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A framework for analyzing constraints to urban economic growth: Workshop

On Monday, November 25, 2019, the Brookings Africa Growth Initiative (AGI) convened a workshop to discuss the paper, “Urban economic growth: A framework for analyzing constraints to agglomeration.” The paper seeks to improve understanding of major cities’ roles in national economic growth in low-income economies. Specifically, it  introduces a systematic way to identify key constraints to a city’s ability to act as an engine of productivity growth and structural change, posing the question: What do firms and workers need from cities to improve livelihoods and maintain the growth momentum?

At the workshop, the AGI team presented an early draft of the paper, creating the foundation for a discussion on the importance of cities and agglomeration economies as engines of national growth. Participants brainstormed ways to improve the framework and better measure key constraints to agglomeration. In attendance were leading economists and urban experts studying challenges to cities’ growth and African urbanization.

Overall, participants praised the framework, stating that it provided an effective “big picture” analysis and a useful method for approaching the challenges of urbanization. The majority of the workshop was then dedicated to discussing three key components of the framework: accessibility, governance, and overall city performance.

Regarding accessibility, participants mostly focused on measures of urban land use, widely agreed to be an important constraint in many low-income cities. Participants brainstormed several ways of measuring urban land use and provided useful guidance on oft-overlooked components of land management. Participants also raised the question of governance in cities, focusing on the need to understand government capacity and the division of responsibility among levels of government. Finally, participants discussed methods to measure the overall performance of cities, both in relation to national economies and compared with other cities. The comments and suggestions of the participants provided helpful guidance to strengthen the framework and better determine constraints to growth in cities.

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Support for the work discussed at the event was generously provided by the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).

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