Triumph of the City : People not buildings

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Tommy Wells the soon to be Wardman for central Shaw has a book club and will be at the Shaw Library on Monday December 5th. The book for that day is Triumph of the City by Edward Glaeser. Thursday night I downloaded the audio verison from Audible and gave it a half listen while I multitasked at work. I'll have to give it another go through as there were parts where I was not engaging with the book.

What did stick with me was something I've heard repeated in another venue, people not buildings. In my case it is the ocassional sermon/homily to remind us that a church is not a building but its people, and likewise with Glaeser, a city is its people not its buildings. So there are calls to invest in the people with education and such.

Not that the author doesn't talk about buildings. He does, and mentions how wrong the patron saint of urban planning, Jane Jacobs, was wrong. Jacobs liked older buildings and disliked really tall ones. Glaeser points out that taller buildings, allow for a greater population density which allow a city to be greener (factoring heating, transportation, etc) and gives Mumbai as an example of the problems brought about by lots of people in a city with height restrictions. Singapore, on the other hand is a gleaming city-state with 5 million people and really tall buildings. I should ask Kim (he's Singaporean not Korean) over at Field to City why he left such a urban wonderland.

While listening I was wondering how this book applied to DC. Well, loosening up the height restrictions would be one, particularly for areas along the DC/Maryland border. Second would be investing in people, mostly with education. The charters, which began trying to coax parents to give them their children now have waiting lists. I'm seeing some improvement with the DC Community College, so that's looking good. But the thing with investing in people is you've got to be okay with letting them go. You are currently enjoying the investment made by the property tax payers of my home county, the State of Florida and the local county branch of a national bank. I can't think of a third point, I'll have to listen to the book again.

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Yes, Singapore is clean and safe, but those come at a cost, namely personal freedoms. Singapore heavily regulates the media, the opposition is harassed, has the death penalty for drug dealing (they still use hanging), and has corporal punishment for offenses such as vandalism (remember the American kid who got caned back in the 90's?). Even chewing gum is banned in Singapore, ostensibly because it could cause the doors of the Metro to jam.

Additionally, in the 70's and Singapore engaged in its own urban renewal where they buldozed many historic neighborhods and buildings, displacing residents and businesses in the name or progress. They later backtracked a little, but have been accused of creating a "Disneyfied" version of the orient.

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