Globalization, Structural Change and Urban Land Management

David E. Dowall, January 1, 1999

Cities in Latin America, Asia, and Central and Eastern Europe are being virtually transformed by inflows of capital in ways that urban land use planners never thought possible. These cities desperately need to develop and implement urban land management systems to maximize the social as well as private benefits of globalization. This article looks at globalization trends, identifies urban land management issues and opportunities, and discusses how Buenos Aires, as a case example, could strengthen its urban land management systems to better accommodate globalization-induced economic growth.

Globalization Trends

Over the past 20 years the world economy has become more and more integrated. International trade and investment have increased and the spatial distribution of industrial activities has become more diffused. Advances in communications, computer technology and logistics have revolutionized how business is conducted and how financial capital is invested. Many cities and regions that were once off the beaten track are now on the world’s main street, and those that once dominated certain markets, such as Glasgow in shipbuilding, Birmingham in textiles and Pittsburgh in steel, have lost ground.

Globalization, that is the international integration of product, service and financial markets, poses enormous opportunities and challenges. In the best of circumstances, globalization can lead to significant increases in non-agricultural employment, increasing wages, improved living conditions and better environmental quality. In other cases it may mean plant closures, unemployment, declining incomes and worsened living conditions

Because globalization requires foreign direct investment in plants and facilities, the internationalization of industrial activities is profoundly altering the world’s urban economic landscape. Over the past two decades, cities benefiting from global structuring have grown rapidly, while less economically competitive cities have stagnated. Given their plentiful supplies of cheap labor and permissive regulatory environments, cities in developing countries have become important actors in global manufacturing.

Multinational manufacturing corporations have been the principal driving force of globalization. These firms have increasingly shifted production from developed to developing countries to exploit the advantages of inexpensive labor. As they restructure their networks of production, they invest in plants and equipment in the host countries and generate significant increases in employment. According to the World Bank, five of the eight million jobs created by multinationals between 1985 and 1992 were generated in developing countries. The total number of jobs created by multinationals in developing countries stands at 12 million, but when subcontracting is included the true total is likely to be 24 million jobs. Multinationals account for more than 20 percent of the total manufacturing employment in such countries as Argentina, Barbados, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, the Philippines, Singapore and Sri Lanka.

Urban Land Management Issues and Opportunities

As cities strive to become centers of global production, trade and development, they are increasingly concerned with improving their attractiveness for foreign direct investment and employment generation. For example, cities must have efficient spatial structures, adequate infrastructure and urban services, affordable housing and healthy environments. Effective urban land management is required to promote urban regeneration and development of new industrial and commercial districts, investments to upgrade and expand critical infrastructure systems, programs to enhance and protect the environment, and initiatives to upgrade social overhead capital (housing, education, healthcare).

To implement these initiatives globalizing cities need to develop urban land management strategies to provide land for industrial and commercial development, to facilitate the formation of public-private partnerships, and to finance the provision of infrastructure and social overhead capital investments. Unfortunately, in many cities around the world such strategies do not exist and foreign investment is either stifled or, if it does take place, causes significant adverse side effects. Several examples highlight the consequences of poor urban land management.

In Ho Chi Minh City, planners have not carefully assessed the land use and transportation impacts of foreign investment. The city administration has approved dozens of high-rise office projects in the Central District but they have not adequately assessed the traffic and infrastructure impacts of these projects. As a result traffic congestion and infrastructure problems with the water supply and sewerage treatment are mounting. To make matters worse, planners have approved the development of Saigon South, a massive 3,000-hectare commercial, industrial and residential project, without assessing its impacts on the city’s transportation system.

Getting access to land for factories and commercial facilities is problematic, particularly in the transition economies of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Decades of inefficient allocation of land for industrial uses have literally blighted inner-city areas in Warsaw, Moscow and St. Petersburg. Derelict industrial belts that desperately need regeneration surround these cities. Unfortunately, a lack of clarity over land rights, corruption and bureaucratic inertia are impeding redevelopment. To compound matters, land use plans in many transition economy cities have not been adjusted to reflect the new land use requirements necessary to support post-industrial development.

The globalization of economic activity is literally transforming the urban landscapes of developing countries. To effectively exploit the benefits of inward investment flows and to insure that social and environmental goals are met, the public sector needs to take the lead in planning and formulating urban land management strategies to promote sustainable urban economic development.

The Case of Buenos Aires

A recent Lincoln Institute seminar in Buenos Aires offered some ideas on what actions are needed to more effectively manage the challenges of globalization-induced investment and urban economic development in that city. Participants agreed that Buenos Aires needs to strengthen its land management and economic development capabilities. The city should foster the formation of agglomeration economies and define and strengthen its comparative advantage in the global marketplace. The public sector should also foster the formation of social overhead capital and facilitate the development of critical infrastructure, social services and other investments that cannot be provided by the private sector.

Government needs to remove market imperfections and internalize externalities so that the social benefits of urban development are maximized and social costs minimized. This requires having in place sound and appropriate land use and environmental planning controls and regulations. Government should also provide information about the city’s demographic and economic projections and its land and property market so that developers and investors are well informed about urban development trends. This effort includes developing an inventory and assessment of public land holdings that can be used to foster strategic planning objectives.

At the same time, government should work with community and business leaders to improve social equity in real estate market transactions by increasing the supply of affordable housing and seeing that infrastructure and urban services are provided to all neighborhoods regardless of social or economic status. This may include preparing a capital budget for critical infrastructure and real estate development projects, as well as strategies for financing these investments.

The private sector is challenged with developing the city by providing businesses and residents with shops, offices, factories and housing. To the fullest extent possible, the government should enable the private sector to develop real estate to match the changing requirements of households and businesses. In some cases, such activities require partnerships between the public and private sector. For its part, the private sector needs to be more cautious and systematic about the formation and promotion of real estate projects by paying more attention to land market research on occupancy demand and supply for offices, retail, industrial and residential sectors.

To facilitate the implementation of these actions, the seminar participants encouraged Buenos Aires officials to build awareness about the linkages between globalization, urban land management and economic development. One important step would be to form a partnership with the private sector to develop a land market database of real estate transactions in the city. In addition, the participants identified the need for training courses on such topics as strategic planning; public-private partnerships; financing urban development and infrastructure; developing affordable housing; linking urban land management with economic development; and promoting urban revitalization and regeneration.

David E. Dowall is professor of city and regional planning at the University of California at Berkeley.