrast, I was struck by something profound and eloquent Wildman Steve Brill, of all people, said, to the effect that it’s only by immersion in the practice of responsible husbandry that city people ever get to understand what nature actually is and how it works, without illusion or sentimentality.

- “In the 1970s, Jane Jacobs argued that we could minimize our damage to the environment by clustering together in high-rises and walking to work…” The citation is to Death and Life: an eternal work, to be sure, but one in which I don’t remember Jacobs taking quite such an explicitly Glaeseresque line (and which was written in 1961, anyway).

- “As the car finally bested the elevator, the majority of Americans came to live in suburban places that combined city and nature.” The majority? Really? I’m having trouble putting my finger on any statistic indicating that a majority of Americans lived in suburbs, in any year. Per the 2010 CIA World Factbook, and despite some obscurity as to the definitions of “city” and “urban,” the current urbanization figure for the US is 82.1%. I would also not describe suburbs as “combining city and nature,” but that’s mostly a stylistic quibble.

- “The computer magnates of Silicon Valley live in a region blessed not only by an extraordinary climate, but also by a beautiful setting protected from development by some of the world’s most restrictive land-use controls.” The clear implication here, in the context of the argument that Glaeser’s been building over several chapters, is that there’s somehow something sinister and inequitable about this, and that Bay Area living could be more affordable if only, say, the San Francisco State Fish and Game Refuge were to be opened up for unrestricted development. You have to wonder how seriously he means such arguments to be taken.

- “The move to low-density living ended up being far less sensitive to nature than [Hugh!] Ferriss’s vision of a towering metropolis.” And here we rise to one of the book’s peaks of intellectual dishonesty. But for the provisions of the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, America’s cities would be no friendlier to nature than India’s or China’s. Density is a good thing — a wonderful thing — but it’s only a ground condition for low ecological impact. In order to fulfill its ecological promise, high urban density needs to be accompanied by effective, enforceable and actually enforced environmental regulation.

- Every passage that raises the issue of anthropogenic global warming is marked heavily by weasel words: the costs of warming “may well be” enormous, ice caps “appear to be” melting, temperatures fluctuate “for many reasons,” and so on. For whatever reason, I get the sense that Glaeser actually believes in the AGW scenario personally, but doesn’t want to alienate a conservative readership.

- An entirely welcome barrage of statistics supporting the contention that citydwellers use less gas, less electricity and produce lower carbon emissions per capita, and that denser cities score far better on such indices than do sprawling, car-centric conurbations.

- Interestingly, though, “[t]he differences between metropolitan areas are even larger than the differences between individual cities and their suburbs. Coastal California is by far the greenest part of the country. The Deep South is by far the brownest. The five greenest metropolitan areas in the country are San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles [!], San Jose, and Sacramento [!]. The five places with the highest carbon emissions per home are Houston, Birmingham, Nashville, Memphis, and Oklahoma City. The gap between these two extremes is dramatic. A household in San Francisco emits 60 percent less carbon than its equivalent in Memphis.” This surely reflects climate, and the Southern requirement for air conditioning during the summer months; might it also, though, have something to do with the culture we associate with each region?

- Glaeser’s solution is explicit: “[I]f we wanted to reduce emissions by changing our land-development policies, more Americans should live in denser, more urban environments. More Americans should move to coastal California and fewer should live in Texas.” But where is it written that land-use policy is the best, or even among the more efficient, levers we have to reduce emissions? The unacknowledged leap here is perverse. What may be even worse is that even if land-use policies were changed, even if more of the pristine Bay ecosystem were to be opened up to development, it would take a very long time before enough people settled in the Bay Area to move the needle on density. You would destroy the local ecosystem, immediately and in actuality, to maybe buy some long-term easing of emissions. And that’s even stipulating you could (how, in a democracy?) keep people from moving to Texas and undoing all the gains you’d achieved at such terrible cost. I feel like walking Ed Glaeser through a kind of catechism: Why do we want to lower emissions? We want to lower emissions to reduce the contribution of our actions to the acceleration of global warming. Why do we want to reduce the contribution of our actions to the acceleration of global warming? Because global warming threatens the survival of the ecosystems we cherish and rely upon. So…why does it make sense to destroy an ecosystem we cherish and rely upon to lower emissions? (Crickets.)

