Our Work

The Urbanisation in Developing Countries programme produces academic papers, databases, background reports and presentations. With our work we aim to contribute to knowledge creation around the causes and consequences of differing patterns of urban growth.

Colonial legacies: Shaping African cities

22nd Jun 2017, Working Paper

Authors: Neeraj Baruah, Vernon Henderson, Cong Peng

Differential institutions imposed under colonial rule continue to affect the spatial structure and urban interactions of African cities. Based on a sample of 318 cities across 28 countries with satellite data on built cover over time, Anglophone origin cities are more sprawling compared to Francophone ones. Anglophone cities especially have more leapfrog development at the extensive margin and their spatial layout is generally less regular. Results are impervious to a border experiment and to many robustness tests, measures of sprawl, and sub-samples. Why would colonial origins matter? British colonial governments tended to operate under indirect rule and a dual mandate within cities, allowing colonial and native sections to develop without an overall plan and coordination. In contrast, integrated city planning and land allocation mechanisms were a feature of French colonial rule, which was more inclined towards a strategy of direct rule. While the results provide evidence of the strong role of colonial in uence and persistence of institutions, they also have public policy relevance. In cities, from the Demographic and Health Survey data, similar households which are located in areas of the city with more leapfrog development have poorer connections to piped water, electricity, and landlines, presumably because of higher costs of providing infrastructure with urban sprawl.

The Global Spatial Distribution of Economic Activity: Nature, History, and the Role of Trade

14th Mar 2017, Submitted Paper

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

This paper studies the distribution of economic activity, as proxied by lights at night, across 250,000 grid cells of average area 560 square kilometers.

Quarterly Journal of Economics (forthcoming)

Building the City: Urban Transition and Institutional Frictions

7th Mar 2017, Working Paper

Authors: Tony Venables, Vernon Henderson, Tanner Regan

This paper models a growing city, and focuses on investment decisions and consequent patterns of land use and urban density.

Breaking into Tradables: Urban form and urban function in a developing city

14th Dec 2016, Submitted Paper

Author: Tony Venables

Many cities in developing economies, particularly in Africa, are experiencing ‘urbanisation without industrialisation’. This paper conceptualises this in a framework in which a city can produce non-tradable goods and – if it is sufficiently competitive – also internationally tradable goods, potentially subject to increasing returns to scale.

Urban Economics R&R

To Build Outward or Upward: The Spatial Pattern of Urban Land Development in China

12th Dec 2016, Working Paper

Authors: Zhi Wang, Qinghua Zhang, Li-An Zhou

This paper attempts to understand the patterns of urban land development in China from the political economy perspective. Our study is motivated by an interesting pattern observed in the past decade that in the initially more densely populated cities the urban land development was expanded more outwardly with a relatively low use intensity.

The Urban Wage Premium in Africa

14th Nov 2016, Working Paper

Authors: Patricia Jones, Olivia D’Aoust, Louise Bernard

This paper examines the size and sources of the urban wage premium in three African countries—Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda— using panel data on workers for the period 2009 to 2013. 

Anonymity or Distance? Experimental evidence on the obstacles that young people face in the labour market

4th Nov 2016, Working Paper

Authors: Girum Abebe, Stefano Caria, Marcel Fafchamps, Paolo Falco, Simon Franklin, Simon Quinn

We conduct a randomised evaluation of two programmes designed to lower spatial and informational barriers to job search among 4,000 young Ethiopians.

Urban infrastructure for development

3rd Oct 2016, Published Paper

Authors: Paul Collier, Tony Venables

The paper discusses the importance of infrastructure investment in growing cities, arguing that, in addition to its direct benefits, infrastructure plays crucial roles in enabling density and coordinating private investment decisions. Many cities have failed to invest in sufficient infrastructure due to inadequate financing tools (in particular failure to capture benefits through land value taxation) and fragmented urban authority.

Oxford Review of Economic Policy 32(3):391-409

Has Climate Change Driven Urbanization in Africa?

29th Aug 2016, Submitted Paper

Authors: Vernon Henderson, Adam Storeygard, Uwe Deichmann

This paper documents strong but differentiated links between climate and urbanization in large panels of districts and cities in Sub-Saharan Africa, which has dried substantially in the past fifty years.

Journal of Development Economics, forthcoming

Resetting the Urban Network: 117-2012

5th Aug 2016, Submitted Paper

Authors: Guy Michaels, Ferdinand Rauch

This paper examines the effects on town locations of the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, which temporarily ended urbanization in Britain, but not in France.

Economic Journal, forthcoming


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