2020/10/31 – Call for papers: AAG 2021 Seattle + virtual “Real Estate, Finance and Urban Development”

Please find below four sessions on real estate (incl. housing), finance and urban development at the American Association of Geographers (AAG) Annual Meeting, Seattle + virtual, April 7-11, 2021, https://www2.aag.org/aagannualmeeting/. We had planned four sessions last year but cancelled all of them for obvious reasons. This time, we hope to be able to organize one or more virtual sessions alongside one or more physical sessions.

If you are interested in presenting at one of these sessions, please contact the organizer/chair of that session. I am only the organizer of the first session. If in doubt about the best fit, you could e-mail two of sessions’ organizers. Please send your e-mail before the end of October. Also: let us know if you plan to attend in person or virtually, and, if the former is the case, if you'd still be interested in being part of a virtual session in case other presenters will only be able to attend virtually.

You will also need to register for the AAG conference and upload your abstract to the online system: https://www2.aag.org/AAGAnnualMeeting/Call_for_Submissions/Abstracts/AAGAnnualMeeting/How_to_Submit_an_Abstract.aspx?hkey=2ddb8b77-96dd-483f-950a-086823af2336. The AAG website will then provide you with a PIN, which you need to send to the organizer of your session, as we will need it to add your abstract to our sessions. In other words: you need to submit your abstract once by e-mail and once online.

Once all the abstracts are in, the organizers of the four possible sessions will coordinate between them to construct time-slots of 4-5 presentations each. This implies we may be combining two of the themes below to construct additional sub-sessions or to create one physical session next to several virtual sessions, etc.

Best regards on behalf of all organizers,

Manuel Aalbers


Manuel B. Aalbers, Ph.D.

KU Leuven / University of Leuven 

Department of Geography & Tourism 

Celestijnenlaan 200e -- bus 2409

3001  Heverlee





Real Estate, Finance and Urban Development (1): The Housing Financialization/Affordability Nexus

If interested, please send an abstract (less than 250 words) to Manuel Aalbers (manuel.aalbers@kuleuven.be) and indicate preference for physical/virtual presentation. Notification of decision will be made asap.


Affordability has always been an important topic within studies of housing markets and policies, but has received renewed impetus in the age of financialization. Whereas “financial solutions” are typically presented as expanding housing affordability to more social groups, the effect is typically one of price inflation. Depending on global, national and local policies and conditions this may either result in reduced affordability or in increased indebtness. Yet the narrative that finance enables homeownership remains strong and is rolled out to informal housing markets. Furthermore, the financialization of rental housing has become an important frontier. While the effect on new construction has been limited, the effect on housing affordability, by and large, has been negative. New corporate landlords are also using new strategies and digital platforms to manage property and tenants, possibly leading to new patterns of inclusion and exclusion.


Real Estate, Finance and Urban Development (2): The Geographies of Real Estate Investment Trusts

If interested, please send an abstract (less than 250 words) to Taylor Hafley (taylor.hafley@uga.eduand indicate preference for physical/virtual presentation  Notification of decision will be made asap.

Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) have grown rapidly in urban and financial geographies during the 21st century. Today, an estimated one in four Americans are partial owners of the more than 500,000 REIT properties nationwide (reit.com). Originally constrained to United States shopping centers, REITs now operate around the globe, and include real estate such as single-family homes, timber and farmland, data centers, and electric transmission lines within the US.

The 2020 AAG meeting marks REITs’ 50th anniversary, and while there has been a recent uptick in interest from geographers (for example: Waldron, 2018; August and Walks, 2018; Aalbers, 2019; Hofman and Aalbers, 2019; Sanfelici and Halbert, 2019; Wijburg, 2019), REITs remain an understudied aspect of critical geographic inquiry. As a corporate structure that functions to turn fixed real estate into financial liquidity (Gotham, 2006), REITs link an array of property types and institutional investment funds. The rise of REITs raise questions about the increasingly blurred lines between property types; the concentration of land ownership and increasing power over social, political, and economic processes by partial and absentee landlords; and imbalances between market capitalization and gross real estate assets.

