Introduction to Urban Economics

This course is the fifth in a sequence that introduces architecture students to urban studies of design, planning, sociology, housing and sustainable development, and now economics. The course aims at unpacking economic basics that affect everyone’s everyday lives, and consequently define and, to a certain extent, delimit the professional field in which architects and urban designers operate.
Particularly with the fall of the physical and ideological walls in the late-twentieth century, and accelerated by the financial crisis of the early twenty-first century, it is that architects, urban designers and planners are enmeshed into the production of the same real estate market that is highly integrated into the unparalleled mode of financialization. The course outline conveys basic knowledge on the paradigm shifts in political economic thinking toward the present day, thereby setting the tone for a subject-specific and discipline-specific discourse on finance and economics. As the majority of the present building commissions may raise the issue of maximum productivity or highest and best use, the course frames general notions around commercial urban developments and commodified real estate developments, including alternative outlooks to the unrelenting growth scenarios driving societal transformation.
Having described the general direction the class will take; the course will center on the following questions and topics:
First, the class discusses the scale, scope and impact of urbanization. What is the definition of urban? What defines economics? Does the term ‘urban’ describe the same as the ‘city’? What is the relation between the two? What is the territory that belongs to urban economics? Can economics and urbanization be limited to the scope of a city, region or the construct of a nation-state? How to understand urban economics as terrestrial conditions, as planetary urbanism?
Secondly, the course addresses the transformation, the paradigm shifts that took place over time, historical shifts from the political to the mercantile city and from the industrial city to the critical postwar zones of the welfare state and the currently dominant neoliberal economy.
Thirdly, the class engages with the interlinks between economics and urban planning, such as the value of land, buildings as attachment to land, gentrification, informal economics, and the dynamics of transformation.
Finally, yet importantly, the class aims at addressing systemic default settings and apparent consequences, such as rising economic inequality.

  • Institute
    German University in Cairo (GUC)
  • Promotion of housing project in Cairo. Credits: Ayham Dalal 2023