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Gordon Hanson

Peter Wertheim Professor in Urban Policy


This course is about the economics of place. We study cities in their role as engines of modern economies. Urban areas attract workers wanting jobs, firms seeking access to markets, consumers looking for an abundant variety of goods and services, and families searching for schools and community. The density of activity in cities creates important economic benefits. Workers in larger cities are more productive while on the job and have more leisure opportunities while at play. These benefits do not come for free. City residents must contend with traffic congestion, expensive housing, and exposure to disease and other risks. The balance of these urban pull-and-push factors, plus competition between cities for capital and labor, create a hierarchy of places, in which a few large cities tend to dominate the economic landscape while smaller cities fill more specialized niches. Technological change, globalization, government policy, and climate change perturb this hierarchy, moving cities up and down the ladder of prosperity. In part one of the course, we examine the economic forces that drive urban growth, induce firms and industries to concentrate geographically, and cause some cities to flourish and others to stagnate. In part two of the course, we consider policies to address affordable housing, urban sprawl, traffic congestion, regional economic divides, persistent joblessness, climate change, and informal settlements. The course emphasizes data analytic approaches to urban economic policy and involves a mix of traditional lectures, in-class case studies and policy debates, and guest lectures by policy practitioners.