What’s Good About Slums? - Triumph of the City: How Urban Spaces Make Us Human by Edward Glaeser
There are few pleasures simpler or purer than drinking a plastic cup of cool, cheap beer on Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro at sunset. Rio’s beaches are among the most hedonistic of urban spaces. The weather is generally sublime. The beach is usually adorned with beautiful people.
Note:ODE A RIO
That space is a mecca for tourists, but the Cariocas usually seem to be having even more fun than the foreigners.
Note:I BRASILIANI SE LA GODONO
If you look from Ipanema Beach into the hills, your eye will be drawn by the vast statue of Christ the Redeemer, the Corcovado. But look carefully, and you’ll spy a blot upon this urban arcadia. The hills surrounding Rio are filled with shantytowns, favelas, that often lack electricity or sewers. Their presence in those hills seems puzzling, incongruous. Rio’s hills have some of the best views in the world,
Note:QUANDO ECCO LA BARACCOPOLI
Plato noted that “any city, however small, is in fact divided into two, one the city of the poor, the other of the rich.”
Note:LE DUE CITTÀ DI PLATONE
Even in the developed world, cities are disproportionately poor. In America, the poverty rate is 17.7 percent within cities and 9.8 percent in suburbs.
Note:I POVERI VANNO IN CITTÀ
Many urban analysts see a great crisis in the problem of the megacity, which usually means the vast numbers of poor people living in Mumbai or Mexico City. It seems wise to many to limit the growth of these megacities, whose crowds and squalor doom millions to harsh, deadend lives.
Note:FALSA RICETTA: LIMITIAMO L’ ESTENSIONE DELLE CITTÀ, LIMITEREMO LA POVERTÀ.
cozy, homogeneous suburbs can appear far more egalitarian than the extraordinary urban gulfs that separate a Fifth Avenue billionaire from a ghetto child.
Note:L' ILLUSIONE DELLE CITTÀ PIÙ RICCHE
The presence of poverty in cities from Rio to Rotterdam reflects urban strength, not weakness.
Note:UN SEGNO DI FORZA
Limiting their growth would cause significantly more hardship than gain, and urban growth is a great way to reduce rural poverty.
Note:GRANDI CITTÀ MENO POVERTÀ
Cities aren’t full of poor people because cities make people poor, but because cities attract poor people with the prospect of improving their lot in life… The poverty rate among recent arrivals to big cities is higher than the poverty rate of long-term residents,
Note:LA CITTÀ ATTRAE I POVERI, NON LI CREA
Rio’s slums are densely packed because life in a favela beats stultifying rural poverty.
Note:LA FAVELA È UN PROGRESSO RISPETTO ALLA CAMPAGNA
America’s ghettos were filled by immigrants fleeing pogroms or poverty and by African Americans fleeing the hardships of agricultural work in the Jim Crow South.
Note:GHETTI AMERICANI, OASI DI SALVEZZA
we should worry more about places with too little poverty. Why do they fail to attract the least fortunate?
Note:LA DISGRAZIA NASCOSTA DEI SENZA POVERI
A city’s population tells you about what the city offers. Salt Lake City is full of Mormons because it’s a good place to be a Mormon. London has many bankers because it’s a good place to manage money. Cities like Rio have plenty of poor people, because they’re relatively good places to be poor. After all, even without any cash, you can still enjoy Ipanema Beach.
Note:LA POPOLAZIONE DELLA CITTÀ TI DICE COSA OFFRE
The free movement of people means that certain types of urban success can make a place poorer.
Note:SOLO LE CITTÀ DI SUCCESSO SI IMPOVERISCONO
The great urban poverty paradox is that if a city improves life for poor people currently living there by improving public schools or mass transit, that city will attract more poor people.
Note:IL PARADOSSO DELLA POVERTÀ URBANA
When American cities have built new rapid-transit stops over the last thirty years, poverty rates have generally increased near those stops. This doesn’t mean that mass transit was making people poor,
Note:POVERI E STAZIONI
What forces draw the poor to urban areas? Above all, they come for jobs. Urban density makes trade possible; it enables markets. The world’s most important market is the labor market, in which one person rents his human capital to people with financial capital.
Note:CITTÀ SIGNIFICA LAVORO
If one employer in a city goes belly-up, there’s another one (or two or ten) to take its place. This mixture of employers may not provide insurance against the global collapse of a great depression, but it sure smooths out the ordinary ups and downs
The sheer variety of urban jobs also allows people to figure out what they can and can’t do well.
