Learning from the urban past


Published 13.08.21

From infrastructure to institutional development, the histories of the world’s largest cities provide key lessons for those in developing economies

Audio file

Read "What Can Developing Cities Today Learn from the Urban Past?” by Edward L. Glaeser here

While so much has changed about the way people live, including technological advancement, cities in developing economies can still learn a lot from our urban past. In this VoxDevTalk, Ed Glaeser highlights some essential lessons learnt from the growth of cities by presenting a series of case studies where today’s development questions and challenges mirror the experiences of those that developed earlier. 

Among other examples, Glaeser’s evidence from 19th Century Europe and America suggests that today’s developing countries should expect to see continued economic migration towards cities, despite the risks of infectious disease. He also demonstrates how incentives remain essential to encourage the take up of new technologies – paralleling strategies to encourage the adoption of sewer systems in New York City in the 1800s to motivating formal water connections in Lusaka, Zambia in recent years. Still lessons from the past provide only so much insight, Glaeser cautions, and local conditions must be assessed as well.