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Green Cities: Urban Growth and the Environment (Chapter One)

Matthew E. Kahn

University of Southern California; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)


The Brookings Institution Press has just published my new book. This pdf presents the introduction of this book.

Rapid urban growth and suburban sprawl have heightened concern in many quarters about sustainable development. Are economic growth and environmental health always mutually exclusive goals? Nearly everyone would choose to pursue both given the chance, but many believe that it would be overly optimistic - perhaps naive - to expect both. Green city proponents, however, do hope to realize both ambitions.

What exactly is a green city? What does it mean to say that San Francisco is greener than Houston, or that Vancouver is a green city while Beijing is not? When does urban growth lower environmental quality, and when does it produce environmental gains? These are the questions that drive this smart and engaging book.

In Green Cities, Matthew Kahn surveys the burgeoning economic literature on the environmental consequences of urban growth. He discusses the environmental Kuznets curve, which theorizes that the relationship between environmental quality and per capita income follows a bell-shaped curve. The heart of the book unpacks and expands this notion by tracing the environmental effects of economic growth, population growth, and suburban sprawl. Kahn considers how cities can deal with the environmental challenges produced by growth. His concluding chapter addresses the role of cities in promoting climate change and asks how cities in turn are likely to be affected by this trend.

Kahn considers the evidence for and against rival perspectives throughout the book. Despite being labeled as purveyors of a dismal science, economists are often quite optimistic about the relationship between urban development and the environment. In contrast, many ecologists remain wary of the environmental consequences of free-market growth. Green Cities does not try to settle this dispute. Instead, it marshals data and arguments to convey the excitement of an ongoing debate, enabling readers to formulate well-informed opinions and priorities on this critically important issue.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 7

Keywords: Environment, cities, externalities

JEL Classification: Q, R

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Date posted: October 1, 2006  

Suggested Citation

Kahn, Matthew E., Green Cities: Urban Growth and the Environment (Chapter One) (2006). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=933669 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.933669

Contact Information

Matthew E. Kahn (Contact Author)
University of Southern California ( email )
Los Angeles, CA 90089
United States
National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)
1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
Feedback to SSRN

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