chapter  11
11 Pages

Why People Want to Live in the City: Looking Back

WithLEO LUCASSEN, WIM WILLEMS

In his recently published retrospective study, European Cities and Towns 400-2000, the British historian Peter Clark notes that European cities are very popular, both with their residents and the tourists who visit them. In the top fi fty of the world’s most attractive cities, Europe features up to twenty-fi ve times, with London the undisputed number one. Although in terms of the size of urban agglomerations Europe is losing ground to Asia and both American continents, its high quality of life is unprecedented. This is particularly refl ected in good healthcare and in social and hygienic services, which together lead to high life expectancy. The success of cities seems to depend heavily on political leadership. Administrators with a cosmopolitan and creative spirit, who are open to economic, social and cultural innovations, are most successful in creating an attractive living environment.1 This conclusion fi ts well in more recent analyses of sociologists and urban geographers like Edward Glaeser and Richard Florida, who also stress the importance of tolerance, diversity and proximity as a breeding-ground for a creative environment.2 This book adds historical depth to their arguments, and shows the importance of institutional and spatial path dependency for both individual cities and for the Low Countries as a region. That European cities, particularly those in Northern Europe, are so successful is, according to Clark, linked to the long urban tradition of this continent. This tradition has resulted in an extensive and dense urban network, in which diverse institutions have played an important role. In this way, the author has sketched the outline of an answer to the key question of our quest for the reasons why people want to live in the city.