Work in Progress

The (Express)Way to Segregation: Evidence from Chicago

I investigate how man-made barriers shape racial segregation within cities. I exploit the construction of expressways in Chicago in the 1950s as a source of variation in neighborhoods’ quality and connectivity. Central to the analysis is the consideration that these multi-lane roads (i) produce a local shock to residential amenities, and (ii) divide the areas they cross through, by creating local barriers to the interaction of nearby communities. I begin by documenting the effect of proximity to expressways on racial sorting, running difference-in-differences specifications with multiple time periods. I find that on average the share of black residents permanently increases in areas close to the expressways. At the same time, house values and residential population shrunk. These results are consistent with a resorting of people in response to changes in relative amenity values. Then, I estimate the barrier effect of expressways on opposite sides of the lanes, running a spatial neighborhood matching over time. By increasing the physical separation between different portions of the city, I find that expressways create a discontinuity along a racial dimension that is however not accompanied by an analogous discontinuity in house prices. The results suggest that this feature of expressways provides a second channel of racial sorting which depends on individual preferences towards more or less integrated places to live in. Motivated by these findings, I develop a discrete choice model of residential sorting that quantifies the relative importance of racial preferences in location choice.

The Fastest Route to Specialization? Evidence from the Expansion of the Italian Highway System

I analyze the effects of a large public transportation infrastructure investment on the industrial structure of local economies in modern Italy. In 20 years, between 1955 and 1975, more than 5,000 km of highways were laid down in the peninsula, making the Italian highway network the third longest worldwide at the time. The setting is used to investigate how changes in market integration affect the degree of industrial specialization of Italian municipalities. I show that proximity to highways is associated with a sizable and persistent decrease in the degree of industrial specialization. A decomposition exercise further shows that the results are mainly driven by a reallocation of employment shares between sectors in the economy, rather than by an extensive margin effect through the formation of new sectors in the economy. Finally, I analyze potential mechanisms. I find that (i) the change in specialization cannot be explained by differences in population alone; (ii) highways seem to have facilitated the shift away from agriculture-intensive economies; (iii) there are large degrees of heterogeneity by sector.

Once Upon a Time in the (Canadian) West: Railroads, Location Fundamentals, and the Growth of Cities

I exploit the immigration to the Canadian Prairies at the turn of the 20th century to investigate what are the determinants of the distribution of economic activity across space. How do location fundamentals and market access interact to shape the pattern of settlement and the growth of cities? In what ways do ethnic agglomerations develop to mark the success of an area? Relying on a unique novel panel dataset linking population patterns, soil characteristics, and access to markets at a finely granular spatial level, this setting is also suitable for drawing conclusions over the long run. To what extent do initial conditions and history matter in explaining differences in economic activity today?

Other Publications


with G. Rolnik and S. Feltri. Stigler Center Case Study n. 6, June 2020

During a torrential rainstorm on August 14, 2018, a 210-meter (690 ft) section of the Ponte Morandi bridge collapsed. The Ponte Morandi, also known as the Genoa Bridge, forms a critical artery of European route E80 linking Italy and France. In the collapse, between 30 to 35 cars and three trucks were reported to have fallen from the bridge. The disaster caused a major political controversy about the poor state of infrastructure in Italy and the privatization of Italy?s highways. The Genoa Bridge was part of a motorway system operated by Autostrade, a subsidiary of the Atlantia holding company controlled by the Benetton Family, one of the most powerful family business dynasties in Italy. The media crisis and political storm that followed threatened the concession under which Autostrade operated the motorways in Italy.