- Red Ken! Glaeser initially tries to make him out to be a hypocrite on environmentalism because he “opposed skyscrapers, especially Richard Rogers’s plans for a ‘Berlin Wall’ of high-rise buildings on the south side of the Thames.” (Well: when you put it that way, who in their right mind could possibly resist?) In the end, though, he comes off pretty well; Glaeser contrasts him, properly and pungently, with the kind of backward-looking development espoused by Prince Charles, Léon Krier and the American New Urbanists, and concludes that “Ken Livingstone’s green vision combines sustainability and dynamic urban growth.”

- An admission that, whatever happens in the US, it’s the nature of Chinese and Indian urbanization as they unfold that will be determinative, leading into an extended discussion of the prospects for same.

- “Growth patterns in India and China offer both hopeful and disturbing signs. On the plus side, the great cities of both nations are enormously dense.” Yet a single paragraph later, “Shanghai and Beijing, with their 20 million and 17 million inhabitants respectively, are vast places about one tenth as dense as New York City and less than half as dense (about 2,600 people per square mile) as Los Angeles.” That doesn’t sound like “enormously dense” to me, and you kind of wonder which “great cities” of China Glaeser could possibly be referring to, if Beijing and Shanghai are excluded from the accounting. Given that I have no quibble with the characterization as applied to the cities of India, perhaps what we have here is an illustration of the perils that attend rolling the vastly different histories and trajectories of China and India into one tidy narrative.

- Glaeser sounds a cautionary note about the implications for emissions of the Tata Nano. It looks like he needn’t have fretted, on that count specifically at any rate.

- “My awkward suburban life is certainly no model of green living.” There’s this curious trope by way of which many people these days seem to believe that admitting hypocrisy somehow excuses them from that hypocrisy. It’s the moral equivalent of the “I’m sorry if anyone was offended” non-apology.

- “The alleged environmentalists who suffer from the Lorax fallacy and fight high-density development close to urban cores in order to preserve local green spaces are ensuring that development will move to the exurban fringe and that people will drive more.” A few sections back, though, you were arguing that exurban developments like The Woodlands were so successful that they’d actually begun to catalyze intracommunity commutes, rather than longer journeys into the core. The lesson I draw from this is that high-density mixed-use development will tend to exhibit the beneficial characteristics of high density and mixed use, no matter where it happens to be sited — so why site it on some of the most unspoiled terrain in America? And specifically with reference to the Bay Area, does Ed Glaeser not understand that its considerable natural beauty is a large part of what makes it such a desirable place to live in the first place?

9. How Do Cities Succeed?
– “To thrive, cities must attract smart people and enable them to work collaboratively.” OK, no argument here. But how? Through tax incentives? Bike lanes and Gay Pride parades? Coworking spaces? Free public WiFi? A double kick drum by the river in the summer? How?

- “The best cities have a mix of skills and provide pathways for those who start with less to end with more.” Great. Again, though: how? What are these pathways? How might we support their emergence and sustain their capability? Glaeser is, up to this point in the book, silent on the subject.

- OK, here he starts to namecheck different cities he perceives as successful, and offers a one- or two-line characterization of the strategy each (as if consciously!) embraced on its way to success. Tokyo (Edo, actually) was a mandated success — though one naturally wonders why, if one could simply launch a city to brilliance by fiat, Brasilia remains what it is. Hong Kong and Singapore succeeded by “establishing themselves as bastions of economic freedom and the rule of law in an often disorderly part of the world.” (Of course, it doesn’t hurt to sit astride Imperial trade routes, and enjoy the protection of the Royal Navy.) Boston invested in higher education; Paris, quality of life, and Chicago lowered barriers to development. The balance of the chapter will be devoted to a consideration of these templates.

- At least Glaeser acknowledges that each of these strategies is not necessary going to prove relevant to all places: “Certainly Detroit could do very well if it — like Tokyo — became capital of a highly centralized country with an abundance of nationally funded universities, but how exactly can that unsurprising piece of information help Mayor Bing?”

- The account of post-1868 Tokyo here as the “Imperial City” — uppermost stratum of a nation-scale hierarchy and the most central of all central places — reminds me that Manuel de Landa’s A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History is much better on cities as nodes of meshworks and hierarchies. (Of course, to really make use of that material, you have to accept a profound decentering of human intention…but it has been for me a much more resonant and fruitful take on things than the kind of description we encounter here.)

