If you Google the term “a scholar and a gentleman,” the first result to pop up is a picture of Witold Rybczynski — or it would be if there were any justice in the world. Rybczynski is an architect, author, and professor of urbanism at the University of Pennsylvania. He has written a dozen or so books on technology, architecture, real estate — even a natural history of the screwdriver. He knows The City like it’s nobody’s business.
So it was notable when, in a blog post a few weeks back, Rybczynski opened a can of Jedi-style whoopass on writer Richard Florida for playing “fast and loose” with income numbers to make the case that dense, city-style living is the source of all that’s good in the world. Florida included a chart with a story in The Atlantic charting the average income in cities to show that the more people you pack into a small area, the richer they become. “There seems to be no limit, as yet, to the relationship between greater density and faster growth,” he wrote breathlessly.
Trouble was, the income stats Florida used were from metro areas, meaning that they included the suburbs — where most Americans live and work, Rybczynski points out. Take the ‘burbs out of the equation and the picture looks quite different. Florida’s chart puts the average income of Rybczynski’s hometown of Philadelphia at $46,230, for example. The median income of the city proper is closer to $30,000, Rybczynski says. The suburbs are apparently where most of the action is.
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