Surplus Cities : An Investigation in Density Externalities and a Consequent New Approach to Urbanism

University essay from KTH/Fastigheter och byggande

Abstract:

The founding premise of this paper is simple; that urban density has positive externalities and

that these are unaccounted for in the developers’ density choice. This paper looks at the

incentive structure of individual developers though a theoretical perspective and shows that

the density choice is a suboptimal product of a prisoner’s dilemma game. Two mechanisms

are proposed to achieve the optimal level of density. The first is an Inverse Density Tax which

fixes the incentive structure at the agent level by internalizing the positive externalities of

density. The second is the Supply Buffer which solves the regulation problem. The disconnect

between what is good for a city and what policies are actually practiced by planners is

addressed by suggesting a new approach to urbanism called the Surplus Cities approach

which suggests a more positive approach to urbanism instead of the multitude of normative

approaches that encompass the existing urban planning profession. The significance of the

model in the paper is that it shows that the optimum density a developer should build is not

the commonly accepted quantity where marginal revenue equals marginal cost, but greater

due to positive externalities of density. In addition this paper presents the tools to a) achieve

the optimal level of density and b) introduce a separation of powers in municipal government

between planning the city and controlling real estate supply which restrains the growth of

cities; as has been a prominent subject of contemporary urban economics discourse.

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