Cities are driven by and depend on urban land markets, whether formal or informal. A city's urban land market is both a barometer of its success and of its problems. In South Africa, where most urban residents do not enjoy access to safe and secure urban land, for living or working, the way in which the market in urban land operates is a crucially important determinant of how easily poor citizens can improve their circumstances.
In South African cities and towns, formal access to urban land is severely skewed towards a privileged minority. Local government is duty-bound to reverse inequality and poverty. It is thus essential that municipal officials are able and willing to use every tool at their disposal to manage urban land to achieve pro-poor outcomes wherever possible. In a recently commissioned guide for municipal practitioners on managing urban land, which brings together various stream of our work over the last four years, Urban LandMark identifies specific ways in which officials can approach their day-to-day urban land management business differently.
The guide is designed to directly address many aspects of the urban challenge. Land is at the heart of development. Access to land is a foundational aspect of poverty alleviation and enabling communities to fully participate in urban life. Secure tenure means that people can confidently invest in their own longer term urban futures. The way land uses are planned and managed shapes how cities and towns grow, and whether they become places which more equally benefit all their citizens.
Moreover, municipalities can become much more financially stable and invest more in urban regeneration by building an effective property tax base. They can go even further by mobilising their infrastructure investment to create value for the private sector, and then recover some of that value to continue with the regeneration effort. In many ways, municipalities depend for their existence on the urban land market and on surpluses generated by the private sector and urban residents in general. But they also have a responsibility to ensure that the most vulnerable people living in cities are included in the gains which cities offer. Municipalities do this by using the regulatory and planning tools at their disposal, because a market left to its own devices becomes exclusive and unequal whatever the country or sector where it operates.
Different municipal departments can work together with a shared vision to achieve this. These creative ways of managing land can lead to pro-poor, inclusive urban development and at the same time positively engage and incentivise the private sector to become active partners in developmental efforts. The key to all of this is to understand how markets work (property markets, land markets, rental markets and even 'informal' markets) and based on this understanding, to use the many tools available to more actively manage urban land. Understanding and monitoring property and other markets operating in cities is core to the business of municipalities. If the skills and systems are built to do this better, it places municipal officials in a much stronger position when it comes to negotiating with the many stakeholders who build and rebuild cities and towns.
That is what this guide is about. With clear examples and available tools, the guide shows what you can practically do to manage urban land to achieve pro-poor urban development. The guide does not cover every aspect of urban land management carried out by municipal officials, nor does it prescribe the only ways in which pro-poor outcomes can be achieved. But it does provide encouragement to municipal officials to use their creativity and knowledge to identify tools and techniques that suit the particular needs of their municipality.
Urban LandMark hopes that this guide will prove to be a catalyst for ongoing efforts by local government, supported by national and provincial government, to develop and strengthen new ways of managing urban land. In time these efforts may well identify opportunities for legal and policy reform, and Urban LandMark hopes to be in a position to support the realisation of those opportunities.