“Our Cities Protect Insiders and Leave Outsiders to Suffer”

(p. A15) Mr. Glaeser’s “Survival of the City: Living and Thriving in an Age of Isolation,” written with Harvard health economist David Cutler, shares the pleasing style of its predecessor, an engaging mixture of history and analysis. It has none of the triumphalism of its predecessor, however. In the move to social distancing that began in the spring of 2020, Messrs. Glaeser and Cutler see nothing less than “the rapid-fire deurbanization of our world.”

“Uncontrolled pandemic,” the authors write, poses “an existential threat” to the urban world. Nor is the coronavirus the only problem that cities face. “A Pandora’s Box of urban woes has emerged,” they continue, “including overly expensive housing, violent conflict over gentrification, persistently low levels of upward mobility, and outrage over brutal and racially targeted policing and long prison sentences for minor drug crimes.” These are not disparate problems. Rather, they “all stem from a common root: our cities protect insiders and leave outsiders to suffer.”

In Messrs. Glaeser and Cutler’s view, something has gone deeply wrong with how policy is set in many American cities. Insiders have captured control of how cities operate—and used that control to enrich themselves while providing limited opportunities for newer, younger residents. Consider Los Angeles. In 1970, housing costs in Southern California were much the same as those nationwide. By 1990, building limitations and strong demand had sent prices soaring in many coastal cities. The result: a massive redistribution of wealth from the young to the old.

For the full review, see:

John Buntin. “BOOKSHELF; Saving Our Urban Future.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, Sept. 10, 2021): A15.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date September 9, 2021, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Survival of the City’ Review: Saving Our Urban Future.”)

The book under review is:

Glaeser, Edward L., and David Cutler. Survival of the City: Living and Thriving in an Age of Isolation. New York: Penguin Press, 2021.

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