The future of public real estate: toward a global commodification of the urban public realm?

The session seeks to investigate the transformation of public real estate (lands and buildings) across the Global Souths and Norths. Public authorities are among the largest urban property owners: states, local governments, and other public bodies hold substantial shares of the urban land and built environment. However, several evolutions of the management of public real estate seem to point toward global processes of capitalization, financialization, and assetization. First, urban mega-projects and entrepreneurial urban policies often rely on the massive redevelopment and privatization of public properties (e.g. military, railway, and port areas). Second, international, regional, and national organisations increasingly target public property assets as an underexploited source of revenues, and foster agendas for property “rationalisation” and externalization. Third, in austerity reforms, public properties are treated as assets and are put on the market with the aim of reducing public deficits and debts. In this context, this session questions the transformation of the management of urban public properties, in relation with their commodification and with asset-based processes of capital accumulation. 

Seeking to foster comparative research and debate about the transformation of urban public real estate (lands and buildings), the session welcomes papers that engage with the drivers, the outcomes, the politics and the social and political struggles over:  

  • The evolution of urban property management by public bodies;
  • Urban redevelopment projects and more elusive processes that change the use and the ownership of public lands and buildings;
  • The social movements that develop temporary uses and reclaim these lands and buildings as public or common;  
  • The effects brought by these transformations in terms of socio-spatial fragmentation, inequalities, and justice.

Diversity in papers’ methodology and geographical contexts as well as empirically based and comparative research are more than welcomed. 

 The session engages with Global Urban Justice as it sheds light on a structuring but overlooked feature of the urban realm across the world, namely public real estate and its evolutions. The session tests the hypothesis of commodification as a major transformation in different urban contexts. Theoretically, this advances our general understanding of the interplay between urban justice and urban capitalisms.

Francesca Artioli, Ecole d’Urbanisme de Paris/Lab’Urba

Félix Adisson, Politecnico di Milano,