Yesterday, we got the opportunity to have a guest lecture in our Foundations of Urban Science class from Edward Glaeser. An economist at Harvard, he’s probably one of the foremost experts on urban economics and the urban experience around the world. We got an hour and half meditation on what makes cities important (bringing talented, innovative people together to create great things), what makes cities work (good governance, opportunity, and flexibility), and what makes cities die (over-reliance on large employers in a few industries).
Much of it was covered in his book Triumph of the City, which we were all tasked with reading this summer, but what wasn’t covered was his process. As an economist, he’s beholden to the standard accepted practices of economics, namely regression analysis, demographic data analysis, and time-series comparisons. He, however, goes beyond this in his writings and his talks to speak with personal familiarity of the cities he studies. When asked about this, his answer was “Wisdom comes from everywhere.” He doesn’t write about places he hasn’t visited (unless pressed by his publishers, which has only happened twice), and despite his libertarian training and inclinations, he readily supports strong, effective government as the key to building vibrant, livable cities.
In this way, I think he makes a great model for the kind of urban science I aspire to. To study flexible, resilient cities across the globe, we as researchers must be flexible and resilient in our beliefs and perspectives, open to our preconceptions being challenged and our mind expanded by experience. We must be as dynamic as the cities we study and as vibrant as the people who inhabit them. There is wisdom everywhere and we must always be open to accepting it.