What makes cities successful? A complex systems approach to modelling urban economies / Hamilton-Jacobi-Bellman equations for dynamic pricing

2 February 2017
Neave O'Clery, Asbjorn Nilsen Riseth

What makes cities successful? A complex systems approach to modelling urban economies

Urban centres draw a diverse range of people, attracted by opportunity, amenities, and the energy of crowds. Yet, while benefiting from density and proximity of people, cities also suffer from issues surrounding crime, congestion and density. Seeking to uncover the mechanisms behind the success of cities using novel tools from the mathematical and data sciences, this work uses network techniques to model the opportunity landscape of cities. Under the theory that cities move into new economic activities that share inputs with existing capabilities, path dependent industrial diversification can be described using a network of industries. Edges represent shared necessary capabilities, and are empirically estimated via flows of workers moving between industries. The position of a city in this network (i.e., the subnetwork of its current industries) will determine its future diversification potential. A city located in a central well-connected region has many options, but one with only few peripheral industries has limited opportunities.

We develop this framework to explain the large variation in labour formality rates across cities in the developing world, using data from Colombia. We show that, as cities become larger, they move into increasingly complex industries as firms combine complementary capabilities derived from a more diverse pool of workers. We further show that a level of agglomeration equivalent to between 45 and 75 minutes of commuting time maximizes the ability of cities to generate formal employment using the variety of skills available. Our results suggest that rather than discouraging the expansion of metropolitan areas, cities should invest in transportation to enable firms to take advantage of urban diversity.

This talk will be based on joint work with Eduardo Lora and Andres Gomez at Harvard University.


Hamilton-Jacobi-Bellman equations for dynamic pricing

I will discuss the Hamilton-Jacobi-Bellman (HJB) equation, which is a nonlinear, second-order, terminal value PDE problem. The equation arises in optimal control theory as an optimality condition.

Consider a dynamic pricing problem: over a given period, what is the best strategy to maximise revenues and minimise the cost of unsold items?

This is formulated as a stochastic control problem in continuous time, where we try to find a function that controls a stochastic differential equation based on the current state of the system.

The optimal control function can be found by solving the corresponding HJB equation.

I will present the solution of the HJB equation using a toy problem, for a risk-neutral and a risk-averse decision maker.

  • Industrial and Applied Mathematics Seminar