Author ORCID Identifier


Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

H. Spencer Banzhaf

Second Advisor

Garth Heutel

Third Advisor

Carlianne Patrick

Fourth Advisor

Maryam Naghsh Nejad


In this dissertation, I study two questions in environmental and health economics with a focus on the role of urban configuration.

The first essay investigates the impact of urban sprawl on the temperature in the United States. Sprawl contributes to the heat island effect by eliminating vegetation, expanding dark surfaces, and increasing daily travel distance. This study quantifies this effect by constructing and linking the required measures and exploiting variations in the data using different identification strategies. I construct an index of residential compactness in US metropolitan areas using satellite remote sensing information to analyze landscape changes from 1974–2012 and link them to the Global Surface Summary of the Day data. To address the reverse causality issue, I utilize the planned interstate highways emanating from the central cities as an instrument for sub-urbanization in the United States. I also examine the Impact of Sprawl on UHI by introducing a control group for each metropolitan statistical area (MSA) in the sample. The results suggest a positive and causal relationship between the temperature of the MSA center and urban sprawl. Thus, horizontal development of the city imposes an extra burden on the temperature of the city center.

The second essay, which is joint work with Dr. Firouzi Naeim, studies the role of labor unions in response to the pandemic. Labor unions are among the largest institutions in the United States, and their role in regulating employee-employer relations is hard to ignore. Costly efforts to control the spread of COVID-19, combined with the monopoly and collective voice faces of unions, emphasize the role unions can play in shaping the response of the workforce in coping with COVID-19. We analyze the effect of union size by utilizing state-level data in the United States and by employing a dynamic nonlinear probability model. The results suggest new evidence of positive externalities for union employees compared with nonunion employees. We find that increasing union size by 1,000 new members in the United States would lead to 110 fewer COVID-19 cases 11 months after the onset of the virus, controlling for hours of work and differences in union members' characteristics.