How Technology Is 'Amplifying the Benefits of Urban Density'

Edward L. Glaeser takes the recent purchase of Zipcar by Avis as the jumping-off point for an essay on the ways that technology, which once aided the sprawling suburban lifestyle, can now amplify the sharing of infrastructure by city dwellers.
January 11, 2013, 5am PST | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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"Sharing most things is hard over long distances, and one of the great advantages of city living is the ability to share infrastructure, which lowers fixed costs and expands one’s options," writes Glaeser. With more and more people interested in partaking in the shared experiences of city living - from walkable streets to cohabiting hackerspaces - the sharing economy has developed to amplify the benefits and opportunities made possible by urban density. And, for Glaeser, this is a key departure from the ways that technology served the sprawling development patterns of the latter half of the 20th century. 

"In the mid-20th century, revolutions in communication and transportation favored the suburbs. Radios, movies, and television brought entertainment with high production values — once an urban monopoly — into far-flung places. The car and the interstate highway system made it possible to live and work at far lower densities, away from urban public transportation."

"But today’s information technology is more about mastering detail than bridging distance, and that favors cities....All that detail makes coordination easier and bad behavior easier to catch, and that helps sharing."

"I don’t know if Avis will make money from its Zipcar purchase," concludes Glaeser, "but city dwellers throughout the world stand to benefit from the innovations that make it easier to share not just cars, but everything else."

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Published on Thursday, January 10, 2013 in The Boston Globe
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