Collective Land Ownership and Gentrification in West Philadelphia

Authors: Ray Hill-Cristol*,
Topics: Economic Geography, Ethnicity and Race, Land Use
Keywords: Land trust, collective land ownership, gentrification, white flight, race
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/10/2021
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:20 PM
Room: Virtual 11
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

This paper considers the structure, history, contemporary circumstances, and future potentialities of the Life Center Association (LCA) – a cooperatively operated land trust of eight collectively lived in properties in West Philadelphia which the author was born, raised, and still resides in. Founded in the early 1970s by a now defunct anarcho-pacifist organization, the LCA holds both land and housing decommodified in common, offering a distinct model from the CLT. This model refuses private ownership, landlording, and the commodity function of real estate in favor of self determined collective control of land and housing. Yet the LCA’s unique history contextualized by the historic and ongoing movements of people and capital in West Philadelphia along race and class lines, reveals (a) the vexed relationship between this history of white radicalism and gentrification, and (b) the blunted yet significant impact market forces have on isolated projects of decommodified land and housing. This tangled history and ongoing gentrification in conjunction with demographic changes toward a lower income and more racially diverse membership within the LCA engenders a consideration of race as commodity, as well as strategies for resistance to regimes of racial capital. In part catalyzed by the COVID-19 crisis and ongoing uprisings, LCA members are turning toward a range of solidarity based economic strategies for resistance and refusal of the racist real estate market. The final section considers some strategies to create affordable decommodified housing the LCA is already implementing, and other similar strategies which might be of use to the LCA.

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