“the most remarkable social phenomenon of the present century is the concentration of  population in cities.” Adna Weber [1899]

Enough writing about agglomeration, urban innovation,and the future of cities, here’s a talk about it. Edward Glaeser, economist and professor from Harvard and author of the Triumph of the City: How our greatest invention makes us richer, smarter, greener, healthier and happier  (reviewed here by Patrick) will be speaking at the University of Auckland on Monday 1 July.

Glaeser’s exhaustive research identifies the benefits of densification and urban agglomeration across cities worldwide. Glaeser and fellow urban economists are increasingly finding that it is people’s ability to collaborate and learn from each other that is the key to innovation and prosperity. This “where good ideas come from” thesis is facilitated by a sort of city-ness structure that is being nurtured through municipal creative-class initiatives, and being replicated by corporations such as Zappo’s and Google.

While clearly a market-oriented cat, Glaeser eschews conventional top down, silver-bullet economic development strategies (eg motorways and convention centres), for more organic, broad-based strategies such as investing in education and increasing housing supply.

We highly recommend this talk as it will be very relevant to the future direction of Auckland. Follow ATB on twitter (@AkTransportBlog), as someone may be live tweeting a bit of it under the hashtag #GlaeserAKL.

Here is a link to register for the event.

1 July, 6:00 PM start.

The University of Auckland Business School, Lecture Theatre OGGB5, Level 0, Owen G Glenn Building, 12 Grafton Road, Auckland

The council is also holding an Auckland Conversations event with Glaeser earlier in the day which is being held:

Monday 1 July, 2pm-4pm Aotea Centre, Upper NZI Conference Room.

You can register for it here.

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20 comments

  1. one of the most interesting aspects of this debate for me is how technological developments seem to be enhancing the attractiveness of urban areas. This is quite contrary to the prevailing meme of the last few decades/centuries, which has emphasised how technology will help people to “escape” the city.

    1. Stu I’m just writing on this very subject for a book review… How come they all got it so wrong? My guess is simply that all thinking about the future involves a projection of current values and in the 60s sprawling out to the Ranch was in, so why wouldn’t fab new tech just make that easier and even more desirable….? Still doesn’t answer why it didn’t happen… that i suspect is even more straight forward; people like, need, other people; for work and play. That’s it; we’re social animals, better in groups.

      Then there’s the sainted JJ’s great line:

      “By its nature, the Metropolis gives us what otherwise could only be given by travelling; namely, the strange”

      It’s the pull of the strange! Cities make us feel alive in ways that the sleepy ‘burbs don’t…..

      1. But surely the ‘burbs are a valid and vital compnent of every city. They go together like hand and glove. It’s when the ‘burbs turn into big fat boxing gloves that we get problems.

      2. One reason everyone got it so wrong was that they failed to anticipate how the massive devaluation of inner urban real estate precipitated by suburbanisation in the 1960s and 70s would create opportunities for reinvestment that would ultimately be irresistible to the financial sector.

        That the opportunity for such reinvestment existed was initially spotted not by the financial sector, but by counter-cultural hippies, students, artists etc. David Ley is good on this:

        http://books.google.co.nz/books/about/The_New_Middle_Class_and_the_Remaking_of.html?id=TrmLdS4KYpoC&redir_esc=y

        In an Auckland context, think of Parnell, Mt Eden, Grey Lynn, and what they have now become.

        That’s the demand-side explanation – a cultural shift away from suburbanisation. However, if it had just been about the counter culture, it would never have stuck. It needed the financial sector and capital to realise that there was a major opportunity for profit afoot and to direct mortgage lending and support for developers accordingly. Neil Smith is good on this:

        http://www.amazon.com/The-New-Urban-Frontier-Gentrification/dp/041513255X

        This is the supply side explanation.

        It doesn’t take too long delving into Ley and Smith to see that there’s a major political divide between these two perspectives (this divide is not a million miles removed from the tension that killed Kurt Cobain – how the ‘alternative’ becomes mainstream – if you live in Ponsonby because it’s ‘cool’ and find that all your neighbours are accountants and lawyers then you’re living with this contradiction…).

        But that politics is largely one of… well… your politics. It’s not difficult to acknowledge that the two pieces of the picture are both relevant. The hard part in actual cases is finding ways to prevent gentrification excluding ordinary people on ordinary incomes from living in central city neighbourhoods. That’s a very real concern in contemporary Auckland.

        1. Is gentrification a huge problem though? Isn’t it just part of the natural cycle that places go through; from bright beginnings, maturity, decay, rediscovery, reinvestment, maturity….. and so on.

          It’s such a yawn to read, as I did again today in that ‘new’ housing study that just pumps out ll the usual Demographica distortions, about appreciation in value of houses in Ponsonby. Yes the it’s true the value of property there has gone up, but it is absurd to compare a 1970s Victorian rotting wreck with an outside loo with the same house now after half a million has been spent on it and claim that it’s all been speculators gain…. gentrifiers invest and upgrade… whoops there goes the neighbourhood.

          1. One of the reasons that gentrification in the 60s/70s wasn’t anticipated was that it was the first time around that ‘natural’ cycle, so it was impossible to anticipate it. There really was no reason to believe that inner urban slums would be revived when there was no previous evidence to suggest that they would be. It’s also worth noting that it is not at all clear (since we haven’t had long enough yet to know) if the cycle repeats – there’s not much sign of those inner urban parts of London like Islington decaying once more, as we might expect them to do, if it really is a ‘cycle’.

            The term gentrification was coined in 1963 (I think) by Ruth Glass writing about parts of Islington. Jonathan Raban captured the moment in ‘Soft City’ – and the issue that many have with gentrification is that it can often be a ‘moment’ – a brief flowering of diversity and interesting new shops, bars, cafes etc, before everything becomes samey, safe, and kind of boring, because, well… because the only people that can still afford to move in are not the gentrifier types!

            Of course, the people who live in a neighbourhood after it has gentrified don’t necessarily see it that way—but then they wouldn’t—and the people who lived there before it gentrified, probably see it very differently—but then they don’t live there any more, so who knows?!

            But to answer your question “Is gentrification a huge problem though?” No, not necessarily. But housing becoming so expensive that it causes social exclusion might be. That’s not the same thing as gentrification, but in any society with vast differences in income, and large fractions of personal wealth tied up in property, it might amount to very nearly the same thing.

      1. yes, and that is one city that is on my list of places to go – apparently they’re doing lots of great things.

          1. Not sure but the affordability could be a recent thing? FWIW- I visited Chicago in 2006 and again in 2009- lots of apartments near the lake were being built in 2006 and were going really cheaply in 2009 because of the property market crash. It is a great city to visit (museums, food, parks, Lake Michigan, etc.) and parking is **really** expensive.. The downtown was quite walkable, IIRC..

  2. I recall a post a while back that looked at how certain aspects become more efficient with higher concentrations such as transport and electricity. In that post the author said the health greenness got worse which is interesting as this guys claims large cities make these things better.

    1. SF if you don’t provide a link how can we see what you are refering to and whether it isn’t just your memory that’s flipped things round; what you’ve written makes no sense to me.

  3. But it may fail to reconcile that fact that this modern metro area succeeds in spite of the lack of density which supposedly facilitates all-important interpersonal relationships in large cities

    1. Your argument seems to assume that density is the only important factor. Ignoring our port, educated population, healthy population, good environment etc.

  4. De-urbanization is the only solution for global disaster.. stop dreaming with green cities.. also this guy lives in a suburb (neither him really believes what he´s talking about)

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