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Are Compact Cities Environmentally (and Socially) Desirable?

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  • Gaigne, Carl
  • Riou, Stephane
  • Thisse, Jacques-Francois

Abstract

There is a wide consensus among international institutions and national governments in favor of compact (i.e. densely populated) cities as a way to improve the ecological performance of the transport system. Indeed, when both the intercity and intra-urban distributions of activities are given, a higher population density makes cities more environmentally friendly as the average commuting length is reduced. However, when we account for the possible relocation of activities within and between cities in response to a higher population density, the latter may cease to hold. Because changes in population density affect land rents and wages, firms and workers re-optimize and choose new locations. We show that this may reshape the urban system in a way that generates both a higher level of pollution and welfare losses. As cities become more compact, agglomeration occurs and, eventually, the secondary business centers vanish. By increasing the average commuting length, these changes in the size and structure of cities may be detrimental to both the ecological and welfare objectives even if intercity trade flows decrease. This means that compact is not always desirable, and thus an increasing-density policy should be supplemented with instruments that impact the intra- and inter-urban distributions of activities. We argue that a policy promoting the creation of secondary business centers can raise welfare and decrease emissions.

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Paper provided by University of Laval, Center for Research on the Economics of the Environment, Agri-food, Transports and Energy (CREATE) in its series Working Papers with number 121692.

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Date of creation: Mar 2012
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Handle: RePEc:ags:ulavwp:121692

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Keywords: Greenhouse gas; commuting costs; transport costs; cities; Environmental Economics and Policy; D61; F12; Q54; Q58; R12;

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  1. Engel, Charles & Rogers, John H, 1996. "How Wide Is the Border?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 86(5), pages 1112-25, December.
  2. Gianmarco Ottaviano & Takatoshi Tabuchi & Jacques-Francois Tissse, 1999. "Agglomeration and Trade Revisited," CIRJE F-Series CIRJE-F-65, CIRJE, Faculty of Economics, University of Tokyo.
  3. Brownstone, David & Golob, Thomas F., 2009. "The impact of residential density on vehicle usage and energy consumption," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 65(1), pages 91-98, January.
  4. Charles Engel & John H. Rogers, 1999. "Deviations from Purchasing Power Parity:Causes and Welfare Costs," Working Papers 0038, University of Washington, Department of Economics.
  5. Carl Gaigné & Stéphane Riou & Jacques-François Thisse, 2011. "Are compact cities environmentally friendly?," Discussion Paper Series DP2011-15, Research Institute for Economics & Business Administration, Kobe University.
  6. Gaigné, Carl & Wooton, Ian, 2010. "The Gains from Preferential Tax Regimes Reconsidered," CEPR Discussion Papers 7814, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  7. Bento, Antonio M. & Franco, Sofia F. & Kaffine, Daniel, 2006. "The efficiency and distributional impacts of alternative anti-sprawl policies," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 59(1), pages 121-141, January.
  8. Cavailhes, Jean & Gaigne, Carl & Tabuchi, Takatoshi & Thisse, Jacques-Francois, 2007. "Trade and the structure of cities," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 62(3), pages 383-404, November.
  9. Glaeser, Edward L. & Kahn, Matthew E., 2004. "Sprawl and urban growth," Handbook of Regional and Urban Economics, in: J. V. Henderson & J. F. Thisse (ed.), Handbook of Regional and Urban Economics, edition 1, volume 4, chapter 56, pages 2481-2527 Elsevier.
  10. Glaeser, Edward L. & Kahn, Matthew E., 2010. "The greenness of cities: Carbon dioxide emissions and urban development," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 67(3), pages 404-418, May.
  11. Timothy, Darren & Wheaton, William C., 2001. "Intra-Urban Wage Variation, Employment Location, and Commuting Times," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 50(2), pages 338-366, September.
  12. Tabuchi, Takatoshi, 1998. "Urban Agglomeration and Dispersion: A Synthesis of Alonso and Krugman," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 44(3), pages 333-351, November.
  13. Haufler, Andreas & Wooton, Ian, 2010. "Competition for firms in an oligopolistic industry: The impact of economic integration," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 80(2), pages 239-248, March.
  14. Muniz, Ivan & Galindo, Anna, 2005. "Urban form and the ecological footprint of commuting. The case of Barcelona," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 55(4), pages 499-514, December.
  15. Kahn, Matthew E. & Schwartz, Joel, 2008. "Urban air pollution progress despite sprawl: The "greening" of the vehicle fleet," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 63(3), pages 775-787, May.
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