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Land Trusts that Conserve Communities


James J. Kelly Jr.


Notre Dame Law School

August 13, 2009

DePaul Law Review, Vol. 59, p. 69, 2009
University of Baltimore School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2009-23

Abstract:     
Much has been written about land trusts that conserve wilderness, agriculture or other environmentally beneficial uses that would be threatened by unfettered development. In the context of inner-cities, Community Land Trusts (CLTs) conserve neighborhoods. Like their environmental and agricultural counterparts, CLTs employ use restrictions to prioritize communally beneficial development. Conserving communities, however, requires other legal tools as well. CLTs create and sustain permanently affordable homes to break the market’s bias toward socioeconomic homogeneity. CLTs also make room, literally, for green space, sites of shared culture and other productive activities that the market tends to commercialize or marginalize. By sustaining a range of housing opportunities, CLTs decommodify community membership. By managing commons land with a light touch, they allow that diverse population to celebrate and deepen personal creativity even while promoting cohesion. Most importantly, as democratically controlled organizations, CLTs and their community partner organizations do not offer these primary goods as gifts but instead give community members only the opportunities to fight for them and continually discern good and better ways of retaining them. The process of sustaining community by owning land itself sustains community. If adjustment of alienability and commons management comprise the substance of community stewardship, then the development and the governance of the land trust itself is its transformative process.

The substance and process of connecting community and land evoke an understanding of human flourishing that challenges conventional welfare economics approaches. This article argues that Community Land Trusts are better appreciated, evaluated and guided by neo-Aristotelian social philosophies that appreciate the importance of the community and land in the urban neighborhood context. As an advocate for policies focused on human capabilities, Amartya Sen returns market economics to its roots in a moral philosophy of the human good and demonstrates the need for holistic, broad-based development, albeit one that is thoroughly committed to personal freedom. Alasdair MacIntyre insists that popularly controlled, community institutions are needed to foster and sustain the networks of giving and receiving that will inculcate the “virtues of acknowledged dependence” essential to an authentic and productive politics. While Sen’s writings develop a broader information base for judging the gains of CLTs, MacIntyre’s work finds indispensable communal institutions like CLTs that preserve the gains of citizens continually contending with both the state and the market.

Drawing upon the actual struggles and achievements of communities in Boston, Los Angeles and Syracuse, this article will show how land trusts conserve communities and the significance of long-term community control of neighborhood land resources for the stable growth of inner-city communities and the people who make them up. Part II will discuss how short-term investment thinking is harming inner-city neighborhoods and the measures three community land trusts have taken to conserve their communities. Part III of the article will examine the neo-Aristotelian thought of Amartya Sen and Alasdair MacIntyre as providing a rationale for community conservation institutions in a world divided between the market and the state. The article will conclude by showing how a theoretical awareness of the significance of local communities in human flourishing informs the precise corporate and property relationships inner-city neighborhoods should look to for creating and sustaining economically diverse communities of choice.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 52

Keywords: Community Land Trusts, Alasdair MacIntyre, virtue ethics, community, land, permanently affordable homes, community gardens, community governance, Amartya Sen, social capital, individualism, instrumentalism, community development

JEL Classification: K00, K11

Accepted Paper Series





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Date posted: August 15, 2009 ; Last revised: July 30, 2010

Suggested Citation

Kelly, James J., Land Trusts that Conserve Communities (August 13, 2009). DePaul Law Review, Vol. 59, p. 69, 2009; University of Baltimore School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2009-23. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1448783

Contact Information

James J. Kelly Jr. (Contact Author)
Notre Dame Law School ( email )
P.O. Box 780
Notre Dame, IN 46556-0780
United States

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