What is Urban about the COVID-19 Outbreak?

Author: Chaitawat Boonjubun. 23rd March 2020.

‘Everything will be alright’. Photo: Chaitawat Boonjubun
People are stocking up on food at a supermarket in Espoo, Finland. Photo: Marko Rossi

In summer 2018, a medical doctor phoned me to discuss the issue of the city and public health. As he knew from a friend of mine that I was studying for a doctoral degree concerning urban studies, he asked me, ‘What is urban about public health?’ In other words, what are the linkages between ‘urban’ and public health? Arguably, one of the most convenient ways to define ‘urban’ is by distinguishing ‘urban’ from ‘rural’.  In the case of Thailand, according to this doctor, statistical data regarding the number of patients with diabetes, heart disease, for example, did not show much difference between those who live in urban and rural settings. The doctor and I agreed that statistics alone seemed to be a challenge to persuade policymakers to draw up special measures in dealing with urban health issues. We thus discussed a wide range of factors that would make ‘urban health’ differ from ‘rural health’ including density, size of the population, health care facilities and services, governance, and the way of life. It is important to note that this discussion focused solely on the case of non-infectious diseases.

Keil and Ali, in their essay ‘Governing the Sick City: Urban Governance in the Age of Emerging Infectious Disease’ (2007: 848), published in Antipode, argue that the 2003 SARS outbreak was a result of ‘increased connectivity’ in the globalised world influenced by transportation technologies. They pointed out that urban areas were more vulnerable to infectious diseases due to high-density and accelerated land use. Furthermore, especially because of the ‘globality’ of cities, it was difficult to contain the outbreak within a city and by merely local health authorities.

In the wake of the on-going novel coronavirus outbreak, large cities have been hit harder than smaller cities in terms of: the number of affected citizens, for example, IS 438 cases in Uusimaa (including Helsinki) out of the total of 686 across Finland (Helsingin Sanomat, 23 March 2020) and 297 affected people in Bangkok Metropolitan Area out of 721 cases throughout Thailand (Department of Disease Control, 23 March 2020); the healthcare system becoming overload when the affected cases continue to rise abruptly; the severe impact of the outbreak on the city’s economy and employment as the majority of companies, stores, shops, and restaurants have shut down and workers have been laid off; and, the loss of urban life since public places are closed down and mobility is restricted. There are also unintended consequences, both negative and positive: a rural ‘exodus’ launched by the present situation might cause the city dwellers to carry the infectious disease with them to rural areas where health facilities are insufficient, but cities may become less polluted due to less commercial and industrial activities.

By looking at current official measures and orders used in many cities to tackle the outbreak, it shows complex power relations of jurisdictional responsibilities between state and city government/municipality in preventing, treating, and curing the disease. In most cases, cities/municipalities cannot implement emergency laws by themselves if a state of emergency has not yet been issued by the central government. Also, it is usually the role of state authorities (and of cities/municipalities for some cases) to redress the economic effects of the outbreak, for instance, to suspend mortgage and rent payments or to reduce electricity and water fees. This is the time for states and cities/municipalities to show their consolidation, and at once to place the lives of citizens above the economic growth of the city. 



Department of Disease Control, Thailand (2020). Coronavirus Situation. Available from: http://covid19.ddc.moph.go.th/

Helsingin Sanomat (2020). Finland’s Corona Virus Status. Available from: https://korona.kans.io/?language=en.

Keil, R., & Ali, H. (2007). Governing the Sick City: Urban Governance in the Age of Emerging Infectious Disease. Antipode, 39(5), 846-873. Available from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1467-8330.2007.00555.x

Alternatives: The Anne Haila Urban Studies Symposium 2020

Date: 30th January, 2020, at 13:15 – 17:30,
Venue: Suomen Laki Hall, Porthania (1 st floor), University of Helsinki (address: Yliopistonkatu 3)

Academy Professor Anne Haila (1953–2019) was the first professor of Urban Studies in Finland. She was an internationally renowned scholar and a leading thinker in her field. Her work on land, rent, real estate and housing issues spanned decades. Anne was widely regarded as the land rent theorist par excellence. Her book Urban Land Rent is a piercing analysis of the role of property and land rent in urbanization and has become an instant classic in Urban Studies. Unexpectedly, Professor Haila passed away on September 21st 2019, bringing her ascending career to a close all too early.

