American Journal of Economics and Sociology launches a special issue in honour of Anne Haila (1953–2019)

The latest issue of the American Journal of Economics and Sociology (AJES), Volume 80, Issue 2, has just been published. This is not just another special issue. It is one specially put together in honour of Anne Haila, the first full professor of urban studies in Finland. Unlike previous special mentions such as, an obituary in the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, and a special issue in the Finnish Journal of Urban Studies, and my article in Land and Liberty, this special issue analyses the influences of Anne Haila. Contributors are brought together from around the world to share their urban land-related research papers and reflections on Anne Haila’s ideas, methodology, and core arguments.

Anne Haila in Bangkok, Thailand, January 2019 (Photograph by Chaitawat Boonjubun)

Many of these contributors knew Haila personally. Consider K.C. Ho, for instance. He knew Haila well, both personally and professionally. Some, like Josh Ryan-Collins, might have been a little distant, but they communicated with Haila about research approach and other professional questions related to urban economics and urban studies more generally. Elliott Sclar was connected to Anne Haila in multiple ways. Not only did he review Haila’s book in the Review of Radical Political Economics, but he was also a collaborator with Anne’s American ‘supervisor’, Matthew Edel, with whom Sclar co-wrote Shaky Palaces: Homeownership and Social Mobility in Boston’s Suburbanization and ‘The distribution of real estate value changes: Metropolitan Boston, 1870–1970’ published in the Journal of Urban Economics. At the University of Helsinki where Haila worked, too, many of her former colleagues and students (including me) have contributed to the issue. Therefore, these are well placed to reflect on the ‘continuing relevance of Anne Haila’s analysis of rent and power’, the title of the special issue.

Chaitawat Boonjubun (me), Haoxuan Sa, and Anne Haila in the Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting (AAG), New Orleans, April 2018 (Photograph by Chaitawat Boonjubun)

The issue begins with a foreword by Clifford W. Cobb, the Editor-in-Chief, indicating that the late Anne Haila ‘blurred the boundary between scholarship and activism.’ Next is the introduction where Franklin Obeng-Odoom discusses Henry George’s methodology in Haila’s work as ‘the Invisible Man’ in Haila’s land rent theory.

The foreword and the introduction also set the stage for the original contributions to the issue. Made up of 16 articles, the issue is the largest and most well-researched work on Haila’s political economy yet.

1) K. C. Ho’s article on land and Housing in Singapore builds on Haila’s concept of property state which describes how Singapore and Hong Kong have gained fiscal rent from leasing urban land, and especially in Singapore, how public land is treated as a public good.

2) Elliott Sclar examines the financialisation of transferable development rights (TDRs) in the central business district of New York City. Based on Haila’s approach to financialisation, he argues that zoning is used as a legal tool in facilitating land financialisation.

3) Bokyong Shin and Chaitawat Boonjubun pay attention to how the media in South Korea have contributed to the construction of the ‘land as a commodity’ notion and at the same time, promoted ‘the culture of property.’  Their findings reiterate that the property mind, or the people’s appetite for property, is socially constructed.

4) Yung Yau and Tin Choi Cheung’s article, based on the concept of property state, offers an investigation into how a public-private partnership model emphasising growth coalitions has been affected by a group of suburban landowners in Hong Kong.

5) Josh Ryan-Collins analyses the relationship between the private landed property (PLP) and the financial sector in the U.S., UK, and Australia. He points out that Haila was aware of problems that stem from land being used as a financial asset many years before the occurrence of the global financial crisis in 2008.

6) Yiming Wang and Jie Chen examine the ways in which the local state in Shanghai allows private investors to manage urban commons, which resulted in the socio-spatial exclusion of particular land users. This essay discusses the link between the ambiguous property rights and the dissipation of the commons.

7) Rafaelle Bertini and Abdallah Zouache investigate the relationship between fuzzy property rights in land and the agricultural sector in Middle Eastern and Northern African (MENA). The political aspects of property rights, land tenure, and the types of ownership are discussed.

8) Chaitawat Boonjubun, Anne Haila, and Jani Vuolteenaho offer an unconventional study of urban commons. This article unpacks a type of the commons which is faith-based, pro-poor, and non-Western embedded in Buddhist temple land in Thai cities. It points out that this type of urban commons can be an alternative to the privatization and financialisation of urban land.

