A historical problem.
The world is urbanising rapidly (World Urbanization Prospects, the 2011 Revision). Some of its rapidly growing cities, however, seem to be misplaced. They are located in places hampered by poor access to world markets, shortages of water, or vulnerability to flooding, earthquakes, and volcanoes.
This outcome – cities being stuck in the wrong places – has dire economic and social consequences. When thinking about policy responses, a key research question is whether historical events can leave towns trapped in suboptimal places.
New research on a historical ‘experiment’
Our recent research looks at this issue by comparing the evolution of two initially similar urban networks following a historical calamity that wiped out one, while leaving the other largely intact (Michaels and Rauch 2013). The specific setting in which we examine this is northwestern Europe, where we trace out the effects of the collapse of the Western Roman Empire more than 1500 years ago, through to the present day.