Slums, luxury skyscrapers and why certain cities succeed: these topics and more are covered in Harvard economist Edward Glaeser’s latest book. He questions the quality of city life and argues that our populous clusters are more vital than ever as a result of globalisation. We quiz him about his views on Dubai and discover which city he thinks is the best in the world.
Now that Dubai is recovering from the credit crunch, what is your advice for the city?
Dubai will succeed if it continues to attract smart people by having good physical and legal infrastructure and by being an exciting, pleasant place to live. Dazzling buildings are all well and good, but they only work if they are filled with innovative, connected people. There seem to be two areas for Dubai to work on – empowering entrepreneurship and focusing more on families. The buildings of London and Paris are beautiful, but they are far less valuable than the bottom-up entrepreneurship – the restaurants and shops – that makes those cities hum. Dubai needs a constant stream of new restaurants and stores that reflect the genius of a great city. It also needs to have schools and security that will attract the families of global talent, to make sure that talent stays in the city.
Which cities have defied your expectations?
It’s hard not to be stunned by the enormous energy of Hong Kong’s hyper-density and pedestrian walkways. That gateway to China is a spectacular place, both for doing business and for enjoyment, and it is, of course, highly accessible for Westerners. Tokyo is also magnificent – a great place of concentrated talent and efficient energy – but ultimately far more difficult for an outsider to fully grasp.
Which world city should be held as a role model to others?
The best-run city in the world is, I believe, Singapore. Its legal system is honest and open. Its water management is superb. Its congestion pricing system makes sure that its roads move swiftly. The city recognises the primacy of education. I teach maths to my own children using Singapore maths books. Personally, I like a little more chaos in my urban life, but Singapore remains the model for good urban management.
If you were to invest in any city at the moment, where would it be?
I certainly urge my urban-oriented students to go east. The great Chinese cities are already exploding as places of economic energy. The cities of India have more work ahead of them, but they also have incredible promise. I’m not an investor and I couldn’t choose just one, but I’ll mention Gurgaon, the technology hub south of New Delhi. For an Indian city it seems to have better infrastructure and less distaste for density. I suspect it will be a major player in the continuing economic transformation of the subcontinent.
You call cities our greatest invention. But what, in your opinion, is our worst?
Well, I think mint jelly is pretty ghastly, especially on lamb.