An argument that operational urban planning can be improved by the application of the tools of urban economics to the design of regulations and infrastructure.
Urban planning is a craft learned through practice. Planners make rapid decisions that have an immediate impact on the ground—the width of streets, the minimum size of land parcels, the heights of buildings. The language they use to describe their objectives is qualitative—“sustainable,” “livable,” “resilient”—often with no link to measurable outcomes. Urban economics, on the other hand, is a quantitative science, based on theories, models, and empirical evidence largely developed in academic settings. In this book, the eminent urban planner Alain Bertaud argues that applying the theories of urban economics to the practice of urban planning would greatly improve both the productivity of cities and the welfare of urban citizens.
Bertaud explains that markets provide the indispensable mechanism for cities' development. He cites the experience of cities without markets for land or labor in pre-reform China and Russia; this “urban planners' dream” created inefficiencies and waste. Drawing on five decades of urban planning experience in forty cities around the world, Bertaud links cities' productivity to the size of their labor markets; argues that the design of infrastructure and markets can complement each other; examines the spatial distribution of land prices and densities; stresses the importance of mobility and affordability; and critiques the land use regulations in a number of cities that aim at redesigning existing cities instead of just trying to alleviate clear negative externalities. Bertaud concludes by describing the new role that joint teams of urban planners and economists could play to improve the way cities are managed.
Bertaud has a unique ability to enliven analysis with stories of success and failure in city development that range over a long period and a wide geography. The result is a cautionary tale best summed up by his comment that planners should be 'nonvisionary but competent'—focused ruthlessly on data.
Dame Kate Barker, author of Housing: Where's the Plan?
Compelling and thought-provoking, Order without Design is a must-read for anyone interested in urban and regional planning. Informed by decades of observation and practice in cities worldwide, it is a timely call for economists and planners to forge collaborations in meeting the needs and challenges of our cities, manage urban expansion or shrinkage, sustain access and mobility, and regulate land development and built form, to name but a few.
Weiping Wu, Professor of Urban Planning, Columbia University; author of The Chinese City
Alain Bertaud challenges the norm in developing new cities; master plan it, build it, thereafter the jobs and people will come! Bertaud encourages those of us in the fields of urban planning and urban economics to move forward together to better understand the dynamics of city structure and building form, in order to develop livable and sustainable cities for the future. He arms us with an understanding of easily digestible formulae and graphs that span the topics of planning, mobility, and affordability that will undoubtedly influence a new generation to break out of their siloes and integrate across horizontals.
Michael Koh, Fellow, Centre for Liveable Cities, Singapore
Alain Bertaud is one of the world's great urbanists. He straddles the world of urban economics and urban planning—and draws forth the best of both fields. This book is a fascinating tour-de-force of clear thinking and real-world experience. Like Alain, it is wise, witty, and deeply insightful. Anyone who cares about cities throughout the world should read this book and grapple with Alain's incisive intellect.
Edward Glaeser, Fred and Eleanor Glimp Professor of Economics, Harvard University; author of Triumph of the City
Definitely recommended, this is now one of my favorite books on cities.
Order without Design is a work with a clear vision for urban policy—a magnum opus from one of the twenty-first century's great city planners. Similar to Jane Jacobs's The Death and Life of the Great American City, Bertaud's book manages to weave together theory and practice in a way that will be eye-opening to the curious urbanite and enriching to the practicing professional. If city planning has a future, its contours can almost certainly be found here.
I am indebted here to Alain Bertaud whose most recent book Order Without Design best articulates his view about cities as labour markets. If you love cities that view might seem a bit reductionist, but it is a pretty good description. A well-functioning labour market makes possible every other aspect of urban life.
Transport Minister for New Zealand, Speech to Government Economics Network 2019 Conference