In Bhutan, residents of Thimphu voluntarily contributed parcels of land to allow for the planned, sustainable expansion of the city.

The 'pooled' land was used to develop public amenities and urban infrastructure.

This innovative approach has now become a model for urban expansion and growth across the country.


Thimphu, Bhutan - The city of Thimphu has been expanding rapidly through the years.

A magnet for people from rural areas looking for work and better services.

“Thimphu being the capital city, we have all the offices here, all ten ministries, so many corporations, headquarters, then we have the tourism industry, so many hotels are being built, so therefore with this service industry booming, there has been employment generation,” says Kinlay Dorjee, Mayor of Thimphu. “So with the migration happening, we at the municipal office needs to look at again, doubling up our facilities, our amenities.”

A decade ago, the government realized that it needed to plan the city’s development.

But it lacked the funds to acquire land for urban expansion.

So, it tried a radical alternative: land pooling.

Residents in four pilot areas voluntarily contributed 15 to 30% of their land in exchange for the development of common urban infrastructure and public amenities.

“By then, the value of land was increasing in Thimphu, so obviously people would not want to part with their land,” comments Ugyen Penjor, a publisher from Thimpu’s Babesa area.

But they did. Private and public land was pooled together for development. 

Residents in other areas of Thimphu saw the benefits of land pooling. 

Many, including Ugyen Penjor, overcame their reluctance to part with their land.

“Without contributing land, there was no way that the city could develop in a proper way. And we have plenty of examples in Bhutan where towns are not planned properly, we build buildings first, and then we start building access roads and laying sewage, drains, so that was a problem,” says Penjor.
“I think more than the individual benefits, the community as a whole, and the city as a whole, is benefitting because of this initiative. If you look down, you can see, there’s an open space here, there’s an open air gym built by the city, because there’s land, and the people who have contributed land.”

The government also built roads, and brought drinking water and sanitation facilities. 

The quality of life of nearly 19,000 Thimphu residents was greatly improved. 

The Asian Development Bank supported this ground breaking project. 

“ADB came in to support all the infrastructure development works in the southern part of the city,” says Kinlay Dorjee.

Land pooling has now become standard procedure for urban expansion in Bhutan.