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ECON 345: Urban Economics

SYNOPSIS: Introduction to urban and spatial economics. Neoclassical monocentric city spatial model, patterns of land values, property prices, residential density and impact of distressed communities on broader development. Systems of cities and regional growth, role of cities in economic development. United States urban features: ethical and socio-economic effects of housing segregation and implications for discrimination. Tradeoffs between efficiency and fairness in housing resource allocation. Business location theory, impact of innovations in transportation, and technology’s effect on work patterns.

This course focuses on the evolution of America’s cities, with particular reference to Durham, NC. There is great scope for independent research by students as they explore issues ranging from real estate (what sort of properties have fared worst in the housing price collapse, and where) to urban issues (how much more will people pay to live in nice neighborhoods with good schooling) to policy analysis (who benefits from Section 8 housing in Durham?). Readers also get to learn about ARCGIS. Some students also explore international issues (for example, what happened to housing prices after the Chilean earthquake, and did the premium for ground floor dwellings increase?). The range is very large, going from education to real estate to urban planning topics (who used the most water in Durham during the recent drought?). The common theme is that the majority will use or even build a database, often with spatial markers. It’s hard work to embark on a first research project: some do very well; others struggle. Nearly all need help and advice. This includes assistance in organization and writing, making the project manageable, hypothesis test design, and analysis of results. I would not expect readers to be expert in all of these dimensions, and that is not necessary.

READER REQUIREMENTS: professional experience in empirical economics, finance, or real estate analysis; economists, urban planners, school board members, city managers

WRITING ASSIGNMENTS: Students are writing a journal article or policy briefing that could be published in scholarly journals (Cityscape, Land Economics, Journal of Urban Economics).
Why would someone usually read it? To be informed on a number of issues related to the evolution of American cities.

Student – Reader Interactions

Introductory Meeting: Schedule immediately after receiving match information; be sure to discuss how you will use the course blog.

  • Durham paper
    • send to reader (ASAP, send overview as soon as you are matched)
    • arrange conversation about feedback
  • First term paper draft
    • send to reader
    • arrange conversation about feedback

Blog:  Students will post some assignments on the course blog at Readers are welcome to post comments on other students’ posts as well. Students should let the reader know when they post items on the blog.


  • Is the organization clear and are sections/sub-sections well defined?
  • Does the writer state his/her hypothesis clearly at the outset and build an argument, explaining both how s/he intends to analyze the problem and ultimately justifying conclusions drawn?
  • Does the writer characterize the problem and data effectively, explain the empirical tools to be used, and present findings in a way that highlights key results without hiding problems?
  • Does the writer clearly place his/her research in context effectively?
  • Does the writer use charts/graphs/maps/illustrations clearly to demonstrate the geographic layout and data?