Common Place   /   April 10, 2014

What are the Challenges of the City today?

Andrew Sharp

For centuries, social theorists worried about urbanization and its consequences for social life.  While many of their most dire fears never materialized, pressing questions about cities and city life still remain. On March 21, the Urbanization Project from New York University's Stern School of Business brought together popular urbanist  Richard Florida, economist Paul Romer, and sociologist Robert Sampson for a panel on "The Challenge of the City." All three speakers have made significant contributions to our understanding of cities in recent decades, and their discussion addressed many of the challenges and opportunities for cities in the next hundred years.

Each speaker recognized that the long-term challenges of urbanization will continue: by 2100 the world's population may approach 11 billion people, with a projected 75 percent living in urban centers. Urban studies from the latter part of the 20th century revealed how structural shifts in economic production and growth produced persistent disadvantage in cities.  So far, the cities of the 21st century still contain areas of concentrated affluence and concentrated disadvantage—what Florida calls the "compression of inequality." Sampson's research into "neighborhood effects" highlights one key aspect of this trend: inter-generational transmission of disadvantage in certain areas. Inequality, he shows, persists even amidst significant residential turnover, pointing to the durability of structural and cultural factors that shape life outcomes. Such deeply rooted problems, which have afflicted cities for decades already, loom large for anyone concerned with the future of urban thriving over the coming years.

The event was co-sponsored by the NYU's School of Continuing and Professional Studies and the Marion Institute on Cities and Urban Environments.