Asian Cities - Events


Symposium: Institutions of Land Rights and Sustainable Asian Urbanization

Organizers: Global Asia Institute, National University of Singapore &
Ronald Coase Center for Property Rights Research, Hong Kong University
Venue: National University of Singapore
Date: 18-19 November 2013


Background: high-density Asian urbanization

Social and economic developments in the developing countries are, to a great extent, equivalent to industrialization and urbanization. On the one hand, many Asian countries are still developing and thus urbanizing rapidly. Expanding urban spatial structures is critical for cities to manage growing urban economies and accommodate an influx of rural-to-urban migrants with supporting infrastructure and physical premises. On the other hand, high population density, which is prevalent in Asia, makes land resources highly scarce, and great land scarcity generates intensive competition for the access to land use. Both the spatial and temporal processes of urbanization in terms of people and land are thus made highly intense. Sustainable urbanization in the context of acute land scarcity poses a great challenge to urban development that has to take care of land use productivity, social equity and environmental ecology.

Some land issues in Asian urbanization


Informal land development. Spontaneous construction of urban housing seems prevalent in Asia, known as informal housing, or termed euphemistically popular housing. Land use and development rights are not regulated by the planning control. Informality seems to have remained a way of life for the urbanized settlements of many Third World countries.


Densification and compaction. Though the model of compact cities is a natural choice for high-density urban Asia, fierce competition for limited urban land resources without effective governance often results in an unfavorable form of densification and urban compaction. It is not rare to find under-utilization of scarce land resources and over-consumption of scarce environmental amenities in Asian cities. Cities are locked in an unsustainable form which makes land artificially expensive and exacerbates housing shortages. 


The interests of the status quo versus the rights of newcomers. Fragmented landownership is common in high-density cities. It can lead to the holdout problem and deter urban (re)development. The resultant collective inaction causes under-utilization of scarce land resources, which in turn constrains the supply of building space.


The contest for the land development rights in the peri-urban areas where land is competed between urban governments and rural communities.


Land rights as an institution

Because of various restrictions and thus attenuation of property rights, the land market is not a construct of absolutely free interplays between demand and supply. Property rights are primarily a bundle of rights associated with ownership. As land is a special property in the market because of its location fixity, and thus externalities become an intrinsic attribute to the landed property. Land use and development rights have to be defined by land use planning in order to internalize detrimental externalities. Property rights are initially formulated to manage social cooperation in the use of scarce resources. The system of property rights is concerned with economic efficiency and distributive justice, which places limits on the actions of individuals and governments. Land rights are deemed essential in the governance of land markets. The structure of property rights over urban land determines the mode of land development to a great extent, and thus has direct impact on the form of resultant built environment.

Sustainable Asian Urbanization

Sustainability in Asian developing countries hinges on their economic sustainability first and foremost, which, in turn, relies much on productivity of their economies. In the developing countries endowed with natural resources on a per capita basis far below the world average, social and environmental sustainability depends much on efficient wealth creation and equitable distribution in the first place. Inefficient economic development wastes resources unnecessarily, and the poor economy adds to tension in social relations and pressure on the environment. Polarization and income disparity due to the uneven distribution of resources further weaken the social cohesion and heighten the intensity of conflicts. Discourses of economic productivity, social inclusiveness and ecological environment cannot be detached from the land factor when land is acutely scarce.


The workshop program is available here:

Asian Urban Liveability in Practice: Researching, Collaborating, Publishing

Organizers: NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) and Global Asia Institute, National University of Singapore
Venue: Shaw Foundation Building, National University of Singapore
Date: 23 and 24 September 2013, 9 AM
Contact: with your name and affiliation by Wednesday, 18 September


As part of NUS GAI's research project, Asian Cities: Liveability, Sustainability, Diversity and Spaces of Encounter, this workshop brings together researchers, urban planners and policy representatives from Busan (Korea), Hyderabad (India), Kunming (China) and Singapore. We also welcome our keynote speaker, Dr Colin McFarlane (Reader, Department of Geography, Durham University, UK), an urban expert on Mumbai, India.

