This is another quote that’s too good to be true. Joel Kotkin on the problem with the liveability index:
We need to ask, what makes a city great? If your idea of a great city is restful, orderly, clean, then that’s fine. You can go live in a gated community. These kinds of cities are what is called ‘productive resorts’. Descartes, writing about 17th-century Amsterdam, said that a great city should be ‘an inventory of the possible’. I like that description. [emphasis mine]
I like that description, too! Kotkin liked it so much, he put it in his book. I like it so much, I wanted to find out where it came from.
And it turns out Descartes didn’t say that. And the phrase doesn’t mean what Kotkin thinks it does. But there’s a reason both the philosopher and the new meaning got mixed into it.
Get the genealogical-detective lowdown in a Storify by my Twitter-co-archeologist Wilko von Hardenberg after the jump. (I really like his idea that this would make for a great game/exercise in the classroom.)
Also, if you missed it, see why Martin Luther King and Mark Twain didn’t say what you might think they did either. Similar psychology at work here, too. And it shows that it isn’t just the cut-and-pasters on the interwebs who make these mistakes.