fiscal and urban policy


Infrastructure: implications for local governance of the rise of an asset class for urban development


Building the logic of equity into fiscal decentralization in Latin America


Quality of Growth in Africa


Participatory budgeting and South-South Cooperation in Mozambique


Fiscal and Social Responsibility in São Paulo


International Public Sector Accounting Standards and the UN System of National Accounts


Contrasting infrastructure and fiscal policy trends in Maputo, Mozambique


The Missing Financial Architecture of Urban Development: Exploring the Critical Geography of Urban Property Tax Potential in African Cities


This research project seeks to contribute to the knowledge frontier on understanding both the explicit and implicit role that property tax revenue systems play in shaping the financial architecture of key urban infrastructures in booming African cities. The central premise of this work is that the financial and related managerial architecture behind urban infrastructure projects, such as those in the water and sanitation sectors, matters for equitable urban development and healthy urban communities. Relatedly, the distributive potential of infrastructure development tied to Africa’s urban real estate boom depends on the strength of governments to socialize project benefits. Worldwide, the municipal property tax is widely recognized as a critical mechanism that holds the potential to effectively address this distributive challenge. Here we marry an explicit study of property tax potential and viable models of valuation and collection in African cities with an investigation of the implicit role that property tax systems play in determining how key infrastructure projects in cities are financed, and ultimately how this financing shapes who benefits from such projects. The central research question is: how can the revenue potential of the current urban real estate boom in African cities like Addis Ababa be better leveraged to finance key urban infrastructure that services the wide urban population – including the urban poor?


The turn of the last century saw two important pieces of legislation introduced in Brazil: the Law of Fiscal Responsibility or LFR (2000) and the Statute of the City (2001). Each legislative act has been separately celebrated for introducing progressive reforms, however in this article I argue that a combination of the LFR’s strict fiscal rules and accounting practices is engendering vulnerabilities for social mandates in cities requiring large capital investments, like slum upgrading. In the city of São Paulo, municipal agencies dedicated to upgrading settlements have seen declines in the relative importance of their budgets since the introduction of the LFR. By presenting budget trends in São Paulo and discussing how the LFR regime has influenced for and by whom upgrading decisions are made, this research reveals that a perversion of intents behind both the LFR and the Statute of the City is evident in practice in São Paulo. More here.


As the adoption and harmonization of international public sector accounting standards and guidelines strengthen, decision-making processes and definitions assumed in establishing accounting best practices become more critical objects of study. Especially for countries in the global South that are making efforts to converge with such international guidelines, a critical review is warranted of the creation of the UN's System of National Accounts and the International Federation of Accountants' public sector accounting standards. This research provides evidence of how, as currently designed and articulated, public sector accounting guidelines fail to adequately encompass and address the voices and concerns of governments in the global South. More here.


In sub-Saharan African (SSA) cities like Maputo, land commodification is predictably fueled by plans for aspirational infrastructure serving elites. What is rather more peculiar, however, is the way in which the promotion of some fiscal policy reforms can also inadvertently support land commodification and the uneven development it (re)produces. This project examines how efforts to host both democratic fiscal reforms (via localized exercises like participatory budgeting) and to tap into international capital circuits to stir economic development (via aspirational infrastructure and urban redevelopment plans) can produce a Sisyphean dilemma. While gains in ordinary infrastructure investments (e.g. wells, water pumps) are achieved democratically in Maputo's KaTembe district with the participatory budget, these material (and political) improvements are being rendered irrelevant by better funded aspirational infrastructure projects for KaTembe (e.g. bridges, high-rise residential buildings, tourist facilities) supported by more opaque decisions made by the national government without residential input. Given the wide embrace of participatory budgeting in contexts of weak democracy across SSA cities and elsewhere, Maputo's experience serves as a timely alert of the risks run when this popular exercise is prematurely promoted, especially when wider-scaled property tax reforms could better redress uneven and undemocratic urban development. Read more here.

Quality of Growth in Africa

This research seeks to understand how shifts in public subsidies correlate with different public health challenges. My hypothesis tests whether and how subsidies impact the elasticity demands for basic services among income-poor communities, and thus alter the quality of basic services used in times of heightened resource scarcity. Decreased use of better basic services might make populations more vulnerable to communicable diseases, as well as increase spread of communicable diseases. By examining lagged effects of subsidy policy shifts and correlating this with other micro and macro-level data, including the number cases of malaria, cholera, and dengue fever in countries in South America, Central America, and Sub-Saharan Africa, we can begin to explore whether correlation is in evidence and whether more detailed study is warranted.


While the novelty or distinctness of South-South Cooperation (SSC) as a development paradigm is contestable, its relevance for urban planning is not. SSC among cities in the 21st century is growing, and with it reference to Brazil’s experiences in urban reform. This is in evidence in the Mozambican capital of Maputo, where a large portfolio of SSC stakeholders – or thick cooperation – paved the way for the institutionalization of Brazilian-inspired participatory budgeting. Read more here.

Fiscal Decentralization and Equity

Fiscal decentralization policies have a mixed record in realizing the objectives of greater fiscal responsibility and accountability at the sub-national level, empowering local decision-making, and improving locally provided public goods and services. Indeed, after decades of decentralization reforms, uneven development remains persistent across countries in Latin America. As fiscal decentralization in practice has historically privileged densification as a means of efficiency, the varied performance of reforms calls into question whether there are other means of achieving efficiencies in administration, improving local services, and other goals of decentralization. This is especially critical for Latin American countries that have long struggled to empower and build administrative capacities within sub-national provinces and rural areas outside capital cities. Further, the rise of “nueva ruralidad” –challenging orthodox accounts of rural economies and cultures – emphasizes the importance of re-examining whether the fiscal architecture of governments at various levels of fiscal decentralization is able to adequately leverage new rural realities in the address of uneven development. What are other logics—beyond but including that of efficiency—that could guide decentralization? Critically, should fiscal decentralization reforms be imbued with a logic of equity that balances the logic of efficiencies currently espoused through the support of agglomeration and densification? These questions are at the heart of this project in partnership with the UN Economic Commission for Latin America.

Infrastructure Finance and Local Governance

While joint public and private investment in infrastructure is centuries old, interest in infrastructure as a quasi-asset class has rapidly diversified since 2000. The rise of new agents of development assistance, the growth of dedicated infrastructure funds within the private investment community, and the impact of decades of efforts to devolve financial responsibility—particularly for basic services—to local governments means that some cities are well positioned to leverage increased demands for infrastructure investment vehicles, but also that cities are more vulnerable to the whims and priorities of this widening portfolio of actors in infrastructure finance. This project examines macro trends in infrastructure investment at a global scale, paying particular attention to basic service infrastructures within the urban environment. While the analysis provides broad insights into sectoral preferences according to actor classes across global regions, the focus of substantive inquiry is on how sectoral preferences within infrastructure, investor typologies, and financial mechanisms of investment used together influence urban development potentialities within cities of the global South. Who gains and who losses when infrastructure is the new asset class of choice for highly mobile capital? What are implications for governance when financial actors involved in infrastructure development are divorced from local accountability and infrastructure sustainability? Leveraging datasets on infrastructure finance from the private sector, publicly available data on loans, grants, and credits for infrastructure from major international financial organizations, and critical case studies of urban infrastructure in the global South, these are some of the questions this project explores.