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Exploring Growth Patterns in Russia’s Largest Cities

Robert Buckley, a senior fellow in the Graduate Program in International Affairs at The New School in New York City, works largely on issues relating to urbanization in developing countries. At the upcoming XIX April International Academic Conference on Economic and Social Development, he will be participating a roundtable on Urbanization and Economic Development during which he will give a presentation entitled ‘The Morphology of Large Russian Cities: Patterns and Conjectures’.

During his lecture, Buckley will look at patterns of urban development in Russian cities and compare them with the structure of cities in other parts of the world. The data he uses, including satellite photos, suggest that 13 of Russia's largest cities have unusual and less than optimal structures in terms of supporting economic growth. He will compare this pattern to the pattern observed in Europe, European transition economies, and other countries.

‘We offer a conjecture as to why this pattern occurs, suggesting that it may be due to the difficulties of agreeing how to repurpose or rehabilitate existing buildings’, Buckley said in an interview with the HSE New Service ahead of this year’s conference. ‘This kind of difficulty is referred to as an Anti-Commons problem, a situation in which too many people have too many rights to control over a property so that the property's use is not put to its highest and best use’.

Buckley was invited to present at this year’s April Conference following a paper he recently wrote on housing privatization in Romania and how it has affected the transition process. It was published in The Economics of Transition, a journal published by the European Development Bank. Although this is not his first visit to Russia, it has been a while since he was last here, which was during the 1990s when he was serving as an economist with the World Bank.

Teaching Urban Development

In addition to his research work, Buckley teaches courses on finance, urban economics, and development economics. In recent years, he has become interested in African urban development processes, which has led him to focus on the economics of slums.

‘Many of my students work in developing countries, and as such, their work and interests are quite different from those facing Russian students’, he says, noting that his students at The New School are primarily graduate students studying international affairs who have traveled considerably, for example, through the Peace Corp, an American foreign aid programme that sends mostly younger people to work in developing countries.

‘I have also been teaching a course on African Urban Development at New York University's Abu Dhabi campus’, he says. ‘Those courses are younger, undergraduates with many different majors, including some brilliant Russian students’.

Buckley says he learns a lot from teaching such a wide variety of students, especially as it relates to the ‘hubris of economists and the need to recognize the limitations of what economics can help explain’.

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