Urban land governance


Rapid urban expansion raises a host of land governance issues. Conversion of farmland for residential, industrial, commercial and infrastructural purposes tends to encroach on fertile agricultural areas and raises issues of food security. The large profits to be made from non-agricultural uses of land that was previously farmed creates winners and losers among those displaced and those benefiting from new economic activities, raising questions of compensation. Increasing demands for land impact upon slum dwellers, who live in precarity through insecure tenure. Within urban areas, loss and maintenance of public space in the form of parks and other recreational areas is a key issue. Booming real estate markets in cities promote land speculation, with related issues including transparency in zoning, permits and other public-private interactions. The financialization of land, using a variety of digital technologies, disconnects and de-localises land in and around urban areas, affecting community and agricultural zones. Urban expansion increasingly involves regional cities as well as the main metropolitan centres.

Key reform issues:

  • The provision of equitable compensation policies and services to support the livelihood reconstruction of smallholders in periurban areas
  • Improved rights against insecure land tenure, and access to services for slum dwellers
  • The retention of green spaces to support burgeoning urban populations
  • Activating new legal provisions to achieve coordinated urban planning across multiple government departments
  • Taxation and fiscal policies to produce a more level playing-field between developers and local land users
  • Avoiding undue land speculation in order to create options for affordable housing

Current critique and debate:

Much debate around urban land governance revolves around a tension between private gain and the public good. There are concerns that the rapid rise of land values are driving less wealthy urban residents to the outskirts of cities, where they suffer from limited services and long journeys to work. With an emphasis on foreign investment into property around Southeast Asian cities, the urban poor may be expelled from their properties to make way for urban development projects. In particular, those in informal housing are under threat of forced eviction and resettlement. Under inequitable compensation schemes, smallholders are at risk of significant livelihood loss. The conversion of peri-urban agricultural land to other uses has the potential to undermine food security for increasing urban populations. Environmental concerns are also increasing in cities, as intensified land use, including for industrial purposes, infrastructural work, and use of motorised transport, are impacting upon the health of residents, such as through poor air and water quality.

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