Proprietary Communities

The Art of Community


Anyone who has ever questioned the compatibility of the prevailing mode of urban administration and organization with the ideals of a free society, or concluded that it is incompatible, might nevertheless find it difficult to imagine the nature of an alternative. Anyone so inclined will find that THE ART OF COMMUNITY [1] by Spencer MacCallum will challenge the imagination and suggest answers for many of the perplexing questions generated by this line of thinking.

The concept of proprietary community administration was original to Spencer Heath, MacCallum's grandfather, the author of the classic, CITADEL, MARKET AND ALTAR, [2] in which he developed and integrated the concept. Spencer Heath, originally influenced by Henry George and the Single Tax on land, broke with this view over the issue of taxation. He reasoned that public services were a function of land ownership and therefore properly provided by the land owner. Rent is thus the appropriate means of compensating the entrepreneur. Taxation and political administration are replaced by management for profit, with its accompanying efficiencies, reduction of costs, and consequent increase in the standard of living.

Spencer MacCallum, an anthropologist and student of the proprietary community, tested and extended the concept to primitive village organization and current developments in real estate. It occurred to him that a hotel bears a resemblance to a primitive community in terms of structure and function and is therefore a valid subject for anthropological investigation. He observed that a hotel has all the features of an out-of-doors community:

The hotel has its public and private areas, corridors for streets, and a lobby for its town square. In the lobby is the municipal park with its sculpture, fountains, and plantings. It has its shopping area, where restaurants and retail stores bid for patronage. Its public transit system, as it happens, operates vertically instead of horizontally.

Utilities, including power and water service and sewerage, are all available. Police and fire protection come under the supervision of the house officer and security staff. Some hotels provide chapels, sponsor concerts and lectures, give adult instruction of various kinds, and conduct nursery schools. Controlled lighting and climate and community-wide credit arrangements number among the services and amenities which are available only on the most rudimentary level in our out-of-doors communities, yet which are accepted as a matter of course in hotels. [3]

Interestingly, the hotel as a community does not exhibit any of the types of organization commonly described by social scientists, namely kinship; mutualism under a common cause or motivating ideal; or sovereignty. The first two are necessarily absent because the relations between the guests are transient and therefore impersonal. And, most significantly, sovereignty doesn't apply because there is no legislation and levying of taxes on the guests to finance the common services.

MacCallum also observed that a multiple-story or high rise building is a means of increasing land area, stacking the various land uses one on top of the other. He found that if instead of containing its land uses in a single multiple-story building, a large modern hotel were to spread its land uses out across the landscape, anthropologists still would not define it as a community under the existing criteria. Yet in terms of structure and function, the model was comparable to communities studied by anthropologists.

This congruence was the clue which made it possible for MacCallum to make the breakthrough. Proprietary communities in primitive societies are based on kinship. Land is held in trust and administered by the clan or village head. In the modern version such as the hotel, every member of the staff and the guests are likewise related to one another. However, modern social technology utilizes not kinship, but contract, as a means of establishing the relationships. It was now clear to MacCallum that the principle on which the hotel is organized is that of contract and that the sum of the contracts in effect at any given time might be regarded as the effective charter or constitution of the community. He thus demonstrates that although men have traditionally looked to non-contractual means, such as sovereignty, for the provision of environmental needs, the hotel is proof that contracts can operate at the community level to provide services enjoyed in common.

In the natural sciences, when an exception has been found to a hypothesis, the hypothesis must be abandoned and replaced with a new one that can accommodate the new data. So it is with investigation in the social sciences. MacCallum proposed the following definition to replace earlier ones which have proved inadequate because they are not cross-culturally valid. A community is:

…an occupation by two or more persons of a place divided into private and common areas according to a system of relations which defines and allocates responsibility for the performance of all activities that might be required for its continuity. [4]

MacCallum demonstrates that a hotel is a community with antecedents in the primitive past.

