Urban Development under Ambiguous Property Rights: A Case of China’s Transition Economy


Property rights play a key role in maintaining sustainable growth and in achieving efficient development. China’s economic reforms have stimulated urban physical development through the commodification and marketization of land‐use rights and building construction. Property rights over urban land have been decentralized, but the gradualist reform of state assets has not assigned and delineated property rights clearly between the principal and agents. Within a short space of time, Shanghai, a city in a transition economy, is facing a great property glut for the first time in its history. It is the two‐tier incentive structure that has created the dynamics of Shanghai’s urban physical development since 1980. The marketization of buildings makes property development a viable business. Capitalization on valued properties in the open domain motivates key actors in the development process to initiate redevelopment projects. Rapidly rising price benchmarks established by the booming property market escalate the urge to transform rents in the unsecured public domain to physical assets that are protected by the socialist use right.