Educate the People

EDUCATION IN AMERICA

In his book “Triumph of the City,” Edward Glaeser states,“While it may be wrong to attribute too much of these places’ problems to politics, political mismanagement was often a feature of Rust Belt decline.  Perhaps the most common error was thinking that these cities could build their way back to success with housing projects, grandiose office towers, or fanciful high-tech transit systems.  Those mistakes came out of the all-too-common error of confusing a city, which is really a mass of connected humanity, with its structures.

Reviving these cities requires shedding the old industrial model completely, like a snake soughing off its skin.  When a city reinvents itself successfully, the metamorphosis is often so complete that we forget that the place was once an industrial powerhouse.  As late as the 1950s, New York’s garment industry was the nation’s largest manufacturing cluster.  It employed 50 percent more workers than the auto industry did in Detroit.  America’s Industrial Revolution practically began in greater Boston, but now nobody associates smokestacks with that city.  These places have reinvented themselves by returning to their old, preindustrial roots of commerce, skills, and entrepreneurial innovation.

If Detroit and places like it are ever going to come back, they will do so by embracing the virtues of the great pre- and postindustrial cities: competition, connection, and human capital.  The Rust belt will be reborn only if it can break from its recent past, which has left it with a vast housing stock for which there is little demand, a single major industry that is dominated by a few major players, and problematic local politics.  Beneath these cities’ recent history lies an instructive older story of connection and creativity, which provide the basis for reinvention.  To understand Detroit’s predicament and its potential, we must compare the city’s great and tragic history with the story of other cities, like New York, that have successfully weathered industrial decline.”

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