2014 Annual Conference "Cities and Development: Urban Determinants of Success"

DRI's annual conference took place on November 18, 2014 in the Rosenthal Pavilion of NYU Kimmel Center.  350 guests attended to hear the presentations and discuss research that examines cities as dynamic units at which development happens. The event was co-hosted by the NYU Marron Institute of Urban Management.

Program and Speakers:

Download the conference program with speaker bios here.

Photographs (courtesy of Dave Anderson):

[shareprints gallery_id="5803" gallery_type="filmstrip" gallery_position="pos_center" gallery_width="width_100" image_size="xlarge" image_padding="0" theme="light" image_hover="false" lightbox_type="slide" comments="false" sharing="true"]Videos (courtesy of Dave Anderson):


[expand title="Click to view the conference abstract"] The success and failure of cities reveal powerful development forces which are hard to see on a national scale. Ideology, policy, risk, and the spread of people, goods and ideas operate in unique ways in urban environments. "Cities and Development: Urban Determinants of Success" presents city-level analyses that bring new perspectives to development debates. [/expand]



[expand title="Click to view the abstract for Paul Romer's 'The Power of the Grid'"]

In coming decades, urban populations will grow fastest in places where government capacity is most limited. If governments set the right priorities, these limits need not preclude successful urban economic development. The history of New York City shows that a government with limited capacity can implement measures that cost little, have a high social rate of return, increase its future tax base, and encourage the development of norms that support the rule of law. The Commissioner’s Plan of 1811 defined and protected a network of public space in the city’s expansion area that could then be used to encourage mobility, provide utilities, and directly enhance the quality of urban life. City governments that focus first on this foundation and then follow with laws and a system of enforcement that protect public health and limit violence can create urban environments in which private actions can drive successful economic development. [/expand]



[expand title="Click to view the abstract for Bill Easterly and Laura Freschi's 'A Long History of a Short Block: Four Centuries of Development Surprises on a Single Stretch of a New York City Street'"]

National and even city aggregates can conceal dynamism at smaller scales. A history of one block in Manhattan over more than a century shows how it had many ups and downs and many turbulent transitions, but twice achieved unexpected and remarkable success. (Work is co-authored with Steven Pennings.) [/expand]




[expand title="Click to see the abstract and get the paper download link of Alain Bertaud's 'The Effects of Top-Down Design versus Spontaneous Order on Housing Affordability: Examples from Southeast Asia''"]

The spatial structure of large cities is a mix of top-down design and spontaneous order created by markets. Top-down design is indispensable for the construction of metropolitan-wide infrastructure, but as we move down the scale to individual neighborhoods and lots, spontaneous order must be allowed to generate the fine grain of urban shape. At what scale level should top-down planning progressively vanish to allow a spontaneous order to emerge? And what local norms are necessary for this spontaneous order to result in viable neighborhoods that are easily connected to a metropolitan-wide infrastructure? Examples from Southeast Asia show that an equilibrium between top-down designed infrastructure and neighborhoods created through spontaneous order mechanisms can be achieved. This equilibrium requires the acknowledgement by the government of the contribution of spontaneous order to the housing supply. Spontaneous order ignored or persecuted by government results only in slums. Download paper here. [/expand]



[expand title="Click to view the abstract for Nassim Nicholas Taleb's 'Small Is Beautiful--But Also Less Fragile"]

We use fragility theory to show the effect of size and response to uncertainty, how distributed decision-making creates more apparent volatility, but ensures long term survival of a system. Simply, economies of scale are more than offset by stochastic diseconomies from shocks and there is such a thing as a “sweet spot” in optimal size. We show how city-states fare better than large states, how mice and small species are more robust than elephants, and how the canton mechanism can potentially solve Near Eastern problems. [/expand]


Urb.im has launched a series of blog posts about our conference. Here are the first two posts on Paul Romer's presentation, and William Easterly and Laura Freschi's talk.


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The Tyranny of Experts Book Launch

AudienceTOE Last Monday we had the pleasure of hosting a few of our closest friends at Cooper Union's Great Hall to celebrate the launch of Professor Easterly's new book, The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor. Paul Romer gave a gracious introduction, and many audience members had the chance to question Bill's audacious theories in a Q&A at the end of the lecture. Below are just a few selected clips from the evening (Paul's introduction, Bill on his membership in Authoritarians Anonymous, and his answer to the perennial favorite question: "But What Can I Do?"). To hear more, take a look at the author's speaking schedule for the next few months which will take him to Boston, DC, the West Coast and London, and of course, read the book.