- Singapore represents Glaeser’s paradigm of “Well-Managed” cities. We’re a long, long way beyond minimalist “policing the streets and improving public schools” here, of course. He argues that “Singapore attracts expatriates with a quality of life that is remarkably high,” which again causes me to scratch my head a little — but for the food, which is astounding, Singapore is notorious among the expats I know for the boredom and lassitude it swiftly induces in all but the most oblivious. I think what he means is luxurious: it’s certainly relatively easy for a skilled expat to come to Singapore, make six figures, live in a swank, serviced apartment, drive a fancy car, and have all the fretful needs of daily life taken care of by smiling servants. But I’d personally never confuse that with “quality of life.”

- To comply with Singapore’s congestion-charging scheme, “[e]very car must have a transponder connected to a source of funds.” The transition from vehicle as object to physical instantiation of a mobility service.

- “Americans visiting Singapore can be forgiven for wistfully wondering why our own cities don’t seem so well managed.” Glaeser knows full well that Singapore is able to achieve what it does because Singaporeans tolerate a sprawling array of profoundly paternalistic interventions in personal choice, not a single one of which most Americans would put up with for a heartbeat.

- Gaborone as an African Singapore. I confess to never having heard of Gaborone, but I’ll say this for it: at least its Wikipedia page doesn’t feature a P.F. Chang’s.

- Boston, Minneapolis and Milan represent the “Smart City” strategy. For reasons obvious to anybody who knows me, I prefer Glaeser’s use to the more usual context in which the term is encountered. (Here, at least, it actually means something.)

- Describing Boston in the mid-1970s: “Ethnic strife, epitomized by an epic battle over school busing, tore the city apart.” Not “ethnic”: racial strife. This isn’t the first time Glaeser has confounded and collapsed these two ideas, and the same goes for race and class. I can’t tell if he’s trying to be politically correct, or genuinely doesn’t understand (or care about?) the important distinctions involved.

- Regarding the relative underperformance of the once-vaunted Route 128 technology corridor: “Even before Wang and DEC went out of business, economist AnnaLee Saxenian at Berkeley foretold the decline of Boston’s computer industry, arguing that its firms in their isolated office parks had lost the edge that comes from urban diversity.” We have to reach all the way back to Chapter 1 to do it, but compare Glaeser’s endorsement of Saxenian’s insight here with his praise for Bangalore entrepreneur Subroto Bagchi’s Mindtree, which certainly struck me as being very deliberately “isolated…from urban diversity” in its “compound” “inside the wall” of an office park.

- We’re onto Milan as a city whose fortune is built on education; Glaeser draws an opposition of Miuccia Prada and her empire to Gianni Versace and his. It’s, charitably, rather a stretch to root the benisons the great fashion houses have bestowed upon Milan in formal higher education, of all things, but the Prada/Versace binary is probably worth a whole book in itself. I’d read that book, anyway…or would as long as Prada was the side facing up.

- Vancouver is the “Consumer City.” The section opens with an appreciation of Arthur Erickson, “‘the greatest architect [Canada] ever produced.’” I’ve never heard of Erickson. Glaeser goes on to praise Erickson’s student James Cheng, who I have heard of, and who is responsible for some mildly interesting mixed-use-in-a-single-building developments. A contextually bizarre note, however, is struck when Glaeser lauds Vancouver for the “good planning [which] places these buildings far enough apart to let in light and views and provide plenty of open spaces,” as though he hadn’t spent the bulk of Chapter 6 decrying just such regulation.

- Chicago and Atlanta furnish us with our examples of the “Growing City.” Chicago apparently attracts professionals because it “maintain[s] a strong quality of life and a family-friendly, wholesome Midwestern feel, as compared to Manhattan.” Why don’t you say what you mean, Ed, so I’m not forced to decode this gobbledegook?

- Heh: Dubai. “Dubai never had the chance to be an imperial city, but it seems to have tried almost every other strategy we’ve discussed here.” Maybe not literally imperial, no, but if there’s any contemporary city I’d think of as having been brought into being by fiat alone, it’s this one. Glaeser does offer a skeptical note on the prognosis for the city’s fortunes, but in the end, he’s gracious. By contrast, I’d offer you even money that there won’t be anything left of Dubai in thirty years but some empty, grit-scoured spires whistling eerily in the desert wind.

