The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


DPU hosts international workshop on collective property and urbanisation

15 September 2022

The workshop, 'Collective property and urbanisation: promises and pitfalls', took place on August 16th at the DPU with support from UCL’s Global Engagement Funds and the DPU’s State and Market research cluster.

workshop graphic

Across much of the world, cities are expanding into areas where land is held collectively. In some cases, land is divided and sold-off to highest bidder; in others, this is prevented by law. In all cases, however, the relationships that constitute property rights shift as the promise of lucrative new uses of land arise, populations expand and diversify, and jurisdictional boundaries collide. 

What are the consequences of these changes for individuals, communities, and the cities that engulf them? Who gains and who loses? What is gained and lost? These are some of the questions and themes we explored at a workshop on August 16th, supported by UCL’s Global Engagement Funds and the Bartlett Development Planning Unit’s State and Market research cluster.  

The workshop was divided into four interrelated panels. The first, chaired by Cheryl Doss (University of Oxford), explored implications of changing property rights arrangements on the efficiency and equity of land resource generation and distribution, both within communities and for cities at large.  Drawing on research in Tanzania (Alexandra Panman, UCL), West Africa (Harris Selod, World Bank), Bolivia (Miranda Shield Johansson, UCL), Canada (Edwige Tia, Holy Cross College) and Mexico (Santiago Izquierdo Tort, University of Quebec at Outaouais), the panels discussed themes including the impact of restrictions on land conversion for city size, land uses, housing values; the role of collective institutions in addressing spatial externalities by coordinating land use decisions and public goods investment; and the interplay between increased returns on land assets, property rights, and the distribution of benefits within collective property regimes.

The second session, chaired by Arthur Grimes (Victoria University of Wellington), explored the relationship between collective property rights and ‘value’: both in terms of how different property rights arrangements shape the production and protection of non-market values associated with land, and the role that values play in shaping property right systems. Thus, while covering many diverse insights, reflections rooted in the knowledge systems of the nehiyawak (Plains Cree) in present-day Canada (Shalene Jobin, University of Alberta) and Māori in Aotearoa New Zealand (Kiri Dell, University of Auckland) stressed the constitutive nature of relationships with land, as well as the ongoing trauma of enforced individualisation of property rights on indigenous peoples in settler colonial societies. The relationship between property rights and health was also explored (Walter Dachaga, Technical University of Munich), and speakers highlighted how different forms of rights – such public versus private management of lakes (Hita Unnikrishnan, University of Sheffield) – and measurement practices (Walter de Vries, Technical University of Munich) can privilege different forms of value in public interventions. 

The third panel was chaired by Ronald Trosper (University of Arizona) and focused on the interaction between legal frameworks and community-level approaches to managing lands. Presenters provided insight into the diverse ways in which collective property is being transformed in urban areas – ranging from examples of large-scale land redevelopment in Canada (Liam Kelly, University of Northern British Columbia) and China (Zhu Qian, University of Waterloo), to new forms of individualised rights emerging in liminal spaces of urban jurisdictional authority in La Paz, Bolivia (Philipp Horn, University of Sheffield). In contrast, the San Xavier District of the Tohono O’odham Nation (USA) have maintained their traditional ways of managing land in the face of allotment policies and pressure from private developers (Jacelle Ramon-Sauberon, University of Arizona). 

The final panel, chaired by Colin Marx (UCL), focused on the role of leadership within communities and local governments in shaping changing property relations. The first presenter (Ronald Trosper) contrasted traditional top-down governance with relational leadership, which facilitates dialogue throughout the community and supports relationships within the community, including with its non-human elements. The role of the state was also interrogated, both in terms of the need for coordination to address challenges that arise with urbanisation and undermine collective uses of land – such as pollution in urban lakes (Aklilu Fikresilassie, World Resources Institute) – and in examining practices that have undermined collective land, including legislation and expropriation practices on Ejido land in Mexico (Pamela Duran, Technical University of Munich) as well as property rights reform and individualised public goods provision in South Africa (Sandile Mbatha, EThekwini Municipality).  

The collective property regimes discussed across the day are all unique – land is, by definition, rooted in ‘place’ and cannot be separated from its context. In bringing together researchers working on collective property in different regions and across wide disciplinary backgrounds, however, the workshop aimed to improve understanding and raise new questions about the ways that they are responding to urbanisation. The discussion highlighted common themes of rising pressure on land uses, risk of conflict within and across communities, and growing demands on leadership; and underlined the need for improved understanding of the implications of different responses both within and across communities. 

Written by Alexandra Panman

Further reading

Dachaga, Walter, and Walter Timo de Vries. (2021). "Land Tenure Security and Health Nexus: A Conceptual Framework for Navigating the Connections between Land Tenure Security and Health." Land 10.3: 257.

Horn, P. (2021). The politics of hyperregulation in La Paz, Bolivia: Speculative peri-urban development in a context of unresolved municipal boundary conflicts. Urban Studies, 00420980211031806.

Izquierdo-Tort, Santiago, et al. (2022) "Contradictory distributive principles and land tenure govern benefit-sharing of payments for ecosystem services (PES) in Chiapas, Mexico." Environmental Research Letters 17.5: 055009.

Jobin, Shalene Wuttunee. (2022). "Upholding Indigenous Economic Relationships." University of Chicago Press Economics Books

Kelly, L. D., & Deaton, B. J. (2020). Endogenous Institutional Change on First Nations Reserves: Selecting into the First Nations Land Management Act.

Meinzen-Dick, R. S., Doss, C. R., Flintan, F., Knight, R., Larson, A. M., & Monterroso, I. (2021). Women's tenure security on collective lands: A conceptual framework (Vol. 2074). Intl Food Policy Res Inst.

Mika, J. P., Dell, K., Newth, J., & Houkamau, C. (2022). Manahau: Toward an Indigenous Māori theory of value. Philosophy of Management, 1-23.

Picard, Pierre M., and Harris Selod. (2020) "Customary Land Conversion and the Formation of the African City." World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 9192.

Panman, Alexandra. (2021). "How effective are informal property rights in cities? Reexamining the relationship between informality and housing quality in Dar es Salaam." Oxford Development Studies 49.3: 230-244.

Sheild Johansson, Miranda. (2020). Resource Rumours in the Bolivian Andes: The Potential of Gold in Community Land. Bulletin of Latin American Research, 39(3), 334-347.

Schumacher, Melissa, et al. (2019). "Evolution and Collapse of Ejidos in Mexico—To What Extent Is Communal Land Used for Urban Development?." Land 8.10: 14

Thom, R. R. M., & Grimes, A. (2022). Land loss and the intergenerational transmission of wellbeing: The experience of iwi in Aotearoa New Zealand. Social Science & Medicine, 296, 114804.

Trosper, Ronald L. (2022) Indigenous Economics: Sustaining Peoples and Their Lands. University of Arizona Press.

Unnikrishnan, H., & Nagendra, H. (2015). Privatizing the commons: impact on ecosystem services in Bangalore’s lakes. Urban Ecosystems, 18(2), 613-632.

de Vries, Walter Timo, and Winrich Voß. (2018). "Economic versus social values in land and property management: Two sides of the same coin?." Raumforschung und Raumordnung| Spatial Research and Planning 76.5: 381-394.

Qian, Zhu (2022). Property Rights and Urban Transformation in China. Edward Elgar Publishing


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