Urbanisation by expulsion : the political economy of landed property in Asunción, Paraguay

University essay from Lunds universitet/Institutionen för kulturgeografi och ekonomisk geografi

Abstract: Although much research has been conducted regarding the uneven distribution of land in developing countries, such work tends to focus on rural land dispossession. In turn, land inequality in urban property markets of vulnerable economies remains somewhat understudied. Based on a case-study of Asunción, Paraguay, this thesis employs a Marxian political economy framework to investigate the development of the city’s built environment, in a country where wealth and property have historically been unevenly distributed. Cities across the world have seen drastic changes to their physical configuration as the construction of principally high-end real estate has become a profitable activity for international investors, with projects that tend to be decoupled from the demographic reality of urban populations, resulting in a lack of adequate local infrastructure and housing being provided. Asunción is a case in point, as it boasts a booming high-rise construction sector, a decaying historic center, densely populated slums, and a vast metropolitan area with great infrastructural shortcomings. Despite the apparent urgency of this complex geography, very little has been written regarding the prospects for and consequences of developing real estate in Asunción, where access to the land market is highly unequal. Interviews with local real estate developers, politicians and urbanist scholars were used to conduct such an analysis. The main results indicate that the current trajectory of Asunción’s land market contributes directly and indirectly to the expulsion of many urban dwellers. A small group of large-scale landowners exert monopoly control over land in the historic center, leading to the abandonment of properties and exclusion of new construction projects, while high-rise developments in peri-central neighborhoods have contributed to increasing real estate prices within city limits. Moreover, national and municipal governments provide very few guidelines or resources for urban planning. The logic driving change in Asunción’s built environment is primarily determined by the investment strategies of a few powerful economic actors, rather than by coherent political incentives for city-making. As such, although this is a case-study, it exemplifies how an analysis using Marxian political economy may shed light on the disruptive effects of property accumulation in cities of developing economies.

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