Democratising data on urban land ownership

Global urban inequalities are reproduced and reinforced by uneven in access to data on land ownership. Addressing data access is critical for enabling communities, policymakers, planners, and others to make informed decisions on how to use resources within their localities.

Democratising data on land can facilitate the realisation of various development outcomes in the city. This is particularly the case where data accessibility can enable marginalised urban communities to participate in spatial governance processes. Additionally, conflicts can be abated where there is transparency in land information.

Democratising data on urban land ownership requires that existing archive and databases, both formal and informal, are made accessible and legible to the public. In addition, community-driven data generation can play an important role in rebalancing the scales of power in favour of traditionally marginalised groups. In some contexts, marginalised urban communities have taken the lead in challenging asymmetries in land information by constructing and maintaining their own registers and using this information to front their claims and to resist erasure from the spaces that they occupy.

Researchers in the Global Urban Futures group have been collaborating with social movement organisations to democatise data on urban land ownership in Nairobi and Manchester.


Dr Smith Ouma has collaborated with the community-based organisation Muungano wa Wanavijiji (Akiba Mashinani Trust) toconduct an initial scoping study that engages with existing land archives in the Mathare informal settlements in Nairobi. The report documents the spectrum of claims and rights to land within the settlements with a view to understanding how marginalised informal settlement residents in Mathare perceive their rights and claims to land. The report forms the basis for an ongoing exercise by the community to document the ownership and claims over all land parcels in the settlements which they estimate will aid in their claims-making initiatives.  


Dr Tom Gillespie has collaborated with campaign group Greater Manchester Housing Action and Dr Jonathan Silver (University of Sheffield) to investigate the privatisation of public land in central Manchester. Drawing on data on public land disposals by Manchester City Council, the report examines the impact of land privatisation on Manchester’s urban geography. It raises a series of questions about public land sales regarding transparency, value for money for the public, and the type of urban development that has been enabled by public land privatisation. The authors call for a more open, transparent and participatory approach to managing public land in Greater Manchester. To this end, more than 60 local civil society organisations signed an open letter calling for the establishment of a participatory land commission in the city region. The researchers also created an interactive GIS map of public land in Manchester in order to make data on public land more accessible to the public.

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