Wednesday, March 9, 2011

City Reinventions

It's more than likely true that I've read Edward Glaeser's columns in the New York Times in the past, and simply not bothered to read his name.  It's likely that I've read Glaeser, because of his seeming love and definite support of cities.  Since I LOVE cities, and tend to gravitate toward things that discuss cities, particularly renaissances, then I am sure that Glaeser's words have crossed my eyes.  But it wasn't until Glaeser appeared on The Daily Show, that I finally paid attention and got the man's name.

After I saw that interview, I promised myself that I would buy his book, Triumph of the City.  I haven't done it yet, but I soon will.  What has happened is that I am now looking for his columns and commentary, which brings me to yesterday's Glaeser column in the Times.

In reading Glaeser's explanation for why Seattle, a city that was in line like many other industrial cities to falter as the 20th century came to a close (like Detroit, as was called out in the column), managed to reinvent itself and become the crown jewel of the Pacific Northwest, I found myself shaking my head.  Glaeser's point regarding the highly educated Seattle workforce is a salient one, but there were also highly educated engineers and business people in Detroit.  Yet I am guessing that the presence of a large number of black folks (skilled and unskilled), coupled with the race riot of 1967, had a great deal to do with the trajectory of Detroit.

That Seattle did not experience the level of abandonment by the white population that Detroit experienced was, I think, as important to the success of one versus the other, as Glaeser's point regarding an educated workforce.  Wayne State University and the University of Michigan (to a lesser extent) serve Detroit as the University of Washington (among other schools) serves Seattle, so it isn't as though there is no access to the highly educated in Detroit. 

Meanwhile, people in the Seattle region love Seattle, and it is easy to see why.  It's a beautiful city.  However, people in the Detroit region, and note that I said region, loathe Detroit.  If there is ever to be a reinvention of Detroit, then it will be up to the people within the Detroit city limits to do the reinvention.  I doubt that the broader Detroit region really cares what happens to that city, and that was sealed as the embers smoldered in 1967. 

I hope that Detroit will indeed reinvent itself into something that can serve as a model for the world.  Seattle did a great job its way, but it doesn't have to be the only way.

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