Conclusion: Flat World, Tall City
– I cringe at any invocation of The Mustache, however oblique.

- “…just as Monet and Cézanne found each other in nineteenth-century Paris, or Belushi and Aykroyd found each other in twentieth-century Chicago.” Beautiful.

- I find it interesting that throughout the book, Glaeser has repeatedly singled out Bangalore as an Indian city that “works.” I’ll reiterate for the third time that I’ve (still) never been to India, and feel like I’m not on the firmest possible ground here. But I have a whole bunch of friends from India, and another cohort of non-Indian friends who have spent considerable amounts of time there (months to years), and the one thing they near-universally describe to me is a city sharply lacking in any conception of public space — a place where privileged Indians and expats alike are shuttled between one privatized, security-guarded, climate-controlled place and another in the comfort of chauffered cars.

- “We can make sure that everybody, not just the privileged few, can enjoy the pleasures of Manhattan or Paris or Hong Kong.” Lookit: I agree with the general sentiment you’re trying to express. But there’s a fatal flaw in your premise, and it’s something you yourself convinced me of, Ed. It’s this: not everyone wants to “enjoy the pleasures of Manhattan or Paris or Hong Kong.” Some will always prefer the golf courses of exurban developments, the “family-friendly, wholesome Midwestern feel” they apparently can’t avail themselves of in the places you list. I get that you think that superhigh-density cities are humanity’s liferaft, and we’re of like mind on this. But how are you going to coax a mobile people into living densely when it’s density itself so many of them are fleeing from?

- OK, in fairness, he acknowledges just this point in the next paragraph, though even then he puts rather a privileged and self-undermining spin on it: “Nobody who can afford [!] such a bucolic life should be forced to live in a city.” You’ve spent an entire book basically arguing that the lack of affordable housing in dense urban places is some kind of moral scandal, you emphasize the fundamental, democratic validity of other lifestyle choices…but you’re OK with preserving a life “surrounded by open space and green trees” for those “who can afford” it? Ed Glaeser, you drive me crazy!

- “The central theme of this book is that cities magnify humanity’s strengths.” Would that it were. By weight, most of the book seems dedicated to a recurring plea to densify urban areas (and presumably, indirectly lower the cost of housing in those areas) by relaxing controls on development.

- “[T]he heart of economics is the belief that businesses work best by competing furiously in a market that the government oversees as impartial umpire.” And here I’ve always thought that the heart of economics is the study of the production, exchange and consumption of goods and services.

- “Cities can compete on a level playing field, but over the past sixty years, America’s policies have slanted the field deeply against them. In the areas of housing, social services, education, transportation, the environment, and even income taxes, American policies have worked against urban areas.” Here is where I (and people who share my take on the world, however few they may be) can most sensibly make common cause with Ed Glaeser (and the people who share his), despite our profound differences of perception and interpretation. We agree that cities are ultimately no more than the people who enact them — who literally give life to them — that contemporary American policy fails those people more often than not, and that we can and should be doing better by them.

- A rather jarring excursus into defense of globalization. “The free flow of goods and services among nations is good for cities and good for the world [citation needed]. Restrictions on free trade will make it more expensive for Americans to buy everyday goods and will harm our major trading partners [citation needed]. We’re far better off allowing our consumers to take advantage of inexpensive foreign products and forcing our producers to adapt than we would be hiding behind tariff walls [citation needed].” I suppose this all goes to how you define “more expensive,” and, as I pointed in out in my comments on the notion of externality, I don’t believe the low price of a plastic chair from Walmart or a Foxconn-built iPhone comes close to accurately valuing the harms that inhere in these modes of production and distribution. It’s not at all clear to me at this point that you couldn’t, for example, onshore virtually everything that was offshored during the 1980s and 1990s, and certainly contend with somewhat higher consumer prices, but enjoy vastly lower net ecological impact from shortened supply chains, a reskilling of the middle tier of the domestic economy, higher-quality and more innovative goods, reduced moral culpability for the exploitation and oppression of foreign workers and despoilation of foreign biomes and (perhaps most importantly of all) a restoration of the country’s sense of its own capability. As a matter of fact, that sounds like a bargain I’d be happy to strike. Nay, delighted. But what do I know? I’m not a University of Chicago-trained Harvard economics professor.