To commemorate Anne’s ground-breaking academic oeuvre, we are proud to announce the first annual Alternatives symposium, to be held on 30th January 2020.

Anne’s legacy resides on the pages of her publications that continue to inspire scholars from all around the world, reaping citations and yielding research ideas towards the critical understanding of how our urbanized world works. Moreover, Anne’s memory lives in the minds of the hundreds of students she taught throughout her career. She also left as a legacy a dynamic collective of urban scholars called The Helsinki School of Critical Urban Studies. We are an international group of urban scholars based at the University of Helsinki, inspired by the critical turn in urban scholarship. Many of us continue to conduct our research in Anne Haila’s Academy Professorship project Alternatives to Private Land Tenure (or simply “Alternatives”).  

The inaugural Alternatives Symposium hosts three lectures by invited international, leading urban scholars whose work is centered on exploring land, rent, real estate, financialization, housing and homelessness and tie in with the pursuits of the Alternatives project.


Professor Brett Christophers, Uppsala University: “After ‘The New Enclosure’” 

In this talk I will use Anne Haila’s work and thinking as a prism through which to discuss my recent book on the mass privatization of land in Britain, ‘The New Enclosure’. This privatization has contributed to turning Britain into a rentier-capitalist nation, one increasingly scarred by social dislocations directly attributable to that privatization. Anne’s primary question about the current conjuncture in Britain would, I think, have been: What alternatives to dominant commodified forms of land ownership and use exist, and should be politically pursued? This is the question I want to reflect on in the talk.

Professor Don Mitchell, Uppsala University: “Mean Streets Metastasized: Rent, Real Estate, and Homelessness after the Urban Revolution”

A reconceptualization of abstract space and understanding it through key themes vital in Anne Haila’s work – rent and real estate – will allow us to understand homelessness in new ways: not as a condition of individuals (as dominant ideology understands it), and not (merely) as a condition of houselessness (as much critical theory understands it), but a pre-condition of capital accumulation in the urban age.

Professor Mi Shih, Rutgers University:Value Capture by Land Financialization: Planning Police Power, Private Property Ownership, and Speculative Urbanism in Taiwan”

Land value capture is often lauded as planners’ clever leverage of market forces to return private gains to the public. Implicit in the normative argument for value capture is the perception that the real estate market is a sphere separate from planning, which holds a mandate and the expertise to rein in the former’s profit-driven motives. In this talk, I challenge this apolitical thinking of value capture. I do so by situating Taiwan’s “zonal expropriation” (quduan zhengshou), a variant of land readjustment used in Europe and Asia, in the institutionalization of land financialization. I argue that land value capture is largely predicated on a symbiotic relationship between the local government and the real estate market. There is nothing inherently public in value capture.


13:15-13:25 Opening words
13:25-14:30 Mi Shih (Rutgers University): Value Capture by Land Financialization: Planning Police Power, Private Property Ownership, and Speculative Urbanism in Taiwan
14:30-15:30 Brett Christophers (Uppsala University): After ‘The New Enclosure’
15:30-16:00 Coffee break
16:00-17:00 Don Mitchell (Uppsala University): Mean Streets Metastasized: Rent, Real Estate, and
Homelessness after the Urban Revolution
17:00-17:30 Closing words and general discussion




On behalf of the Helsinki School of Critical Urban Studies,

Franklin Obeng-Odoom

Jani Vuolteenaho

Mika Hyötyläinen

Remembering Anne:






Seminar 17.1.2020: Effect of the city’s intervention on online public engagement: A case study of participatory budgeting using stochastic actor-oriented models

Despite the burgeoning literature on online deliberation, few studies have empirically examined the effectiveness of policy design and behavior intervention. Most previous studies tend to focus on new technology and evaluate the quality of deliberation and opinion change based on interviews, surveys, and experiments. However, the author argues that the role of governments is still crucial regardless of technology, and attention needs to be paid to research how citizens actually engage in online deliberative settings. Against the backdrop, the author will present preliminary results of a case study that aims to analyze the effect of interventions on online engagement. The analysis selected a case of Omastadi, a pilot participatory budgeting project initiated by the City of Helsinki that used a digital platform in which citizens proposed and developed ideas into feasible plans in collaboration with citizens and experts. The raw data were collected by parsing the web pages of all proposals and plans, then reconstructed into longitudinal network data. The relationship between interventions and significant change of engagement will be analyzed through stochastic actor-oriented models.