Of what value is this knowledge outside of the field of anthropology? It should be clear that one of the outstanding characteristics of the proprietary community model is its nonpolitical, self-sustaining character. Relations between the residents and the community owners are voluntary and contractually established. This is in sharp contrast to the prevailing form of nonproprietary, politically administered communities which MacCallum describes not as communities of an alternate kind but rather as a form of social pathology. He concludes that:

The exercise of force in community affairs indicates a lack of understanding of alternatives, an insufficiency of social technology. It represents not a kind of social organization, but the lack of it. [5]

The proprietary community provides us with the model for healthy social functioning in a humane society.

Other forms of proprietary communities which are dealt with at length besides the hotel are the shopping center, the mobile home park, and the industrial estate. Common to all three is the single ownership of land and proprietary administration. Still further examples which are touched upon are multiple-occupancy dwellings, office buildings, factories, marinas, medical clinics, science research centers, and even airplanes and ships.

At the present time, proprietary communities are specialized in form, unlike the primitive village. MacCallum notes the trend—evolutionary if you will—towards the more generalized form. The WALL STREET JOURNAL recently reported that churches in a number of communities have leased space in shopping centers because of their central location and economy. Through proper coordination by the management, several denominations can use the same facilities. During the week, the same space may be devoted to other public gatherings. The LOS ANGELES TIMES describes an apartment house in Texas whose tenants are largely engineering and science oriented. Access to a computer is included among the services provided in each apartment by the landlord. I have been told that auto leasing is among the amenities in certain apartment houses in Honolulu. Such an experiment is currently being conducted by Minicars, Inc., in Santa Barbara, California. Further illustrations are the integration of motels, medical clinics, office buildings, and even apartment complexes with large, regional shopping centers.

This dynamic process is reminiscent of one described by Jane Jacobs in THE ECONOMY OF CITIES [6]. She explains that the evolution and diversification of cities is the result of a continual process of adding new work to old, which then represents a new kind of work or service with its own divisions of labor. The mobile home industry provides us with a good illustration. When vacation trailer manufacturing added housing technology, the result was mobile home manufacturing, a new industry with new divisions of labor. Land planning then was added to the products of the new industry to give us the mobile home park, an environmental service with new divisions of labor. The process is endless. We can expect that mobile home parks will add new environmental services and that other proprietary communities will do the same. The result will be new divisions of labor and the further evolution of proprietary communities to the more generalized form.

It should be apparent that any constriction or interference with the process of adding new work to old will have the effect of aborting the birth of new industries and environmental services. Jacobs comments on the failure to understand the process:

The point is that when new work is added to older work, the addition often cuts ruthlessly across categories of work, no matter how one may analyze the categories. Only in stagnating economies does work stay docilely within given categories. And whenever it is forced to stay within prearranged categories—whether by zoning, by economic planning, or by guilds, associations or unions—the process of adding new work to old can occur little if at all. [7]

The profit motive is the energizing force impelling the owner to be ever alert for opportunities to add new environmental services to old. MacCallum puts it this way:

In planning his community, it is desirable that the owner encourage the most intensive use of the land that technological development of society will allow. Only thus can he maximize his overall rents. Because of the interdependence of land uses, he cannot realize this maximum potential in a community of any considerable size by assigning all land to just one use, such as residential housing. Residential uses need complementing by shops and professional services, recreational, educational, and employment facilities, and so forth. Businesses of all kinds require nearby residential areas from which to draw customers and/or employees, besides such specialized other functions as wholesale supply, warehousing, and distribution facilities. Each land use requires, directly or indirectly and in differing spatial relation to it, most of the land uses that are to be found in a generalized community. [8]

The proprietary community principle suggests a novel solution to the congestion of the central business district of today's cities. MacCallum sees the problem as being largely due to an obsolete street system geared to semirural carriage traffic. Traditional efforts at improvement require injury to someone's interest because of the fractionated ownership. He suggests that:

