Jarrett Murphy

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Jarrett Murphy
Posted 10 months ago
How can we build cities that are sustainable, inclusive and truly just?
Yes! As valuable as it is to chronicle the problems facing our cities--which we do all the time at City Limits--I think the real driver of this conversation is that cities are singularly well equipped to solve not only urban problems but risks facing the larger society. This might seem a simple point to many participating in this discussion, but it's important to remind ourselves of that, because the great flaw in earlier efforts to improve cities was the failure to recognize what was healthy and good about them (see "slum clearance" and "urban renewal"), and in so doing to neutralize the very forces that cities needed to improve, or just survive. Cities aren't the problem; they have problems and they have unique tools to help them solve them. I don't think it's too naive to say that New York City is a miracle of problem-solving every day. Subways, skyscrapers, the water system--these all address what would otherwise be existential threats. In fact, that's what makes the urban conversation we're having more urgent: Much of the capacity to address issues like sustainability and equity is already on hand in cities (which is not to say a little federal aid wouldn't help now and then!), and because these society-wide issues are felt most acutely by cities, cities are who has to solve them. None of this is to say cities will solve these problems automatically or easily. Income inequality, for instance, is uniquely pronounced in cities because cities concentrate stuff that's desirable up and down the income ladder. There is a school of thought that the mere presence of very wealthy residents has spin-off effects that benefit lower-income people, and that this should mollify our concerns about the income gap. It'd be nice if that were all we needed. But I don't know that we're going to have a sustainable urban economy, at least in New York, unless we deal with the fundamentals behind income polarization. That's a lot less comfortable to contemplate.