Urban Land Rent: Singapore as a Property State

The author, Anne Haila used Singapore as a case study to build up an original theory of urban land. Although Singapore is the focus, the book is not only a case study of a single city. She compared Singapore to other cities like Hong Kong and Bangkok since to her, urban studies is always comparative.

The theory of land rent explains the relationship between the use and price of land. The main message of the book is this theory is useful especially to urban scholars. Haile explained land rent theory from its agricultural origins. The book provides tools to analyse housing, developer interests, landed property and public space.

The first chapter reveals why Haile selected Singapore as her case study. Singapore government has been the same since independence. Land being scarce, the country is urbanised with no rural landowners. Affordable owner-occupied public housing exists.

The rest of the book is divided into two parts, followed by the conclusion. The first part (chapters 2 to 4) deals with representations of land. We find a concise review of land ideologies, reforms, and rent theories.

The second part (chapters 5 to 8) is an analysis of development practices. It deals with land institutions, players in the real estate market, globalisation of real estate investment and urban financialisation. Singapore increasingly becomes the focus from chapters 5 to 8.

Chapter 3 deals with property rights theories more generally and rent theories specifically. Haila defined the concepts of rent used, which are land rent, differential rent, extension rent, density rent, absolute rent, monopoly rent, fiscal rent, global rent, derivative rent and manipulated rent.

Haila looked at examples of land reform programmes, including two Chinese models in chapter 4. After she discussed the ideas of Henry George and China’s land reforms, she analysed Singapore’s land reform that increased the country’s land bank and enabled economic growth and affordable housing.

Chapter 5 looks at various land and housing sector agencies in Singapore. Rent is impacted by state-created conditions. Public housing, regulated by the government, is contrasted to private housing. Rent as the source of public revenue is examined. Haila delved into various methods of controlling urban development and discussed the evolution and functions of various land institutions, namely land leases, auctions and public housing.

From chapter 6, we find out about various players in the real estate market like wealthy individuals, landlords and companies. Construction and property development companies in Singapore are contrasted with those in Hong Kong, Japan, Europe and the United States.

The effects of globalisation on rent is the subject of chapter 7. Singapore government with its physical renewal programmes has made the nation a haven for global real estate flows. This causes real estate prices to increase. The price pressure, however, is lessened because of overseas investment in real estate by Singaporeans individuals, companies and sovereign wealth funds.

Chapter 8 concerns the fusion between interest and rent, finance and real estate. Singapore’s status as a financial hub brings advantages as well as harmful effects to its real estate market. The government’s measures to control the ill effects of financial crises are examined.

The last chapter summarises Singapore’s land regime and discusses what the analysis of Singapore can bring to understanding the land, urban and rent ‘questions’. Some of the conclusions are that in Singapore, public housing can be within the reach of most people; it is possible to prevent land speculation; government intervention and a successful private development industry can co-exist; and there are real world alternatives for urban development.

Anne Haila was Academy Professor and Professor of Urban Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Helsinki. She passed away in September 2019.

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