Design and Shared Equity Land Tenure

A Tale of Two Community Land Trusts

Carolyn Angius (MUP 2019) and Eleni Macrakis (MUP 2019)

Macrakis & Angius Image.jpg

In the United States and globally, community land trusts (CLTs) are most often discussed as urban planning tools to expand and preserve perpetually affordable housing, but limited and shared equity land tenure models like those offered by CLTs also provide critical opportunities for innovative and community-responsive design interventions. These models interface with design at two key nexuses: they offer unique design opportunities to respond directly to community histories and needs, and they can be used together with the planning and implementation of large and small-scale urban design interventions.[1] It is imperative to more explicitly coordinate the practices of land tenure transformation and design to more fully recognize and realize design’s potential as an agent of social change and to combat real estate speculation that is often catalyzed by the planning and implementation of public and private sector projects. Two case studies in the United States and the United Kingdom, respectively, provide insight into the design opportunities afforded by development on community-owned land, as well as the importance of considering land tenure in coordination with the development and implementation of urban planning and design projects in order to combat displacement and gentrification.

Rondo Community Land Trust, St. Paul, Minnesota, United States

Opportunities for design

Throughout the 1960s, Rondo was St. Paul and Minneapolis’ largest African American neighborhood, functioning as an active residential and commercial area and cultural locus for African Americans in the Twin Cities region. After the passage of the 1956 Federal Highway Act, the federal government routed what is now Interstate 94 through Rondo, displacing thousands of residents, destroying more than 600 homes, and bulldozing the neighborhood’s central commercial strip of more than 300 small African-American owned businesses. After highway construction, Rondo’s once-active commercial corridor, Selby Avenue, became characterized by empty storefronts due to discriminatory lending practices that barred business owners from capital and divestment that led to rising crime that encouraged business owners to relocate downtown.

In Rondo, shared equity land tenure has contributed to the revitalization of Selby Avenue as a commercial corridor, providing opportunities for development that specifically responds to community history and needs. The Rondo Community Land Trust (RCLT) was established in 1993 to increase access to affordable home ownership by African American neighborhood residents who were historically denied capital under redlining policies. Today, RCLT is leading the nation’s CLTs to expand development beyond single-family housing. Their Selby Mission Victoria (SMV) Project is a mixed-use affordable senior housing development with affordable spaces for small, minority-owned businesses and will open in 2019.[1] Through the SMV project, RCLT hopes to enhance its work catalyzing an “African American Cultural Corridor” in central Selby by “retain[ing], stabiliz[ing], and promot[ing] small, local, and minority owned businesses.”[2] In the case of Rondo, community land ownership has led to design interventions that directly respond to locally-specific community histories: RCLT’s commercial corridor development work incorporates affordable senior housing less viable in market-rate development, while also providing affordable commercial spaces in response the historic dispossession of majority African-American businesses owned and operated businesses in Rondo before urban renewal.

Coordinating land tenure and design interventions

Today, 1960s highway construction continues to reverberate through contemporary debates about neighborhood development and equity in Rondo. Plans spearheaded by the Urban Land Institute (ULI) propose a land bridge over Interstate 94 that would convert part of the highway through Rondo into a public amenity. The land bridge is designed to respond to the mid-century urban renewal policies that routed Interstate 94 through Rondo. However, it poses risks similar to those of original highway construction in which large-scale investment in valuable public amenities may further gentrify Rondo without sufficient anti-speculation mechanisms like those provided by shared equity land tenure through RCLT.[3] While ULI has proposed the land bridge itself be owned and operated by RCLT, there has been little discussion of broader removal of land from the speculative market in Rondo and other historically affordable areas nearby at risk of speculation in response to the anticipated land bridge. Large design interventions like the land bridge should be considered in tandem with funding/financing for acquisition of properties to expand shared equity land tenure in and near the land bridge to ensure the efforts made to address historic injustices of displacement do not replicate the historic dispossession to which they respond.

Granby 4 Streets, Liverpool, United Kingdom

Opportunities for design

As in the United States, planning and design practitioners in the United Kingdom were responsible for the violent dispossession brought on by urban renewal and redevelopment in the mid-20th century that displaced vibrant, low-income communities. In Liverpool, the CLT affordable housing model and coordinated design interventions were used to redevelop an area in which the city had previously divested in order to create opportunities for community development without displacement. Before the formation of the CLT, the Granby neighborhood was made up of vacant houses and deserted streets as a result of years of public divestment in the area.[4] Residents took matters into their own hands and used small scale design interventions and tactical urbanism[5] to prove the existence of a community, painting boarded up windows with murals of curtains and vases full of flowers, guerilla gardening streetscape improvements, and establishing a weekly market in the previously-vacant street.[6]Community-led activation of the public realm in the Granby 4 Streets area reflected the shared notions of spatialized-identity among local residents. Eleanor Lee, a Granby resident, describes these efforts, “It completely turned the atmosphere around: now we had a pretty street that we could all be proud of.”[7] These actions combined with the collapse of government redevelopment plans post-recession led to the formation of the Granby 4 Streets Community Land Trust and the Liverpool City Council turning over the land and buildings to the CLT to redevelop.

Today, the GCLT is lauded as a success - the renovation of ten homes won the coveted Turner Prize for co-operative design firm Assemble. Continued activation and beautification of Granby streets and city support has reignited housing association (private government-regulated non-profit organizations that maintain and finance social housing in the United Kingdom) interest in the neighborhood.[8] The GCLT is focused on expanding economic and social opportunities beyond housing with initiatives like job training and employment for young local residents by connecting them with construction contractors working in the neighborhood.[9] The street market continues to flourish as an economic and social space for local residents. Regeneration of the neighborhood is comprehensive and inclusive, one reporter writes, “[the GCLT has made] Granby that rare thing in Britain: an area shaped in the image of its community.”[10] Federal social housing in the area will help ensure that neighborhood improvements by the GCLT will not catalyze gentrification in the neighborhood.

The use and evolution of shared equity land tenure in Rondo and Liverpool reveal design opportunities afforded by CLTs in addition to the importance of coordinated land tenure and design interventions to achieve community development without risk of displacement and gentrification. Acknowledging historical injustices through design and embracing intentional and equitable design for all is our responsibility as practitioners. These two cases demonstrate how CLTs and design, together, can be used as a tool to create beautiful and necessary spaces for low-income communities that respond to local histories while remaining affordable and desirable for many years to come.


  1. Gretchen Buechler, “Lessons from a Commercial Community Land Trust Pilot,” Center for Urban and regional Affairs: University of Minnesota, Summer 2017. 

  2. “Selby Milton Victoria Project,”

  3. “Rondo—Saint Paul, MN” Urban Land Institute: Advisory Services Program, March 18 -23, 2018.

  4. Matthew Thompson, “Between Boundaries: From Commoning and Guerilla Gardening to Community Land Trust Development in Liverpool,” Antipode 47, no. 4 (2015).

  5. A grassroots method too-often co-opted by “forward-thinking” public agencies to introduce meticulously placed neon-colored lawn chairs in the public realm.

  6. Levente Polyák, “Granby Four Streets CLT— From Demolition to Regeneration,” Cooperative City, October 25, 2017.

  7. Oliver Wainwright, “The Liverpool locals who took control of their long-neglected streets,” The Guardian, November 27, 2014. 

  8. Polyák. 

  9. Granby 4 Streets CLT,, accessed February 16, 2019.  10 Aditya Chakrabortty, “How one community beat the system, and rebuilt their shattered streets,” The Guardian February 14, 2018.