We seek papers mapping out and uncovering the range of geographies in which REITs are manifest, and the various social, political, and economic strategies REITs undertake to exert influence over metropolitan space, at multiple scales. The session welcomes papers examining all types of REITs with aims of developing a broader understanding within geography of this increasingly popular financial asset and property owner, addressing questions such as:

  • What broader political economic factors have contributed to the rapid flow of institutional investment into REITs since the Great Financial Crisis?
  • What role do REITs play in producing global inequality, housing insecurity, and financial instability? In what ways do these processes unfold unevenly in both metropolitan and financial markets? How can we ‘spatialize’ these instabilities? (see, for example, Dymski, 2017).
  • How susceptible are REITs to boom and bust cycles? How do downturns in stock prices and shareholder value effect service delivery and property management?
  • What methodological strategies and approaches are useful and available to uncovering company information such as properties owned, sources of funding, or corporate decision-making processes?
  • The limited research that does exist within geography focuses primarily on housing and timber and farmland. Which additional REIT sectors warrant urgent attention from geographers?
  • In what ways do the answers to any of the above differ for listed and non-listed REITs, and vary across REIT sectors?

Additional topics of interest as they relate to REITs may include, but is far from limited to:

  • platform urbanism and new technologies of rent extraction (Fields, 2019)
  • racialized and gendered inclusion and exclusion
  • local governance, austerity urbanism, and ‘fiscal geographies’ (Tapp and Kay, 2019)
  • rentier capitalism (Byrne, 2017; Christophers, 2019; Radical Housing Journal, Vol 1.2)
  • studies of financialization ‘from below’ (Ouma, 2014) and “getting between M-C-M’” (Ouma, 2018)
  • the global housing crisis (Beswick et al. 2016)
  • Historical geographies of REITs


Aalbers, M. B. 2019. Revisiting ‘The Changing State of Gentrification’: Introduction to the Forum: From Third to Fifth-Wave Gentrification. Tijdschrift voor Economishe en Sociale Geographie 11(1): 1-11

August, M. and A. Walks. 2018. Gentrification, suburban decline, and the financialization of multi-family rental housing: The case of Toronto. Geoforum 89: 124-136

Byrne, M. 2019. Generation rent and the financialization of housing: a comparative exploration of the growth of the private rental sector in Ireland, the UK and Spain. Housing Studies. Doi:10.1080/02673037.2019.1632813

Christophers, B. 2019. The rentierization of the United Kingdom economy. Environment and  Planning A https://doi.org/10.1177/0308518X19873007

Dymski. G.A. 2017. Finance and Financial Systems: Evolving Geographies of Crisis and Instability, pp 539-556, in Clark, G., M.P. Feldman, M.S. Gertler, and D. Wójcik, eds, The New Oxford Handbook of Economic Geography

Fields, D. 2019. Automated landlord: digital technologies and post-crisis financial accumulation. Environment and Planning A 0(0): 1-22.

Gotham, K.F. 2006. The Secondary Circuit of Capital Reconsidered: Globalization and the U.S. Real Estate Sector.  American Journal of Sociology 112(1): 231-275.

Hofman, A. and M.B. Aalbers. 2019. A finance- and real estate-driven regime in the United Kingdom. Geoforum 100: 89-100

Ouma, S. 2014. Situating global finance in the Land Rush Debate: A critical review. Geoforum 57:162-166

Ouma, S. 2018. Rethinking the financialization of ‘nature’. Environment and Planning A, 50(3):500-511 Radical Housing Journal. 2019. Interrogating Rent: Structures, Struggles and Subjectivities. https://radicalhousingjournal.org

Sanfelici, D. and L. Halbert. 2019. Financial market actors as urban policy-makers: the case of real estate investment trusts in Brazil

Tapp, R. and K. Kay. 2019. Fiscal geographies: ‘Placing’ taxation in urban geography. Urban Geography 40(4): 573-581

Wijburg, G. 2019. Reasserting state power by remaking markets? The introduction of real estate investment trusts in France and its implications for state-finance relation in the Greater Paris region. Geoforum 100:209-219.


