This essay examines the impact of globalization on land peripheral to large cities of the south. It identifies such land as providing major arenas for contested claims between the requirements of international firms and those of local inhabitants and businesses, entailing both threats and opportunities in terms of local economic development. Much depends on the urban governance and institutional processes surrounding the use and allocation of land that are themselves directly influenced by the globalization process. In many cities national, state or provincial governments have set up special parastatal organizations with substantial funding and significant decision-making powers over infrastructure development and land use to facilitate the rebirth of their cities as havens for international investment. In the process local municipalities and the local population are often excluded from the decision-making process, while being left to cope with the aftermath and maintenance of the grand projects. The essay identifies weaknesses in elite governance models usually centred at the state or national levels, and asks if a better alternative may be a local government-led ‘inclusive leadership’ model capable of clear leadership, greater coordination of different governance layers and inclusion of local actors.