This first, open session features key findings from an innovative, interdisciplinary, comparative urban project, with a specific focus on liveability. The research was conducted and analysed by project team members: A/P Tracey Skelton (Principal Investigator), A/P Ho Kong Chong, Drs Chang Jiat-Hwee, Mihye Cho (SUTD), Diganta Das (NIE) and Harvey Neo in selected neighbourhoods in four cities. This workshop unites the project academics, local researchers, and city-based policy and planning agents for the first time, to share evidence from collaborations and examples of independent research on liveability. The second, closed session focuses on the translation of the research, writing and publication of city/neighbourhood reports as tools for policy and planning agents in the respective cities. Hence, the workshop aims to broaden discussions of what urban liveability means, and highlight future practical implications for these cities and beyond.

The programme is available here.

The poster is available here.

Religion’s Impact on Human Life: Integrating Proximate and Ultimate Perspectives

Featuring Prof David Wilson and Prof Harvey Whitehouse

Date: 12 March 2013
Time: 9:45 AM
Venue: Vista, 7th floor, Lee Kong Chian Wing, NUS University Hall

Prof David Wilson on The Nature of Religious Diversity: A Cultural Ecosystem Approach 

Abstract: Religions are diverse and constantly changing. In these respects, they are like a biological ecosystem of evolving species. This comparison is more than a poetic metaphor. Religious groups are functionally organized units (like species) and cultural change is an evolutionary process (like genetic evolution), enabling the many religions inhabiting a given region to be studied like a biological ecosystem. I will describe how this approach is being applied in the small American city of Binghamton, New York, and can be applied to a country such as Singapore.

David Sloan Wilson is SUNY Distinguished Professor of Biology and Anthropology at Binghamton University. He applies evolutionary theory to all aspects of humanity in addition to the rest of life, both in his own research and by directing programs designed to reform higher education and public policy formulation. He is known for championing the theory of multilevel selection, which has implications ranging from the origin of life to the nature of religion. His books include Darwin’s Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society (Chicago, 2002) and Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin’s Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives (Bantam, 2007, and The Neighborhood Project: Using Evolution to Improve My City, One Block At A Time (Little, Brown 2011).


Prof Harvey Whitehouse on Ritual, Community, and Conflict 

Abstract: If you had three wishes to change the world, what would they be? Perhaps you would like to put an end to war? Reverse global warming? Or eliminate extreme poverty? The key to solving all these problems is glue. It doesn’t come in a tube. It’s a very special adhesive - the kind that holds societies together. Social psychologists call it identity fusion. Others have called is ‘social cohesion’ or ‘solidarity’. Whatever we choose to call it, social glue is what makes people cooperate and solve problems for the greater good. Understanding how groups become glued together is crucial to addressing some of the biggest issues facing humanity today. Whitehouse directs a project that tries to explain how social glue is produced and how it can be used. Funded by a £3.2 million grant from the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and a £1 million grant from the Templeton Foundation, this project coordinates the efforts of scientists not only in North America and Europe, but also around the world, and involves gathering data in small-scale traditional societies as well as large, complex ones like Singapore.

It has to be that way, because the glue we are interested in is often stronger in traditional or rural cultures and weaker in the big urban centres where scientists typically work. Our project seeks to unlock the secrets of social bonding and cooperation in humans. If only we could understand better how social glue works and what it does, perhaps we could shape our collective futures in more globally consensual ways.

Harvey Whitehouse is Chair of Social Anthropology and Director of the Institute of Cognition and Culture at the University of Oxford. His doctoral research at Cambridge in the 1980s was based on two years of ethnographic research in Papua New Guinea in the late eighties, focused on the role of ritual in binding groups together. His is currently director of the Ritual, Community, and Conflict project, funded by a five-year Large Grant from the ESRC (2011-2016), which examines the causes and consequences of rituals in human societies. His books include Inside the Cult (1995, OUP), Arguments and Icons (2000, OUP), and Modes of Religiosity (2004, AltaMira).