I picked up Triumph of the City, by Ed Glaeser, who’s been coming up a lot lately. I got about halfway through it, to page 127, where I read this paragraph
There is even a statistical reality behind the passion for shoes of the urbanites in Sex and the City. Big-city households spend 25 percent more on footwear, again relative to their total budgets, than households outside of cities, presumably because they are buying fancier shoes, although it is possible that their shoe leather is wearing out faster pounding the city pavement. As in Sex and the City, the urban desire to present an attractive appearance also reflects the fact that big-city density serves to connect people romantically, creating a market for mates that is, in its way, as important as the labor market.
And just kind of sighed and put the book away. It’s not just this passage; it’s most of the book. It reads like an overgrown magazine article, full of semi-pointless anecdotes and obvious facts. I just don’t feel that it’s groundbreaking work to talk about footwear sales, or the origin of the word “restaurant”, or the fact that Bangalore is hopping, or the fact that the Harlem Renaissance “brought together a dizzying array of writers”.
That’s not to say there’s no meat. He has an excellent point about city poverty: that it should be accounted a sign of success rather than failure; it’s better than rural poverty, and that a city attracts the poor means that it’s offering opportunities to move up. He also has some good reflections on how First World cities overcame their 19th century problems– corruption and poor health, and how telecommunications paradoxically enhances the value of face-to-face interaction.
Glaeser is a conservative, which mostly comes out in some snark about government boondoggles and an unargued confidence in schools vouchers. But for that very reason, I’d recommend the book to my conservative readers, if I still have any. Conservatives could stand to hear one of their own explaining that cities are hotbeds of entrepreneurship and innovation, that they prosper when there’s heavy investment in education, that high-density development is good for people and for the environment, that immigration benefits the host country, that the government should stop supporting sprawl. Just try to skip the anecdotes about shoes.