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Why can’t cities reach equilibrium?

The October issue of The New Yorker has an interesting piece called: Naked Cities – The death and life of urban America.

I find the article ends up rambling a bit, but I like the idea presented right at the beginning. The idea that cities can never really find equilibrium. They’re either dying, or victims of their own success.

Here’s that paragraph:

Cities can’t win. When they do well, people resent them as citadels of inequality; when they do badly, they are cesspools of hopelessness. In the seventies and eighties, the seemingly permanent urban crisis became the verdict that American civilization had passed on itself. Forty years later, cities mostly thrive, crime has been in vertiginous decline, the young cluster together in old neighborhoods, drinking more espresso per capita in Seattle than in Naples, while in San Francisco the demand for inner-city housing is so keen that one-bedroom apartments become scenes of civic conflict—and so big cities turn into hateful centers of self-absorbed privilege. We oscillate between “Taxi Driver” and “The Bonfire of the Vanities” without arriving at a stable picture of something in between.

I like this because there’s truth to it. But at the end of day, this is just one of the many challenges facing great city building. 

To solve the problem of affordable housing you could just be a city in decline. But that’s not much fun. So the better option, however difficult it may be, is to figure out how to manage the negative externalities associated with winning.

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