The Common land issue (vs rents) links a large number of issues to one another, such as agriculture, housing, energy, mobility, town planning

Dec. 2019, Frederic Sultan et al., Peer to Peer Network

The land issue links a large number of issues to one another, such as agriculture, housing, energy, mobility, town planning. In each of these areas, common land policies and practices revisit the notions of access and uses, property, value and transaction, conservation and protection of land.

Among the diversity of the mechanisms that make up these policies, some already benefit from a certain notoriety, like heritage institutions such as the Haut-Béarn IPHB , land trusts in the agricultural field (including Terre de Liens is the emblem), or Community Land Trusts or cooperative housing which already have a long history in the field of housing.

Simultaneously, a myriad of communities or collectives are experimenting with original modes of land governance in the form, for example, of use properties or foundations. Less known, their motivations are often ecological, social and / or political and are based on a certain idea of ​​the social function of the land and the need for autonomous subsistence areas. These projects sometimes combine public power to create innovative formulas for public-joint partnerships , but at other times come into conflict with the authorities concerned.

At a time when the State and the para-state agencies claim to concentrate most of the means of public action, the competence for town and country planning remains one of the rare decision-making levers partially granted to municipal institutions. Thus, the mechanisms for the management and governance of common land, like the PLU, represent spaces to be fully invested when they exist. However, most of these mechanisms remain to be (re) invented by citizens and public actors wishing to allow common uses. The “  communal  ” renewed that will emerge will seize the social and environmental challenges of the 21st century.


  1. Context and issues
    1. The ecological and social imperative
    2. Mastery of use
    3. The value of the territory
  2. Elements of implementing common land policies
  3. Implementation conditions:
    1. Also read on this site
    2. Resources

Context and issues

The municipal land policy consists on the one hand in deciding the uses of land in its territory, and on the other hand in managing public land or city property, which may also be located outside its territory.

The ecological and social imperative

The transition to solidarity and ecological uses of land is played out on these two planes at the same time. And ideally, it should be designed in conjunction (and with a view to solidarity) with the territories which surround the city concerned or with which it shares challenges, such as food or commuting mobility. In practice, and from the perspective of the commons, municipal land policy makes it possible to: resolve land allocation conflicts (resource limited by nature), and resist the deleterious effects of the commodification of land in the context of financialization of the economy.

Since the 1980s, the liberalization of finance has indeed led to the creation of a rent economy and the generalization of the concentration of capital in the countries driving globalization. The four types of rent (financial, technological, spatial and influence) combine in cities in the form of the metropolization process  : urban concentration and desertification of surrounding areas, decline in population and decline of medium-sized cities, as well as struggling in the rural world due to global value chains 1 that challenge the relationships that existed between urban and rural worlds.

Cities which see a large part of their policies determined by metropolization, face the impoverishment of the peripheries and the reinforcement of inequalities through spatial segregation and discrimination.

Added to this is the challenge of taking into account ecological degradation and upheavals. A growing number of nuisances must be dealt with collectively in one way or another. The management of contaminated land, polluted water, nuclear power plants, industrial infrastructure 2 has implications for land, its availability and its value in the competition between territories.

Land management alone will not be able to reduce the fragmentation of society, the development of pockets of poverty, the decline in social protection and the ecological crisis. But by allowing part of this resource to come out of the financial extraction mechanisms, it will be possible to create the conditions if not an improvement, at least a better resistance to the financialization of the economy. As Baptiste Mylondo explains in the recording presented below, land ownership is a central pillar of our model of society and its weakening can open up perspectives for collective emancipation from work, of life, of the distribution of wealth and power, in a perspective of commons.

Mastery of use

In general, land is subject to great tensions. The antagonisms between human activities are growing. In the rural world, until the last century, the landscape was shaped by agriculture, for better and for worse. Today, the residential function, based on heritage, determines the organization of the territories. Even if cities are the field of practices and research of alternatives, they often exert a pressure on their near and distant environment through their food needs, habitat and industrial production in particular.

If there is therefore an issue of control over land allocation by the community, it cannot be seized by the community alone, on pain of reinforcing the opposition between “servant” territories and “served” territories. This requires, in particular, recognition of the common land in order to leave more room for the direct users of the space, that is to say the inhabitants, in decision-making.

