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2014 Conference Materials: Cities and Development


Thank you for your interest in DRI’s 2014 Annual Conference! Please check the DRI webpage for a conference recap with photos and full-length talk videos, and the Greene Street study website for more information on the paper by William Easterly, Laura Freschi, and Steven Pennings.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014
Rosenthal Pavilion, NYU Kimmel Center, 10th floor
60 Washington Square South, New York City

The success and failure of cities reveal powerful development forces which are hard to see on a national scale. Ideology, policy, risk, and the spread of people, goods and ideas operate in unique ways in urban environments. From Beirut to Lusaka to New York, city-level analyses bring new perspectives to development debates.


Conference Program (click here to download PDF):

8:30am-9:00am: Registration and Coffee

9:00am-9:10am: Conference Introduction by NYU Provost David W. McLaughlin

9:10am-10:10am: “The Power of the Grid,” by Paul Romer, University Professor, NYU

In coming decades, urban populations will grow fastest in places where government capacity is most limited. If governments set the right priorities, these limits need not preclude successful urban economic development. The history of New York City shows that a government with limited capacity can implement measures that cost little, have a high social rate of return, increase its future tax base, and encourage the development of norms that support the rule of law. The Commissioner’s Plan of 1811 defined and protected a network of public space in the city’s expansion area that could then be used to encourage mobility, provide utilities, and directly enhance the quality of urban life. City governments that focus first on this foundation and then follow with laws and a system of enforcement that protect public health and limit violence can create urban environments in which private actions can drive successful economic development.

10:10am-11:10am: “A Long History of a Short Block: Four Centuries of Development Surprises on a Single Stretch of a New York City Street, ” by William Easterly, Professor of Economics, NYU, and Laura Freschi, Research Scholar, NYU Development Research Institute

National and even city aggregates can conceal dynamism at smaller scales. A history of one block in Manhattan over more than a century shows how it had many ups and downs and many turbulent transitions, but twice achieved unexpected and remarkable success. (Work is co-authored with Steven Pennings.)

11:10am-11:30am: Coffee Break

11:30am-12:30pm: “Cities, Development, and the Demons of Density,” by Edward Glaeser, Professor of Economics, Harvard University

12:30pm-1:30pm: Lunch

1:30pm-2:30pm: “The Effects of Top-Down Design versus Spontaneous Order on Housing Affordability: Examples from Southeast Asia,” by Alain Bertaud, Senior Research Scholar, NYU Stern Urbanization Project

The spatial structure of large cities is a mix of top-down design and spontaneous order created by markets. Top-down design is indispensable for the construction of metropolitan-wide infrastructure, but as we move down the scale to individual neighborhoods and lots, spontaneous order must be allowed to generate the fine grain of urban shape. At what scale level should top-down planning progressively vanish to allow a spontaneous order to emerge? And what local norms are necessary for this spontaneous order to result in viable neighborhoods that are easily connected to a metropolitan-wide infrastructure? Examples from Southeast Asia show that an equilibrium between top-down designed infrastructure and neighborhoods created through spontaneous order mechanisms can be achieved. This equilibrium requires the acknowledgement by the government of the contribution of spontaneous order to the housing supply. Spontaneous order ignored or persecuted by government results only in slums.

2:30pm-3:30pm: “Small is Beautiful — but Also Less Fragile,” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Distinguished Professor of Risk Engineering, NYU School of Engineering

We use fragility theory to show the effect of size and response to uncertainty, how distributed decision-making creates more apparent volatility, but ensures long term survival of a system. Simply, economies of scale are more than offset by stochastic diseconomies from shocks and there is such a thing as a “sweet spot” in optimal size. We show how city-states fare better than large states, how mice and small species are more robust than elephants, and how the canton mechanism can potentially solve Near Eastern problems.

This event is co-sponsored by the NYU Marron Institute of Urban Management. Funding is generously provided by the John Templeton Foundation.

Gallery photos: courtesy of Dave Anderson. Collage photos, from left to right: The William Bridges map of the 1811 NYC Commissioner’s plan courtesy of The Library of Congress, Geography and Map DivisionPhoto of Ho Chi Minh City by Aleksandr Zykov is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0Photo of the SoHo Greene Street sign by Carlos Mejía Greene is licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0.


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