A Preface to Urban Economics

A Preface to Urban Economics

A Preface to Urban Economics

A Preface to Urban Economics

Excerpt

Three years ago the author undertook to describe and evaluate a subject matter which gave promise of becoming a new field of thought: the economics of urban growth and development. Very early in this effort it became clear that the inexorable trend toward very large, extremely complex, urban places would make the understanding and management of the process of urbanization one of the two or three most challenging and critical domestic issues of the latter half of the twentieth century. And it seemed inconceivable that the skills of the economist would not be needed.

A corollary judgment was also reached that since the city is much less a pure economic organism than the firm or industry with which economists have traditionally been concerned, the conventional wisdom of economics would not translate easily nor even be enough. A long study was in prospect. Further, the distinguishing characteristic of economics is the rigor that is achieved through formal methods of analysis--mathematical and statistical techniques. But the promise of economic analysis is realized only when the simplifications that permit the construction of formal analytical models do not entail too great a cost in realism and social significance. The research strategy chosen, therefore, was to break the surface of this new and strange world by first composing a preface to urban economics, skipping lightly across nearly the full reaches of the city. Only then, with some feeling for the half-dozen or so critical variables that determine in large part the form and functioning of the city, might significant progress be made toward formulating theories and setting forth rigorous principles. A decade would surely be needed to prepare a true "principles of urban economics." The work of testing and reformulating hypotheses has, of course, no end.

This preface to urban economics is, then, a first step or at best an intermediate product. But a new field can languish for lack of easily accessible educational materials. University faculty members, for example, are most reluctant to teach courses in new fields, prior to the existence of textbooks or reasonable facsimiles thereof; it is very difficult and inefficient to base courses on fugitive, specialized pamphlets and journal articles existing only in single library copies. State and local finance, a subject closely related to urban economics, is still an infrequently scheduled course, reflecting decades of bare existence without good teaching materials. Today specialists in this field are . . .

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