The Economics of Urbanization

Challenges and Opportunities
More than half the world's population now live in cities. In just a few decades from now, the population of urban areas will exceed the entire global population today. Ongoing urbanization presents opportunities and challenges that are of great interest to policy-makers and researchers.
Course levelAdvanced Bachelor, open to PhD staff and professionals
Session 16 July to 20 July 2019
Recommended course combinationSession 2: The Heart of Capitalism: Amsterdam 1600-Present
Session 3: Impact of An Empire
Co-ordinating lecturerHenri L.F. de Groot
Other lecturersStuart Donovan
Form(s) of tuitionLectures, excursions, discussions, online learning
Form(s) of assessment•  Policy discussion paper [40%]
•  Research proposal [50%]
•  Participation [10%]
ECTS  3 credits
Contact hours45
Tuition fee€1150
We welcome students from a wide-variety of disciplines, including but not limited to: Economics; geography; political science; civil and environmental engineering; mathematics and data science; business and operations research; spatial and policy planning; and social psychology. If you have doubts about your eligibility for the course, please let us know.

In this course, you will be introduced to the economic forces that underpin urbanization and shape metropolitan areas. Along the way, you will be equipped with knowledge and skills that help answer questions such as: Why are firms and people moving to cities? How do we measure the performance of urban areas? What factors explain why some cities thrive, while others struggle? What can policy-makers do to improve the economic, social, and environmental performance of their cities? To understand these topics, students will participate in lectures, self-directed work, and several field visits.

From humble beginnings as a bridge over the river Amstel, Amsterdam rose to prominence during the 17th century as a center of international trade. Today, Amsterdam is part of a large and prosperous metropolitan region at the heart of Europe, providing a unique base from which students can learn about cities. The Economics of Urbanisation is delivered by the Department of Spatial Economics at Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, which is home to approximately 60 staff actively engaged in multi-disciplinary research and policy development. Publications by the Department’s staff are internationally recognised, ranking in the top 5% of institutions worldwide in relevant economic disciplines. Numerous staff also take on prominent advisory roles for government and media institutions.

1.  To obtain a solid understanding of the economic mechanisms that drive urbanization, as well as those that determine why some cities are successful and why some are not.
2.  To obtain a clear understanding of policy challenges that metropolitan areas face, and the pros and cons of the instruments that can be used to tackle these challenges.
3.  To develop experience in conducting and presenting applied research, including valuation methodologies used in benefit-cost analysis.

•  Amsterdam Zuidas Tour, in which students will learn about the history and future of one of the fastest growing urban centres in Europe.
•  Amsterdam Economic Board, in which students will learn about policy issues with which Amsterdam is grappling at a regional level.


Henri L. F. de Groot is professor in Regional Economic Dynamics at the Department of Spatial Economics, where he is heavily involved in the BSc programme in Economics and the MSc Programme in ‘Spatial, Transport and Environmental Economics’. Henri is widely-published in international peer-reviewed journals and edited volumes; his current research deals with urban and regional economics; agglomeration and trade; energy and environmental economics; technology adoption; and meta-analysis. Henri has been involved in various research projects for the World Bank and the European Commission. 


Stuart Donovan holds masters degrees in engineering and economics and is currently a PhD Candidate at the Department of Spatial Economics, where he is being supervised by Henri L. F. de Groot. In his PhD, Stuart is researching agglomeration economies; location choice; and regional economic performance. Stuart’s research is informed by 12-years’ experience working as a consultant in the transport industry in New Zealand and Australia, where he was involved in economic appraisal, policy development, and transport planning, allowing him to link academic research with professional practice.

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