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Rich Hornbeck and Dan Keniston: Creative Destruction from the Great Boston Fire of 1872: Barriers to Urban Growth Illuminated

Rich Hornbeck and Dan Keniston: Creative Destruction from the Great Boston Fire of 1872: Barriers to Urban Growth Illuminated

What can we learn about rigidities and the process of urban transformation?

Chicago 1871, Boston 1872, Baltimore 1904, San Francisco 1906, Chelsea 1908, Salem 1914. Christine Rosen's book The Limits of Power--on the first four--mostly on how opportunities for change were not grasped because of vested political interests.

Model: you overbuild relative to the current neighborhood, you watch over time as the neighborhood gets richer and richer, and then you tear down and build a new building when your building falls below some relative trigger value. The fire disrupts this process, and requires starting over.

By 1894, buildings in the burned area are higher-quality buildings than elsewhere in Boston by about 30%--and buildings outside the burned area up to 800 feet away from the burned area are higher-quality buildings too.

Thus they see urban amenity spillovers having effects on the scale and quality of new construction...

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