Causality and Hierarchy

By Jan Dolezal

I was thinking whether there are some frameworks for ranking and organizing different initiatives, for example those on the menu of PlaNYC (here).  PlaNYC is not conveyed with costs (or benefits) and it’s only part of the overall approach of the City and State of New York so it’s hard to quantify the components, but here are some qualitative thoughts:

Hierarchy of Needs

One is a pyramid mirroring Maslow’s pyramid (’s_hierarchy_of_needs) with a similar pyramid for cities (e.g. you don’t care about energy efficiency if you don’t have energy. You don’t care about climate change if you don’t have housing…) On the bottom level, there are basic infrastructure needs (housing, transportation, water, energy). If this is not met, nobody will really care about what is higher. Above that initiatives that improve immediate quality of living, such as Air quality or Parks. Only when this is met, people might be thinking more about recreational Waterways and problems that are not troubling them directly such as Solid waste management. At the top of the pyramid is climate change that people will be more willing to address only when their lower needs are met.

This pyramid also demonstrates why cities in developed countries care more about the higher levels than in developing countries where even the lower levels are not met.   We could place the PlaNYC (or KAEC or Tianjin or Dharavi) initiatives in such a pyramid.

Dolezal's Hierarchy

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In the news: Urbanization, Resource Scarcity, Cities, and Political Stalemates

(Updated March 35)

By John Macomber

Once you start tying phenomena together, the topics of our course are in the news everywhere. As we head into the last days of the Q3 term, here are a smattering just from the last week or two. It would be plausible to spring from these into an original post that applies some analysis or frameworks or segmentation to add the “so what” utility. Continue reading

What’s your city’s competitive advantage?

By Anonymous

During our discussion of city developments over the last few class periods we determined that in order to evaluate a certain development approach we needed to know what goal we were optimizing for. However, in my mind, we neglected a more basic discussion of the theory describing why cities exist and how they have historically been formed. Instead, our approach was mostly along the lines of “Lots of people are moving to cities, so we need more cities. Resources are limited, so we need sustainable cities. Go.”

We skipped two fundamental questions: a) What makes a city a city? and b) What’s your city’s competitive advantage? Continue reading

Don’t Build Cities from Scratch Unless You Need To

By Neel Bhargava

To accommodate the growing and rapidly urbanizing population over the next decades, governments and societies across the world have two options: build new cities or expand existing cities. When faced with this choice (though there will not always be one), expanding existing cities almost always makes the most sense, for several reasons, two of which I describe below.

The first reason is simple but critical: building cities from scratch is difficult. Very difficult. As the case of King Abdullah Economic City (“KAEC”) illustrates, city building involves numerous different tasks, many of which are interdependent. For example, transportation infrastructure must be built before businesses can operate. And schools must be present before people can move into new residences. These dependencies mean that those building new cities face the daunting task of amassing capital – both financial and human – to simultaneously develop and coordinate multiple types of infrastructure. In contrast, expanding existing cities can be done more piecemeal, first building new housing, then attracting new businesses, then expanding mass transit, and so forth. Continue reading

The Problem with Stockton

By Landon Dickey

Yesterday at the Harvard Law School I had the opportunity to listen to Michael Tubbs—the youngest member ever to be elected to City Council in Stockton—talk about the challenges facing his city. Stockton has fewer police officers and more murders per capita than Chicago. Less than 1/5th of adults hold college degrees, unemployment sits at 20%, and 14% of those who are employed work in low-paying retail.[1] On top of all of these challenges, the city has filed for bankruptcy.

Stockton’s challenges are a bit of a puzzle in the context of the virtuous cycle extolled in the King Abdullah Economic City case. Stockton has a port to serve as a catalyst for economic activity. There’s no real reason to expect significant quality variation in utilities (unless PG&E has some unknown grudge against Stockton) and furthermore, Stockton has diligently built up infrastructure in order to attract residents. The Bob Hope Theater, the San Joaquin Downtown Transit Center, and the Hotel Stockton (just to name a few) are the result of steady bond issuances over the last 15 years likely facilitated by Stockton’s growth potential as a neighbor to San Francisco and Sacramento and Stockton’s aspiration to become a spillover city for individuals attracted to work in those locations. Continue reading

Can you Succeed in the Bottom Right Corner?

By Anonymous

Emerging Economy, Greenfield Situation, Chaotic Governance, Entrepreneur

Emerging Economy, Greenfield Situation, Chaotic Governance, Entrepreneur

The matrix proposed by Prof. Macomber titled “How to Invest in Sustainable, Competitive Cities” points to the bottom right cell as one with the greatest potential opportunity. At a first glance this “opportunity” does not make sense: Who would want to be an entrepreneur investing in greenfield developments in regions with chaotic governance?  However, while thinking about this framework in the context of bringing order to chaotic situations with a lot of activity, one extremely successful business comes to mind. It does not erect the kind of barriers to entry that most HBS MBA students think about. Continue reading

Slum lords as entrepreneurs

By Alice Heathcote

Annawadi sits beside the road to the Mumbai airport, on “a stretch where new India and old India collided and made new India late”

Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Katherine Boo

After much insistence my mother, I recently started reading ‘Behind the Beautiful Forevers’,a non-fiction work from Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Katherine Boo. The book follows the lives of the inhabitants of Annawadi, a slum settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport. The main character, Abdul Hussain, is a Muslim teenager who turns an increasingly success profit through reselling the recyclable garbage that richer people throw away. He begins to dream of a life outside of Annawadi, and even a wife who ‘does not care that he smells’. His success catches up to him however, when his next-door neighbor attempts suicide and he is falsely accused of her murder.

At this point, the true tragedy begins to unfold. In the legal vacuum of Annawadi, the Indian police are anything but a force for good. Despite the fact there are hundreds of residents to prove his innocence, Abdul is charged. The police know his family has money stored away and they have an angle now for getting a slice. Police officers arrest the accused and demand bribes; when Abdul’s mother refuses to pay most bribes, family members are imprisoned and beaten. The story gives us an inside view of the Indian criminal justice system, in which success will attract resentment, unwanted attention from authorities and a higher price tag to buy yourself out of jail. Continue reading