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Are Compact Cities Environmentally (and Socially) Desirable ?

  • Carl Gaigné
  • Stéphane Riou
  • Jacques-François Thisse

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 CREATE in its series Cahiers de recherche CREATE with number 2012-4.

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Date of creation: 2012
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Handle: RePEc:lvl:creacr:2012-4
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  1. Charles Engel & John H. Rogers, 1999. "Deviations from Purchasing Power Parity:Causes and Welfare Costs," Discussion Papers in Economics at the University of Washington 0038, Department of Economics at the University of Washington.
  2. Gaigné, Carl & Riou, Stéphane & Thisse, Jacques-François, 2012. "Are compact cities environmentally friendly?," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 72(2), pages 123-136.
  3. Edward L. Glaeser & Matthew E. Kahn, 2003. "Sprawl and Urban Growth," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 2004, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
  4. Charles Engel & John H. Rogers, 1995. "How wide is the border?," Research Working Paper 95-09, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.
  5. 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.
  6. Gianmarco Ottaviano & Takatoshi Tabuchi & Jacques-FranÁois Thisse, 2002. "Agglomeration and Trade Revisited," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 43(2), pages 409-436, May.
  7. Jean Cavailhes & Carl Gaigne & Takatoshi Tabuchi & Jacques-Francois Thisse, 2006. "Trade and the structure of cities," CIRJE F-Series CIRJE-F-454, CIRJE, Faculty of Economics, University of Tokyo.
  8. Carl Gaigné & Ian Wooton, 2011. "The gains from preferential tax regimes reconsidered," Working Papers 47432, Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique, France.
  9. Haufler, Andreas & Wooton, Ian, 2010. "Competition for firms in an oligopolistic industry: The impact of economic integration," Munich Reprints in Economics 19925, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
  10. 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.
  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. 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.
  13. 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.
  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.
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