On a day when it’s raining hard enough to sprout algae growths between our toes, it’s a good day to man a lifeboat and save our city.
As you know, Reading is not quite the Garden of Eden when it comes to urban cores. In fact, many people in Berks County shiver with revulsion as their vehicles approach our town, as if a snake just crawled across their dashboard.
Then again, Reading doesn’t have to remain a city of despair, a beacon for the impoverished and uneducated.
Our town can change. All it has to do is listen to Edward Glaeser, a Harvard professor of economics and therefore a notch above a hammerhead. This guy does not have to briefed on how to eat his morning cornflakes, an assumption you cannot confidently make about some of Reading’s residents.
His book, Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier, obviously is not about Reading. Its thesis is that the chief role of cities is to magnify human strengths. Evidently that has yet to happen in our city, not by a par 5.
Why? Well, it’s not because of our poor housing stock. It’s because of our poor human stock.
To thrive, claims Glaeser, cities must attract smart people and enable them to work collaboratively. He uses the insight that human capital is a key ingredient to a city’s success to explain why some old industrial cities like Detroit have continued to decline, while others like Boston and New York have rebounded. Plus, the Red Sox and Yankees are better than the Tigers.
While urban failure is dismally similar — high poverty rates, abandoned buildings, decaying infrastructure is the portrait of Reading and many cities like it — success takes many forms, which is why Los Angeles, London and Singapore are physically so different.
Glaeser’s emphasis on human capital is important because politicians and planners tend to overvalue the physical environment. They encourage cities to look for the Next New Thing, whether it’s pedestrian malls, downtown stadiums, iconic museums, light rail. Or the GoggleWorks, apparently.
So our city fathers simply have to rustle up a whole bunch of folks with advanced degrees and somehow entice them (at gun point, if necessary) to live and work here while concocting some cool entrepreneurial stuff that transforms Reading into an oasis of opulence overnight, if not sooner.