What are the long run consequences of planning and providing basic infrastructure in neighborhoods, where people build their own homes? We study "Sites and Services" projects implemented in seven Tanzanian cities during the 1970s and 1980s, half of which provided infrastructure in previously unpopulated areas (de novo neighborhoods), while the other half upgraded squatter settlements. Using satellite images and surveys from the 2010s, we find that de novo neighborhoods developed better housing than adjacent residential areas (control areas) that were also initially unpopulated. Specifically, de novo neighborhood are more orderly and their buildings have larger footprint areas and are more likely to have multiple stories, as well as connections to electricity and water, basic sanitation and access to roads. And though de novo neighborhoods generally attracted better educated residents than control areas, the educational difference is too small to account for the large difference in residential quality that we find. While we have no natural counterfactual for the upgrading areas, descriptive evidence suggests that they are if anything worse than the control areas.
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.
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.