Poverty and High-Density Living

Economist Edward Glaeser champions high-density living and romanticises poverty in his new book Triumph of the City. He argues that cities attract poor people but high rise living can help manage poverty:

Cities don’t make people poor, they attract poor people, and they attract poor people by delivering a path out of poverty and to prosperity, a chance to partner with people who have different skills, access to world markets, access to capital that enables poor people, some of them – not all of them – to actually find a way forward…These trends have also made cities more important because cities are at their heart today, engines of innovations, forgers of human capital…. If you look across the world, the countries where more than half of the people live in urban areas are more than four times richer, on average, than the countries where less than half of the people live in urban areas

Michael Mehaffy, architect and urban designer,  says encouraging high-density living “doesn’t always improve a society’s quality of life”:

We should really focus on what urban living gives to us in the network of relationships, not so much an abstract number like density and ‘Let’s just make it absolutely as high as possible and let’s have tall buildings,’ because once you do that, you start to kick in a lot of negative effects from density.

Research shows that cities will further increase inequalities unless sustainable planning improves. Sociology is part of the solution process. One way is to improve research and international policies on green planning. Another is to support developing nations to build low-carbon energy infrastructure that will also support their economic growth.

Read more on how sociology can improve sustainable planning on Sociology at Work.

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