Property Rights and Urban Form

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How do the different elements in the standard bundle of property rights, including those of possession and transfer, influence the shape of cities? This paper incorporates insecure property rights into a standard model of urban land prices and density and makes predictions about investment in land and property, informality, and the efficiency of land use. Our empirical analysis links data on institutions for land titling and transfer with multiple urban outcomes in 190 countries. The evidence is generally consistent with the model’s predictions and more broadly with Harold Demsetz’s approach to property rights institutions in “Towards a Theory of Property Rights.” Indeed, we document worldwide improvements in the quality of institutions facilitating property transfer over time.

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