Tax & Accounting Blog

Urban Land Tenure Reform: from Minneapolis to Manila

Aumentum, Blog April 23, 2013

By Sharon Sayles-Belton
Vice President, Government Affairs & Community Relations
Thomson Reuters 

A couple of weeks ago, I chaired a panel session at the World Bank Conference on Land & Poverty, where I was joined by three experts to discuss the “fiscal and governance impacts of improving urban land tenure”.

Luckily, I knew something about the subject as land use administration and regulation was a key focus of my two terms as Mayor of Minneapolis and my 10 year service on the City Council. My administration concentrated on redeveloping underutilized and polluted land and abandoned property, and oversaw an overhaul of the zoning code while I was chairing the city’s Zoning and Planning Committees.

The panel presentations underscored that to achieve long-term, sustainable success, urban land reform may include some projects even when there is little or no chance of an immediate return on investment. Such initiatives will demand complex strategies and creative solutions. Our session showcased how these challenges and opportunities are being addressed in different communities around the world:

– Margie Soneja Gianan, of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources of the Philippines, provided a comprehensive summary of the Land Administration and Management Project (LAMP), the process to reform the land management system in Metro Manila. The all-encompassing project, which has been running since 2001, focuses on improving every aspect of efficiency – from land records digitization to upgrading the physical infrastructure of the records office, i.e. installing air conditioning to ensure paper records to not rot.

– Bastiaan Philip Reydon of the University of Campinas in Brazil followed with a presentation focusing on urban land governance in Sao Paulo state. Reydon argued that Brazil’s culture, history and geography – rapid urbanization has led to a very high incidence of low-income illegal or informal settlements called favelas – demands unique solutions to urban land management. The government of Sao Paulo state has launched Cidade Legal, a multifaceted initiative which aims to empower municipalities with the knowledge and training to provide titling and tenure security, while improving services and community facilities within the favelas. 429 of the 645 municipalities across the state now participate in the initiative, which has positively impacted 9.4 million residents via 11,248 projects.

–  These case studies were followed by a discussion of what the growth of informal settlements in developing countries means for city planners. Ephraim Kabunda Munshifwa, of Copperbelt University in Zambia, argued that land economists must reorientate and include the reality of the 828 million people living in informal settlements across the developing world. Despite negative perceptions of poverty, lack of tenure and basic services, social exclusion, overcrowding, substandard housing and poor sanitation; it should be recognized that these settlements also provide stability for their residents, and their existence should be incorporated into future development plans. Upgrading these settlements to formal communities is the best route forward.

Despite the contrasts in both geography and approach, there were a number of recurring themes throughout the session. First, the need for education and training, not just for residents, but perhaps more importantly for public officials and government employees implementing reform. Second, whatever the circumstances, successful urban land management requires good governance and political stability to ensure that development projects are carried through from start to finish. In both the Philippines and Brazil, the shifting political situation has unfortunately led to gridlock in previous attempts at reform.

Finally, each of the presenters showed that even in the most difficult circumstances, the right amount of political will, the correct tools and forethought in planning can lead to successful urban land tenure reform.