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WORCESTER — News of the death of the city has been greatly exaggerated.
In fact, the 21st century has been marked by a return to the cities, making them more "vital, relevant and successful than ever," economist Edward Glaeser said yesterday.
Mr. Glaeser teaches at Harvard and is director of the university’s Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston and its Taubman Center for State and Local Government. He spoke yesterday at a forum presented by The Research Bureau at Assumption College.
Mr. Glaeser said 50 percent of the world’s population now lives in cities, where incomes are higher and infant mortality is lower. Even big cities in India, though beset with problems, are preferable to what he called the "stultifying poverty" of its rural areas.
"Cities don’t make people poor," he said. "They attract poor people. But they also provide opportunities for rich and poor alike."
Cities attract talent, which in turn spurs interaction, innovation, entrepreneurship and social mobility, Mr. Glaeser wrote in his book, "Triumph of the City," which has been getting national attention. He calls cities "the economic heartland of America."
Yesterday, he said that skills are the key to revitalizing cities, noting that Boston benefited from its colleges and the technology boom, and Worcester is positioned to do well because of its schools and its biotechnology and medical industries.
The cost and restrictions on housing around Boston also bode well for Worcester, he said. Worcester County saw more growth than any other mainland area in Massachusetts in the 2010 census, he pointed out.
"The real capital of a city is always its people," Mr. Glaeser said. "The success of our cities and our country depend on our human capital."
He said urban schools pose a great challenge at a time when "being educated is vastly more important than it was 30 years ago."
Still, cities have the ability to educate, he said. "Cities enable us to be smart by being around other smart people."