Victor Couture
Assistant Professor of Real Estate, Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley


Office: Faculty Building, F616
Mailing Address:
2220 Piedmont Ave., Berkeley, CA 94720-1900
Phone: (510) 642-7826

Curriculum Vitae


Research Interests

Urban Economics, Transportation


Knowledge Spillovers in Cities: An Auction Approach
Journal of Economic Theory, Volume 157, May 2015 View Abstract

This paper proposes a micro-foundation for knowledge spillovers. I model a city in which free knowledge transfers are bids by experts to entrepreneurs who auction jobs. These knowledge bids resemble a consultant’s pitch to a potential client. Two fundamental properties of knowledge underlie the model: First, it is often necessary to reveal some knowledge to demonstrate its value. Second, knowledge is freely reproducible. Larger cities generate more meetings between experts and entrepreneurs, resulting in more learning and better matches. Larger cities also foster competition for jobs, which motivates experts to raise their knowledge bids. These results demonstrate how competitive behavior can be a source of agglomeration economies, and contribute to explain the higher productivity of urban workers.

Speed, with Gilles Duranton (Wharton) and Matt Turner (Brown)
Review of Economics and Statistics, Forthcoming 2018 View Abstract

We investigate the determinants of driving speed in large us cities. We first estimate city level supply functions for travel in an econometric framework where both the supply and demand for travel are explicit. These estimations allow us to calculate a city level index of driving speed and to rank cities by driving speed. Our data suggest that a congestion tax of, on average, about 3.5 cents per kilometer yields welfare gains of about 30 billion dollars per year, that centralized cities are slower, that cities with ring roads are faster, and that the provision of automobile travel in cities is subject to decreasing returns to scale.

Replication File

Working Papers

Income Growth and the Distributional Effects of Spatial Sorting, with Cecile Gaubert (UC Berkeley), Jessie Handbury (Wharton), and Erik Hurst (Chicago), October 2018 View Abstract

We explore the link between rising nominal incomes at the top of the income distribution, within-city spatial sorting, and real income inequality. We develop and quantify a spatial model of a city with heterogeneous agents and non-homothetic preferences for endogenous differentiated private neighborhood amenities (e.g., restaurants and entertainment). As the rich get richer, their increased demand for such luxury amenities drives housing prices up in downtown areas, where amenity development is fueled by economies of density. The poor are made worse off, either being displaced or paying higher rents for amenities that they do not value as much. Using our model, we find that the neighborhood change within urban areas during the last two decades increased the welfare of richer households relative to that of poorer households by an additional two percentage points above and beyond the differential income growth. We conclude that welfare estimates of increased income inequality are understated if within-city spatial sorting responses are ignored.

Selected Media Coverage: USA Today

Mobility and Congestion in Urban India, with Prottoy Akbar (Pittsburgh), Gilles Duranton (Wharton), and Adam Storeygard (Tufts), October 2018 View Abstract

We develop a methodology to estimate robust city level vehicular mobility indices, and apply it to 154 Indian cities using 22 million counterfactual trips measured by a web mapping service. There is wide variation in mobility across cities. An exact decomposition shows this variation is driven more by differences in uncongested mobility than congestion. Under plausible assumptions, a one-standard-deviation improvement in uncongested speed creates much more mobility than optimal congestion pricing. Denser and more populated cities are slower, only in part because of congestion. Urban economic development is correlated with better (uncongested and overall) mobility despite worse congestion.

NBER Working Paper, CEPR Discussion Paper,

Selected Media Coverage: The Hindu, Mint, Times of India 1, 2, Hindustan Times

E-Commerce Integration and Economic Development: Evidence from China, with Ben Faber (UC Berkeley), Yizhen Gu (Jinan), and Lizhi Liu (Georgetown), August 2018 View Abstract

E-commerce markets are rapidly growing in the developing world, but this growth has until recently been limited to urban areas. Inspired by growth in cities and numerous case studies on the transformative effect of e-commerce trading on rural markets, policy makers are now targeting large investments to expand access to e-commerce outside of cities. In this paper, we investigate the effect of the first nationwide e-commerce expansion program on household welfare and the underlying channels at work. The program invests in the necessary logistics to ship products to and sell products from tens of thousands of Chinese villages that were largely unconnected to e-commerce. Our analysis combines a new collection of survey and administrative microdata with a randomized control trial (RCT) that we implement across villages in collaboration with a large e-commerce firm. We find that the gains from e-commerce trading are sizable, but only accrue to a minority of rural households who tend to be younger and richer. In contrast to the existing case study evidence that has motivated these policies, we find little evidence for significant income gains to the average rural producer or worker. Instead, the gains are driven by the consumption side, through a significant reduction in household cost of living that is most pronounced in more remote rural markets. Our results also suggest that these effects are mainly due to overcoming the logistical barriers to e-commerce in rural markets, rather than to additional investments targeted at adapting e-commerce to the rural population.

NBER Working Paper, CEPR Discussion Paper,

Selected Media Coverage: VoxDev, VoxChina

Urban Revival in America, 2000-2010, with Jessie Handbury (Wharton), November 2017 View Abstract

This paper documents and explains the striking rise in the proclivity of college-educated individuals to reside near city centers. We show that this recent urban revival is driven entirely by younger cohorts in larger cities. With a residential choice model, we quantify the role of jobs, amenities, and house prices in explaining this trend. We find that changing preferences of young college graduates for non-tradable service amenities like restaurants, bars, gyms, and personal services account for more than 50 percent of their growth near city centers. Complementary datasets confirm that the young and college-educated are indeed spending more on and taking more trips to non-tradable service establishments. Our investigation into the causes of rising preferences for non-tradable services highlights their expanding role in generating socializing opportunities with other young college graduates, but also indicates roles played by delayed family formation, rising incomes, and improvements in the quality and diversity of non-tradable services.

NBER Working Paper

Selected Media Coverage: The Atlantic CityLab, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Forbes,

Valuing the Consumption Benefits of Urban Density, September 2016, Online Appendix View Abstract

Despite growing interest in urban consumption amenities, little is known about their origin and importance. This paper estimates the consumption value of urban density by combining travel microdata with Google’s local business data. This dataset allows to integrate travel costs into a discrete choice model for restaurants. I find that in high density areas, consumers enjoy large benefits from visiting places that they prefer, and relatively smaller gains from shorter trip time. These results demonstrate the importance of non-tradable consumption in explaining the value of cities, and represent the first estimates of the gains from variety in the service sector.

Selected Work in Progress

Quantifying Social Interactions Using Smartphone Data, with Jonathan Dingel (Chicago), Allison Green (UC Berkeley), and Jessie Handbury (Wharton)

Estimating the Gains from Online Integration: Evidence from a New County-Level Panel Dataset on Internet Penetration in China, with Ben Faber (UC Berkeley), and Yizhen Gu (Jinan)

Accessibility in Urban India, with Prottoy Akbar (Pittsburgh), Gilles Duranton (Wharton), and Adam Storeygard (Tufts)

Teaching Syllabuses

EW/MBA280 - MBA Real Estate Investment and Market Analysis (Evening)

EW/MBA280 - MBA Real Estate Investment and Market Analysis (Weekend)

UGBA184 - Undergraduate Urban and Real Estate Economics

PhD 289A - PhD Real Estate Economics: Topics