For the first time in human history, city dwellers make up the majority of the world population, a trend that Professor Edward Glaeser examined in a talk at the Harvard Ed Portal in Allston earlier this spring.
Glaeser, the Fred and Eleanor Glimp Professor of Economics in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, is the creator of CitiesX, a free course on the EdX platform. Before an in-person crowd of 60 and a live-stream audience of 8,700, he made the case for the benefits of urbanization, and outlined how urban leaders in the U.S. and around the globe can learn from one another. He was joined by Brian Golden ’87, director of the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA), who discussed how the city is aiming to make the most of lessons learned in the face of ongoing challenges.
The shift to cities has been “an incredibly good thing,” Glaeser said.
“If you compare those countries that are more than 50 percent urban to those that aren’t, the more urban countries have an average income that is five times as high and an infant mortality level that is less than one-third,” he said. “The success of cities in the 21st century — the urbanization of the world — reflects a very deep connection between urban density and what it means to be human … Miraculous things happen when human beings learn from one another. That’s what cities do.”
He acknowledged that urban living can come with downsides, such as overcrowding, health issues, traffic, housing challenges.
“But I’m convinced that the right response to this is not to say that people should stop moving in, but instead to make sure that our governments are able to deal with the downsides — to promote free-flowing traffic, to build enough to allow middle-income people to move in, to have public health policies that fight against contagious disease.”