Executive Summary

Lessons from the Past for Urban Policy in the Era of Trump

The stunning election of Donald Trump as president throws the future of urban policy into doubt. During the campaign he promised to bring new jobs and improved infrastructure to the inner cities, but so far he has furnished no details. Some of the strategies carried out by cities and states in the past may offer the incoming administration some guidance.



The Triumph of the City

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An instant best-seller, Edward Glaeser"s, The Triumph of the City, is an unabashed love sonnet for the world's largest cities. To Glaeser large, Western cities, having survived "the tumultuous end of the industrial age" are "now wealthier, healthier, and more alluring than ever". In the developing world, such large cities, are "expanding enormously because urban density provides the clearest path from poverty to prosperity". Along the way, Glaeser recounts "How Were the Tenements Tamed", "What's Good About Slums", "Is There Anything Greener Than Blacktop" and "What's So Great About Skyscrapers?". Not enough to spark your interest? Glaeser offers excellent chapters offering his view as to  "Why Has Sprawl Spread" and most importantly "Why Do Cities Decline" and "How Do Cities Succeed?. Our review focuses on what the Curmudgeon believes is a blurred distinction by Glaeser between urbanism (all urban areas) and a special class of cities, what he often calls, "older cities" but which, to the Curmudgeon appear to be the world's first tier central cities. Glaeser's work seems to be focused on the latter and the Triumph appears to be a clarion call and a focused strategy of ensuring these large central cities are able to maintain their cutting edge as the engines of world prosperity. To this extent he urges central cities to learn from their rivals, the Sunbelt and the suburbs in particular, and to more effectively counter the challenges from these deficient, if not defective, alternative geographies. The strategy, however, is in many ways, unique. Glaeser departs from much of the usual progressive, pro government approach to urban revitalization and in its place urges central cities to unleash market forces, even greed, to spark creativity and innovation which, to him, is the dense older cities distinguishing asset. Decrying NIMBYism and historic preservation which artifically limits the exercise of creativity and innovation, he urges central cities to build vertically and to rethink zoning and building codes that inhibit flexibility needed by entrepreneurs. The review summarizes much of his prescription of how the central cities can succeed. Above all he urges governments not to try to fix the chronically declining urban areas, such as Buffalo and Detroit. These single-cluster geographies are broken and cannot be fixed unless they themselves find a way to capture the creativity and innovation their remaining density can generate. He urges the Federal government to cease and desist with advantaging the alternative geographies through sprawl inducing programs, subsidies, and policies and instead to become "neutral", prefering no particular urban form or lifestyle. The Curmudgeon is very skeptical that in the last instance, Glaeser really means what he says. In any case, for Glaeser, these large world class first tier central cities are the world's most efficient and dense and therefore green areas are the solution to our environmental crises--if only we would educate ourselves into a proper understanding and respect for the greatest engine of environmental and prosperity on the face of the planet. Continue Reading...