Time: 17.1.2020 at 13:15-14:45, Metsätalo (Unioninkatu 40) Sali 29

Continue reading “Seminar 17.1.2020: Effect of the city’s intervention on online public engagement: A case study of participatory budgeting using stochastic actor-oriented models”

Obituary, Anne Haila

Anne Haila ( 1953  – 2019), ‘the most important Georgist in the World’, dies at 66.

Credit: Veikko Somerpuro / University of Helsinki

She loved to read, reflect, and recount what she had read. Research had to be dialectical or it was mediocre. She was a warrior for Southern Knowledge, but not all versions of it. Although she was on top of the state-of-the-art in the social sciences and the expansive breadth of research approaches in the social sciences, for her, no social science enquiry was complete without a serious engagement with land – not just as a thing, but its rent. No, she was not a physiocrat, even if she was fond of the Agricultural University of Norway where she worked from 1997 to 1998. Her focus was cities. Indeed, as one of only a few Academy Professors in Finland, a Finnish way of saying ‘Distinguished Professor’, or the crème de la crème of the Finnish professoriate, she was more a disciple of Henry George and Sun Yat-sen than she was of Francois Quesnay, Charles Richard de Butre, or any of the French physiocrats. In Finland, she attributed the influences on her to Pekka V. Virtanen who assured her of the uniqueness of land and to Lauri af Heurlin ‘who released the issue of land rent from the academic curfew imposed upon it’.

Continue reading “Obituary, Anne Haila”

Divided by Policy

Urban Inequality in Finland

Master of Social Sciences Mika Hyötyläinen defended his doctoral dissertation, titled Divided by Policy – Urban Inequality in Finland at the University of Helsinki on 23.3.2019. The opponent was Professor Robert Beauregard of Columbia University, New York. This is the transcript of the opening lecture, lectio praecursoria, given by Mika, who now as post-doctoral researcher continues exploring Alternatives

Continue reading “Divided by Policy”

Religion, Commons and the Urban Question

Please spread awareness for this event and take part in!

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For more information about the talk, please visit the website at https://ari.nus.edu.sg/events/religion-commons-and-urban-question/

Source of image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Siivousp%C3%A4iv%C3%A4.jpg

Upcoming seminar: Religion, Commons and the Urban Question

Title:  Religion, Commons and the Urban Question
Date: 11 Jun 2019
Time: 16:00 – 17:30
Venue: AS8, Level 4, Seminar Room 04-04
10 Kent Ridge Crescent, Singapore 119260
National University of Singapore @ KRC


In this seminar we will discuss the importance of land tenure in producing just and liveable cities. Particularly we are interested in non-commodified land and the land that is managed by residents or managed by faith-based organisations (Christian Church, Buddhist temples and waqf land). The question we ask, are these tenure types better than private ownership in reducing urban inequalities, preventing land speculation, stopping gentrification, making possible producing affordable housing, and supporting the community. We will present some preliminary results of our project investigating Alternatives to private landownership.

About the Speakers

Anne Haila is Academy Professor and Professor of Urban Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Helsinki, Finland. From 1994 to 1996 she was Senior Fellow at Faculty of Architecture and Building, National University of Singapore. In recent years, her research has focussed on property rights, property markets and the role of state intervention in regulating property market. Cases of her research have been particularly Singapore, Finland, China and Hong Kong. Among her publications are: Urban Land Rent: Singapore as a Property State, Wiley Blackwell 2016, The market as the new emperor, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 2007, Real estate in global cities: Singapore and Hong Kong as property states, Urban Studies, 2000, and Four types of investment in land and property, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 1991.

Mika Hyötyläinen’s doctoral thesis, Divided by Policy: Urban Inequality in Finland, investigates the roles of land and housing policies in the material and symbolic inequalities of Finnish cities. His scholarly interests reside in the realm of critical urban studies. gentrification, territorial stigmatization, urban commons and land and housing policies are some of the topics Mika explores.

