There is a large literature in the U.S. measuring the extent and stringency of land-use regulations in urban areas and how these regulations affect important outcomes such as housing prices and economic growth. This paper is the first to present an international measure of regulatory stringency by estimating what we call building-height gaps. Using a novel geospatialized data set on the year of construction and heights of tall buildings around the world, we compare the total height of a country’s actual stock of tall buildings to what the total height would have been if building-height regulations were relatively less stringent, based on parameters from a benchmark set of countries. We find that these gaps are larger for richer countries and for residential buildings rather than for commercial buildings. The building-heights gaps correlate strongly with other measures of land-use regulation and international measures of housing prices, sprawl, congestion and pollution. Taken together, the results suggest that stringent building-height regulations around the world might be imposing relatively large welfare losses.
international buildings heights tall buildings skyscrapers land use regulations housing supply housing prices sprawl congestion pollution