A decade or more of intense academic discussion about urban enclosure and private governance has revealed the complexity of these issues and highlighted the main dimensions in which risk should be assessed. In this paper I review some of these dimensions, first by setting out the key analytical ideas that have been important in framing the questions asked by researchers and policy makers. The issues include: public goods versus public supply; public versus ‘publics’; social versus private costs; social versus private benefits; constitution versus competition; centralised versus decentralised coordination; price versus politics; global versus local explanations; structural versus individual analysis; stasis versus dynamism. The first seven are phenomenological issues; the last three, epistemological. Secondly, I attempt to pull together several of these diverse lines of enquiry and emphases by focusing on the evolution of territory, boundaries and rights in cities. One of the challenges posed is to reflect on the sensitivity of our diagnosis, prognosis and prescriptions to the scale of spatial and temporal units adopted in our analyses.