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I’VE JUST READ Ben Rogers’ “The Great Sorting,” a London Review of Books review of Richard Florida’s The New Urban Crisis: Gentrification, Housing Bubbles, Growing Inequalities and What We Can Do About It.
These two have urban cred a’plenty. Ben Rogers is director of the Centre for London, a think tank that develops policies for improving the city. Richard Florida is a professor and head of the Martin Prosperity Institute at University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management; he’s also editor at large at City Lab, a website that posts several articles a day on urban trends, debates, movements, and technologies
As Florida’s title suggests, the book overflows with concepts and proposed solutions. What follows here are tidbits gleaned from his book and comments by reviewer Rogers.
What About That Internet Revolution? “Why,” asks Ben Rogers, “would anyone put up with all the bad things in urban life—the crowds, the noise, the expense, when they could work and socialise from a wired cottage in the mountains?”
It didn’t work out that way. Writes Rogers, “Wherever we live we need stuff to survive—food, clothes, heating, homes, offices, transport—and it’s cheaper to produce and consume these things in cities than elsewhere.”
I would add health care to this list.
Rogers continues, “Those who foretold the demise of cities also underestimated the values of face-to-face contact: There is now an impressive body of research demonstrating that physically proximate relations are deeper and more productive than virtual ones.”
Even the idea of once-a-week brick-and-mortar offices hasn’t really caught on. We are social creatures.
Globalization. Rogers observes, “Whether you’re an Indian billionaire, a Chinese tourist, a graduate from a top university looking for a high-paying first job, a poor migrant or persecuted refugee, the global cities have something to offer. Their populations have grown, their economies have prospered, and their universities and cultural institutions have flourished.”
Gentrification: Good or Bad? “As the superstar cities have boomed,” Rogers writes, “the creative and professional classes have moved into once cheap working-class areas, pricing out the locals. But the real point, Florida argues, is gentrification is only a particularly visible manifestation of the geographic polarization of wealth. We are seeing a great sorting….”
What About the Growing Inequalities? Rogers shares Florida’s view that “First, and most innocently, the highly skilled people who work in these cities produce more value than those who don’t…. It’s a vicious—or for the cities in question, a virtuous—circle… The Borough of Westminster produces as much wealth as all of Wales.”
On the other hand, Wales likely produces more food.
What’s more, “… cities like London and New York have become parasitic centres of what economists call ‘rent.’ ”
Any Solutions? Rogers says, “We need to take on the Nimbies [the “not in my backyarders”], or as Florida prefers to call them the New Urban Luddites.”
Society invested heavily after World War II in suburban utilities, road networks, and infrastructure. Today, Florida suggests and Rogers concurs, “… it needs to reform tax and funding regimes to support cheap housing, trains, buses, cycling and walking—and to educate citizens for the new urban economy.”
Culture and the City. Last, there’s the importance of a society’s culture. “In short,” Rogers concludes, “our cities have become ever more important centres not just of economic but of cultural capital.”
Would that culture and cities thrive. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2018