Featured in International Development Planning Review 44.4: Uncovering the individual/collective divide in planning responses to informal settlements as a structural cause of tenure insecurity in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

The editors of International Development Planning Review (IDPR) have selected the following paper as the Featured Article in IDPR 44.4. It is available to read Open Access as part of LUP Open Planning: idpr-44.4-cover-2px

‘Uncovering the individual/collective divide in planning responses to informal settlements as a structural cause of tenure insecurity in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’ by Johanna Brugman

When asked to describe the paper and highlight its importance, the authors stated the following:

The current pressures on Phnom Penh’s urban environment caused by neoliberalism and the rise of China as a global and economic political actor create an environment of dispossession and displacement for the urban poor where land title is not sufficient to guarantee tenure security. The state utilises a variety of techniques to force eviction ranging from violent expropriation, coercion, and gentrification. Also, neoliberalism has led to a privatisation of public policy and a market-driven approach to the development of affordable housing which excludes the urban poor. Instead, the urban poor rely on microfinance to borrow money for housing at unfavourable conditions. This happens despite a long trajectory of collective and community-driven housing processes in Cambodia and the Southeast Asia region that have made important precedents on how to deliver collective finance and secure collective land and housing for the urban poor at scale in partnership with the state.

This article uses the case of Phnom Penh to explain the limitations experienced by the collective practices of a group of urban poor residents living in informal conditions because of the enforcement of a donor-led Land Management Administration Program (LMAP) as the principal program to register land and formalize informal settlements. A case study of one informal settlement exposes how urban poor residents are negatively affected by the LMAP by being excluded from systematic land registration and experiencing a diminishment in their collective power due to the lack of support for collective action from this formalisation program.

This paper is part of a larger qualitative research project which critically examined formal and informal relationships in informal settlement upgrading practices to question their enduring divide in planning theory. The formal/informal divide also perpetuates a collective/individual divide that sustains individual and market-led formalisation approaches as the preferred response to secure urban land for the urban poor. This happens even when important precedents such as the Baan Mankong Program in Thailand and Community Land Trusts in Latin America are proving their effectiveness in securing land for the urban poor in the global south. Thus, the lack of support of the collective in land formalisation is seen as an attempt for accumulation and control derived from processes of ‘accumulation by dispossession’.

The findings in this paper show the importance of developing an awareness of the limitations of market-driven systems in securing land for the urban poor given the duplicity embedded in planning systems. In Phnom Penh this duplicity is evidenced in how the LMAP claims to secure land for the urban poor. In practice, this is used to exclude and disadvantage the very same people it aims to protect, to benefit the state and other powerful interests in urban land. Furthermore, this duplicity is evidenced by the lack of support for collective mechanisms that enable collective action among urban poor communities in the organisation of land and housing. Instead, the individual, technical and rational nature of the LMAP exacerbates insecurity of urban poor dwellers already experienced under conditions of informality by undermining their sources of power and collective support systems used to resist both state and market-driven evictions.

This paper is a contribution to the existing work of academics, practitioners, and urban poor networks to secure land and housing in cities of the global south. The research contributes knowledge to the global south by making the research findings available to be used and compared with wider scholarly work that produces knowledge on collective action, informality, and processes of accumulation by dispossession and its relationship with neoliberalism.

-Johanna Brugman

Open Planning target celebration website banner

Follow us for more updates