Governing the Metropolis - Land and Housing

Berit Nordahl
Department of Landscape Architecture and Spatial Planning
Norwegian University of Life Science
Aas, Norway

Willem Korthals Altes
Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment
Delft University of Technology
Delft, The Netherlands

Ivan Tosics
Metropolitan Research Institute

Central themes
This Working Group has been established informally in 2019, formally in 2022, as the merger of two earlier Working Groups: ‘Metropolitan Dynamics: urban change, markets and governance’ and ‘Land markets and Housing policy’. We are now joining forces to strengthen to encapsulate metropolitan dynamics into our understanding of land markets and land ownership in housing, and to fertilise the understanding of metropolitan dynamics with deeper insight in land issues.

The analysis of housing policies and policies for land for housing must take the metropolitan context into account. On the one side, the dynamics of metropolitan areas involve powerful mechanisms of price formation, spatial distribution, wealth distribution and variations in liveability and social cohesion. On the other side metropolitan areas are also breeding ground for new initiatives and the rethinking of established policies and habits. All over Europe we see new initiatives within the area of housing and land use.

Our ambition with this working group is to establish an arena for scholarly and practical discussions which depart on and take account of metropolitan dynamics. Under this umbrella we welcome papers on metropolitan housing policy initiatives across Europe, papers on land market dynamics and papers addressing land markets institutions, policy, actors, and tools.

Our aim is to conduct multi-disciplinary analysis, how housing processes can be steered with governance and spatial planning tools in urban areas – not necessarily on metropolitan area level but giving priority to the spatial dimension.

Activities in 2022
The working group organized a workshop in the Barcelona conference. There were 10 papers presented in 4 sessions. The  presentations concentrated on three different but interrelated topics.
1: Several papers addressed policies for affordable housing provision in a variety of contexts. Some papers illuminated practices and challenges in China. Other papers discussed the ongoing change of policy in the Nordic countries to include affordable houses in urban (re) developments. This session also included a paper on how the design of state funding system for affordable houses affects behaviour of the local level government.
2: The second topic regarded migration and housing preferences. We learned about internal migration within countries, the urban-rural divide and how households balance very different concerns and information sources in decision-making concerning where to reside.
3: Attention was also directed to the complexity of urban densification processes and the contradiction that densification and regeneration often exclude large groups of residents and might actually increase segregation.
Both in suburbs and in inner city areas new questions emerge regarding the accessibility to services and the accessibility to housing. We should continue our research on these pressures in today’s cities.

Future plans and activities
Workshop at Lodz2023 conference
The theme for the ENHR Lodz conference in 2023 – urban revitalization – has a distinct spatial dimension and we encourage papers for our workshop that discuss redevelopment and revitalization in the context of planning and the interaction between housing policy and planning practice.
At the Lodz conference the coordinators want to share thoughts about an edited book on the role of metropolitan governance and land in housing policies and markets. The topic is increasingly important as cites continue to grow – and sprawl must be avoided. We welcome papers on policy discussion and good practice.

Policy implications


Short history of the predecessor Working Groups
Metropolitan dynamics: urban change, markets and governance

The working group “Metropolitan dynamics: urban change, market and governance” was established in 2005 by Ronald van Kempen and Iván Tosics, with the aim to deal with the spatial dimensions of housing policies. Changes in housing, whether through new construction, refurbishment, demolition, tenure change, etc. have always also a spatial dimension, through which housing can be considered as a tool to address urban development challenges (densification, suburbanization) and social problems (affordability, homelessness, segregation) through spatially defined strategies.

Taking this spatial aspect into consideration, the WG aspired on multi-disciplinary analysis, how housing processes can be steered with governance and spatial planning tools in urban areas – from the neighbourhood through the city till the metropolitan area level. The WG also also recognised that ‘housing’ is much influenced by other policies and sectors, such as planning, transport, environment, local government services and financing, financial regulation, welfare and taxation.