- This pivots into a full-throated warning of the dangers of nativism, and an endorsement of open immigration policy. Here we agree.

- “Education is, after January temperature, the most reliable predictor of urban growth, especially among older cities.” Again, armed with such information, I am hugely curious as to why Glaeser chose not to write his book about that. Sadly, had he, it would probably have been a defense of voucher programs, which “even socialist Sweden” has embraced. Funny, last time I looked, Sweden was a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary-style democratic system currently governed by a center-right coalition, with full provision for private ownership of the means of production.

- “Help Poor People, Not Poor Places.” I’m going to have to think about this in more depth. I think I largely agree with this policy, but can’t help but think that Glaeser is missing or badly discounting the profundity of feeling people have for places. We draw so much of our identity from where we live. So while it may be easy to say in the abstract that any further investment in, say, New Orleans is merely throwing good money after bad, I dare you to look a lifelong New Orleanian in the eye and argue that.

- A passage, a few brief pages long, on “The Challenge of Urban Poverty.” It’s true that though Glaeser has handled questions of affordability directly and explicitly throughout, it kind of astounds me that this is the depth of treatment poverty gets in a book on the topic of cities. While I certainly agree that “[a] nation’s poor are every citizen’s responsibility, not just the people who happen to live in the same political jurisdiction,” they’re also people, and this is something you never quite take away from Triumph of the City. What’s worse is that even this dedicated section soon enough veers off into a discussion of vouchers, as if even a paltry few pages was more consideration than Glaeser felt like devoting to the poor.

- This is followed by a section on the “Rise of the Consumer City,” which contrasts two perspectives on how to attract mobile talent: Richard Florida’s, which “emphasizes the arts, toleration [!] for alternative lifestyles [he means, of course, Teh Gays], and a fun, happening downtown” with one that emphasizes provision of “core public services that have always been the province of cities: safe streets, fast commutes, good schools.” Glaeser further identifies these divergent perspectives with representative characters: “a twenty-eight-year-old wearing a black turtleneck and reading Proust,” and a “forty-two-year-old biotech researcher concerned about whether her family will be as comfortable in Boston as it is in Charlotte.” These are what we used to call, in the context of user-centered design, “personae,” and they’re splendid examples of why that way of doing user-centered design is now discredited: they’re utterly — and in the case of the turtleneck boho, ludicrously — fictitious. The black-turtleneck-wearing Intellectual is a stereotype that dates to 1964, 1965 at the very latest; Dan DeCarlo, at least, wouldn’t have dared pen one into the background of an Archie panel after that date. (For that matter, the only people I know who read Proust anymore turn to him in their late thirties, early forties.) OK, so Ed Glaeser fumbles a one-line characterization. Why does this matter? It matters because it suggests to me that he doesn’t actually know anybody in his or her late twenties in 2012, and therefore is not particularly likely to have any understanding of what such a person wants or does not want from a city. Indeed, it’s so awfully off that it makes me wonder how far wrong the depiction of the biotech researcher is. I’m perfectly happy to see someone rain on Richard Florida’s parade, because fuck Richard Florida, but I would really have preferred that the person making the attempt had done so from firmer footing.

- Late in the game, a final paean to China, whose “leaders…seem to get the fact that tall towers enhance productivity and reduce environmental costs.” Unfortunately, those towers are being built significantly in advance of any real demand for them, a situation for which Glaeser has earlier harshly derided administrative bodies, notably Detroit’s. “Enhance productivity” is also a novel, and unsupported, claim.

- “I suspect that in the long run, the twentieth-century fling with suburban living will look, just like the brief age of the industrial city, more like an aberration than a trend.” Well. As my grandmother used to say: “From your lips to God’s ears.”

And that’s where we end. Glaeser somehow manages to finish the entire book without explicitly mentioning the role of the informal economy, either as it concerns housing or transport or services, or the places where and dynamics by way of which the informal sector gets folded into the formal economy.

