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Cities don’t make people poor?

October 5, 2011

In this month’s Urbanite magazine, Harvard University economist Ed Glaeser makes a laudable defense of cities. I appreciate Glaeser’s recognition of the often overlooked value of American cities, but he makes a curious comment regarding the relationship between cities and poverty:

[T]he fact that poor people tend to live in cities is not a sign that cities are failing but a sign they are succeeding. [Cities] are not making people poor, but attracting poor people with the ability to get around without having to have a car for every adult, good ethnic neighborhoods with better social services. All of these are things to be applauded, not denigrated about cities […]

I happen to disagree. Poverty begets poverty, and cities like Baltimore—with its 25 percent poverty—aren’t exactly springboards out of poverty. Emily Badger points out as much by citing a new study that indicates poor neighborhoods have a negative impact on the children who grow up in them. And I’d argue that after 80,000 individuals left Baltimore City over the past two decades because of continued urban decline, poor residents aren’t so much attracted to city living, but resigned to it.

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