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Cars, Rapid Transit, Elevators and Skyscrapers and the Fast Growth of Cities in Poor Countries [Research Assistant]

Professor: Remi Jedwab
Department: Economics and ESIA

Title: Cars, Rapid Transit, Elevators and Skyscrapers and the Fast Growth of Cities in Poor Countries

Description: Urbanization and economic development have been coupled throughout history. However, the post-war period has witnessed the very fast growth of poor megacities in developing nations. Dhaka, Karachi, Kinshasa, Lagos, Manila, and Mexico City comprise some of the largest cities on the planet today. By 2030, most of the largest cities in the world will be located in poor countries. The prevalence of poor mega-cities today counters historical experience. In the past, the largest agglomerations in the world were located in the most advanced economies (e.g. London, New York, Paris, and Tokyo).

Countries usually urbanize when they industrialize. If agglomeration promotes economic growth, urbanization has a positive effect on growth. There is thus a virtuous circle between development and urbanization, as shown by the historical experience of Europe, North America and East Asia. In many developing countries, however, urbanization has deviated from this pattern. Many developing countries have high rates of urbanization with little significant industry. What has driven the urbanization process in
these countries, in the absence of industry? If their cities have a different origin, does it matter for economic development?

Our major hypothesis is that technological advances in both urban housing (e.g., elevators, high-rise buildings and skyscrapers) and urban transportation (e.g., electric and underground railways, motor buses, private cars and highways) have allowed cities to become much larger for developing countries since the mid-20th century. In particular, these new technologies have allowed cities to absorb more people, whether “vertically” (in tall residential and office buildings) or “horizontally” (by accelerating suburbanization and/or creating polycentric cities).

Prakash Loungani (Senior Manager of the Research Department of the International Monetary Fund https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prakash_Loungani), Professor Anthony Yezer (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthony_Yezer) and I (http://home.gwu.edu/~jedwab/) want to use a theoretical model of urban economics and empirical methods to document and quantify the role of these
new technologies in the fast urbanization of the developing world. For this project, we need to collect data on the evolution of these technologies and cities 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, (v) city shapes, (vi) buildable area, (vii) housing, (viii) slums, (ix) GDP and wages, and (x) prices, 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 effects of these technological changes on the fast growth of cities, 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 currently experience. 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. One of the team members is the Senior Manager of the Research Department of the International Monetary Fund, so that is a great opportunity for any student interested in international development.

Duties: The RA will help us collect data on the respective evolution of: (i) elevator speeds, (ii) building heights, (iii) modes of urban transportation, (iv) city sizes, (v) city shapes, (vi) buildable area, (vii) housing, (viii) slums, (ix) GDP and wages, and (x) prices, for enough cities in the world over time. The RA will help us find historical sources (encyclopedias, books, academic articles, etc.) documenting these for some cities and some years, and compile the information in excel files that we will then use to establish some stylized facts and determine parameters that we will use in our analysis. In terms of time commitment/credits, both 4-6 hours per week (2 credits) and 7-9 hours per week (3 credits) work.

Time commitment: 4-6 hours per week (average)

Credit hour option*: 2

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

*If credit is sought, all registration deadlines and requirements must be met.  Students selected to be research assistants should contact Catherine Chandler at cbrady@gwu.edu whether they intend to pursue credit or not.

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