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The Effects of New Urban Technological Advances on the Growth of Cities in Developed and Developing Countries [Research Assistantship]

Department: Economics and Elliott School of International Affairs
Professor Remi Jedwab

Project Description: 

Professor Anthony Yezer (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthony_Yezer) and I  (http://home.gwu.edu/~jedwab/) are working on a project on the effects of technological advances in both urban housing (e.g., elevators and skyscrapers) and urban transportation (e.g., electric and underground railways and motor buses and expressways) on the growth of cities in both the developed world and the developing world over the past five centuries.

Since the 19th century, many new technologies have allowed cities to absorb more people, whether “vertically” (in tall and supertall residential and office buildings) or “horizontally” (by accelerating suburbanization and/or creating polycentric cities). We want to use a theoretical model of urban economics and empirical methods to document and quantify the role of these new technologies in the urbanization of the world. We believe that these technologies originated in developed countries, before diffusing to developing countries. As such, we expect the growth of cities in developing countries to follow with a lag the fast growth of cities in developed countries.

For this project, we need to collect data on the evolution of these technologies across space and over time. In particular, we need to find data on the respective evolution of: (i) elevator speeds, (ii) building heights, (iii) modes of urban transportation, (iv) city sizes, and (v) city shapes, for enough cities in the world over time. With this data at our disposal, we will be able to use our model to simulate the urbanizing effects of these technological changes and see how they can potentially produce fast urbanization, in developed countries where these technologies are widely used, but also in developing countries where these technologies are increasingly used.

Lastly, we will ask whether cities in developing countries are really “inefficient” today. As of now, most cities in developing countries are very spread out, so they are more horizontal than vertical. But for these cities to become taller, and potentially more sustainable, they will need elevators that work, meaning fewer power failures than they usually experience. If there were no power failures, one hypothesis that we want to investigate is that we would observe a verticalization of these cities.

These questions are especially important for governments in developing countries, as they have to deal with the very fast growth of their cities and the associated problems of slum expansion and traffic jams. We will present the results of this research at the seminars and conferences of various multilateral and bilateral aid agencies in Washington D.C., as they are particularly interested in learning how to help developing countries with their urban issues.

Duties: The RA will help us with the collection of data on the respective evolution of: (i) elevator speeds, (ii) building heights, (iii) modes of urban transportation, (iv) city sizes, and (v) city shapes, for enough cities in the world over time. The RA will have to find historical sources (encyclopedias, books, research articles, websites, etc.) documenting these for some cities and some years, and compile the information in an excel file that Professor Yezer and I will then use to establish some stylized facts and determine parameters that we will use in our analysis.

Time Commitment/Credits: 7-9 hours per week (average); 3 credits

To Apply: Submit Cover Letter/Resume to jedwab@gwu.edu