Guironnet & Halbert: The Financialization of Urban Development Projects – Concepts, Processes, and Implications


This paper pleads for revisiting Urban Development Projects (UDPs) in the light of the  financialization of the urban built environment. If the rising integration of the urban fabric and financial markets has been acknowledged, it remains incidental to most of the literature on UDPs. The restructuring of the built environment (real estate, infrastructures) into bundles of assets provided for finance capital investors looking to diversify their portfolio through risk-adjusted strategies is developing on an increasing scale, from so-called ‘developed’ to ‘emerging’ countries. We posit that contemporary UDPs are an attempt to transform land-use by leveraging resources (including capital) exchanged on real estate markets. Therefore, the financialization of UDPs can be tackled through an analysis of the processes through which investors’ strategies and requirements may be circulated among key actors of UDPs (e.g. local authorities, planners, development agencies, property developers). Three paths through which UDPs are shaped for finance capital investors are examined. First, the production of market representations, by internationalized property consultants, skewed towards investors’ standards. Second, the tailoring of buildings as ‘quasi-financial’ assets in the course of  real estate development, through which developers seek to address this now dominant financial clientele. Third, the evolution of strategic planning and land development, whether as a byproduct of greater room gained by developers, or as a result of a direct targeting of the investment industry by local public authorities and their development agencies. Eventually, the paper discusses three avenues for research for an urban political economy of one salient, though undersearched, aspect of the financialization of cities.


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