As people job-hop, they learn what they like and can do well. How much would the world have lost if Thomas Edison or Henry Ford had been forced to spend all his days farming?
Note:CITTÀ DIVERSITÀ VOCAZIONE
Rio’s shantytowns began in the late nineteenth century,when Brazil was lurching out of its quasi-feudal past. In the 1870s and 1880s, when other New World countries, like Argentina and the United States, elected their rulers, Brazil was ruled by an emperor, a scion of Portugal’s ancient house of Braganza, and slavery was still legal. By the middle of the nineteenth century, about 40 percent of Rio’s population—eighty thousand people—were slaves.
Note:STORIA DI RIO E DELLE SUE FAVELAS
Runaway slaves in Rio formed shantytowns called quilombos in the nineteenth century, which were the ancestors of favelas.
Note:GLI SCHIAVI LIBERATI FORMARONO LE FAVELAS
The first true favela had its roots not in urban Rio but in the impoverished countryside of northeastern Brazil, where an itinerant preacher and erstwhile abolitionist, Antonio the Counselor, founded a town called Canudos, populated by former slaves, and started a tax rebellion.
Note:LA PRIMA FAVELAS DI LIBERTI
Over the next seventy years, hundreds of thousands of poor peasants, many of them freed slaves, came to Rio. The dilapidated dwellings may not look like much, but they beat working on a plantation for one’s former master.
Note:MEGLIO LA BARACCA DEI CAMPI E DEL PADRONE
The favela’s residents don’t usually have the option of living in Los Angeles, and they should be compared with the people, largely unseen by foreign eyes, living in the poor rural areas of Brazil. Rio has plenty of poverty, but it’s nothing like Brazil’s rural northeast. One recent study reported that while 90 percent of Rio residents earned more than $85 a month in 1996, only 30 percent of people in the rural northeast were above that poverty line.
Lagos, Nigeria, is often depicted as a place of profound deprivation, but in fact the extreme-poverty rate in Lagos, when corrected for higher prices in the city, is less than half the extreme-poverty rate in rural Nigeria. About three quarters of Lagos residents have access to safe drinking water, a proportion that is horribly low but that is far higher than anyplace else in Nigeria, where the norm is less than 30 percent.
Note:L'ESEMPIO DI LAGOS
In poorer countries, people in cities also say that they are happier. Throughout a sample of twenty-five poorer countries, where per capita GDP levels are below $10,000, where I had access to self-reported happiness surveys for urban and nonurban populations, I found that the share of urban people saying that they were very happy was higher in eighteen countries and lower in seven.
Note:IN CITTÁ PIÙ FELICI
And unlike the hinterlands, urban slums often serve as springboards to middle-class prosperity. The Lower East Side of Manhattan, for example, despite high levels of poverty, produced a string of dazzling successes.
Note:SLUM COME TRAMPOLINO LANCIO
Leila Velez, a janitor’s daughter who grew up in a Rio favela, was working at a McDonald’s when she was fourteen. She and her sister-in-law, a hairdresser, were determined to find a way to make their hair less frizzy. They understood the size of the market for such a product; they were surrounded by people who wanted frizzless hair. The two budding entrepreneurs lacked any scientific background, but Leila’s husband let his hair be used to test many strange concoctions cooked up by his sister and wife. .. Velez patented the concoction and sold her Volkswagen Beetle for $3,000 to get the capital to open a salon. They knew their customers, and the product sold well. From there, she expanded the number of salons, generally hiring former customers as employees. Her firm currently sells $30 million a year of beauty products. …
Note:UN ESEMPIO DI SUCCESSO
Improvements in agricultural productivity typically involve new technology that reduces the number of people working on farms. That fact alone makes it unlikely that better farming will deliver widespread prosperity. …
Note:PERCHÈ NON TORNARE IN CAMPAGNA?
The vast flow of migrants to cities certainly stresses urban infrastructure; that’s one of the familiar arguments against allowing the growth of megacities. But while an influx of new migrants worsens the quality of roads and water for a city’s longtime residents, the new arrivals go from having virtually no infrastructure to enjoying all the advantages that come from access to decent transport and utilities.
Note:INFRASTRUTTURE SOTTO PRESSIONE. STOPPARE L' AFFLUSSO?
