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Improving Older Cities By Building New Ones

Esther Dyson looks at the reasons why cities endure, why they are the right setting for massive social change, and how we can improve them through competition and intelligent design.
March 27, 2012, 2pm PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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Due to the enduring and expanding importance of cities as social and spatial constructs, Dyson sets out to understand their possibilities and problems as businesses.

Dyson sees a key challenge in the fact that, "cities still often operate in a pre-market way. They mostly build their infrastructures themselves, and innovations do not spread easily, owing to a lack of incentives and, for that matter, much of a market other than when one city hires managers from another."

While at the same time, "cities are increasingly behaving like companies, becoming intimately involved in their citizens' quality of life, and, in an increasingly mobile world, competing for 'customers.'"

From this perspective Dyson sees the need for cities to continue to evolve and improve through competition, bringing in the work of Paul Romer, a former Stanford University economist best known for his Charter City initiative. According to Dyson, Romer "has a scheme for building new cities from scratch-and using competition to spread the benefits to old cities over time."

"The goal is not perfection in a single city, but more effective innovation and competition, so that the best cities prosper and other cities emulate them."

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Published on Sunday, March 25, 2012 in Slate
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