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The Growth of Cities

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I ended up reading Glaeser’s Chapter 9 this week before reading the lecture notes and other readings. I then perused the discussion comments from other students. I thought the initial question from the Professor was somewhat rhetorical, “what do people think about growth and economic development for cities?”. What else could we think, of course, its’ good. Why wouldn’t it be? The opposite of growth, of course, being stagnation. Cities that don’t grown, don’t expand, are left behind — they become “Detroit” or “Bridgeport” or other cities which have never been able to catapult themselves out of their economic slump. Surprisingly as I read different posts, I saw that the question was not so much whether cities should grow, but in what manner is it best, or most productive.

That’s where Glaesers examples became the most interesting. The growth of cities like Boston, Vancouver, Chicago, and Shanghai are all lessons in what some cities have been able to do right. The common denominator, in my opinion, is those cities invested in human capital first or at the same time as they invested in growth projects. If you raise buildings, but not IQ levels you are doomed for a city of highrises and low-performers. In this increasingly global, technologically competitive world, I can’t imagine how we can have a discussion about economic growth that does not include increasing the intellectual capacity of that cities citizenry.

The Professor asked us to ponder the question of how Native American casinos impact a region. I worked directly for Foxwoods when it opened in 1991 and I worked indirectly at Mohegan Sun for three years and so I personally benefited from them as an employee. Working at Foxwoods gave me amazing work experience and allowed me to buy my first home and raise a family. However, it was always a stifling place that didnt foster collaboration, creativity or ingenuity. The largest number of employees that work at the casinos are low wage, hourly employees many of which have limited education and maybe from other countries where English is not their first language. It reminds me of the manufacturing industries of the 1800’s and I fear that some of why we haven’t seen the small cities around our region (like Norwich and New London) show any significant prosperity or growth may be, in part, because the knowledge base at the casino’s just isn’t there. It just isn’t thriving. Dont’ get me wrong, I am not saying that smart people don’t work at the casinos, because they do. Hey I worked there (said tongue in cheek); it’s just percentage-wise, there are more custodians, housekeepers, and hotel porters that have limited education than there are senior management in hospitality, human resources and gaming. I bring up this point because I feel that one idea which Glaeser continues to reinforce is the synergy that exists when people living and working in close proximity uplift one another with their thoughts and ideas and inspiration. I’ve been a resident of this area for many years and I know dozens of people who work at one casino or the other, and I can not tell you when the last time any of them have said, they love their job. Can you?

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