Owning the City

Property Rights in Authoritarian Regimes

Marsha McGraw Olive

£60.00  |  $90.00
ISBN 9781788214681
£60.00  |  $90.00
ISBN 9781788214698
224 pages   |  234 x 156mm   |  07 July 2022


"Drawing on history, comparative politics, and rich case studies of Moscow and Istanbul, Olive shifts our gaze from national to urban politics and identifies land governance as the key to successful and vibrant cities. Accessible, insightful, and well-researched, Owning the City should be required reading for anyone interested in cities in the twenty-first century.” – Tim Frye, Marshall D. Shulman Professor of Post-Soviet Politics, Columbia University

"Marsha McGraw Olive brilliantly employs the nature of land governance to explain the current global liberal/authoritarian divide and to show how property rights translate into political power. A must-read for those who want to understand how politics and economics intersect in our world today.” – Fatma Müge Göçek, Professor of Sociology, University of Michigan


Competition between democratic and authoritarian systems is playing out in global cities, where real property rights influence regime legitimacy and economic performance. Two questions inspire debate. Why does the property-owning middle class, which was integral to democratic development in the West, support illiberal governments? Do differences between political systems affect the success of global cities?

Marsha McGraw Olive unravels these questions by comparing urban land governance in Europe and Eurasia. Democracies largely, but not exclusively, perform better than hybrid or authoritarian regimes on real property rights, land-related regulations, and citizen engagement in urban planning. Case studies of Moscow and Istanbul show that urban real property is fundamental to regime stability, bringing wealth to average citizens and favoured elites. This formula, perfected by President Putin, bestows economic but not political benefits to middle-class property owners.

The book argues that all cities need to improve land governance to cope with twenty-first century urban challenges. Cities that respect property rights and put citizens at the centre of urban planning achieve better outcomes. In contrast, illiberal leaders who rely on opaque property deals are inciting public backlash and slowing economic growth. In the global political competition, real property rights are a chink in the authoritarian armour.


1. Globally successful cities
2. Urban political economy in historical perspective
3. Urban land governance: liberal and illiberal patterns
4. Cautionary tale: Moscow
5. Cautionary tale: Istanbul
6. Conclusions

Author Information

Marsha McGraw Olive is Adjunct Professor of European and Eurasian Studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC.

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