Traditionally, governments have done more—if not always enough—to address urban poverty than rural poverty. This pattern has held true in Brazil for more than a century…. The government began with a vaccination campaign and eventually brought schools and some health care to the favelas. The “City of God” that inspired a movie about Rio’s poverty was a governmental attempt to improve housing quality for favela dwellers. …
Note:INTERVENTI GOVERNATIVI FACILITATI CON LA POVERTÁ URBANA
The ironic result of attempts to improve life for Rio’s poor is that still more poor people come to the favelas, which is the urban poverty paradox in action.
Note:IL PARADOSSO DELLA POVERTÁ URBANA
Moving On Up
Americans who are shocked by the favelas’ squalor have forgotten their own urban past. Such extremes of wealth and poverty were standard in nineteenth-century American cities.
Note:LO SQUALLORE DI RIO È IL NOSTRO DI IERI
The Upper East Side of Manhattan, stretching from Fifty-ninth Street to Ninety-sixth Street between Fifth Avenue and the East River, now includes some pricey real estate, but was also full of Irish shanties in the nineteenth century. The Upper East Side Armory occupies its incongruous location, surrounded by tony apartment buildings on Park Avenue, because its bourgeois soldiers were originally meant to protect urban elites from unruly immigrants.
Boston’s fame as an Irish-American city is particularly associated with a single family, the Kennedys, whose story shows how urban poverty can beget opportunity. Patrick Kennedy was born in 1823 in Ireland’s County Wexford. He got little schooling. Poor rural areas have generally offered little education, and when he was born, rules preventing Catholic education in Ireland were still in force. Young Kennedy worked on his older brother’s farm, planting potatoes and harvesting grain. The one nonagricultural skill he acquired came from a more urban friend, Patrick Barron, who worked in a brewery and taught him how to make barrels. The potato famine hit the Kennedys’meager farm hard. Facing the prospect of starvation, Patrick Kennedy followed Barron to Boston, where Barron got him a job as a cooper in East Boston. Boston offered economic opportunity, because it had a market where Kennedy could sell his labor to an employer who had capital. Boston provided a ready market for barrels because of its role as a center for transportation, and of course brewing. Just as in Rio’s favelas, in East Boston the density that enabled poor people to sell their labor enabled bacteria to flow, and Patrick Kennedy died of cholera. Kennedy’s son, however, also named Patrick, thrived. He started off working on the docks and saved enough to buy a saloon. He soon owned a second and then a third drinking establishment, catering increasingly to wealthier Bostonians.
Just as cities are good for immigrants, immigrants are good for cities. Boston owes much to the Kennedys, as New York does to immigrants ranging from Andrew Carnegie to Al Jolson to Zubin Mehta. Indeed, for all but 12 of the 118 years between 1891 and 2009, the New York Philharmonic has depended on foreign-born music directors. Needless to say, more populist elements of New York culture, like bagels and pizza and Kung Pao chicken, are also the gifts of immigrants.
Note:GLI IMMGRATI FANNO BENE ALLA CITTÀ
Capitalists and workers are often seen as enemies, as they are, for example, during a strike. But more generally, capital increases the returns to labor, and it is urban capital that made cities such magnets for the poor. Cities don’t just connect capital-less workers with capital-rich employers; they offer a huge variety of job opportunities that allow poor people (indeed, everybody) to find talents they might otherwise never know they had. The great University of Chicago economist George Stigler once wrote that “in a regime of ignorance, Enrico Fermi would have been a gardener, von Neumann a checkout clerk in a drugstore.” Stigler’s vision of two of the finest minds of the twentieth century working dead-end jobs is frightening. Luckily, both men grew up in large cities and came from relatively privileged backgrounds, and their mathematical and scientific talents were spotted at a young age. Similarly, Boston brought forth Patrick Kennedy’s talents in a way that rural Ireland could not.
Note:L' INCONTRO DI CAPITALISTI E LAVORATORI
Richard Wright’s Urban Exodus
The great swaths of America’s cities that are almost entirely African American and almost entirely poor illustrate what can go wrong when neighborhoods get cut off from the economic heart of their cities. But even those neighborhoods should be viewed in light of the even worse conditions endured in the rural South.
