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Human beings should live in places where they are most productive, and megacities, where information, innovation and opportunities congregate, would be the optimal choice. Yet megacities in both China and the U.S. are excluding people by limiting housing supply. Why, despite their many differences, is the same type of exclusion happening in both Chinese and U.S. megacities? Urban law and policy scholars argue that Not-In-My-Backyard (NIMBY) homeowners are taking over megacities in the U.S. and hindering housing development therein. They pin their hopes on an efficient growth machine that makes sure “above all, nothing gets in the way of building.” Yet the growth-dominated megacities of China demonstrate that relying on business and political elites to provide affordable housing is a false hope. Our comparative study of the homeowner-dominated megacities of the U.S. and growth-dominated megacities of China demonstrates that the origin of exclusionary megacities is not a choice between growth elites and homeowners, but the exclusionary nature of property rights. Our study reveals that megacities in the two countries share a property-centered approach, which prioritizes the maximization of existing property interests and neglects ultimate housing consumers’ interests, resulting in unaffordable housing. Giving housing consumers a voice in land use control and urban governance becomes the last resort to counteract this result. This comparative study shows that the conventional triangular framework of land use comprising government, developers, and homeowners is incomplete, and argues for a citizenship-based approach to urban governance. The essential component of this approach is clearly defining the boundary between the political and property markets, facilitating citizens’ equal access and participation in the political market that set general parameters for development while leaving individual development decisions to the property market.


Megacities, Agglomeration, Exclusion, Unaffordable Housing, Not in My Backyard, NIMBY, Land Monopoly, Land Use Regulations, Zoning, Urban Governance, Property Rights, China

Publication Title

Southern California Law Review

Publication Citation

91 S. Cal. L. Rev. 467 (2018)