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):

Videos (courtesy of Dave Anderson):

Click to view 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. 

 

Click to view 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. 

 

Click to view 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.) 

 

Click to view abstract for 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.

 

Click to view 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. 

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.

 

Tyranny of Experts Book Launch from NYU Devt Research Institute on Vimeo.

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

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.

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?

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.