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.


COVID-19: Dying for Sustainability?

The current pandemic might temporarily slow down environmentally destructive economic growth. However, claiming that we are dying for sustainability is dangerous. The global sustainability crisis is not just driven by uneconomic growth but also increasing global inequality and social stratification.


Suggesting that COVID-19 is a pathway to sustainability is tempting. Transnational oil corporations have halted production. Oil prices have tumbled. Plans for new oil explorations have been halted. Shale gas companies are folding up. Air travel has plummeted. So has road travel. Consequently, emission levels have dropped. Skies have cleared. Rare and remote species of animals appear to be back in sight. As recently demonstrated elsewhere, some of this optimism is based on questionable information. Others can be questioned for comparing long-term socio-ecological change with short-term outcomes of a pandemic.

Still, humanity seems to have rediscovered its sacrosanct relationship with nature. The ramifications are wide-ranging. Some employers now recognise that work can be done from home. With so many virtual conferences now taking place, it appears that international travel is not so much needed. Maybe not so many people are needed either. Australian philosopher, Peter Singer, welcomes the death of so many old people who are no longer productive. Perhaps the reduction in unsustainable population growth could also be welcome. A world that is small and serene has come.

Is this a plausible pathway to start the journey described in The Limits to Growth, first published in 1972? The update of that work suggests that whatever the pathway, we must have limits to growth. That is evidently the argument made by political economists such as Ezra Mishan who coined the name ‘growthmania’ in The Costs of Economic Growth, published about a decade before The Limits to Growth.

Growthmania has become even more problematic in recent times.From this perspective, only a pandemic, a major rapture like COVID-19, can disrupt the path of unsustainable growth. Humanity appears to be dying for sustainability.

Over the years, however, the critique of the degrowth movement, suggests that the story is not as simple. The current socioecological crises are far more complex. Uneconomic growth, as Herman Daly calls it, is only one of them.

Limits to Inequality

Inequality is, perhaps, even more fundamental to the sustainability crisis. For the Global South, addressing inequalities has been the central sustainability challenge. This point was echoed in the famous Brundtland Report which declared that “This inequality is the planet’s main ‘environmental’ problem’”. The report promoted ‘sustainable development’ as an antidote. Yet, this idea was, in effect, sustainable economic growth. Such contradiction in ambitions can be seen in the current SDGs as well.

Growthism has taken a strong resurgence. Critics have, consequently, blamed the pursuit of sustainable development as the primary reason. Not only has sustainable development come to erode, corrupt and dilute the lofty ideals of ‘limits to growth’; the argument goes, it has also expanded and justified more growthism.The catechists for growth have, accordingly, been enabled to hide behind the poorer world for their own gains. Consequently, ‘limiting growth’ has become a major preoccupation of many environmentalists and activists.

Yet, the centrality of inequality  to socio-ecological crises needs to be recognised and addressedLimits to inequalities is what the South demands; not limitless growth. The rising movements around the world are, in fact, against the rise of the 1%, a shorthand for inequality. Thomas Piketty’ s book, which has had world-wide acclaim, is on inequality. The MeToo Movement and Black Lives Matter are both about addressing inequality. This demand is theoretically sound. Widely endorsed by Herman Daly, Richard Wilkinson, and Kate Pickett, considering the ramifications of Maintaining status is one way of fleshing it out. Analysing the tendencies for  Catch Up, and reflecting on the effects of monopolising Privilege (three crucial indicators of inequality) on the environment can offer even more clarity.

Kuva, joka sisältää kohteen ulko, rakennus, ulkokatto, taso Kuvaus luotu automaattisesti

Consider Maintaining Status. Inequality fosters consumerism. The wealthy seek to maintain their status. Temptations to buy more and more set in. When the world is unequal, binge purchases and consumption sustain unsustainable volumes of production meant for the wealthy. At the national level, such processes are quite well-known, but similar comments apply to global inequalities too. Status shapes global consumerism. Among the wealthy countries of the world, there is a race to show position: whether it is spending more on arms, going to space, or building more transportation systems. This desire to succour the leisure class, as Thorstein Veblen once called them, is widespread. However, it is especially pronounced among the very rich countries and the middle-income ones. Yet, maintaining it is bad for the environment. When such a practice becomes rampant, it sets in motion problematic forces of mimicry.

