• Ben Davy University of Johannesburg




John Rawls, the Western authority on justice, displayed an almost indifferent attitude towards “the ownership society” and property rights. Perhaps for this reason, most treatises on the just city ignore or downplay the issue of ownership of and in the just city (e.g., Fainstein 2010; Moroni 2020; Soja 2010).

The question as to who owns the city has two archetypal dimensions (Table 1). The institutional dimension distinguishes private and common property. The personal dimension distinguishes between one, many, and all urban residents as owners or members of the common use community (Davy 2016).



private property

common property

one owner/user

the enslaved city

the regal city

many owners/users

the democratic city

the two-thirds city

everybody owns/uses

the wasteful city

the egalitarian city

Table 1: Institutional and personal aspects of urban ownership (Source: B. Davy)

Even libertarians dislike private or common property owned by only one owner/user. Once property rights have been introduced to urban settings, however, the flow towards elitist or monopolistic patters is difficult to curb. Many consider a city with many private owners as a democratic city, but if the use of the commons is limited to only a segment of urban residents, the two-thirds city is too exclusionary for most authors. If everybody is admitted to use urban commons, the egalitarian city emerges. Unfortunately, if everybody owns urban land, the resulting use pattern (endless one-family house subdivisions) is wasteful. The model underlying Table 1 alerts us to the fact that no ideal combination on the institutional and personal dimension of the just city exists.

Within the framework of Table 1, the presentation discusses three issues of the ownership of and in the just city:

    1. Are landlords and tenants the best combination of ownership in the just city (and if yes, who decides who is a landlord or a tenant)?
    2. Most cities combine restricted land uses (under private property) and shared land uses (under common property). Are some of these polyrational combinations more suitable for a just city than others?
    3. How does the just city respect and promote the rights of Nature (and if it doesn’t can it really be called just)?


Davy, B. 2016. Land policy. London.

Fainstein, S. 2010. The just city. Ithaca und London.

Moroni, S. 2020. The just city. In: Planning Theory 19, 3, 251–267.

Nussbaum, M. 2022. Justice for animals. New York u.a.

Soja, E.W. 2010. Seeking spatial justice. Minneapolis und London.

Thrift, N. 2021. Killer cities. Los Angeles et al.