Sefer Kahraman is a researcher in Urban Studies at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Helsinki. His thesis discusses urban transit transformations in Chiang Mai, Thailand. His education in comparative urban studies focuses on the land question and the scholarly discussion around Southeast Asia. His interests include different property ownership understandings and practices based on cultural values, religion and language in the Global South.


Admission is free. We would greatly appreciate if you click on the “Register” button above to RSVP.


Minghua TAY

Upcoming session: Alternatives to Private Landownership 1: Global South Perspectives

This post is to announce the special session “Alternatives to Private Landownership 1: Global South Perspectives” in the upcoming American Association of Geographers Annual Meeting 2019 in Washington D.C.


The mantra of privatization repeated for years and the unfortunately ineffectual criticism against land grabbing have left other than private land tenure forms in the shadow. This session discusses such other tenure types: for example, unregistered land, collectively owned land, communal land, state land and municipal land. The question asked is how these non-private forms of land tenure can resolve urban problems. Previous studies have focused on rural land, regarded informal land rights as causing urban problems, and ignored the rights that are specific to cities, for instance, development rights. We are interested in filling these research gaps and overcome false prejudices and assumptions. We call studies on non-private urban land tenure investigating, for example, the effects and functions of non-private urban land tenure; methods of studying non-private urban land; scholars and intellectual traditions neglected but who have developed theories, approaches and visions of non-private ownership; alternatives to the theories of the highest and best use of land. Examples of studies this session calls are the following: what are the benefits of informal land rights in kampongs in Southeast Asia; how Chinese villagers who own the land collectively make decisions on the use of their land; are community land trusts or community gardens a solution; have the state and municipalities began treating the land they own as a financial asset; why Nordic welfare states and cities prioritize efficiency to equity in their land policies? The studies can concern cities in the Global South as well as in the Global North.

Link: https://aag.secure-abstracts.com/AAG%20Annual%20Meeting%202019/sessions-gallery/23263

Alternatives to private landownership 1: Global South Perspectives

Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Washington 4, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Organizers: Anne Haila
Chairs: Mika Hyotylainen


Haoxuan Sa, University of HelsinkiWhat made villagers in Xiaojia giving up farming and became developers
Yu Zhang, School of Urban Planning and Design, Peking University, De Tong, School of Urban Planning and Design, Peking University, Ian MacLachlan, School of Urban Planning and Design, Peking UniversityFrom Land Value Capture to Value Sharing: evidence from the new town construction in China
Franklin Obeng-Odoom, University of Helsinki, Further Thoughts on Valuing unregistered urban land in Indonesia
Tauran Tauran, University of HelsinkiKampung residents left without the registration of their land: Land registration in Surabaya

Mi Shih, Rutgers University

Mi Shih joined the faculty of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy in 2014 as an assistant professor. Prior to this appointment, she served as an assistant professor in the Human Geography and Planning Program at the University of Alberta, Canada. Between 2011 and 2013, she worked as a postdoctoral research fellow in the China Research Centre at the University of Technology, Sydney, Australia. She received her Ph.D. in Planning and Public Policy from Rutgers University in 2010. Her main research focus is on understanding the role of urban planning in shaping Chinese cities and the everyday lives of Chinese citizens in the post-reform era. Her research interest has expanded from an early focus on Shanghai to a broader perspective encompassing a number of cities in both China and Taiwan.
Link: https://bloustein.rutgers.edu/shih/


Upcoming session: Alternatives to private landownership 2: Western Perspectives

This post is to announce the special session “Alternatives to private landownership 2: Western Perspectives” in the upcoming American Association of Geographers Annual Meeting 2019 in  Washington D.C.

Link: https://aag.secure-abstracts.com/AAG%20Annual%20Meeting%202019/sessions-gallery/24445

Alternatives to private landownership 2: Western Perspectives

Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: Washington 4, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Organizers: Anne Haila
Chairs: Sefer Kahraman


Mika Hyotylainen, University of HelsinkiState as a real estate speculator
Chaitawat Boonjubun, University of HelsinkiManaging Public Premises for Street Food Vending in Helsinki
Joseph Pierce, University of Oklahoma, Richard Kruger, Clark University, Azadeh Hadizadeh Esfahani, Clark University, Olivia Williams, Independent Scholar, James DeFilippis, Rutgers University, Deborah G Martin, Clark UniversityHow Community Land Trusts expose key consensual fictions of urban property

