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SERC/Urban and Spatial Programme Discussion Paper

Urban Development and Air Pollution: Evidence from a Global Panel of Cities


We exploit a unique panel of 75 metro areas (‘cities’) across the globe and employ a city-fixed effects model to identify the determinants of within-city changes in air pollution concentration between 2005 and 2011. Increasing car and population densities significantly reduce air pollution concentration in city centers where air pollution induced health risks are greatest. These effects are largely confined to cities in non-OECD countries. Two possible mechanisms for the negative effect of car density are explored: (i) increasing car density permits a decentralization of residential and economic activity; and (ii) car usage substitutes for motorbike usage. We find limited evidence in favour of (i) and no evidence in favour of (ii). We also observe a complex relationship between income and pollution concentration as well as a general downward-trend in pollution concentration over time. Overall, our findings are indicative that densely populated polycentric cities may be ‘greener’ and ‘healthier’ than comparable monocentric ones.


Christian A. L. Hilber and Charles Palmer

19 December 2014     Paper Number SERCDP0169

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This SERC/Urban and Spatial Programme Discussion Paper is published under the centre's Urban programme.