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Explaining Urban Order: The Autocratic Origins of Africa's City Street Networks

Noah Nathan

No y4upa, OSF Preprints from Center for Open Science

Abstract: I connect the political incentives of state leaders to the physical geometry of urban built environments. Drawing on a novel combination of street network data, archival maps, and satellite imagery, I test and refine classic claims that autocratic regimes seek to order urban space, rendering society more legible through the production of gridded streets. Backdating the construction of 1.5 million streets across a sample of African cities, I show that more ordered, gridded urban neighborhoods emerge under more autocratic post-colonial regimes. But rather than a conscious effort to increase society’s legibility through urban design, evidence on mechanisms is more consistent with urban order emerging as a side-effect of more general patronage strategies autocrats use to placate critical subsets of the urban population. The paper demonstrates that efforts to intervene on the built environment represent an underexplored element of both autocratic and urban politics in the developing world.

Date: 2023-09-11
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-afr, nep-dev, nep-net and nep-ure
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DOI: 10.31219/

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