Real Estate, Finance and Urban Development (3): The Role of Real Estate Developers in Urban Development

Organizers: Anthony Boanada-Fuchs & Vanessa Boanada Fuchs, University of St.Gallen

Interested scholars should send an abstract (less than 250 words) to Anthony (anthony.boanada-fuchs@unisg.chand indicate preference for physical/virtual presentation. Notification of decision will be made asap.


As the world is predominantly - and increasingly - urban, cities will be essential to advance global prosperity and answering the great development challenges of our times. Urban development is driven by decision-making processes that transgress sectoral and geographic confinement and involve a wide range of stakeholders. While politicians or planners may often at best set out the broad spatial and functional visions of a city, other actors are in charge of putting these into reality: cities are foremost a private enterprise (Molotch and Logan 1987).

Still in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, triggered by international real estate practices, the time may be ripe to revisit urban theories and assess their capacity to capture the implications of the global financialisation of real estate markets, the increasing dependence of value-capture and private finance in local urban planning systems, the privatization of urban space and the proliferation of spatial injustice. Real estate developers provide an important entry point as they are intimately linked to these processes.

Real estate developers are central agents of change and influence urban development throughout the world. Despite the centrality of these stakeholders in steering urbanization processes and their spatial manifestation, the existing body of literature remains thin (Adams & Tiesdell, 2010; Coiacetto, 2009). One of the first edited books on development and developers was written by Guy and Henneberry (2002) and already revealed a broad range of approaches to improve our institutional understanding of real estate markets (see also Fainstein 1994). Currently, the theoretical and practical insights on developers remain fragmented with little dialogue among their many parts.

The panel aims at uniting scholars interested in the geography of profits and politics that underlies the creation of our built environment. We invite contributions that highlight the role of developers in urban development in the Global North as well as South.

Call For Submissions:

The panel organizers are particularly interested in thick case study analysis that highlight one or several roles real estate developers play within urban development. The roles include but are not limited to (i) the involvement in the discourse, vision and idea making of cities and important urban projects, (ii) formal and informal influences in policymaking, (iii) strategic roles in the elaboration of urban plans and strategy, (iv) the building of cities and urban space. A second interest is on the analysis of the financial mechanisms of real estate projects as well as strategies and decision-making processes within real estate firms.

Real Estate, Finance and Urban Development (4): New norms and forms of urban governance under financialization

Organizers: Shenjing He (The University of Hong Kong) and Fulong Wu (University College London). Sponsored by China Geography Specialty Group, Urban Geography Specialty Group and Asian Geography Specialty Group

Interested scholars should send an abstract (less than 250 words) to Shenjing He (sjhe@hku.hk) and Fulong Wu (fulong.wu@ucl.ac.uk) and indicate preference for physical/virtual presentation. Notification of decision will be made asap. 