This democratic issue is coupled with the need for sectoral decompartmentalization. Municipal land policy has an important scope in many areas of the daily life of the inhabitants. It has direct consequences in many fields such as housing, mobility, or industrial and environmental planning, but also indirectly in health, education, food, culture and many others. ‘other areas such as water management. The transition to common land policies implies overcoming the sectoral partitions which still often structure public action, both for the administration and for civil society. As such, the testimony of Sabine Girard, elected from the municipality of Saillans, shows the range of possibilities that participatory democracy opens up in the land policy of a municipality.

The value of the territory

To extract a rent from the city, neoliberalism exerts strong pressure at the heart of the municipal apparatus to encourage the marketing enhancement of the city, in order to exist on a global scale. This pressure has a visible economic dimension, for example when financing infrastructure projects. These very largely involve the commodification of land through privatization mechanisms or public-private partnerships. In some countries, these projects take on impressive dimensions, such as in Liverpool (Liverpool One), even extravagant in Belgrade Belgrade Waterfront or in almost all the cities hosting the Olympic Games. In general, this is part of the explosion of land prices in territories with high speculative value, which makes land inaccessible for the majority of citizens and feeds the market for bank loans.

This land pressure is also fueled by new modes of production in the city, which monopolize and divert the protest dimension of the commons. The case of brownfields or places of temporary occupation, which have become a prerequisite for large speculative real estate transactions, is exemplary.

Elements of implementing common land policies

In the municipal context, land is therefore a key area to collectively transform ways of living, through a set of already existing mechanisms:

Public or community land trusts

In the area of ​​housing, the Community Land Trusts, which are part of the family of public or community land trusts, make it possible to deal with land and property speculation and the housing crisis that this entails.

In Brussels, the Community Land Trust created in 2012 is a real estate social organization (with associative status backed by a foundation) which carries perpetually affordable housing projects, for people with limited income and on land owned in common. The principle is simple: the soil is owned by the community, and only the dwellings (the walls) are sold. The prices are low because the owners do not pay the land entrusted to the foundation by the state. Resale housing is possible, but at a controlled price so that it remains affordable generation after generation. In this approach, the land has no market value, and access to affordable, quality housing is a fundamental right. Living together on a common ground becomes the opportunity to weave new solidarities,

Invented in the United States in the 1970s, this method of organizing property was transposed into French law in 2016, under the name of Organisme Foncier Solidaire (OFS) 3 . It is therefore now possible in France to launch such projects, which are bound to multiply. The cities of Lille and Rennes are pioneers on these issues. Common governance frameworks, however, remain the central weakness of the French model so far, which grants decision-making primacy to the public authorities.

The property of use

The use of ownership of property is a form of property legitimized by the use of the property, rather than ownership of a title merchant property. It is based on legal arrangements which oblige the collective of users who wish to put the goods back on the market to obtain the approval of a larger collective, composed of users of goods also subject to the ownership regime of usage, and which can each exercise a veto. The collective which wishes to break the link of the property of use must then be able to transmit this property of use to a new collective.

Local Public Land Establishment

The Etablissement Public Foncier Local (EPFL) allows a municipality to manage its land strategy independently and mutually. As an example, according to Marc Uhry, in Lyon, the first operations make it possible to buy with 45% discount, in an anti-speculative framework. By reinventing their role around the public-common question and the transversality of their governance, the EPFL could be real tools for citizen co-construction of local land policies.

Implementation conditions:

Among the conditions identified to allow the implementation of common land policies, one of the challenges seems to be access and mastery of legal knowledge to participate in the development of land use control policies. Witness the experience of participatory revision of the PLU of Saillans in the Drôme.



  1. value chains (see Wikipedia )  
  2. By extension, we can mobilize here the notion of negative common negative common  
  3. A solidarity land organization (FSO) is the equivalent in French law of the Community Land Trust of Anglo-Saxons. The SFOs are necessarily “non-profit” organizations. Their mission is to buy and manage land (built or not), to build or rehabilitate accessible housing at affordable prices (it can also be premises for mixed professional and residential use). These dwellings can be intended for rental or home ownership (as a main dwelling). The system is designed so that these low prices are maintained over the very long term, because they must be taken up with each new rental or resale. Source: Wikipedia  


  • Valentine Porch
  • Marin Schaffner
  • Frédéric Sultan