PhD Candidate, Yale University

M.E.Sc. 2009, Environmental Economics (concentration), Yale F&ES
BA 2004, Summa Cum Laude, University of California, Davis

Fields: energy and environmental economics, urban economics, development economics

Research Interests: urbanization, energy policy, climate change policy, satellite remote sensing


[1] Suburbs or Skyscrapers? The effect of China’s land leasing market on housing decentralization (Job Market Paper)

Over the past 30 years, China’s process of rapid urban growth has been heavily influenced by government intervention. A key policy instrument to emerge during this period has been the urban land leasing system, which was introduced as a vehicle for generating municipal revenues through the up-front sale of land use rights to private developers. By providing a mechanism for rapid infrastructure investment through the development of agricultural land, the leasing policy created the potential for substantial shifts in urban form across China. This paper examines the impact of the leasing market on housing decentralization during the period 1990-2000, making use of exogenous variation that arises from an pilot phase in the implementation of the policy. I address potential bias in the selection of treated cities with a semi-parametric difference-in-differences estimator. I find that the land leasing policy had a substantial impact on decentralization in cities that received early exposure through the pilot, resulting in a 19.1% decline in housing constructed in urban core areas and a simultaneous 26.2% increase in housing constructed in peripheral urban zones.

[2] Farmland protection and the shape of rapid urbanization: Evidence from a country-level natural experiment observed from satellites

During the 1990’s, the Chinese government developed a series of to halt the encroachment of rapidly urban expansion into fertile agricultural lands used for staple grain production. These include the Basic Farmland Protection Regulation in 1994 and key changes to the Land Administration Law in 1998. Many are concerned that the regulations have resulted in land market distortions around the country’s most productive urban centers, but large numbers of illegal transactions create challenges for evaluation of the policy using official statistics.  I estimate the effects of the policy using more than 1 million Landsat TM/ETM observations of agricultural and urban land use before and after the regulatory changes, making use of a no net loss rule that provides an arbitrary discontinuity in stringency across provinces. I find that the regulations reduced agricultural-urban land conversion by approximately 45% during the period 2000-2005 and reduced urban expansion by 10.9%, suggesting that the policy has had a considerable effect on forgone urban development.

[3] A vintage model of energy use in China’s residential buildings sector

This paper presents new findings on the growth of China’s residential buildings stock using observations of construction vintages and housing sizes.  The data reveal that China’s construction boom was largely concentrated in central districts of cities of less than 2 Million inhabitants.  I find that as of the year 2000, 53% of the housing stock in China’s cities was less than 10 years old and only 1.9% was greater than 50 years old.  I examine the implications of rapid replacement rates on changes in the energy efficiency of the aggregate stock.  I then estimate housing size gradients for 100 Chinese cities and find that modest rates of housing decentralization are associated with a 19% increase heating and cooling loads in urban areas.


Karen Seto
Professor, F&ES
Yale University
195 Prospect Street
New Haven, CT, 06511
Tel: 203 432-9784
Robert Mendelsohn
Yale University
195 Prospect Street
New Haven, CT, 06511
Tel: 203 432-5128
Kenneth Gillingham
Assistant Professor
Yale University
195 Prospect Street
New Haven, CT, 06511
Tel: 203 436-5465
William Nordhaus
Professor, Economics
Yale University
28 Hillhouse Avenue
New Haven, CT 06511
Tel: 203-432-3598