Emerging as an evolving form of neoliberal capitalism that dominates in post-crisis capitalist economies, financialization has brought about profound influences in the restructuring of economies, states, cities, firms and households. In particular, financialization leaves remarkable imprints on the urban built environment, which has been widely examined by scholars in different contexts. Nonetheless, the changing dynamics of urban governance amidst the transition to a finance-dominated economy has not been sufficiently explored. From a regulationist point of view, the modes of regulation that are compatible with the prevailing accumulation regime are crucial in securing the economic base of the dominant mode of growth. With notable geographical variations, the new modes of regulation under financialization are generally characterized by a series of institutional restructuring and financial deregulation to conjure up a novel governance structure equipped with various financial tools, and turning local states into indebted investors deeply engaging with finance sector to sustain the circulation of capital in and out of the urban built environment. To a large extent, financialization have thoroughly revamped the conventional ways of city building and urban governance. Prevalent financial motives and practices have led to the production of new policy models and new norms of local governance, for instance, establishing local financing platforms in the forms of semi-public institutions and public-private-partnership of different sorts; replacing growth-machine politics with debt-machine dynamics; creating new institutions and patterns of governance, known as ‘flanking mechanism’  to extend financial logic and motive into new spheres of urban life. It is not uncommon that cities are packaged into quality financial assets to compete for investment from capital market for financing land (re)development and refinancing accumulated debts. Dominant local government agendas are restructured in favor of attracting financial capital and debt management over other constituents of the society. And the newly introduced financial rationale of risk pricing and credit rating channels the torrents of capital flows into cities of different ranks and place them into different positions of the financial ecology. Qualitatively different from the conventional entrepreneurial urban governance, these new dynamics of urban governance enables local governments augmenting their entrepreneurial ambition to engage in bolder and riskier entrepreneurial endeavours, generating new patterns of uneven development and giving rise to a new order of urban hierarchy. Thus far, these important new dimensions and dynamism of urban governance have not been thoroughly scrutinized, especially from a comparative perspective. 

We hereto call for a concerted effort to bring the discussions and examinations in above-mentioned research area to the fore, and in particular, from non-western contexts and/or a comparative perspective. We invite papers on themes including but not limited to the following:

     Local governance and debt-machine politics

●     Local financing platforms and public-private-partnership

●     Mobility of financialized urban policies and governance

●     Financialized ‘flanking mechanism’ in governing the city

●     New urban hierarchy defined by the financial ecology


We have added a possible fifth session to your series of sessions. If necessary, we can merge this session with the first session below.

Real Estate, Finance and Urban Development (5): Financialization and Multi-dimensional Housing Inequalities amidst Covid-19

Organizers: Shenjing He (The University of Hong Kong, email: sjhe@hku.hk) and Manuel Aalbers (KU Leuven, email: manuel.aalbers@kuleuven.be)

Sponsored by China Geography Specialty Group, Economic Geography Specialty Group and Urban Geography Specialty Group

If interested, please send an abstract (around 250 words) to Shenjing He (sjhe@hku.hk) and Manuel Aalbers (manuel.aalbers@kuleuven.be) and indicate preference for physical/virtual presentation.  Notification of decision will be made asap.

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has raised the spectre of an unparalleled global recession with unthinkable consequences. With a wide range of economic activities has experienced abrupt and severe crash, Covid-19 will no doubt leave a strong imprint in the global economy. Whereas we can see Covid-19-induced housing recessions in many countries, we also witness a further acceleration of house price increases in select countries. Long lasting housing inequalities tend to worsen in times of uncertainty, as also exhibited in the post-2008 global recession. Although the Covid-19 pandemic has profoundly changed the global geopolitics and an anti-globalization sentiment accompanying the rise of populism worldwide is expected, the further rolling out of housing financialization does not seem to cease to be a dominant mechanism in the housing market any time soon.

The intensified financialization since 2008 global financial crisis has provoked escalated concerns about the dominance of financialization in the global economic system and its ramifications in various spheres of the society, ranging from fiscal health to housing tenure structure and everyday life. Across a wide range of contexts, rather than witnessing a de-financialization of the housing market, we experiences a re-employment of property-led financialization to facilitate new waves of capital accumulation adjusted in the post-crisis context (e.g., Fields, 2018; He et al., 2020; Hofman and Aalbers, 2019; Special Issues in IJURR, 2017; HPD, 2020). As one of the financial instruments in the post-crisis context, housing, especially the rental housing, has been the key target of the global pool of investment, in which institutional investors (e.g. pension funds, private equity and real estate investment firms) as well as super-rich investors play increasingly dominant roles (Fernandez et al., 2016; Fields, 2018; Wijburg et al., 2018). The post-crisis financialization of (rental) housing has projected variegated impacts on housing affordability and instability for low-income householders and tenants (e.g., Fields, 2017; Vives-Miró et al., 2018’ Waldron, 2016). The uneven effect of financialization on housing opportunities creates challenges for vulnerable groups, such as migrants, the elderly, younger generations, to access homeownership, leading to the exacerbating housing inequality in the society.

