International Precursors

Image by Bonnie AckerThe community land trust draws heavily upon theoretical concepts and practical experiments with ground leasing that originated outside the United States. In some cases, these “imported seeds” directly influenced the thinking and tinkering of Americans who created precursors and prototypes that laid the foundation for the first CLTs. In other cases, ideas from other countries arrived in America by a more circuitous route, indirectly influencing the origins and evolution of the CLT.

The Gramdan villages of India, the moshav settlements of Israel, and the Garden Cities of England were foreign precedents with the greatest influence on CLT pioneers like Arthur Morgan, Ralph Borsodi, Bob Swann, Slater King, Fay Bennett, and Charles Sherrod.  Two additional foreign models informed the first book about CLTs, published in 1972.  The ejido of Mexico and the Ujamaa Vijijini of Tanzania were cited in The Community Land Trust: A Guide to a New Model for Land Tenure in America as examples of “ethical land tenure.”

Photo of Vinoba Bhava

Equally important were ideas that traveled back and forth across the Atlantic before finding a place in the modern-day CLT.  The best example is the “unearned increment,” a theory put forward in 1848 by the English political economist, John Stuart Mill.  His argument that most of the appreciation in land value is created by society led Henry George, an American political economist, to propose a “single tax” in 1879 to capture this value for public benefit.  George’s ideas – and George himself – found a warm reception in England, inspiring a London writer named Ebenezer Howard to apply George’s ideas in a novel way.  In a book published in 1898, Howard proposed to capture the unearned increment through municipal ownership of land in newly established “Garden Cities,” where land was leased to the private owners of any buildings.  Word of Howard’s ideas and their application at Letchworth and Welwyn, the first Garden Cities, eventually reached Arthur Morgan in the United States, who created two leased-land communities in the 1930s.

This chapter of Roots & Branches is a collection of historical materials about foreign-born people, places, ideas, movements, and organizations that directly or indirectly influenced American theory and practice around the CLT.  These materials are catalogued under five headings:


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