Improving My Spring 2013 Course on “Real Estate and Sustainable Cities”

In Spring 2013, I will offer a new course at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management with the lofty title of “Real Estate Investment and the Development of Sustainable Cities”.     Here is the course blurb; “This course applies key ideas from real estate economics and real estate finance to investigate the incentives of developers, urban politicians, and real estate investors to produce “green homes”, “green communities” and ultimately “sustainable cities”.   Special attention will be paid to the opportunities from investing in energy efficient residential and commercial buildings and for developing and upgrading real estate in close proximity to public transit networks.   The course will embrace an international perspective to examine the rise of Eco-Friendly Cities in developed and developing nations.”

While I have already posted a preliminary syllabus here,   I would appreciate hearing some advice about what topics and readings you would suggest including in such an experimental course.  The students will not be Ph.Ds but they all will be graduate students from different branches of UCLA.   The Anderson School has not offered this course before and if I screw this up  it won’t be offered again!

Author: Matthew E. Kahn

Professor of Economics at UCLA.

19 thoughts on “Improving My Spring 2013 Course on “Real Estate and Sustainable Cities””

    1. I was going to post something similar.

      If you don’t understand the rationale behind land value taxation, you’re pretty much clueless about the economics of real estate.

  1. Looks like a great course!

    I read awhile back that there is a lot of “Green” building going on in Hamburg, Germany, under the auspices of a CDU-Green government coalition. That would be an interesting sub-topic to explore…


  2. You’ll put up less of a barrier to people reading and commenting on it if you post it in HTML, or some common plug in format like PDF, instead of Word.

    1. I can’t do docx-es either. And fwiw I am a horrible crank about TOD. At least as currently implemented in LA. ; >

      1. Here’s an obvious suggestion: why not include the perspectives of people who actually have to live in these neighborhoods? Or of those who are *already* in the neighborhoods that a speculator wants to “green.”

  3. The coming solar energy collection boom and the maintenance of urban forests. We are just now beginning to address this issue. The NREL says only ~20-25% of residential roofs are suitable for rooftop solar energy collection, so how do we maximize what we have and change the built environment to get more?

  4. I the section on local land use regulation, I’d suggest something on analysis and management of commons–Elinor Ostrom’s “Governing the Commons” is probably a good source. On-street parking, schools, parks, local roads–all of them end up having significant elements of a “common pool resource”.

  5. Include the excellent work of Don Rypkema in evaluating the green value of historic preservation, including embodied energy, locational efficiencies of old building stock, and refutations of the notion that older buildings are less energy efficient, a widely held and false Nikon although it depends on the decade (with the mid-late 20th century being the worst).

    In general the whole field of historic preservation is transitioning to a sustainability emphasis. Lot of work being done on this.

    1. Speaking of which, professor, can you sneak in a pitch for windows that open, somewhere in there? Somehow even dirty fresh air is better than stale clean-ish air.

      1. I would think that the lack of air exchanges in modern hyper-efficient designs, mold, and sick building syndrome in general would be good discussion points.


    2. = = = Betsy @ 8:11 “Include the excellent work of Don Rypkema in evaluating the green value of historic preservation, including embodied energy, locational efficiencies of old building stock, and refutations of the notion that older buildings are less energy efficient, […] = = =

      It is my intuitive sense that the light-rail and commuter-rail based neighborhoods build from 1880-1920, and their cousins the transit-plus-ONE-automobile neighborhoods build from 1910-1935 in the US, were overall extremely energy efficient. An analysis of that question would be an interesting topic in itself.

      1880-1920 houses also seem (to me) to be livable and comfortable in ways that modern designs (with modern materials) do not. Tightening up around the edges helps the efficiency, but the high thermal mass of the construction materials (brick, stone, plaster) and big vented attics with the vapor-permeable insulation (e.g. cellulose) resulted in comfortable temperature modulation and airflow.


  6. I wish I could take that course! Some must must-reads for your topic:

    Eric Darton, Divided We Stand: A Biography of the World Trade Center, 2d. ed. Basic Books, 2011.
    “When the World Trade Center was erected at the Hudson River’s edge, it forever changed the character of the American city. In Divided We Stand, cultural critic Eric Darton chronicles the life of this billion-dollar building, using it as a lens through which to view the broader twentieth-century trend toward urbanized, global culture. Drawing on political and social history, Darton pioneers a new hybrid genre of architectural biography, revealing the convergence of four volatile elements in contemporary urban life: super tall buildings, financial speculation, globalization, and terrorism”.

    As a New Yorker, I have lived through the processes described in GArton’s book, and it has become the pole star for me in understanding what happened to my city.

    Or look at what is going on right now with the projected “redesign” of the New York Public Library, which is all about real estate vs culture and history:
    (Caleb Crain)
    (Scott Sherman in The Nation, 19 Dec 2011)

  7. Urban development is strongly path-dependent, so perhaps some historical material on visions and attempts at utopias (le Corbusier, garden suburbs, Brasilia), from the sustainability angle.

    1. On this note, James Scott’s masterful book “Seeing Like A State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed” would be essential reading.

  8. I would consider addressing the question of whether green development will be different from other waves of development, whether in the US or elsewhere. Jackson’s _Crabgrass Frontier_ goes into detail on the forces that shaped the various waves of urban and suburban development in the US from 1880-1970 (the chapter on the US Government’s ‘mortgage quality maps’ can be shocking to those who believe that free market forces along determine how neighborhoods develop and deteriorate), and while Garreau’s _Edge Cities_ is a popular rather than academic work it captures the absolute cynicism of the modern real estate developer quite nicely – the discussion of the definition of ‘planned community’ is another gobsmacker that has a direct bearing on the question I opened with.

    The reading list seemed a little light for a graduate class, but maybe I just getting old and, well, cranky.

    Cranky Observer

  9. From the US real estate perspective, this course could prove pretty challenging finding patterns sufficient to drive conclusions on valuations. Appraisers need comparable properties for valuation and there just may not be sufficient properties in a lot of areas. Even for the the obvious externally visible features/improvements such as solar panels, appraisal experience seems quite divergent.

    I didn’t see any mention of Passivhaus or similar building models which rely heavily on higly insulated and tight building shells to reduce energy use needs to minimal levels. There are great battles between purists and those who would mix in some photovoltaics. Green Building Advisor (part of Taunton Press) has fair amount of links to references.

    At least parts of Reinventing Fire by Amory Lovins and RMI would seem to fit.

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