Photo courtesy of Jessica Kane. See more photographs from the launch here.

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The Great Escape

We were honored to host Angus Deaton last week for a lecture on his brand new book. A standing-only crowd piled in to hear Deaton, Professor of International Affairs and  Economics at Princeton, discuss humanity's "Great Escape" from poverty as well as the troubling health and income inequalities that still persist. [shareprints gallery_id="5806" gallery_type="slidescroll" gallery_position="pos_center" gallery_width="width_100" image_size="small" image_padding="0" theme="dark" image_hover="false" lightbox_type="slide" titles="true" captions="true" descriptions="true" comments="true" sharing="true"]All photos ©NYU Photo Bureau: Prouhansky

Short Clip 1- Some Things That Would Do Good

Short Clip 2- It's Not About The Money

Short Clip 3- What Is to Be Done about Weak State Capacity?

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Mr. Sachs loses AIDS debate to Mr. Budget Constraint

The World Bank hosted a debate (click on the above screen shot to get to the link for the whole webcast) on the proposition:

Continued AIDS investments by donors and governments is a sound investment, even in a resource-constrained environment.

Jeffrey Sachs and Michel Sidibé  (head of UNAIDS) argued in favor, and Mead Over and Roger England argued against. There was a show of hands of the audience pro and con before and after. As Mead Over reports, nobody was surprised that a vast majority was pro before the debate; the surprise was that a substantial minority changed their minds to con after the debate.

Mead Over has written a post summarizing the debate, paraphrasing in his words each participant's argument (see the video linked above if you want the exact words of each). Here is Mr. Sachs:

Jeff Sachs: This debate is a sham, because resources are not really scarce. With financial transactions taxes and higher taxes on the rich we would have more than enough money to address all the health problems of the world.

Mead Over and Roger England argued that, in the real world, alas, there really is a budget constraint on health and on everything else.

The cost of pretending this budget constraint does not exist, they argued, is that the lives saved by increasing AIDS spending cause many more lives to be lost when AIDS crowds out more cost-effective health interventions.

Cost-effectiveness calculations of course make the big assumption that both AIDS and alternative  interventions are or would be effectively implemented.  Aid critics like me have of course questioned aid effectiveness, but I and others have also argued that aid's effectiveness is greater in health than in other sectors.

Roger England doubted even the effectiveness rate in AIDS (as paraphrased by Over):

Roger England: The $100 billion that has been spent so far on AIDS has created an “AIDS-industrial complex” and the international AIDS meeting in Washington this week is its trade fair. The money has otherwise accomplished much less than it could have if wisely spent.

Sounds like Mr. Budget Constraint did win the debate.

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The Worst Promotional Aid Video of All Time

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tYrBSTBHCS4&w=560&h=315] Courtesy of the Marines, ad during the Euro Cup final paid for with your taxpayer dollars, "Moving towards the sounds of chaos"

"We are the first to move towards the sounds of tyranny, injustice, and despair" (image of helicopter gunship carrying boxes labelled "aid")

Mr. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, you are now obligated to finance an equally high profile ad that will present the other side, I.e. theory and evidence against the model of Development at Gunpoint

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VIDEO: "Living with the Gates Foundation" by the Hudson Institute and Alliance Magazine

How influential is the Gates Foundation, and what impact do its sheer size and scale -- the foundation grants an average of $10 million per day and employs over 1,000 people -- have on both philanthropy and the fields in which it operates? While there are obvious benefits to Gates' massive expenditure on public health, and the foundation has a reputation for following effective practices, doubts linger about its domination of the global health agenda, the squeezing out of diverse approaches and the difficulties of obtaining objective feedback. In a special edition of Alliance Magazine, guest editor Timothy Ogden points out the power dynamics between Gates' and other players in the fields where it operates. Among other contributors, DRI Associate Director Laura Freschi and global health consultant Alanna Shaikh questioned the Foundation's amenability to feedback, while Duke University's Edward Skloot discussed how the Foundation's scale makes it qualitatively different from any other charitable organization.

These questions were further explored at the Hudson Institute, where Tim Ogden, Laura Freschi and Edward Skloot were invited to a panel discussion on December 6 -- joined by Darin McKeever, Deputy Director for Charitable Support at the Foundation, and the Hudson Institute's William Schambra, who moderated.

Watch highlights of the event below:


Laura asked whether an organization as influential as the Gates Foundation, which funds not only health research and interventions but also the media sources that cover them, could be held accountable. Her segment begins at (13:23) in the full event video below. Read more about the discussion at the Hudson Institute's website, or download a copy of the edited transcript here.