9) Sefer Kahraman discusses the uses of religious waqf land in Bangkok. He argues that the value of waqf land solely derives from its use, and this type of land can be considered as a solution to the housing problem.

10) Haoxuan Sa examines and the role and the motives of a shareholding cooperative which is an economic organisation based on collectively owned land, formed by urban villagers in Chaoyang City, China. The results demonstrate that collective ownership did not lead to the tragedy of the commons, and social relations and ethical concerns can be deep-rooted in collective economic activities.

11) A.B. Assensoh and Yvette M. Alex-Assensoh investigate the link between reparations and the political economy of land. They looked at the reparations made to enslaved Africans in the form of ‘forty acres and a mule’ in the past. They argue that there are immediate reparations that the U.S. government must provide, in a modern form, to Black Americans who have been repeatedly affected by long-running racially biased, discriminatory policies in the 21st Century.

12) John Pullen’s article assesses the use of the government infrastructure investment dividend (GIID) method in distributing the financial profits from urban development projects to the government.

13). Franklin Obeng-Odoom discusses the limitations of the recent work on economic insanity of Richard Giles, a renowned Australian Georgist political economist.

14) Rini Rachmawati analyses how commoning urban land can prevent the threat of flooding and evictions. Her case studies include two public housing projects along the Code River in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

15) Franklin Obeng-Odoom examines the efforts of cities to replace oil with renewable energy by considering the socio-spatial relations within an ecological context. The case of Port Harcourt, Nigeria is discussed. He considers three interconnected concepts – rent theft, social costs, and just transition – and analyses actions that could bring about socio-ecological justice to cities.

16) Ulrich Duchrow provides a review of Franklin Obeng-Odoom’s recent book project entitled The Commons in an Age of Uncertainty: Decolonizing Nature, Economy, and Society. He points out that Obeng-Odoom’s work provides an alternative to the ‘Conventional Wisdom’ and the ‘Western left consensus’. The book focuses on commoning the land and how to achieve a just ecological political economy.

All these papers, particularly the ones by members of the Helsinki School of Critical Urban Studies, attempt to address the key questions that Academy Professor Anne Haila’s Urban Land Tenure Project, funded by the Academy of Finland, has focused on. To illustrate the point by zooming in on my own contribution, together with my co-authors, Anne Haila and Jani Vuolteenaho, our article analyses the uses of religious land by drawing on a case study of Buddhist temple land in urban Thailand. We investigated the ethical land-use decisions and social relations around the leased temple land. We found that this type of religious land which acts as a faith-based and pro-poor commons can offer a solution to resolve the urban land question and housing question. The idea of this study derived from a conversation that I had with Anne Haila in 2015 on how Buddhist temple land has been used. We were amazed after learnt that Thai law prohibits Buddhist temple land to be sold and the temples have obtained the land  primarily from donations. This stimulated her to begin a preliminary study in Thai cities in early 2016. I believe that this study was an initial step of her research on real-world cases of land (still) being used just for living and altruistic activities, which is part of the Land Tenure Project. As a matter of fact, in August 2019, one month before Anne Haila’s passing, she and I conducted our fieldwork in Ayutthaya, the old capital of Thailand. This appeared to be her last visit to Thailand.

Papers, in the special issue, by the members of the Helsinki School of Critical Urban Studies have been well-received already by the international community of scholars. These papers (including mine) will be virtually presented at the International Conference on Sociology of Urban and Regional Development of the RC 21, in the ‘Rent-seeking: the new game in town. The legacy of Anne Haila (1953-2019)’ session, organised by Barbara Pizzo, Serena Vicari Haddock, and Marisol Garcia, on 15th July 2021.

I believe that Anne Haila would have been delighted to know, through this AJES special issue, how much her work has inspired, and will continue to inspire, urban scholars and thinkers around the world.

Overall, this special issue makes a significant contribution to AJES, to Georgist political economy, to the Academy of Finland, to social policy, and to critical urban studies.


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:

Helsingin Sanomat (2020). Finland’s Corona Virus Status. Available from:

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: