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A game-theoretic analysis of skyscrapers

Robert Helsley and William Strange

Journal of Urban Economics, 2008, vol. 64, issue 1, 49-64

Abstract: Skyscrapers are urbanism in the extreme, but they have received surprisingly little direct attention in urban economics. The standard urban model emphasizes differentials in access across locations, which determine land price differentials and building heights. This explanation leaves out an important force that appears to have historically influenced skyscraper construction: an inherent value placed on being the tallest. In this paper, we present a game-theoretic model of skyscraper development that captures this additional force. The model predicts dissipative competition over the prize of being tallest, a prediction consistent with the historical record. The paper discusses the implications of this result for the nature and efficiency of urban development and for the operation of urban real estate markets.

Date: 2008
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