A recent article in UK’s The Independent makes the compelling argument that beauty–and not just extraordinary instances of natural beauty, but also normal, everyday instances of ordinary beauty–qualifies as a public good. That is, one’s consumption of beauty does not reduce its available quantity or preclude another from consuming it. Economists regularly discuss clean air and national defense in these terms, but unlike clean air and national defense, civic leaders rarely have the political cover to prioritize urban beauty, a seemingly trivial and subjective concern among the many facing cities today.
Yet research that points to its economic significance continues to pile up. Recent articles in Fast Company, Metropolis and even the Financial Times underscore the value of investing in parks, art and world-class public spaces. We already know that aesthetics drive community attachment, which in turn leads to higher economic growth, but there are public health benefits too. Beautiful cities encourage walking, and walkable cities are more fit cities. A recent New York Magazine article even remarkably revealed that New York City has more ecological diversity than the surrounding suburbs and county due to its substantial investments in urban parks and green space preservation.
Will the next generation of great American cities make beauty their duty?
CEOs for Cities is on the leading edge of this discussion, beginning this week in Indianapolis. Stay tuned.