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The Development of City Systems in Africa

2nd Oct 2017

Authors: Sebastian Kriticos, Vernon Henderson

Since 1960, urbanisation in Africa has soared from 15 percent to around 40 percent today. According to the UN, that figure should reach 60 percent by 2050. How and why urbanisation is taking place is paramount to the development of African economies, yet the basic facts of the process remain a puzzle to social scientists and policy-makers alike. In a recent working paper, we review the new literature on African urbanisation, attempting to sort out why it is occurring as well as key parts of the traditional urban literature that relate to Africa. 

Building the city

20th Sep 2017

Author: Tanner Regan

A large share of a nation’s capital stock is in its buildings. Kenya’s largest city, Nairobi, is rapidly reconfiguring its built capital and doing so in astonishing quantities – a process that comes overwhelmingly with issues of land market informality. Interesting questions arise in such a context. How does the built environment of a city evolve? Is there a role for slum-style building technology in effective urban development? What are the costs of informality and poor institutions in land markets? In this paper we provide both novel empirics and develop a theoretical framework to answer these types of questions. 

Urban Giants: The Costs of Primacy in Sub-Saharan Africa

4th May 2017

Author: Sebastian Kriticos

Africa’s urbanisation is characterised by its tremendous speed and heavy concentration. Today, urban giants like Lagos and Cairo have amassed more than 20 million inhabitants, whilst other African cities such as Kinshasa, Luanda, and Dar es Salaam (all above 5 million) continue to grow at breakneck speed. How these primary cities evolve, and their influence on the rest of the urban hierarchy will have tremendous impacts for Africa’s future development. 

Will we ever see the light of day? - Measuring economic outcomes from very high resolution imagery

18th Apr 2017

Author: Tanner Regan

The world is routinely photographed from space on a vast scale. This abundant source of information can help answer economic questions that have been, until now, hindered by a lack of suitable data. How can economists put highly detailed daytime photographs to use? This question is only now beginning to be answered leaving tremendous potential for the future.

Nighttime Lights - How are they useful?

8th Mar 2017

Author: Jamila Nigmatulina

It is often harder than it seems to measure and trace how much productivity is increasing in a place. It becomes even harder in countries where national, let alone subnational statistics, are poor. In such countries, it is already difficult to tell where people live and how fast the population is growing. It is even harder to answer relevant policy questions regarding urban planning and transportation needs. Night Lights data can potentially help us find answers to these questions.

The importance of property rights for successful urbanisation in developing countries

20th Feb 2017

Authors: Patricia Jones, Astrid Haas

Africa’s urbanisation differs from historical patterns because it is occurring without a simultaneous development of land property rights. This blog examines the role of property rights in creating well-functioning cities and concludes that weak property rights in African cities are likely to be linked to reduced investment, inefficient labour allocation, and lower tax revenues.

On the Spatial Distribution of Development. The Roles of Nature and History.

31st Jan 2017

Authors: Vernon Henderson, Adam Storeygard, Tim Squires, David Weil

What determines where people live? Why are some places so densely populated and some so empty?  In daily life, we take this variation in density as a matter of course, but in many ways it can be quite puzzling. 

Flooding and urban adaptation

16th Jan 2017

Authors: Adriana Kocornik-Mina, Thomas K.J. McDermott, Guy Michaels, Ferdinand Rauch

If the economic costs of flooding are high, and cities at lower elevations tend to flood more frequently, why do communities continue to rebuild on the same, flood-prone lands? This blog explores the economic impact of flooding and suggests that aid for reconstruction could be used to encourage economic activity to shift away from flood prone areas.

Curse of anonymity or tyranny of distance? The impacts of job-search support in urban Ethiopia

18th Nov 2016

Author: Simon Franklin

Urban jobs are key drivers of economic growth in developing countries. Finding ways to connect and match young and skilled workers with better jobs remains a key policy challenge. In Ethiopia, experiments with training and transport subsidies show great promise.