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Edwin Smith Mills is an emeritus professor of real estate and finance at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. He was born on June 25, 1928, in Collingswood, New Jersey. After graduating from Collingswood High School in 1946, he served two years in the U.S. Army and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers. After obtaining his undergraduate degree from Brown University in 1951 and his PhD in 1956 from the University of Birmingham in England, he held faculty positions at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Johns Hopkins University, Princeton University, and Northwestern University. Over almost five decades of teaching and research focused on real estate and urban economic development, Mills authored fifteen books and more than one hundred papers, served as an adviser to numerous domestic and foreign governments, and was a member of many national committees seeking solutions to urban and environmental problems.
Mills is best known for his undergraduate textbook Urban Economics, first published in 1972, as well as for founding and editing the premier academic journal in urban economics (Journal of Urban Economics) and for his research treatise on urban spatial structure (Studies in the Structure of the Urban Economy). The latter book, which was published in 1972, is considered to be one of three classics (the other two are William Alonso’s Location and Land Use  and Richard Muth’s Cities and Housing ) that established the core of what today is identified as the field of urban economics. This core consists of a model, commonly referred to as the standard urban land-use model, that explains urban spatial structure and how this structure has changed over time. Urban spatial structure refers to the location of alternative land uses (such as apartments, houses, offices, and manufacturing plants) within cities, as well as to the locations of alternative income groups. The usefulness of the model is multifold, providing answers to such questions as why offices are concentrated within the center of metropolitan areas, why high-income households tend to live farther from the center than low-income households, and why many households and firms have moved from the central city to the suburbs.
Besides his contributions to the theoretical development of the standard urban model, Mills has provided many of the most important empirical tests of the model. Within Studies in the Structure of the Urban Economy, he developed methods for estimating population density gradients, which show how population per square mile changes as distance increases from the center of the metropolitan area. These techniques were used by Mills in a series of papers and by other urban economists to study population suburbanization, which continues to be a major focus of urban scholars in light of recent concerns related to urban sprawl. Mills’s research has shown that suburbanization is the result of both a natural evolutionary process resulting from higher real incomes and urban population growth and a flight from blight, as households and firms move from the central city to the suburbs to escape social and fiscal problems that are more severe within central cities.
While Mills is best known for his development and testing of the standard urban model, his writings have also expanded understanding of numerous urban problems (such as air and water pollution, housing segregation, and urban decay) and what might be done to solve them. His policy prescriptions have stressed the importance of allowing markets to work more efficiently without excessive government intervention.
- Alonso, W 1964. Location and Land Use: Toward a General Theory of Land Rent. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- Mills, Edwin 1972. Studies in the Structure of the Urban Economy. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
- Mills, Edwin , and Bruce W. Hamilton. 1994. Urban Economics. 5th ed. New York: Harper Collins.
- Muth, Richard F. 1969. Cities and Housing: The Spatial Pattern of Urban Residential Land Use. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
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