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Research Programme of the Spatial, Transport and Environmental Economics Research


Research Programme of the Spatial, Transport and Environmental Economics Research

Background & policy context: 

The spatial economics domain covers a large number of complicated policy problems that require sound scientific analysis. There are plenty of examples to illustrate the complexity of the problems that the discipline addresses. How can the limited amount of space available in densely populated areas be structured in such a way that people with diverging cultural and ethnic backgrounds, different ages and incomes can live and work peacefully and healthily alongside one another? How can urban and rural areas be developed for sustainable land use in the broadest sense of the word, while taking into account all kinds of economic, ecological and social factors? How can we guarantee the accessibility of economic centres when the continued concentration of economic activity in successful centres leads to ever-increasing traffic flows that threaten the success of those centres? Policy initiatives to increase accessibility have often been disappointing, partly because of feedback effects on the location choices made by firms and households. Policies that favour strong cities and vital rural areas often have adverse effects on accessibility and environmental quality.

Strategic Objectives: 

The programme's mission is to seek, maintain and further develop a nationally and internationally recognised top position in academic and project research on the economics of space, transport and the environment.

The objectives that follow from this mission are:

  • Perform innovative research at the international forefront in the programmes fields, and to be the world's leading groups in a selected number of thematic spearheads
  • Maintain high publication standards, in terms of quality and productivity
  • Maintain a strong impact in the field, in terms of influence and also as reflected in citations
  • Secure sufficient external funding, from diversified sources
  • Maintain strong and productive ties with selected research groups from the international arena
  • Be and remain visible not only as authors, but also in positions serving international associations and journals
  • Translate empirical and theoretical research findings to practical policy questions and serve society by facilitating evidence-based policy advice.
Programme organisation: 

The research programme addresses four interrelated themes:

  • Urban & regional dynamics: agglomeration economies, housing markets, regional labour markets, migration
  • Land use: land rents, spatial externalities, flood risk, spatial planning
  • Transport: congestion, network reliability, accident risks, sustainable transport, transport policy
  • Environmental & resource economics: biodiversity, agri-environmental schemes, renewable resources, green paradox, climate change adaptation.
Leading Institutions:

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Type of funding:
Programme funding arrangements and funding conditions: 

The research group has been successful in achieving substantial outside funding for its research in addition to the funding from the university. The share of outside sources is about 70%. Main parts of the outside sources stem from NWO (the Netherlands organisation for scientific research), FES programmes for strategic research on urban dynamics, sustainable transport, climate change, etc.) and other sources including EU project funds.

The group is proud that it hosts no less than three holders of advanced grants ERC grants (Erik Verhoef, Cees Withagen, Rick van der Ploeg). The research group cooperates in a structural manner with agencies such as CPB, PBL, KiM and TNO.

The research themes of the group are also the key components of Master programmes STREEM (Spatial, Transport and Environmental Economics) and UNIGIS. Members of the team with systematic prominent positions on lists of Dutch economists in terms of publications, citations and H index include Richard Tol, Peter Nijkamp, Piet Rietveld and Erik Verhoef. This is also confirmed by high scores on REPEC lists. On average each year about six PhD candidates from the department successfully defend their thesis.

Total Budget: 
Participating countries: 
The Netherlands
Projects covered: 

Urban and regional dynamics
Urbanization is a multifaceted phenomenon posing a wide range of theoretical and empirical challenges with profound policy implications. A central topic in the programme is agglomeration economies. What are the driving forces that result in clustering of people and firms in space? Is the extent of clustering optimal from a social point of view? What is the spatial scope of externalities and do they differ between sectors in the economy? How can agglomeration externalities be identified using variation in land rents, wages, migration patterns, foreign direct investments, etc. A second and related theme looks at the regional implications of agglomeration economies at the national as well as the European and global level. Are regional inequalities enhanced of alleviated? Is there scope for place based policies as a response to declining regions? How can we assess the costs and benefits of interregional transport infrastructure? 

These challenging questions are addressed by combinations of state of the art theoretical and empirical research methods. The programme exploits micro-data on individual wages, productivity, housing prices, commuting behaviour, etc. To identify causal impacts of clustering of economic activity and to find the drivers of urbanization processes. Spatial econometric techniques are used to derive the nature and spatial scope of externalities. Research on mobility of goods, people, capital and services effectively exploits techniques to model and analyse spatial interaction. This line of research also aims to identify the importance of soft barriers to interaction that are of cultural and institutional nature. And theoretical and empirical contributions are made to further the applicability of cost benefit analysis focusing on the welfare theoretical foundations as well as the empirical identification of wider economic benefits.

Land use
Land is one of the arenas in which economic actors compete with each other. Spatial externalities play a strong potential role, which is a main reason why the public sector in a densely populated country such as the Netherlands is strongly involved in regulating land use. Much of the research in the research group addresses valuation of spatial externalities. In particular amenities such as cultural heritage, public and private services, quality of nature are studied. This is done by a range of methods where in addition to hedonic pricing models, valuations are

Contact Name: 
Mrs. Elfie Bonke
VU University Amsterdam, Department of Spatial Economics
De Boelelaan 1105
1081 HV
Contact country:
+31 20 5986090