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Exploring the Effect of Urban Structure on Individual Well-Being

Author

Listed:
  • Zachary S. Brown

    (North Carolina State University)

  • Walid Oueslati

    (OECD)

  • Jérôme Silva

    (OECD)

Abstract

Building on the OECD’s Better Life Initiative and new work using geospatial analysis, this paper investigates how reported life satisfaction relates to some of the urban structure indicators. To this end, it merges OECD household survey data with urban structure data from OECD’s Metropolitan Database, which includes a number of city-level indicators such as population and road density, as well as localised measures of land-use. The merged data permit analysis for five countries: France, Japan, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden. The findings from this analysis provide some evidence of a trade-off between home size and distance to the city centre, although the statistical power of this effect is relatively weak. Interestingly, regression analysis suggests that overall city-level compactness has a clear negative relationship with life satisfaction, regardless of whether individuals live in the urban core or in peri-urban areas. Land-use fragmentation is also found to have a negative relationship with individuals’ life satisfaction. These general patterns are for the most part robust to various statistical tests. They also hold when econometric analysis is conducted at the country level. Residents of cities with greater levels of centralisation – i.e. a greater share of the population living in the city centre – exhibit measurably lower levels of life satisfaction. A naïve interpretation of this result would suggest that anti-sprawl policies do not in fact improve overall welfare. This study does not support this conclusion. It does, however, give cause for consideration before accepting ‘win-win’ arguments for ‘smart growth,’ often brought forward to support increasingly concentrated, high-density development. The evidence presented here suggests that such policies are not without their welfare trade-offs, and that there will be winners and losers from their implementation. While high-density policies can clearly make a positive contribution to reducing local and global environmental externalities, many of these benefits are deferred and may largely accrue to future generations. A key general lesson from this study is that compensation of the losers may improve the equity effects of these policies, as well as prove more expeditious from a political economy perspective. One of the simplest approaches to compensation would be to balance pecuniary incentives for smart growth, such as higher development taxes or fees, with compensatory policies, such as subsidies or tax or fee offsets in other domains. The main policy conclusion from this study is that smart growth policies should include distributional analysis and recommendations for addressing concerns about inequalities flowing from the scoping and implementation of policies. En s’appuyant sur l’initiative du Vivre mieux de l’OCDE et sur les nouveaux travaux fondés sur des analyses géospatiales, ce rapport étudie les relations entre le niveau de satisfaction déclaré par les ménages et certains des indicateurs de structure urbaine. Pour ce faire, il croise les données d’enquête ménages de l’OCDE et les données sur la structure urbaine tirées de la base de données métropolitaines de l’OCDE, qui réunit plusieurs indicateurs urbains tels que les densités démographique et routière, et des mesures localisées de l’occupation des sols. Ce travail a permis de produire des analyses pour cinq pays : l’Espagne, la France, le Japon, les Pays-Bas et la Suède. Les résultats de ces analyses confirment qu’il existe une relation inverse entre la taille des logements et l’éloignement du centre-ville, même si la significativité statistique de cet effet est relativement faible. Notons aussi que l’analyse empirique révèle l’existence d’une corrélation négative incontestable entre la compacité urbaine et la satisfaction à l’égard de la vie, que l’on habite au coeur des villes ou en périphérie. Même constat en ce qui concerne la fragmentation urbaine. Ces schémas généraux sont pour la plupart validés par différents tests statistiques et confirmés à l’échelle de chaque pays. Les habitants des villes dont le niveau de centralisation est plus élevé – en d’autres termes, les villes où la part de la population vivant dans le centre est supérieure – affichent un niveau de satisfaction à l’égard de la vie bien plus faible. Une interprétation naïve de ce résultat consisterait à dire que les mesures visant à lutter contre l’étalement urbain n’améliorent pas le bien-être global. Le présent rapport ne soutient pas cette conclusion. En effet, ce constat empirique révèle plutôt qu’il est nécessaire d’arrêter de retenir les arguments « gagnant-gagnant » en faveur de la « croissance intelligente », souvent mis en avant pour soutenir un développement urbain favorable à une concentration et une densité de plus en plus fortes. Les constatations présentées dans le présent document font apparaître que ces politiques ne présentent pas que des avantages en termes de bien-être, et que leur mise en oeuvre profitera à certains individus au détriment des autres. Si les politiques en faveur d’une haute densité urbaine peuvent avoir un impact positif en réduisant les externalités environnementales à l’échelle locale et mondiale, nombre de leurs avantages sont différés dans le temps et ne profiteront sans doute en grande partie qu’aux générations futures. L’un des enseignements essentiels à tirer de cette étude tient au fait que l’on pourrait améliorer l’équité des politiques urbaines en offrant une compensation aux individus lésés par ces mesures. L’une des méthodes les plus simples consisterait à équilibrer les incitations pécuniaires en faveur d’une croissance intelligente en introduisant des dispositifs compensatoires tels que des subventions, des taxes ou des redevances dans d’autres domaines. Ce n’est qu’un exemple parmi tout un éventail de mesures possibles. Enfin, la conclusion principale à tirer sur le plan de l’action publique consiste à dire que les mesures en faveur d’une croissance intelligente devraient comporter une analyse des effets redistributifs ainsi que des recommandations pour faire face aux problèmes d’inégalités lors de leur cadrage et de leur mise en oeuvre.

Suggested Citation

  • Zachary S. Brown & Walid Oueslati & Jérôme Silva, 2015. "Exploring the Effect of Urban Structure on Individual Well-Being," OECD Environment Working Papers 95, OECD Publishing.
  • Handle: RePEc:oec:envaaa:95-en
    DOI: 10.1787/5jrp6wcwqq5k-en
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    File URL: https://doi.org/10.1787/5jrp6wcwqq5k-en
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Giorgio Calcagnini & Francesco Perugini, 2019. "A Well-Being Indicator for the Italian Provinces," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 142(1), pages 149-177, February.
    2. Gabriel M. Ahfeldt & Elisabetta Pietrostefani, 2017. "The Compact City in Empirical Research: A Quantitative Literature Review," SERC Discussion Papers 0215, Spatial Economics Research Centre, LSE.
    3. Ahfeldt, Gabriel M. & Pietrostefani, Elisabetta, 2017. "The compact city in empirical research: A quantitative literature review," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 83638, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    compactness; land use; life satisfaction; satisfaction de la vie;

    JEL classification:

    • I31 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General Welfare, Well-Being
    • Q51 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Valuation of Environmental Effects
    • Q56 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Environment and Development; Environment and Trade; Sustainability; Environmental Accounts and Accounting; Environmental Equity; Population Growth
    • R13 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - General Regional Economics - - - General Equilibrium and Welfare Economic Analysis of Regional Economies
    • R14 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - General Regional Economics - - - Land Use Patterns

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