Kenton Card, University of California – Los Angeles

Kenton Card is a PhD Student in the Department of Urban Planning at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is currently an Editor of Critical Planning Journal and a Student Advisor to the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin. Kenton’s current research questions the implications of various legal and ownership configurations of housing and land within a comparative urban political economic framework.
Link: https://luskin.ucla.edu/person/kenton-card/




Keskustelkaamme julkisen omaisuuden yhtiöittämisestä ennen kuin on liian myöhäistä

Kaupunkiympäristön muutos huomataan usein vasta kun on liian myöhäistä. Muutokseen johtaneihin päätöksiin ei osata ajoissa kiinnittää huomiota, jos niillä ei näytä olevan mitään tekemistä kaupunkielämän kanssa. Tällainen kauaskantoinen kaupunkien rakennettua ympäristöä muuttava päätös on Valtion kiinteistöliikelaitoksen Senaatti kiinteistöjen tytäryhtiön, Senaatin Asema-alueet Oy:n perustaminen. Yhtiö aloitti toimintansa vuoden 2019 alussa.

Uuden yhtiön tehtävänä on hallinnoida junaliikenteen asema-alueita, joita on 22:lla paikkakunnalla. Senaatin Asema-alueet Oy ilmoittaa tavoitteekseen asema-alueiden kehittämisen yhdessä kuntien kanssa ja lopulta asema-alueiden myymisen.

Liikenteen solmukohdissa sijaitsevat asema-alueet ovat ilmastonmuutoksen edetessä ja joukkoliikenteen suosion kasvaessa entistä halutuimpia asuinpaikkoja ja kannattavia kaupallisen toiminnan paikkoja. On erinomaista, että valtio lupaa kehittää alueita yhdessä kuntien kanssa. Mutta myynti arveluttaa.

Myydessään kehitetyt asema-alueet, valtio luopuu vuokratuloista, jotka liikenteen solmukohdissa ovat huomattavat. Myydessään valtio menettää mahdollisuuden vaikuttaa alueen tulevaan kehitykseen. Mikäli niin huonosti kävisi, että asema-alueet myytäisiin ulkomaiselle yksityiselle pääomasijoitusyhtiölle, vuokratulot ja arvonnousu valuisivat ulkomaille. Nykyisille vuokralaisille ulkomainen pääomasijoitusyhtiö omistajana todennäköisesti merkitsisi vuokrien nousua.

Yksityisillä pääomasijoitusyhtiöllä ja pörssissä noteeratuilla kiinteistösijoitusyhtiöillä asuinkiinteistöjen omistajina on surullinen historia. Kohtuuhintaisten asuntojen tukeminen tai rakentaminen ei kuulu niiden toimintaan. Niiden tavoitteena on voiton tekeminen. Voittoa voi tehdä esimerkiksi myymällä asuntolainat edelleen, nostaa lainojen korkoja sekä vuokria. Mikäli hyvin kävisi entiset vararikkoon joutuneet asunnonomistajat pääsisivät uuden omistajan vuokralaisiksi.

Kiinteän omaisuuden yhtiöittäminen on yleensä ensimmäinen askel. Seuraavaksi uusi yhtiö päättää ottaa toimintansa tavoitteeksi tuoton maksimoinnin ja jossakin vaiheessa sijoittajan tehdessä houkuttelevan tarjouksen, myynti on helppo perustella veronmaksajien edulla.

Uuden yhtiön verkkosivuilla kerrotaan avoimesti; “Asema-alueiden kehittäminen luo uusia mahdollisuuksia sekä paikalliselle liiketoiminnalle että hankkeiden toteuttajille ja sijoittajille.” Keitä ovat nämä toteuttajat ja sijoittajat, sitä ei kerrota. Jos asema-alueiden myynti on uuden yhtiön tavoitteena, asema-alueita ei todennäköisesti kehitetä käytön hyödyllisuus tavoitteena, vaan mahdollisimman suurta voittoa myynnistä tavoitellen. Seuraukset eivät näytä kiinnostavan yhtiötä, jonka verkkosivut pikemminkin paljastavat, että sotaan on lähdetty soitellen: “Tässä vaiheessa on aikaista miettiä, mitä tapahtuu, kun kaikki yhtiön kiinteistöomaisuus on myyty.”


Mika Hyötyläinen ja Anne Haila