That is one way to explain why catching up is related to maintaining status. So long as inequality persists, the concern among the middle-class and some poorer countries is to seek catching up as progress. Often though, this maintenance of privilege gives world development organisations, usually located in the same wealthy nations, the power to impose these standards on the poorer nations. Catching up becomes development. With this dynamic in place, opportunistic pressures to pollute to similar levels as the wealthy lend themselves. In this process, polluter pays arguments are transformed. They become Western payments for nature, carbon sinks drilled in the Global South apparently save the planet.

Yet, this transfer of land from the South to the North, disguised as a way to ensure ‘catch up’, is, in fact, another way of cementing the monopoly of privilege. Globally, absentee landlord states  and their transnational corporations continue to monopolise the land commons in the Global South. Not only do they control the global value chains and the global commodity chains, they also control the downstream transport and petroleum industries. They make decisions and influence world mineral pricing. They manipulate the demand, and supply of such resources. They transport fossil fuels over long distances. After refinement, they return the waste products to the South. Significant pollution and dispossession arise from this inequality of ownership and control. Increasing rentierism, absentee ownership, dispossession, and systemic environmental accidents arise. These processes attest to the environmental pandemic that arises from unequal property relations.

Within nations, the concentration of land in the hands of a few raises serious concerns. The resulting rent increases generates unsustainable national transformation. Rental increases drive sprawl and longer commuting patterns. Land concentration also explains widespread insecurities. In turn, uncertainties drive the rise of gated housing estates. This trend is concerning. Not only does the building sector, dominated by a small powerful hierarchy of transnational corporations and absentee estate developers, generate 30 per cent of global annual emissions, it also consumes 40 per cent of global energy pool.

These inequalities have become more complex with time. So have the ecological crises. Both are intertwined. These socio-ecological problems, in turn, create social stratification. They tear communities apart. Broken, society cannot be sustainable. When farms are replaced with fences and fences with gates, where the desire for rent drives the pursuit of land, and when more and more land is concentrated in few hands, what is needed is not just sustainability; but a just sustainability.

Beyond Limits to Growth

There cannot be any sustainability without equity. The emphasis on growthmania as the central and only problem of sustainability has brought us far, but it can take us no further. Continuing to insist on it prioritises environmental sustainability over social and economic sustainability. Growing inequality and social stratification undermine environmental sustainability. Ecological justice suffers. Placing limits on inequality and stratification is, therefore, crucial. For holistic and fundamental transformation, what is needed is not just sustainability but a just sustainability.

If there is any useful analytical lesson from COVID-19, it is that our methodologies need to be holistic and our analysis historical. Without these transdisciplinary approaches and transformation in how we study sustainability, we risk overlooking just sustainabilities and reifying environmentalism.

Thus, if more research is needed on COVID-19, it should not only be on finding a vaccine and empirically ascertaining its effects on economic growth. Although important, what is urgent is research on sustainability and COVID-19 within the context of limits to inequality.

Franklin Obeng-Odoom

Franklin Obeng-Odoom leads the HELSUS Global South research theme. He teaches in Development Studies, and he is the author of Property, Institutions, and Social Stratification in Africa.


Many thanks to Drs. Kaisa Korhonen-Kurki, Michiru Nagatsu, Jussi T. Eronen, and Andreas Exner for excellent feedback. Voices for Sustainability team deserve special thanks for their patience and constructive suggestions.

Photos by Travis Saylor and Cameron Casey from Pexels, and Micheile Henderson on Unsplash.

This blog post was first published on Voices for Sustainability.

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:



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