Note:IL GHETTO NERO. MEGLIO DEL SUD
The great African-American writer Richard Wright was born in Natchez, Mississippi. He and his mother moved north, first to Memphis and then to Chicago, seeking to escape Jim Crow laws as much as to find economic opportunity… “I headed north full of a hazy notion that life could be lived with dignity, … In Chicago, he started off working as a porter, then an errand boy and a dishwasher. … malnutrition had left him 15 pounds below the government’s 125-pound minimum. Finally, in the spring of 1929, he made weight and got a full-time job working the night shift at Chicago’s central post office, then the world’s largest. The job was a good one that allowed him to do some writing. Even more important, it connected him with a left-wing literary salon. … His first book, a collection of stories called Uncle Tom’s Children, was published by Harper and Company. He won a Guggenheim Fellowship to write Native Son, and with that, he became a literary lion. …
Note:IL CASO DI RICHARD WRIGHT
The economic advantages that came from moving north were immense. A Southern sharecropper in the 1920s would be lucky to earn $445 a year. A black worker in one of Henry Ford’s plants would earn $5 a day, more than three times that income. Yet like Richard Wright, the African Americans who came north found more than just higher incomes. They found freedom.
Note:CFR MEZZADRO E OPERAIO.
Rise and Fall of the American Ghetto
In the early twentieth century, African Americans were rare in Northern cities. Only 2 percent of New York’s population and 1.8 percent of Chicago’s population were African American in 1900. Decade after decade, these percentages grew as blacks chose urban opportunity.
Note:LA GRANDE MIGRAZIONE
George W. F. McMechen would seem to be the ultimate upwardly mobile African American at the start of the last century. He graduated from Morgan College and Yale Law School and came to Baltimore, where he formed a successful legal practice with another African American, W. Ashbie Hawkins. McMechen wanted to live in one of Baltimore’s more affluent neighborhoods, which were in those days overwhelmingly white… This formerly all-white neighborhood rose up in arms. Local kids threw bricks through McMechen’s windows. … McMechen’s neighbors was an attorney—“eminent” according to the New York Times, “briefless” according to Hawkins—who dug up a copy of Baltimore’s city charter and decided that it was well within the city’s rights to pass a race-based zoning ordinance. He drafted such a law and had no problem getting it passed … Similar measures were soon passed in Richmond, Atlanta, Louisville, and other Southern cities. … in 1917, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) achieved its first great triumph when the Supreme Court made zoning by race illegal, …
Note:LA STORIA DI MCMECHEN. DISCRIMINAZIONE LEGALIZZATA
a study by economists John Kain and John Quigley found that blacks paid more than whites for comparable housing in St. Louis.
Note:I NERI PAGANO DI PIÙ LA LORO CASA
But cities also produced the legal champions who slowly brought down the ghetto walls. Two Baltimore attorneys, Thurgood Marshall and Philip Perl-man, one black and one white, one representing the NAACP and the other representing the U.S. government, came together to fight restrictive covenants.
Note:LOTTA AI PATTI PER NON VENDERE AI NERI
Between 1970 and 2000, segregation declined almost everywhere in America, primarily because formerly lily-white areas acquired a few mostly well-off African Americans. Between 1970 and 1990, the segregation level of African-American college graduates declined by about 25 percent, while the segregation level of high school dropouts declined by less than 10 percent.
Studies in the 1960s and 1970s found little difference in outcomes between African Americans who grew up in more segregated cities and those who lived in less segregated areas. That changed as more prosperous African Americans left the ghetto. By 1990, blacks between the ages of twenty and twenty-four who grew up in more segregated cities were 5.5 percent less likely than similarly aged African Americans in less segregated areas to have a high school degree and 6.2 percent more likely to be out of school and out of work.
Note:OGGI MENO SEGREGAZIONE MA PIÙ PERICOLOSA
The Inner City
There is a hidden logic behind the concentrated poverty that results from the tendency of the poor to live at the physical center of American cities. That tendency reflects, in part, the power of transportation to shape cities. All forms of travel involve two types of cost: money and time. The cash cost of commuting is the same for rich and poor, but rich people with higher wages give up more income when they spend more time commuting and less time working. As a result the rich are generally willing to pay more for faster trips to work.
Note:LA LOGICA DEI TRASPORTI E IL COSTO DEL TEMPO
When a single transportation mode, like driving or taking the subway, dominates, then the rich live closer to the city center and the poor live farther away. But when there are multiple modes of transit, then the poor often live closer in order to gain access to public transit. The U.S. poverty line for a four-person household in 2009 is $22,050. In 2008, a typical nonurban household spent $9,000 on car-related transportation. How in the world could a two-adult family with $22,000 of income afford two cars?
Note:PERCHÈ I POVERI VIVONO IN CENTRO?
Paris likewise has excellent public transportation and consequently has an inner zone where the rich use the Métro or walk. The next zone has the poor living in more distant areas that are still connected to the city by train.
