Economics serving society

Presentation of the project

Over the past ten years, urban studies have developed rapidly and the boundaries of knowledge are being pushed back at an increasing rate, due in particular to the use of new sources of geolocated data and the methods associated with them. Two dimensions seem particularly promising to help bring about advances in the field: the historical dimension and the societal dimension, as well as their interaction. These dimensions are at the intersection of several academic disciplines, including economics, history, sociology and geography.

The historical dimension

The historical line of research provides the necessary perspective to better understand the formation of cities, the static and dynamic gains derived from their agglomeration economies, as well as the costs of massive urbanization (in terms of environment, housing, segregation, or pandemics). For instance, some projects carried out by historians consist in digitizing archives that show the evolution of population location and the structure of local activity since the 14th century for some countries, at a very local scale[1]. Similarly, digitizing old maps makes it possible to document the evolution of the structure of cities and transport networks with far more perspective than would be possible with the data currently available.

The first objective of this collaborative project is therefore to look at urban issues from a historical perspective using urban data. In particular, it is designed to facilitate interactions between economists who have developed formalized and empirical approaches to urban mechanisms, historians who have in-depth knowledge of the historical contexts and sources, and geographers who have refined the tools for analyzing geolocated data.

Concretely, these interactions should allow us to further investigate the following questions: What are the underlying mechanisms of urban development and sprawl? To what extent does the persistence of built-up areas generate inertia? In what ways have structural changes such as industrialization and the shift to a service economy played a role in the formation of cities? How can we build coherent databases to study the evolution of cities over several centuries?

The societal dimension

As for the societal line of research, it allows for a better understanding of the mechanisms underlying these urban trends, such as the choice of transportation mode, choice of location, behaviors in the local labor market, and environmental trajectory. Among other things, urban studies seek to better understand the economic, social and environmental consequences of the urban form, of infrastructure, or of local public policies. For instance, social interactions appear to be an essential theoretical component connecting these different factors, and yet they are still largely under-researched due to insufficient documentation. In particular, it is interesting to question the relationship between social interactions and urban forms, as well as the way in which individuals make choices in an urban context. The environmental question is especially important here, as these interactions have an impact on our living environment. Improving our understanding of the interplay between individual economic behavior, the environment and public policy emerges as a natural and essential development in urban studies.

The second objective of this collaborative project is therefore to develop a collaboration between economists who study behaviors in an urban context, sociologists whose monographs and field surveys improve our knowledge of the reality of urban social interactions, and geographers who explore the relationships between the social structure and organization of the city. The aim is thus to initiate a discussion about the methods for investigating urban issues, whether quantitative or qualitative.

The interactions of the two dimensions

Concretely, these interactions should allow us to further investigate the following questions: How do interurban transport networks affect the spatial organization of activities, the performance of economic actors and long-term urban trends? What is the impact of transport and intra-urban morphology on travel, economic interactions, and local pollution? How do neighborhood effects influence the educational and occupational trajectories of low-income neighborhood residents? What are the actual effects of rent control on housing markets? Such an interdisciplinary perspective certainly allows for a better understanding of the “problem of the suburbs” and urban violence, as well as the challenges faced by public policy in attempting to bridge the social or territorial divide (yellow vests…).

These two dimensions of interest should not be considered separately. On the contrary, they complement each other: the historical data provides a temporal depth that allows us to better study the societal dimension and to evaluate public policies in the long term (city policies, transport policies, housing policies, sustainable development policies, etc.). In order to expand the field of knowledge in these two directions, it is necessary to become acquainted with machine learning techniques, applied not only to high-dimensional databases (new geocoded administrative data, or data collected on the web), but also to the systematic exploitation of archival manuscripts or old maps. This project plans to achieve this purpose by facilitating interactions with researchers who are familiar with these methods, both inside and outside PSE.