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Creative Destruction: Barriers to Urban Growth and the Great Boston Fire of 1872

Richard Hornbeck and Daniel Keniston

American Economic Review, 2017, vol. 107, issue 6, 1365-98

Abstract: Urban growth requires the replacement of outdated buildings, yet growth may be restricted when landowners do not internalize positive spillover effects from their own reconstruction. The Boston Fire of 1872 created an opportunity for widespread simultaneous reconstruction, initiating a virtuous circle in which building upgrades encouraged further upgrades of nearby buildings. Land values increased substantially among burned plots and nearby unburned plots, capitalizing economic gains comparable to the prior value of burned buildings. Boston had grown rapidly prior to the Fire, but negative spillovers from outdated durable buildings had substantially constrained its growth by dampening reconstruction incentives.

JEL-codes: H76 N91 R11 R52 R58 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2017
Note: DOI: 10.1257/aer.20141707
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Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:107:y:2017:i:6:p:1365-98