The Spatial Politics of Land: A Comparative Perspective

This course focuses on the deeply contested and political processes of land-use planning, i.e. of allocating land amongst different, often competing uses, and the distributional outcomes of these decisions. Land-use allocations are fraught with conflicts and trade-offs, and some would argue that these allocative decisions form the very bread-and-butter of urban planning. In this course, we bring the analytic of space back into these land-use debates, and ask how a spatial analysis can deepen our understanding of, and intervention in, land-use planning. The course is organized around key spatial concepts – such as territory, location theory and land rents, global flows, scale, density – that highlight not just the politics of land, but the spatial politics of land.

The course has three main objectives. First, it will enable students to grasp the inherently political nature of land-use planning, and to cultivate their own value-positions on these debates. Second, we will explore how the spatial analytic underlies the most common and mundane planning tasks and practices, and what is to be gained for both planning researchers and practitioners in making these implicit spatial assumptions explicit. Third, the readings and discussions will bring into conversation the space/land question in Western/non-Western and already urbanized/rapidly urbanizing countries. This comparative gesture will support students in understanding how land-use ideas and practices are transposed across different transnational contexts.

The course is in a seminar format, with evaluations based on two exercises (one linked to practice, and the other research-oriented) and class participation. It has no prerequisites and is open to graduate students across different disciplines.