This is shocking enough. Worse is that it’s just too easy to poke holes in his central assertions. The book spends a tremendous amount of time, space and energy making the case for the benefits of high-density urbanization, which is perhaps its most central and consistent theme. But time and again, like some door-to-door huckster, he oversells his case. I’m generally, as is well known, a fan of density myself. But if density itself leads directly to innovation, how ought we account (for example) the diverging fortunes of consumption-oriented Manhattan and creation-oriented, lower-density Brooklyn? In the 21st century, Brooklyn only started condensing after having acquired its rep for creativity. Even with bad internal transit connectivity, middling-to-wretched neighborhood porosity, and what are still comparatively low sidewalk LOS averages, Brooklyn has managed to pull off the neat trick of giving rise to a flowering of culture and creativity whose full impact has yet to be felt, while having already passed into a degree of easily-mockable mannerism. And yet there’s no account of this remarkable process — or anything like it anywhere — in Glaeser’s account of urban “triumph.”

At times, I wasn’t even sure what the book I was reading was supposed to be about. Was it a history of how the city came to be humanity’s dominant form of habitation? A primer on urban stewardship for the aspiring policymaker? A field guide to the diverse varieties of contemporary urban form? This is a structural and editorial failing more than anything else, but it leads directly to the book’s major weakness: all of those books have been written before, by more specifically knowledgeable authors, in a far greater wealth of detail. (I liked half of this book better when it was called The City In History by Lewis Mumford, and the other half better when it was called City: Rediscovering the Center by Holly Whyte.)

Here, as so often when I engage the work of economists, it feels like Glaeser ultimately only has one tool in his toolkit: incentives. It’s kind of unsatisfying. What about a thundering call to moral rectitude, of the sort we associate with Gandhi or King? What about the aspiration to greatness, we-do-these-things-not-because-they-are-easy-but-because-they-are-hard style? (I suppose the more intransigent sort of economist would argue that that too ultimately reduces to a manipulation of the weighting of various kinds of incentives to action.) And for all the emphasis on competitive factors, where is any suggestion at all of coordination and cooperation between cities?

Let’s talk policy. Policywise, Triumph is like a Mitt Romney speech: Glaeser gets the part about the necessity of a clearly-articulable high-level strategy — OK, we’re going to simultaneously densify cities and lower barriers to entry by building lots and lots of high-rise apartment towers, everywhere — but is infuriatingly thin on specifics. Subsidize the construction of supertall residences everywhere? OK. What about places where the anchoring properties of the Earth’s crust or the geodynamic conditions or, god forbid, local architectural traditions aren’t well-suited to skyscrapers? Should we resign ourselves to those cities being jewelboxes sprayed with fixative forever after, sacrifice zones to privilege?

More confoundingly still, his high-level recommendations tend to shift from chapter to chapter, to align with whatever anecdote he’s telling. This would actually be much less of a problem than it is, had he simply embraced the perfectly sensible general principle that most problems are bounded by local detail, and there are few if any workable one-size-fits-all global solutions. Instead, though, he likes to formulate his prescriptions fairly strongly and sweepingly, even if they contradict things he’s said a mere chapter (or paragraph!) previously.

And at best, the only urban futures his recommendations are particularly suited to are straight-line extrapolations of current tendencies and conditions. But if there’s anything the sensitive student gleans from a consideration of history, it’s how often the progress of the species has been marked by unanticipated reversals, doublings, crashes, knight’s-moves or entirely lateral evolutions. Triumph of the City nowhere accounts for such contingencies, and it’s specifically and profoundly weak on the topic of emergent urban technologies.

I don’t want to neglect the positive aspects of having a powerful pro-urban voice enter the field. Ed Glaeser and I both want to see more people living in better cities with more opportunity. We have some pretty important differences, though, over how best to realize that opportunity. I believe people ought to have more control over the circumstances of their lives, and he apparently believes that developers ought to have more control over what people are offered, and unimpeded access to the environment in which we all of us together must live. For me, its weirdly denatured account of the factors we weigh when making life decisions, its weirdly retrograde depiction of Homo urbanus as Homo economicus, and its weirdly stubborn refusal to acknowledge the real and persistent limits on mobility and choice all too many of us do face are all disqualifying factors for Triumph of the City, and I’m afraid anyone looking for a thoughtful, conscious, truly contemporary guide to the creation of better, more humane urban environments is best advised to keep searching.

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