Arriving at 'Arrival City'

May 18, 2011

Arrival City: How the Largest Migration in History Is Reshaping Our World by Doug Saunders

My world shows up for me through a browser, a page, on e-paper. A nice way to go through life, but one basically guaranteed to miss what is really going on. That is, unless I read the right books (because let's face it, I'm deeply committed to the world of abstraction). Arrival City was a good book for me to read.

Saunders begins with the observation that we are living through the world's last migration, humanity's wholesale move from the country to the city. It is urbanization, and urbanization alone, that will solve the world's problems. People who live in cities use energy in a sustainable manner, they have less children, they invest in human capital, and their kids climb the economic ladder. If we romanticize rural life, life on the farm, we remain blind to the poverty, backwardness, abuse, and poverty of this existence.

This worldwide migration, from rural places to urban places, requires a destination. The places where immigrants first go, the Shenzen's and favela's in Brazil and parts of L.A., they are all arrival cities. Countries that invest in their arrival cities, that put in place laws and resources that encourage a path to citizenship and home ownership and business start-ups will be the best-off countries in the 21st century. Countries that treat immigrants as temporary, disposable, or invisible will create failed arrival cities. The developed world will need the energy, entrepreneurship, labor, and tax dollars of immigrants if we are to prosper as our societies age.

Arrival City profiles both successful and failed arrival cities. Saunders unpacks the polices that create both successful and failed arrival, and details the (sometimes surprising) motivations of people who move from the farm to the city. The method is a perfect cross between journalism (he actually visits the cities and meets the people), and academic (synthesizing the development and urbanization research). The best sort of book.

What are you reading? Seriously.


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