Reinvigorating the Concept of Land Tenure for American Urban Geography

Joseph Pierce*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Tenure rights are durable privileges to use and benefit from specific pieces of land. In the USA, tenure rights are typically conceptually folded into the 'bundle of rights' associated with formal land ownership. Legally, this model rests on well-documented principles: private, serial, single-party property ownership and clear, well-regulated surveying. However, tenure does not begin and end in property. People negotiate the terms under which they use spaces - and the durability of those terms - through implicit and explicit social processes. Many geographers focused on US cities have tacitly conceded that existing forms of tenure are adequately captured in the concept of property rights despite extensive discussion about the complex construction of non-property rights in the development literature. This article argues that a vocabulary adapted from the conversation about land tenure, specifically regarding use and usufruct rights, would enhance the 'critical property' literature by exposing additional, already-existing rights in land.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1747-1757
Number of pages11
JournalGeography Compass
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2010


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