The Role of Institutional Entrepreneurs, Electoral Politics, and Clientelism in Informal Titling and Urban Expansion in Mexico City

Authors: Beth Tellman*, Columbia University, Meha Jain, University of Michigan, Dylan Connor, Arizona State University, Hallie Eakin, Arizona State University, Felipe de Alba, CESOP, Centro de Estudios Sociales y Opinion Publica, Marco Janssen, Arizona State University
Topics: Urban Geography, Sustainability Science, Land Use and Land Cover Change
Keywords: Mexico City, informal, urbanization, property rights, land change, institutions
Session Type: Paper
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Understanding informal urban expansion and the granting of property rights to informal urban residents is key to building institutions for sustainable urban development. Increasing informal urban growth, decentralization, and democratization of urban governance generates political and economic capital, which actors seek to capture by providing tenure security or basic services to settlers in exchange for votes, coercion, or a fee. This study draws on institutional analysis of interviews with actors who buy, sell, and regulate land, coupled with panel regressions of time-series data on property titling, elections, and urban expansion in Mexico City from 2000-2015. Institutional analysis reveals “institutional entrepreneurs”, powerful actors who repeatedly evade or alter formal rules or create new rules of urban land regulation, disproportionately benefit from and reinforce continued urban expansion. To test the salience of political transactions across the city, panel regressions were used to examine the relationship between voting patterns, urban expansion, and the distribution of titles. Results show private property title distribution follows the political business cycle, increasing just before local elections. More titles are extended to loyal voters of the dominant party in power, while urban expansion increases with electoral competition in local elections. Future studies should expand beyond informal settlements and focus on informal transactions, as many legal housing developments which drive urban growth are shaped by informal political and economic exchanges. Sustainable urbanization will require identifying and shifting current institutional incentives that benefit political and economic elites and reinforce inequitable social and environmental consequences of urban growth.

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