Central areas are often historic, and as a result they usually have older homes that have depreciated in quality and in price. Just as richer people buy new cars and then sell them to less wealthy people, typically new housing is built for more prosperous people and then as the housing depreciates, it comes to house the less fortunate.
Note:LE VECCHIE CASE DEL CENTRO
How Policy Magnifies Poverty
One line of attack offers businesses tax breaks for locating in disadvantaged areas, called Empowerment Zones
An alternative view argues that such approaches are just “gilding the ghetto,” as my former colleague John Kain once wrote. In this view, only greater mobility, such as that created by housing vouchers, can relieve the suffering of segregation.
sometimes social entrepreneurs can do great good by focusing on just one place. For almost forty years, the Harlem Children’s Zone has fought for the children of Manhattan’s best-known African-American community. They’ve created a dense web of social activities, such as the Baby College, which teaches parenting skills, aimed at improving academic outcomes and reducing crime. In one sense, they may be “gilding the ghetto,” but in another sense, they are giving Harlem’s children the skills they need to thrive and even leave Harlem if they want to.
Note:GLI ASILI DI HARLEM: MIGLIORARE SENZA SPOSTARE
The Harlem Children’s Zone proves that investing in segregated areas can work, as long as that investment targets children, not stadiums or monorails.
Note:INVESTIRE SUI BIMBI
Can other cities attract the same remarkable pool of leaders, teachers, and benefactors that came to the zone in New York, especially if they have to play by rules laid down in Washington? I hope so, but I fear that the success of the zone and the relative failure of most nationwide interventions suggest that the solution to urban problems is more likely to come from local initiative than from federal policy.
Note:INIZIATIVE NON STANDARDIZZABILI
The case for federal action is strongest when that action is reducing the artificial separation of rich and poor created by the government itself. Whenever public services are radically different in two adjacent areas, those differences will influence where people choose to live. .. differences in school quality lead to the isolation of the poor. …
Note:SERVIZI DIFFERENTI SEGREGAZIONE NATURALE
East St. Louis provides an extreme example of the urban poverty paradox, whereby public policy that helps the poor in one area can lead to a massive concentration of poverty. East St. Louis lies across the Mississippi River, in Illinois, from St. Louis, Missouri. In 1989, the annual Aid to Families with Dependent Children payment was 20 percent higher in Illinois than in Missouri. If you were out of work, it made sense to move to Illinois, and so in 1990 the poverty rate in East St. Louis was 43 percent—higher than in St. Louis or Buffalo or Detroit or any other declining Rust Belt city.
Note:ST. LOUIS: AIUTI CHE CONCENTRANO I POVERI
Welfare disparities have diminished, but differences in school quality remain, and they help explain why some central cities, like Detroit, are poor while others, like Paris, are not. Paris has some of the best public high schools in the world, and prosperous Parisian parents dream of getting their children into lycées like Henri-IV and Louis le Grand. But in the United States, public school monopolies have ensured that central cities often have poorly functioning school districts. Suburbs are smaller and more competitive, attracting more prosperous parents.
Note:DISPARITÀ TRA SCUOLE
state authorities started requiring busing among districts to achieve a constant proportion of blacks and whites within each school district. Proponents of busing saw it as a means of breaking down the intellectual isolation of the ghetto and improving opportunity for African Americans. Enemies of busing, and that included more than 90 percent of America, saw it as an intrusion that destroyed neighborhood schools and forced kids to travel long distances. .. White neighborhoods abandoned cities like Boston en masse for suburbs like Scituate outside the boundaries of the school district. They didn’t want their children to be bused, and the Supreme Court had set things up so that they could avoid the whole thing just by leaving the city. The result isolated the urban poor even more. …
The odd fact is that America’s school system could decrease segregation if it moved either to the socialist left or to the free-market right. If America imitated the best aspect of European socialism and invested enough in public schools so that they were all good, then there would be little reason for the rich to leave cities to get better schooling. If America allowed vouchers or charter schools that would foster more competition in urban school districts, then their quality would rise and might even become a draw for prosperous parents.
Note:VIA SOCIALISTA E VIA DI MERCATO
there is a reason why people promote the myth that cities are bad for the poor. The flow of millions of poor people into cities may be a hopeful sign for those migrants, but it won’t necessarily improve the quality of life for the middle-income people who are already living in those areas.
PERCHÈ ESISTE IL MITO CHE LA CITTÀ FA MALE AI POVERI?