Do People Shape Cities, or Do Cities Shape People? The Co-Evolution of Physical, Social, and Economic Change in Five Major U.S. Cities

38 Pages Posted: 2 Dec 2015

See all articles by Nikhil Naik

Nikhil Naik

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Scott Duke Kominers

Harvard University

Ramesh Raskar

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Edward L. Glaeser

Harvard University - Department of Economics; Brookings Institution; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

César Hidalgo

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: October 15, 2015

Abstract

Urban change involves transformations in the physical appearance and the social composition of neighborhoods. Yet, the relationship between the physical and social components of urban change is not well understood due to the lack of comprehensive measures of neighborhood appearance. Here, we introduce a computer vision method to quantify change in physical appearance of streetscapes and generate a dataset of physical change for five large American cities. We combine this dataset with socioeconomic indicators to explore whether demographic and economic changes precede, follow, or co-occur with changes in physical appearance. We find that the strongest predictors of improvement in a neighborhood’s physical appearance are population density and share of college-educated adults. Other socioeconomic characteristics, like median income, share of vacant homes, and monthly rent, do not predict improvement in physical appearance. We also find that neighborhood appearances converge to the initial appearances of bordering areas, supporting the Burgess “invasion” theory. In addition, physical appearance is more likely to improve in neighborhoods proximal to the central business district. Finally, we find modest support for “tipping” and “filtering” theories of urban change.

Keywords: Urban Planning, Urban Change, Sociology, Computer Modelling, Behavioral Systems

Suggested Citation

Naik, Nikhil and Kominers, Scott Duke and Raskar, Ramesh and Glaeser, Edward L. and Hidalgo, César, Do People Shape Cities, or Do Cities Shape People? The Co-Evolution of Physical, Social, and Economic Change in Five Major U.S. Cities (October 15, 2015). HKS Working Paper No. 061. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2698292 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2698292

Nikhil Naik

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) ( email )

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Scott Duke Kominers

Harvard University ( email )

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Harvard Business School
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Ramesh Raskar

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) ( email )

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United States

Edward L. Glaeser (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Department of Economics ( email )

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Brookings Institution

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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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César Hidalgo

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) ( email )

77 Massachusetts Avenue
50 Memorial Drive
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
United States

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