A special interest area of the WG was the operation of local housing markets in the functional urban area. The territories around the core city, from where city jobs are accessible by daily commuting, play special role in the urban housing market, both on the higher (rich suburbs) and on the lower end of the housing hierarchy (transitory areas for those who cannot afford housing within the city). On this metropolitan scale many critical challenges can be handled: urban sprawl and unsustainability, affordability and accessibility, infrastructure and services, segregation or fiscal imbalances. A widespread failure to match housing supply and demand in terms of location, quantity or type of housing may be attributable to problems at this scale.

Across a range of countries, change and reform is bringing a new focus to this metropolitan scale, whether from downward devolution to city regions or upward consolidation of local government, often in a climate of fiscal stress. Housing is an important aspect to analyze the relationship between cities and their urban regions, showing substantial changes over time, marked by growth (urbanization) or decline (desurbanization) of the whole area, or by processes of inter-regional restructuring (suburbanization or re-urbanization). The changes, either gradual or more sudden, influence to a great extent the functioning of the housing market within these urban regions and have differential effects on different parts of that region (also within different neighbourhoods in a city). Causes of changes can usually be found in macro-developments, such as economic growth/decline, migration/demographics, changes in incomes and preferences and, at least in some countries, also in specific policies on different spatial scales.

Since 2005 the WG Metropolitan dynamics was present in all ENHR conferences.

Land markets and housing policy
This WG has focused on the role of land in housing policy, housing supply and the role land play in affordable housing. We have organised discussions on these topics on every ENHR conference since 2007. In 2014 we organised a special issue on affordable housing Journal of Housing and Built Environment

The WP rested on the notion that when scholars want to understand the mechanism behind the supply of new houses – they should look to the land policy and the workings of land markets.

We see land policy as crucial for where new houses locate; what households they are designed for, and why they come in the numbers they do. Whether new houses come as infill in established neighbourhoods, on a greenfield, on reclaimed land, or on land that used to host industry and logistics depends on the local governments’ land use policy. In some countries, the land policy and its link to development control even allow local governments to decide form of tenure for the new houses.

How land value changes as cities grow have been at the core within geographical economics for decades. Land markets and housing research comprise micro and macro dynamics in land markets. There is now a new series of works trying to disclose how developers utilise changes in land values for business purposes and to model developers’ behaviours to ensure highest and best use of lands as cities grow. Thus, in liberal economies, the understanding of housing supply mechanisms must integrate land markets.

The link between land markets and housing policy comprises the direct impact of institutions and other governing mechanisms on land market dynamics. Systems for capturing urban land value-rise are one example: when cities grow, and land value rises some countries have mechanisms allowing the public to capture some of this value increase. Likewise, if planning allows landowners to change land use into (much) more profitable usage, local authorities may in some countries extract this value and use it for different purposes. Studies of land markets therefore include comparing institutions and governance efforts. 

Last but not least, land markets and property rights regimes are important for citizens’ welfare. Security of tenure is often taken for granted in Western European countries. In the global south, this is not the case, and some of the states in former Eastern Europe struggle with the aftermath of nationalisation of property rights under communist regimes: when capitalism and free market came, property rights were restored, but often at very high costs for current residents.

Insight in land market dynamics, land policy and land institutions, include economic, technical and policy oriented topics. They regard how capital flow into housing, how public spaces and infrastructure in new developments are financed and how affordability is an aspect in the supply of new houses in some countries and not in others.

The working group was initiated by Professor George de Kam (Radboud University, who is currently professor emeritus at University of Groningen) and has been coordinated jointly by him, Professor William Korthals Altes (Delft University of Technology) and Research Professor Berit Irene Nordahl, Oslo Metropolitan University (OsloMet). Danielle Groetelaers (Delft University of Technology) has also been active in coordinating the working group for some years.

We are now joining forces with the WG on Metropolitan dynamics: urban change, market and governance to strengthen to encapsulate metropolitan dynamics into our understanding of land markets and land ownership in housing, and to fertilise the understanding of metropolitan dynamics with deeper insight in land issues.