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City Economics

City Economics

Brendan O'Flaherty

ISBN 9780674019188

Publication date: 10/30/2005

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This introductory but innovative textbook on the economics of cities is aimed at students of urban and regional policy as well as of undergraduate economics. It deals with standard topics, including automobiles, mass transit, pollution, housing, and education but it also discusses non-standard topics such as segregation, water supply, sewers, garbage, fire prevention, housing codes, homelessness, crime, illicit drugs, and economic development.

Its methods of analysis are primarily verbal, geometric, and arithmetic. The author achieves coherence by showing how the analysis of various topics reinforces one another. Thus, buses can tell us something about schools and optimal tolls about land prices. Brendan O'Flaherty looks at almost everything through the lens of Pareto optimality and potential Pareto optimality--how policies affect people and their well-being, not abstract entities such as cities or the economy or growth or the environment. Such traditionalism leads to radical questions, however: Should cities have police and fire departments? Should tax preferences for home ownership be repealed? Should public schools charge for their services? O'Flaherty also gives serious consideration to such heterodox policies as pay-at-the-pump auto insurance, curb rights for buses, land taxes, marginal cost water pricing, and sidewalk zoning.


  • This brilliant book, half textbook, half treatise, provides a magisterial overview of city economics that tempers an optimistic vision of the city's potential for advancing the human condition with a recognition of the constraints imposed by scarcity. In contrast to other urban economics textbooks, this book eschews unnecessary technique, draws widely from the other social sciences, and devotes considerable attention to urban social problems. And in contrast to other urbanist treatises, it stresses analytical reasoning and confronts squarely the difficult tradeoffs involved in almost all policy choices. Written in a conversational style, City Economics—which might be subtitled the very intelligent layman's guide to urban economics—demands concentration but the perseverant reader will be richly rewarded.

    —Richard Arnott, Boston College


  • Brendan O’Flaherty is Professor of Economics at Columbia University. His books include The Economics of Race in the United States and City Economics.

Book Details

  • 608 pages
  • 7 x 9-1/2 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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