Some things I'm working on now, and over this coming year
My first few posts seem to be all about "me, me, me...?" Don't worry, we'll get to other, more interesting stuff, in a few posts!
Urban form around the world
On the research front, I'm working on "Understanding Intra-urban Location: The Spatial Distribution of Population in 57 World Cities" with my friend Alain Bertaud. B&M present a unique database of measures of population density patterns from 57 cities in 32 different countries, collected over more than two decades. After some discussion of selected cases, we use these data to test some predictions of the standard model of intraurban location, and to explain apparent departures from that model.
Several key predictions of the so-called ‘standard urban model’ of William Alonso, Ed Mills and Richard Muth are confirmed; cities everywhere decentralize as their populations grow, their incomes rise, and transport costs fall, as the standard model predicts. But we also show that the way the market for land and real estate is organized and regulated has profound effects on urban form. This has potentially powerful implications for the value of the real estate capital stock, and for transportation systems.
A broad look at housing in the United States
In 2003, Richard Green and I published A Primer on U.S. Housing Markets and Housing Policy. Despite having one of the ugliest book covers of all time (G&M were not consulted!), it was a raging success, selling many dozens of copies; the last time I checked #1,867,979 in sales at Amazon. Be the first to review it there! But we did get nice reviews in high profile spots like Journal of the American Planning Association, and Regional Science and Urban Economics, and around 190 citations in Google Scholar (pretty decent, actually!) But our real distinction was a great blurb from the late John Quigley, one of the greatest urban economists we've known: "...a compact readable introduction to the economics of housing, accessible to all, yet rigorous and judicious. The book is an excellent illustration of the way economists think about markets and government policy."
Apparently, there have been some new developments in housing markets since 2003; who knew? So Richard and I are working on a Second Edition, with colleague Paul Carrillo. We'll have new material on the 2000s era boom and bust in housing prices, the interactions between housing and the aggregate economy, and recent developments in the housing of lower income Americans.
Housing and recent macroeconomic events
I'm currently making final revisions to a short paper on a big topic: "Residential Real Estate In the U.S. Financial Crisis, the Great Recession, and their Aftermath," which will appear in a special issue of the Taiwan Economic Review on housing, edited by Nan-Kuang Chen and Charles Ka Yui Leung. In my class lectures on the crisis, I have a few slides listing 91 (!) putative causes of the housing boom and bust, the associated Great Financial Crisis, the Great Recession of 2007-9, and the disappointingly weak recovery that's followed. So to boil things down, at the risk of over-simplifying, this paper focuses on the housing boom-bust, with particular attention to supply-side constraints in housing markets; and the role of increasing leverage.
Housing in China
I've been undertaking some new work on China's housing supply with Lingxiao Li. We examine housing prices in 35 large cities over the past decade-and-a-half; we're not the first to examine these data, or to try to recover supply elasticities from the same. Our main innovation is to construct measures of natural and regulatory constraint; such measures have been demonstrably important in explaining housing markets in both the U.S., where we have a lot of variation across cities/metro areas; and also across countries. Support from the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy was instrumental in allowing us to collect this data, and present our first results as a working paper to that fine institution. Like all such measures, our "regulatory indexes" are imperfect, but we are currently refining our measures and looking to glean what we can from more recent data on the ups and downs in China's housing markets. Stay tuned!
African urban development and housing
The world is a complicated place, and no continent more so than Africa. Many Americans have an over-simplified and often inaccurate view of the most rapidly urbanizing region in the world, if they have a view at all. Two decades ago I took the opportunity to expand my own modest experience in Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria by teaming up with Iowa's Jay Sa-Aadu to pull together data from around the continent and write a review entitled "What Have African Housing Policies Wrought?" (Real Estate Economics, 1996). But a lot has happened in Africa over the past two decades, to put it mildly!
So now Jay and I have embarked on an update and extension of that paper, provisionally entitled "Housing and Urban Development in Africa: Lessons Learned, Lessons Not Learned," with our colleague Moussa Diop. Drawing on several decades of research we review lessons learned about housing markets and policies that are relevant for many countries in Africa today. Our goal is not only to highlight lessons learned from previous research and practice; but also lessons forgotten. We present a research agenda that might fill remaining gaps in our understanding of African housing markets and policy, some of which might be quite applicable to other regions as well.
More to come, on these and other topics
This blog post is a bit of a tease -- I've listed five of my current projects, with very little detail, on the specifics of the projects, including much of the findings. Fear not -- future posts will explore these and other projects, and results, in much more detail.