Disjuncture and Resilience: A Holistic Approach to Real Estate Development in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

PI: Manduhai Buyandelger (Anthropology Program, MIT) 


Since the collapse of socialism in 1990 and Mongolia’s subsequent shift to neoliberal capitalism, the capital city, Ulaanbaatar, has experienced drastic overgrowth accompanied by congestion, environmental degradation, a lack of adequate housing, illegal land use, and many other problems related to rapid urbanization, migration, and economic instability.

In this project I propose to explore the contexts, politics, and challenges of real estate entrepreneurship in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Who are the main culprits in the emergence of the real estate crisis? What characteristics would qualify various agents as ‘responsible’ for real estate development, from construction companies to city planners and bankers? And what legal, financial, environmental, and cultural changes could facilitate the development of a more responsible real estate entrepreneurship?

With the grant from the STL Real Estate Entrepreneurship Lab, I will map the ‘landscape’ of real estate entrepreneurship in the context of the country’s larger socioeconomic changes. My goal is not limited to diagnosing the missing links and challenges for responsible development. I seek an understanding of the workings and disjunctures among various entities that will influence this new field in the near future.

The Mongolian case study will aid in understanding the many challenges related to the development of real estate entrepreneurship in newer, less stable, emerging economies worldwide. This study will present culturally and institutionally specific ways in which the notion of “responsible real estate entrepreneurship” is understood and implemented in places where moral and ethical norms, as well as legal codes, are being transformed due to the shift from state socialism to neoliberal capitalism. It will investigate the emergence of real estate entrepreneurship as a socio-cultural valuegenerator, specifically in the context of rising concerns about the environment, increasing inequality, diversity, public health management, and new technologies. Among the insights and solutions I hope this project will enable are new approaches to increasing affordable housing, creative ways to expand and supplement infrastructure, and possible reforms of legal and banking structures.

The project consists of three phases: preliminary, fieldwork, and writing. It will deliver reports, articles, a book manuscript, and a new cross-listed course. It will foster a cross-disciplinary dialogue, develop new methodologies and theories, and expand graduate students’ interests in cross-disciplinary research. It will forward the STL Lab’s mission in advancing socially responsible real estate entrepreneurship and will help to train the newer generation of scholars, entrepreneurs, and decision-makers.