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The Growth of Cities

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Why do cities grow in population, surface area, and income per person? Which cities grow faster and why? To these questions, the urban growth literature has offered a variety of answers. Within an integrated framework, this chapter reviews key theories with implications for urban growth. It then relates these theories to empirical evidence on the main drivers of city growth, drawn primarily from the United States and other developed countries. Consistent with the monocentric city model, fewer roads and restrictions on housing supply hinder urban growth. The fact that housing is durable also has important effects on the evolution of cities. In recent decades, cities with better amenities have grown faster. Agglomeration economies and human capital are also important drivers of city growth. Although more human capital, smaller firms, and a greater diversity in production foster urban growth, the exact channels through which those effects percolate are not clearly identified. Finally, shocks also determine the fate of cities. Structural changes affecting the broader economy have left a big footprint on the urban landscape. Small city-specific shocks also appear to matter, consistent with the recent wave of random growth models.

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