Resetting the Urban Network: 117-2012

August 5 2016

Do fixed geographic features such as coastlines and rivers determine town locations, or can historical events trap towns in unfavourable locations for centuries? We examine the effects on town locations of the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, which temporarily ended urbanization in Britain, but not in France. As urbanization recovered, medieval towns were more often found in Roman-era town locations in France than in Britain. The resetting of Britain’s urban network gave it better access to natural navigable waterways, which mattered for town growth from 1200-1800. We conclude that history trapped many French towns in suboptimal locations.

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Guy Michaels is an Associate Professor in the Department of Economics at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and a research associate at Centre for Economic Performance (CEP) at the LSE.

Dr. Ferdinand Rauch is Associate Professor of Economics and Tutorial Fellow at Brasenose College, both at the University of Oxford.  His research interests are in international trade and urban economics.