Some popular fallacies of (cutthroat) intercity competition

Harvey Molotch: Zero-Sum Urbanism

How then to help cities compete more effectively? I raise my complaint against the question itself. From either a national or a global perspective, it marks the foolishness of the zero-sum game. After the consultants have come and gone and all the money has been wisely or ridiculously spent, we are—in the aggregate—no better off than we were at the start. Indeed, in collective terms, we may be damaged.

It should be, though: rather than figuring out how mayors can make their cities better competitors, we should concentrate (warning to reader: this is a very old-fashioned idea) on how to improve, as directly as possible, the lives of these cities’ inhabitants. Parks are positives not because they might lure new industries, but because folks like them. Good schools are valuable not as a means to attract the talented (or even to raise rates of college admission), but because they give children a better human experience. And so on, for bike lanes, museum walls, and metro-provided free Internet. Just do the right thing—adjusting and encouraging in modest ways that make sense for the public interest—and humbly watch who comes and goes.

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