A Perfect Circle: Can the Shape of a City Affect Its Success?

Research into the various shapes of cities in India may be able to predict the economic success of the city's residents.

2 minute read

October 31, 2015, 11:00 AM PDT

By jwilliams @jwillia22

Delhi Skyline

Francisco Anzola / Flickr

Wharton professor of real estate, Mariaflavia Harari writes in Knowlede @ Wharton about her research into the influence of the shape of a city on the economic success of residents and businesses. "My research question was what influence, if any, does a city’s shape have on the location choices of consumers and firms? Do consumers and firms benefit in terms of welfare or productivity from locating in cities with particular shapes?"

Harari’s research has made some interesting linkages between the shape of the city and average local wages and housing rents. More compact cities tend to have higher wages and rent, with circular cities being the most ideal for reducing commute times and improving efficiencies. However, since no city can be a perfect circle, Harari looks at the consequences of natural geography on a city.

…I’m not simply making a crude comparison between compact and non-compact cities in my analysis. I look at what happens when a given city becomes less compact as a result of hitting some topographic obstacle, like a mountain or a lake, as it expands in space. What I find is that when a city ends up with a worse geometry because of hitting some geographic constraints, its population growth slows down, and housing rents and local wages tend to decrease.

Harari writes that her research can have an impact, particularly in India, where growing cities are sprawling outward due to restrictions on building heights that limit opportunities for compact development that could lead to better efficiencies.

Thursday, October 22, 2015 in Knowledge @ Wharton

Aerial view of snowy single-family homes in suburban Long Island, New York

New York Governor Advances Housing Plan Amid Stiff Suburban Opposition

Governor Kathy Hochul’s ambitious proposal to create more housing has once again run into a brick wall of opposition in New York’s enormous suburbs, especially on Long Island. This year, however, the wall may have some cracks.

March 20, 2023 - Mark H. McNulty

Empty parking garage at night with yellow lines marking spots and fluorescent lighting

Rethinking the Role of Parking in the American City

In cities big and small, the tide is turning against sprawling parking lots, car-centric development, and minimum parking mandates.

March 16, 2023 - The New York Times

A futuristic version of New York City, with plants growing neatly on top of modern skycrapers.

Friday Eye Candy: 20 AI-Generated Cityscapes

AI-generated images are creating new landscapes and cityscapes, capable of inspiring awe or fear.

March 17, 2023 - Chris Steins via Medium

Bike Light

People on Bikes Outnumber Drivers in the City of London

The City of London’s efforts to increase biking and reduce driving has finally achieved a long-term goal: a preference for biking over driving.

3 minutes ago - Forbes

Aerial view of farmers' market with white booths in downtown Boise, Idaho

Planners Look to ‘Activity Centers’ for Sustainable Development

Existing hubs of ‘hyperlocal’ economic activity provide a model for urban density.

March 23 - Smart Cities Dive

Close-up of person sitting on electric bike

Federal E-Bike Rebate Bill Reintroduced

The bill, part of an effort to encourage active transportation for short trips and take cars off U.S. roads, would cover 30 percent of the cost of an electric bike.

March 23 - Congressman Jimmy Panetta

New Updates on PD&R Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

HUD’s 2023 Innovative Housing Showcase

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.