[wpvideo 01hwpB0A]

[vimeo https://vimeo.com/78372191]

Caroline Preston has a good review of the panel on the Chronicle of Philanthropy's "The Giveaway" blog as well.

The Stanford Social Innovation Review hosted a webinar on the same topic on December 14. Tim Ogden summarizes this discussion about the Gates Foundation's impact on global social change:

The Gates Foundation needs to become more transparent, faster. It needs to provide more insight into how it makes decisions, what factors it considers, how it forms strategies, what it learns, and why it changes directions. This increased transparency is not just for—or even primarily for—those on the outside. It is the best way for the foundation to get the feedback it needs, determine its limitations and blind spots, and hear the wisdom of those outside its domain.

Read his entire post on the SSIR blog.

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VIDEO: Professor Easterly Speaks at the Carnegie Council

Why is honesty so important? Professor Easterly discussed this cardinal value in his own career, and in the context of international development, with Julia Kennedy and Devin T. Stewart at the Carnegie Council on September 15. "People do know a lot about their own problems at their own level," he said. "They can give you feedback on how you're doing, if you are trying to solve their problems from the top, from government. In a democracy, you give feedback on how well, or how badly, the government is doing.

"So individual rights is also a way to mobilize all the knowledge in society that we need to make the economy work. It's the individual that has the particular knowledge so that they know how to run their factory, to employ people, to be a worker themselves, to start new businesses."

Professor Easterly previously discussed Globalization and Creative Capitalism at previous Carnegie Council events.

Watch the video below:

[vimeo https://vimeo.com/78371999]

Or, listen to the podcast:

[audio http://media.carnegiecouncil.org/carnegie/audio/20110915_Easterly_v2.mp3]

>>Ethics Matter: A Conversation with William Easterly (Carnegie Council Website)

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VIDEO: Professor Nyarko at the 2011 Milken Institute Global Conference

In the 50 years since the end of colonialism, wealthy countries have contributed trillions in official development assistance, yet so many African nations have failed to thrive. Much of the funding has been wasted, stolen or misused, often to keep corrupt autocrats in power. Systemic reform is overdue, but what's the best approach? An emerging concept is to facilitate a greater degree of coordination between investors seeking opportunities, host governments trying to attract private capital, and international aid agencies seeking to ensure development aid is spent on projects that will achieve measurable results.

Does this approach increase the potential for success? Could it increase Africa's attractiveness to investors? Can the public interest be served while also improving potential returns for investors?

Prof. Nyarko moderated a panel considering these questions at the Milken Institute's 2011 Global Conference inLos Angeles.  The panel featured Amina Salum Ali, African Union Ambassador to the United States; Mauro De Lorenzo, Vice President of the John Templeton Foundation; Oscar Kashala, President of Union for the Rebuilding of Congo; Kola Masha, Managing Director of Doreo Partners; and Joe Sive, Chairman and CEO of the African Investment Fund.

Visit the Milken Institute website to watch footage of the discussion.

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VIDEO: New Directions in Development

 These videos come from DRI's annual conference at the Cooper Union on March 4, 2011. Speakers included DRI co-directors Bill Easterly and Yaw Nyarko, Yale's Chris Blattman, NYU Economics' Raquel Fernandez and NYU Law's Kevin Davis.

Bill Easterly - From Skepticism to Development

Yaw Nyarko - Information Technology and Development

Download Yaw Nyarko's Powerpoint slides here.
Chris Blattman - Does Poverty Lead to Violence?

Download Chris Blattman's Powerpoint slides here.
Raquel Fernandez - Culture Matters

Download Raquel Fernandez's Powerpoint slides here.
Download her working paper, "Does Culture Matter?," here.
Kevin Davis - Law and Development

Download Kevin Davis's Powerpoint slides here.
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DRI received the international award for its work helping to ensure that the economic aid rich countries provide to the developing world is better utilized, and for questioning mainstream assumptions in development cooperation, like the idea that more generosity on the part of rich donor countries will have an automatic pay-off in poor country development. The BBVA jury recognized DRI for "its contribution to the analysis of foreign aid provision, and its challenge to the conventional wisdom in development assistance."

Find more information about the award and browse 2009 award winners in other categories at the BBVA foundation website.

DRI Wins BBVA Foundation Award


William Easterly and Yaw Nyarko discuss DRI and the BBVA Foundation Award


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