Property Playbook: Reclaiming Land for Racial and Social Equity
Authors: Sanyukta Bhagwat, Craig Dias, Jason Gonzalez, Shih Ting Huang, Chaitanya Khurana, Savannah Lindsey, Kyle Matlock, Kevin Pham, Abigail Rockwell, Alexander Roos, Marion Rosas
Institution: California College of the Arts
Instructor: Janette Kim
Studio: Property in Crisis; Graduate Architecture; Fall 2020
Partner: East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative
We have collected our research findings and design proposals here as a playbook for alternative property arrangements. Just as a sports team can use a play, or tactic, from their ‘playbook’ regardless of who’s coaching or playing that day, we invite activists to test techniques shown here and make them their own.
We began by researching property case studies, and then hosted a workshop to discuss them with EB PREC, architects, planners, a commune network organizer, a nonprofit housing developer, and a climate adaptation planner. We also hosted a guest lecture and several reviews of student work, and reviewed this book with several EB PREC partners.
Its pages are organized by their property ‘play’ to invite our readers to consider what strategies interest them. To focus on strategy, we have edited out the students’ considerable research on West Oakland’s history, culture, policy challenges, activist initiatives, and other conditions, even though they were critical to our process. Instead, each section contains case study research, design tactics applicable to diverse urban conditions, and depictions of design proposals grounded in the urban ecosystem of 7th Street Corridor.
We hope this book will be useful to designers, communities, and activists like our studio partner, the East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative. Our goal is to explore how innovative legal and financial strategies for reclaiming and decommodifying land can come to life in the space of the city.
PROPERTY IS POWER. The subdivision of land as property has defined racial and social justice—and injustice—by shaping the way wealth is created. The Jeffersonian grid, for example, accelerated the seizure of Indigenous land and life in the colonial settlement of the American West. The single-family home was underwrittten by discriminatory home loan policies and zoning laws that ban diverse housing types in the name of protecting property values. These and many other exclusive systems endure, preventing Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color from generating wealth.
CRISIS. In today’s risk society, this legacy of social injustice leaves precarious communities even more vulnerable to ever-mounting threats of climate change, economic volatility and defunded public health systems. Politicians and planners have famously portrayed these risks as an ‘opportunity’ for wholesale change—but as the demolition of viable housing after Hurricane Katrina showed, crisis has also been used as a convenient smokescreen to further self-interest. ‘Resilient planning’ has been promoted as a strategy for vulnerable communities to bounce back from tragedy, but it has also been sharply criticized for failing to prevent such losses in the first place. Instead, a community’s true ability to withstand crisis requires reconciliation with past injustices as well as resilience to contemporary volatility. It demands a more inclusive cultivation of wealth and power—one possible in the reconfiguration of property.
EQUITY. There is, in fact, a flip side to property. Many of its underlying logics—such as the commons, liability, maintenance, belonging, and yes, even profit—can be altered to more inclusive ends. Community Land Trusts, for example, take land off the speculative market—in which land is sold to the highest bidder. Instead, CLTs ensure permanent affordability and collectivize ownership through democratic governance by residents. Public Trust laws delineate government property along the ever-changing edge between land and water, calling the exclusivity of land ownership into question, especially as sea levels rise.
DESIGN. Such alternate property arrangements can support deep-seated and systemic reform. They can decommodify land and expand access to it in a way that can enable social exchange, cultural expression, regenerative economies, and ecological vitality. Such arrangements require an entirely different spatial manifestation of ownership. No longer bound by picket fences or guarded enclaves, ownership can be defined by a large kitchen table, a roof that shelters neighbors, or a dynamic watershed.
GREEN NEW DEAL. This studio interprets the call for justice and decarbonization outlined in the Green New Deal as an opportunity to reimagine the underlining spatial structures for organizing wealth and resource access. These projects imagine how property can be reimagined in the face of the climate crisis to strengthen racial and social justice.