Urban economists discuss "The Future of Cities" at BSE Summer Forum

Panelists sit on a stage in front of an audience in a darkened auditorium

Barcelona School of Economics Summer Forum 2023 roundtable sponsored by AENA

Some of the world’s leading urban economists met at the Barcelona School of Economics Summer Forum this June to participate in a roundtable on "The Future of Cities: Challenges and Opportunities."

During the roundtable, the panelists gave an overview of the drivers of the success and failure of cities, the challenges confronting cities in the global economy, and the opportunities for an enduring urban renaissance in the 21st century.


Moderator: Dávid K. Nagy (CREI, UPF and BSE, Peter B. Kenen Fellow at Princeton University)

This event took place during the BSE Summer Forum and was open to all Summer Forum participants, BSE researchers, professors, students, and alumni, as well as the general public. The sponsor of the roundtable was the airport management company AENA.

Video: Roundtable recap

Video: Highlights from "The Future of Cities" Summer Forum Roundtable

Watch the full roundtable on the BSE YouTube channel

The panelists discussed public policy evaluation, urban mobility and transportation, the adaptation of urban planning to climate change and environmental hazards, and the role cities can play in the mitigation of the effects of climate change.

What can urban planners learn from policies of the past?

Ferdinand Rauch (Heidelberg) explained that economists can help plan the cities of the future by providing deeper analysis and new insights on the long-term impact of big, well-funded urban development projects carried out decades ago by international organizations such as the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund (IMF), or by state and national governments.

Knowing which policies work in the long run will be especially important in places like Sub-Saharan Africa, where the United Nations projects that the population will add around one billion people by 2050. That's the equivalent of 100 new cities the size of London.

What will urban mobility and transportation look like?

Gabriel Kreindler (Harvard) gave an overview of some frontier research being conducted on road congestion, the growing use of private vehicles, and the impact of investments on transportation infrastructure. For example, one study found that an extension of the subway lines in Bangalore, India resulted in a sustained 4% decrease in traffic congestion.

Members of the audience suggested teleworking in the developed world and non-work-related trips as two topics in this area for researchers to explore.

How can cities protect citizens from climate change risks?

Clare Balboni (MIT) made the case for urban planners to factor in the health and safety risks that city populations face because of climate change and environmental hazards.

In the past, it has been a challenge to provide evidence of these hazards in the world's most polluted cities due to a lack of data. Now, however, economists can access new data sources such as satellite imagery from floods, GPS tracking, tax records, and social media activity. This data exposes the vulnerability of urban populations to climate change risks in great detail.

How can cities contribute to the mitigation of climate change?

Elisabet Viladecans-Marsal (UB) pointed out that the coastal location of cities like Barcelona put them directly in the path of climate-related dangers such as flooding and severe weather. At the same time, cities are some of the worst emitters of pollution, so they also contribute to the climate change that now puts them at risk.

Viladecans-Marsal explained that municipal government initiatives such as Barcelona's superblocks, which aim to reduce the number of cars on the streets, can make urban spaces more livable and at the same time contribute to the mitigation of climate change. She stressed that researchers will need to help politicians understand the effectiveness of such policies, known as green policies or tactical urbanism.

While it's not clear yet what future cities may look like, it is clear that economists will have an important role to play in the design and evaluation of future urban development policies.

Watch the full roundtable on the BSE YouTube channel

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