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One hundred years of land values in Chicago

Staff involved: Gabriel Ahlfeldt

Chicago during the 20th century. Based on Olcott’s Land Value Blue Book of Chicago a unique and highly disaggregated panel data set of historical land values is being created that covers a period between 1913 and 1994. Combined with a detailed data set containing all vacant land sales in Chicago from the 1980s onwards data allows for a unique century long analyses of the long-run evolution of a city at a spatial micro-level.

Partly due to the availability of the Olcott ‘Blue Books’ Chicago has become well known as a laboratory for urban economic research. However, only a small fraction of this rich data source has so far been used for research due to the size of the extraction task it poses. This project, funded by the Lincoln Institute for Land Policy, constructs a complete data set which will be available for historic urban research. The result will be a unique set of data representing the development of a location’s value for more than 60,000 grids per period over the entire century. This opens up the opportunity of analysing the impact of the 20th century shocks on the city’s structure based on micro level as well as comparative studies, particularly a comparison of Chicago with Berlin. By investigating important economic and social questions valuable implications for applied planning can be derived.

What were the effects of improved public and private transport infrastructure on households’ and firms’ location decisions regarding their places of residence, work and production? What impact did the immigration of different ethnic groups, which occurred in several big waves over the 20th century, have on the city’s segregation patterns? What was the effect of the introduction of skyscrapers (which were first conceived and constructed in Chicago) on the concentration of economic activity? The project’s basic groundwork will allow for the analysis of these and many more research questions that will come to occupy the international urban economic and historic research community for years to follow.

Related publications:

  1. http://rlab.lse.ac.uk/_new/publications/abstract.asp?index=4666
  2. https://www.lincolninst.edu/pubs/2458_New-Estimates-of-the-Elasticity-of-Substitution-between-Land-and-Capital