Negotiating Social Futures: the politics of land development and value capture during and after the Covid-19 pandemic

Dr Mi Shih and Dr Kathe Newman

Funding period: 1 September 2021 – 1 October 2022
Type of funding: Seminar Series

Host institution: Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, Rutgers University (United States)
Dates: September 2021 and September 2022 (New Brunswick)
Lead organisers: Dr Mi Shih and Dr Kathe Newman
Contact: Dr Mi Shih

Project website at Rutgers

Abstract: Globally, there has been an emerging centrality of land development as a means for social provision. Highly technical value capture policies tap real estate development, at times by accelerating it, to fund services and urban infrastructure. As land is now conceptualized as a reservoir of value to be extracted, there arise a set of questions about what it means for the city’s social future when public policy objectives are addressed through negotiated land deals and capture techniques.

Negotiating Social Futures: The Politics of Land Development and Value Capture During and After the COVID-19 PandemicThrough a virtual paper conference, a virtual mini-workshop on case study methodologies, and an in-person case study conference, we ask three sets of questions. First, how does value capture work? Does COVID-19 re-embed value in land development with social futures? By juxtaposing a set of dissimilar cases as a method of comparison, we plan to unravel how capture techniques are assembled and mobilized. We will also examine whether, and, if so, how, COVID-19 disrupts or restructures present land development discourses and practices. Second, how should the politics of land development and the city’s social futures be aligned? As the outcomes of value capture are always molded through the politics of public-private dynamics, we are particularly interested in the possibility of capturing value differently such that it is re-embedded with the social. Third, where is the place of the public in defining, negotiating, and anchoring captured value? A key target of our research inquiry is the conditions under which the public thrives or stagnates in value capture.

This project also received a USF Knowledge Mobilisation Award in November 2021 (see below).

USF Knowledge Mobilisation Award: Locating and Practicing Land’s Social Values Through Collective Inquiries and Problem Solving

In recent years, planners have often turned to regulatory-technical tools to make land an even more vital reservoir of money to be extracted for social benefits, reflecting the increasingly neoliberal turn in governance, the entrepreneurial state, and austerity approaches to social welfare policy. Critical urban scholarship has shown that the use of these regulatory-technical devices often normalizes the logic of the market and makes invisible epistemic assumptions of land even though the financialization of land has led to social and spatial inequalities. Because of the impact of these land use devices on everyday life, it has become clear that collective practices that mobilize new kinds of politics of land and value need to accompany scholarly critiques of how planning instruments work to valorize land’s monetary value.

The goal of this proposed project is to make critical urban scholarship on land and the politics of land value capture actionable. We plan to organize a two-day workshop in Taipei, Taiwan to engage a group of students, planners, and community activists in unpacking value capture techniques, re-imagining socially desired politics of land, and contemplating collective actions toward new practices. We will focus on density bonusing and TDR (transfer of development rights), two almost omnipresent value capture techniques that have boosted real estate property development. The proposed workshop is an attempt to loop academic work, engagement, and informed practices together. The workshop builds on our on-going research on land as well as our involvement in organizing the USF-funded project “Negotiating Social Futures: The Politics of Land Development and Value Capture During and After the COVID-19 Pandemic” (USF-SSA-210213, The workshop will be a joint effort between Rutgers University, National Chengchi University, National Cheng Kung University, and OURs—an NGO ( that has been a key force of urban civic engagement for decades in Taiwan. Considering the uncertainties related to travel restrictions and quarantine rules due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the exact date of the workshop will be determined later.

The workshop will focus on three main themes:

Democratizing spreadsheet models of calculative techniques. We will utilize 18 real estate projects to quantitatively estimate the boosterism effects of density bonusing on urban land prices. We will engage workshop participants to reflect on questions including: data sources, data challenges, missing data in government open sources; the methodological fallibility of spreadsheet-based development finance models; the price lifting effect of density bonuses on land prices, etc.

Prying open planning instruments’ epistemic assumptions, moral grounds, political effects. The exercise of spreadsheet-based analysis will be followed by a series of carefully designed discussions that facilitate inquiries and dialogic understanding of planning instruments beyond their mechanisms. The goal is to extricate the epistemic, moral, and political relations and implications that are often rendered invisible in calculative approaches to land development.

Contemplating socially desired practices of land and housing. To begin to transform new reckonings around land, value, and planning instruments into actions, workshop participants will engage in a collective problem-solving process that produces actionable suggestions for bettering practices.