Towards an Urban Land Resource Curse? A Fresh Perspective on a Long-Standing Issue

16 Pages Posted: 13 Nov 2015 Last revised: 26 Nov 2015

Date Written: November 10, 2015


Urban land governance is one of the central challenges not just for urban but also more broadly for global development in times of rapid urbanisation. This paper advances a fresh perspective to look at urban land by exploring to what extent it could be characterised as a resource curse problem. The conclusion is a resounding yes: urban land issues exhibit a host of characteristics and dynamics that compellingly suggest that we are facing a resource curse situation. What’s more, the particular configuration of drivers and characteristics points to a resource curse that rivals and in some aspects even dwarfs the risks, complexities and acuity associated with the phenomenon in other sectors. Ringing the alarm bells on the urban land challenge is not a particularly original or value-adding insight, but the novel analytical re-framing of the issues as a resource course offers the opportunity to: link the anti-corruption and good governance community more productively into the urban land challenge, a conversation from which it has so far remained surprisingly absent; and, draw inspiration and fresh ideas from the rich stock of expertise, insights, learning and experimentations that have taken place in resource curse governance as one of the longest standing hotspots of governance research, institutional reform and policy advocacy that have turned this field into a petri-dish for progressive designs and governance experimentations.

The paper proceeds as follows: chapter 2 sets out to contrast the urgency of the urban land challenge with the rather modest attention and engagement with these issues on the part of the anti-corruption and governance community. Chapter 3 provides a brief introduction to the resource curse phenomenon. Chapter 4, the main analytical part of the argument, moves into a detailed discussion of several features and dynamics of urban land issues that all conspire to suggest a perfect storm, a resource curse situation of an extraordinary degree of complexity and consequence.

Chapter 5 finally moves from problem description to a focus on possible solutions, illustrating how the learnings and progressive reforms related to classic resource curse situations can inspire and inform thinking about urban land problems.

Keywords: Urbanisation, governance, corruption, transparency, accountability, integrity, cities, land, land governance, urban planning, resource curse, governance, policy capture, money-laundering

JEL Classification: K42, L70, L72 ,O17, O13, Q15, Q33, Q38, R14, R51, R52

Suggested Citation

Zinnbauer, Dieter, Towards an Urban Land Resource Curse? A Fresh Perspective on a Long-Standing Issue (November 10, 2015). Available at SSRN: or

Dieter Zinnbauer (Contact Author)

Copenhagen Business School ( email )

Solbjerg Plads 3
Frederiksberg C, DK - 2000

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