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Glaeser speaks of the strengths of cities.

Urban economist Edward Glaeser told attendees of the Congress of Cities and Exposition that cities allow for and encourage an exchange of ideas that leads to growth.

Glaeser, author of "Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier," spoke at the Delegates Lunch and Closing General Session, which capped off three days of sessions around the topics of economic development, green cities, infrastructure and youth and families.

"Our cities and their governments are really critical for the future of this great country," he said.

One of the great beauties of this country and cities is that there is not one particular vision of how to live, he said.

"At its heart, economics is about the strength that comes from giving individuals choices--choices of neighborhoods, choices of cities, choices of how to live.

Cities play a role of great importance throughout the world, he said, providing pathways from poverty in places like India and China.


Transportation and infrastructure investments allowed cities to be founded and grow throughout the nation.

"By bringing smart people together in dense areas where they can learn from one another, miracles can occur," he said. "These miracles have been happening for thousands of years."

Cities allow for an exchange of ideas, Glaeser said.

He offered the example of Detroit, the birthplace of the car and the mass production of vehicles. That same invention also had a downside. Plants like the River Rouge, while productive, were isolated and did not interact with local suppliers and consumers.

"Successful cities, in the early 19th century and throughout history, have been marked by having smart people, small firms and connections to the outside world," he said. "Those three forces ... are still the ultimate source of economic success in the world today."

The 20th century was marked by a decrease in the cost of moving goods, Glaeser said, making it easier to move businesses. And industrial cities suffered. Cities began to be built around consumer wants instead of producer wants, such as warmer climates.

The role of January temperatures is accompanied by rising sprawl, he said. Spaces were built around the car.

"Older, colder" cities were hit hard by deindustrialization and sprawl, he explained. But many of these cities, such as Boston, Seattle and New York, came back, by attracting businesses and people and bringing together smart people, small firms and connections to the outside world.

"Cities have come back because knowledge is more important than space," Glaeser said. "What globalization and new technologies have done is they've increased the returns to being smart. Because the world is more complicated, because the returns to innovation are higher than ever because you can sell it on the other side of the planet, because you can make it on the other side of the planet. Cities help that happen because we, at our heart, are a social species that gets smart from being around other smart people."

Education plays a large role in whether cities can come back, he said. Having a skilled workforce is key. And it's important, and challenging, to attract skilled people.

Skills are not just about what is learned in school, he said. The most important skills are created at the city level and the most important thing for a city is fostering a culture of entrepreneurship.

Glaeser discussed five variables affecting the last 10 years of population growth:

* January temperature

* Share of citizens with a high school degree

* Share of population that is Latin American

* Share of households with children- being family friendly

* Density- positive with income growth and negative for population growth

Glaeser ended his speech on a positive note.

"The world does face challenges and all of you are facing fiscal difficulties in your cities. But the track record of the past 3,000 years is that cities are capable of producing miracles," he said. "They are capable of doing amazing things because they connect people with one another, because they enable us to learn from one another, to leverage each other's genius as they've enabled the collaborative chains of creativity that are responsible for our greatest hits for thousands of years.

"We will get through our current downturn and we will face whatever challenges we need to face. But we will not face it alone. We will face it together. We will face it by using each other's brilliance and cities will make that happen," Glaeser continued.
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Author:Hogan, Cyndy Liedtke
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Nov 21, 2011
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