Although it is still too early to predict the impact of Covid-19 on housing inequalities, it becomes clear that the disadvantaged are inevitably facing unprecedented and multiple socioeconomic vulnerabilities that may lead to ‘advanced marginality’ (Wacquant and Howe, 2008), e.g. less tenant protection and more rigorous control against rent default, declining public expenditure under fiscal austerity, increasing housing unaffordability due to reduced income, exacerbated unemployment and homelessness.

We thus propose to examine the exacerbated housing inequalities that may be (re)shaped by an advanced level of financialization and further fiscal austerity under the unprecedented economic recession induced by the once-in-a-century pandemic and the resultant anti-globalization movement. We are interested in papers closely scrutinizing how multi-dimensional housing inequalities, i.e. generation-based, tenure-based, and class-based inequalities are wrought under the ongoing economic hardship, the uneven geographies of global capital flows, and new forms of financialization anchored by governments in pandemic-stricken cities.Specific research questions include but are not limit to the follow:

1) How does the Covid-19-induced economic downturn affect housing affordability and housing tenure security for different social groups and age cohorts?

2) To what extent is the Covid-19 outbreak re-steering cross-border capital flows in the housing market and producing uneven housing outcomes, particularly the access to affordable (rental) housing, geographically and socio-spatially?

3) To what extent has the Covid-19 pandemic led to a policy reorientation in different locales in terms of espousing further steps of financialization and jettisoning so-called ‘tenure neutral’ housing policies that may aggravate existing inequalities in housing opportunities and outcomes?

4) How can we relate the state-led financialization of housing to the property-led financialization of the economy? How should we conceptualize the role of the state in these processes, and especially amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.


Adelino, M., Schoar, A., & Severino, F. (2018). The role of housing and mortgage markets in the financial crisis. Annual Review of Financial Economics10, 25-41.

Fernandez, R., Hofman, A., & Aalbers, M.B. (2016). London and New York as a safe deposit box for the transnational wealth elite. Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space48(12), 2443-2461.

Fields, D. (2017). Unwilling subjects of financialization. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research41(4), 588-603.

Fields, D .(2018). Constructing a new asset class: Property-led financial accumulation after the crisis. Economic Geography 94(2): 118–140.

He, S., Zhang, M., & Wei, Z. (2020). The state project of crisis management: China’s Shantytown Redevelopment Schemes under state-led financialization. Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, 52(3), 632-653.

Hofman, A. and Aalbers, M.B. (2019). A finance- and real estate-driven regime in the United Kingdom. Geoforum 100: 89-100.

Housing Policy Debate (2020) The financialization of housing in capitalism’s peripheries. Edited by Aalbers, M.B., Rolnik, R. and Krijnen, M. Issue 30(4): 481-701.

International Journal of Urban and Regional Research (2017) The variegated financialization of housing. Edited by Aalbers, M.B.  Issue 41(4): 542-641.

Vives-Miró S, Rullan O and González Pérez JM (2018). Understanding Geographies of Home Dispossession through the Crisis: Evictions Palma Style. Barcelona:Icaria.

Wacquant, L., & Howe, J. (2008). Urban outcasts: A comparative sociology of advanced marginality. Polity.

Waldron, R. (2016). The ‘unrevealed casualties’ of the Irish mortgage crisis: Analysing the broader impacts of mortgage market financialisation. Geoforum 69: 53–66.

Wijburg G, Aalbers MB and Heeg S (2018). The financialization of rental housing 2.0: Releasing housing into the privatized mainstream of capital accumulation. Antipode 50(4): 1098–1119.



Posted in Past Events.