You don't have to be a lawyer to study Land Law


In this interview, we talked to Ore Fika, Urban Land & Housing Development specialist at IHS. Ore is currently teaching in the Urban Land Governance for Sustainable Development Master track, while working on obtaining her doctoral degree. Her areas of expertise include land tenure systems, community land trust, spatial development for green cities, resettlement & sustainable urbanism. In today's chat, we dived a bit deeper into the importance of Land Law and its connection to real estate, gentrification and sustainable development of cities.

Can you explain what land governance is?

Land governance is a governance mechanism that considers equity and justice. To be done fairly, land governance requires having legal instruments. Many things have gone wrong because the laws or the regulations that are put in place are biased or non-existent. Land governance takes into account the issues of equity, fairness and justice, not only for people amongst people but also for equity for the environment. It protects the rights of the environment and even of animal species that are going extinct.

How are law and governance connected?

If you look at our Constitution and the policies, they are both legal instruments that we need to ensure sustainability. You need to know where and when you can pollute and can't pollute, how much you have to pay if you have to pollute. These are the legal aspects that the law addresses. It is very basic, but it is the only way in which you can operate. You have to consider issues of fairness, accountability, justice and repercussion for actions to make things work.


Could you confer Land law to Real estate law?

Yes, it's almost the same thing. The only difference is that Land law is bigger and more specific than Real estate law. Real estate is a branch of Land law because the land includes much more than just its physical asset - it’s also the location, access, natural resources and equal distribution of resources. Real estate law is addressed in the course, with two weeks that are specifically focused on the relationship between land and real estate. The course also focuses on the impact of real estate on society and the environmental, social and economic part of it. It also talks about locational preferences for real estate and land value capture. That means using real estate, market-based development and profitable development to benefit the rest of society.

How does Land law promote or ensure sustainable development?

Land law gives clear guidance on how stakeholders operate and provides regulations that everyone must abide by, regardless of class, income level or intelligence. It also gives governments the tools to plan. If you go back in time, the historical basis of the land use plan was to protect the environment and species as well as to ensure that incompatible uses are not together. You don't put a school close to a factory and you don’t sand-fill a water basin that is useful drainage. That is why we must have legal regulations in place.

Can you give us an example of how Land Law is applied, for example, to regulate gentrification and displacement or settlement?

The Netherlands is a good example of how we can use regulations to reduce gentrification and include low-income communities in high-income development. Most of the time, there are two ways to gentrify. On one hand, there is organic, market-based gentrification. On the other hand, there’s gentrification with cities, where you have a development area and you redevelop in it. In the Netherlands, 30% of development in every area has to be through either social housing or below-market-rate housing. That is why people live in social housing located in the city centres of Rotterdam and Amsterdam – one of the most expensive cities in Europe.

How do you imagine this happening in developing countries?

Developing countries, for example, Kenya, Nepal, India, Philippines have something called “inclusionary zoning”. In every area that is zoned, you have to include low-income housing. In the Philippines, it's called “balanced housing”. In Indonesia, it's called “three to one”, which means that for every house you build for the rich, you must build two for the middle-income and three for the lower-income groups. In Jakarta, for example, there's another instrument in place: for every office or commercial development, you must set aside 20% for greenspace, because the city doesn't have enough of it. All of the above are examples of using land law to create inclusive cities and to ensure sustainable development.

Can Land law somehow be connected to other disciplines?

It is connected to climate change. Land governance is an important way to reduce the impact of climate change and to allow adaptation to take place. If we look at the Markthal in Rotterdam, it is in itself a climate change adaptation strategy. It doubles in as reservoir for water. In case of flooding, all the cars will be taken out of the building so that it can hold water. You need to have land governance to do that.


If someone was to study Land Law, what would this person's expectations or aspirations be?

Land law students could pursue a career in various sectors related to any aspects of the city. They have to be able to understand Land law and the rights and obligations that people, society or the government have. It is also important they have the ability to engage in Land law as somebody who contributes to the city. If you're a city planner, an architect, an urban designer, a politician or a civil servant, then you are the type of person that engages in Land law.

Do you need to be a lawyer to study Land law?

Absolutely not. You just have to have the interest in understanding the regulations, laws, policies and the interaction between people. Because every time two people interact, there are some bylaws and regulations. So it's about agreements, which turn into regulations and regulations turn into policies. It does help if you have a legal background, but sometimes it also distracts because you're more into the detail of the law rather than understanding the application of the law. If you have a legal background, you would still be very surprised because Land Law is very specific.


If you'd like to learn how land and natural resources are managed to contribute to the development of equitable and sustainable cities, check out the Urban Land Governance for Sustainable Development Master track of our MSc in Urban Management and Development.

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