Referat från SNS Tylösandskonferens 2018
Edward Glaeser: Why cities are the greatest invention of our time – and how we should solve the challenges facing them in the 21st century
Our modern societies are increasingly urbanised. Today, more than 50 per cent of the world’s population live in urban areas, a number which is expected to rise significantly in the near future. Cities are important drivers of economic growth, but they also represent challenges that policy-makers need to handle. These challenges, as well as the opportunities that cities represent, were discussed at the SNS Tylösand Summit 2018.
The session began with a keynote speech by Edward Glaeser, Fred and Eleanor Glimp Professor of Economics at Harvard University and one of our time’s most renowned economists within the field of urbanisation studies. His 2011 book The Triumph of the City received critical acclaim and fame well outside of academia and thus reinforced his position as one of the world’s most influential thinkers on urbanisation.
Urbanisation is all about people and human interaction
Glaeser often refers to cities as the greatest invention of our time, as they are the central drivers of economic growth in the world of today. He began his speech by offering a definition of cities that captures the focus of his research on urbanisation. According to him, cities are “the absence of physical space between people”. In other words, cities are made up of their inhabitants rather than by the buildings and the infrastructure that make the wheels turn. In Glaeser’s view, it is the “economic magic of human interaction” that drives growth in cities.
However, the same population density that enables interaction also comes with a set of challenges. Glaeser refers to these challenges – for example crime and poverty – as “demons of density”. These challenges need to be addressed by policy-makers in order to reap the benefits of urbanisation while keeping the standard of living of cities at a satisfying level.
Segregation and the urban-rural divide pose challenges in Sweden
A panel of policy-makers and academics were invited to comment on Glaeser’s research in a Swedish context. Mikael Damberg, Minister for Enterprise and Innovation, mentioned Stockholm’s position as an important start-up hub in Europe, but also highlighted the challenges of segregation that Swedish cities face. He stressed the importance of making cities work for a diversity of people, as well as making sure that economic growth and hopes for the future produced and generated in urban areas benefit the entire population, including more rural areas of Sweden.
Charlotta Mellander, Professor of Economics at Jönköping International Business School, zoomed out from the city-focus as she highlighted the importance of not letting rural areas fall too much behind. She also stressed that urbanisation to a large extent has been driven by the “export” of young individuals from rural areas to cities, but that these rural areas do not get a significant proportion of the wealth cities create in compensation.
Karolina Skog, Minister for the Environment with a special responsibility for urban development, highlighted two major challenges in Swedish cities: transportation and climate change. According to her, most Swedish cities are constructed to make car transportation as convenient as possible. In Skog’s opinion, this is something that needs to be addressed if Swedish cities are to become greener and more climate-friendly.