Spotlight - Urban LandMark

21st November 2014
This week we turn our attention to Urban LandMark, the Urban Land Markets Programme in Southern Africa, for our Spotlight series. The series profiles research organisations based in developing countries.

urban LMIn the early 2000s, the Department for International Development (DFID) was building a range of programmes focusing on the ‘making markets work’ approach i.e. markets working efficiently and producing equitable outcomes for the poor. In Southern Africa, there were DFID-funded programmes supporting development in financial markets, commodity markets and labour markets. So to complete the set, the idea of supporting land markets was explored. This led to the development of both urban and rural land market initiatives. On the urban side, in 2006, Urban LandMark became the first ‘making markets work’ initiative supported by DFID to focus specifically on urban land issues, with the aim of improving access to land and property rights.

Urban LandMark seeks to improve the understanding of (and evidence about) how urban land and housing markets work in African cities and towns, how poor communities engage and act as agents in markets, and based on this better understanding, how the public and private sector can act to open up access to land, secure tenure and transactional support.

To improve access to land and property rights, the programme’s thematic areas include four dimensions:
  • functional markets
  • access to land rights and secure tenure
  • improved land governance, and 
  • more humane and inclusive urban environments.
As Dr. Mark Napier, head of the Urban LandMark programme, explains, "there needs to be innovation in all four areas to bring about positive change in the way that African cities and towns are developing to accommodate urbanisation and economic growth."

Urban LandMark took a new approach by including the public and private sector in dialogues and initiatives designed to change the way urban development happens - they believe that this way a much richer set of urban practices emerge. The programme targets small and large-scale urban actors from the public and the private sector. Mark sees that the important relationships to stimulate are with municipal officials and commercial developers, national departments and associations representing commercial or professional interests, land and housing NGOs and communities, and academics and practitioners.

To test this approach and establish how to make a difference through evidence-based advocacy, the bulk of their early work was conducted in South Africa from 2006 to 2008. From 2009 onwards, they widened the geographic scope and worked in Angola, Mozambique, Lesotho, and Malawi, and on the African continent as a whole through their work with UN Habitat’s State of African Cities Report, and the Global Land Tool Network.

Over the next few years, Urban LandMark believe that the increased vulnerability of communities living on unplanned urban land will become more of an issue. As Mark stresses, there needs to be greater effort to bring together climate change adaptation protagonists with people who have been working for many years on improving the planning of cities in the developing world. This collaboration should focus on developing and implementing practical adaptations of formal urban planning processes to work with (rather than against) local traditions of land management.

However, “a major challenge in Southern Africa, is getting advocacy messages to top decision makers,” Mark continues. “The ‘digital divide’ is still a reality, and personal relationship building is key in making a difference.” Multi-lateral agencies like the African Union, UN Habitat, the World Bank, and other sub-regional networks are key channels for engagement.

In the coming months, Urban LandMark is aiming to influence the preparatory process of The Habitat III, the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Development in 2016.

Please also see Dr Mark Napier’s recent article for Eldis which gives further analysis on the issues touched on here.