Ideally, the basic street pattern should be entirely revamped and the downtown redesigned as a regional center with complete community facilities and ample parking. At the very least, some streets should be widened and more parking space made available. [9]

The method of implementation is left to a later section of the book under a discussion of a private approach to urban redevelopment. MacCallum credits, independently of his grandfather, architect Arthur C. Holden, of New York, who suggests that:

…instead of outside interests assembling blighted properties in downtown areas by purchase, which requires almost prohibitive amounts of capital when it can be done at all, the existing multiple land owners within an area might form an owning and managing corporation for that area and pool their separate titles at appraisal values in exchange for equivalent undivided shares in the whole. The resulting corporation would find itself owning an extremely valuable piece of property which could be pledged to secure funds for its redevelopment. With financing available from conventional sources, no money investment would be required of the owners, nor any expenditure of taxes by the public, for the replanning and redevelopment of the assembled area. Because the value of the assembled property would exceed the sum value of the parts before pooling (being now of an economic size for redevelopment), each owner's equity would be correspondingly greater. In addition, it would be more liquid. Each would have traded an uncertain interest in a blighted area for a secure share in a productive enterprise. [10]

Unlike most reviewers who must content themselves with a reading of the author's work, I had the distinct advantage of discussing THE ART OF COMMUNITY with Spencer MacCallum and exploring its various aspects in some depth. MacCallum considers that his most important purpose in writing the book was to point out the nature of land as a productive business. In this he is referring not to brokerage or to speculative turnover of land for capital gains, but to ownership and administration of land for income. He stresses that the income approach to land is a business so young—and crude, as all things are in their beginnings—that it has barely come into our field of vision. He makes an especially significant point that might well be pondered by social scientists, realtors, and planners:

It is the only business which is specialized wholly in doing something constructive about environment. It is the business of creating environment. Environment is its business.

This new business (which, as MacCallum points out, is not strictly new but has had significant development and growth only since World War II) exploits the principle of building land value by creatively modifying the environment impinging on given sites—including each site within a site—environment being, after all, all that gives sites, as sites, their value. By thus generating and maintaining environmental utility and attractiveness and marketing it by leasing or renting sites (each site the focus of a slightly unique combination of environmental factors), the business throws off profits for dividends and for reinvestment in creating still further land values.

MacCallum rests his optimism on two simple observations: first that land values, or rents, must come out of productivity on the land; and second that production thrives in a conducive environment. A more conducive environment, therefore is worth more to a producer, and he can afford to and will willingly bid more rents to locate there. Assuming no end to the advancement of technology, there will be no end to the possibilities for the enhancement of land values—which is to say, of course, human values. In MacCallum's analysis, "This is the creative spiral in the humane society which we are only just beginning to understand."

MacCallum has opened the door to some interesting speculation. Imagine an aggregation of proprietary communities making up an urban complex. Suppose every city in the nation gradually evolved to this pattern? Why not the entire planet? If one is governed by contractual obligations, the sum of which is the constitution of the community in which one happens to be at a given time, then what is the function of even a limited political government?

This is without question one of the most thought-provoking books ever published on the subject of alternatives to government as we know it. THE ART OF COMMUNITY invites us to look to the area of alternatives to political, tax-supported institutions, one of the least surveyed and most promising intellectual and entrepreneurial frontiers of the modern world. Spencer MacCallum has not only made a major contribution to the social sciences, but in so doing has also illuminated a growing, practical technology for community administration in a humane society. [11]

Spencer MacCallum's achievement will do much to advance the proprietary community concept originally developed by Spencer Heath, whose CITADEL, MARKET AND ALTAR has been described as one of the truly important books published in the 20th century and is highly recommended as a companion to THE ART OF COMMUNITY.

THE ART OF COMMUNITY by Spencer MacCallum. Available from Institute For Humane Studies, Inc., 1134 Crane Street, Menlo Park, California 94025, $2.00 soft, $4.00 hardcover. CITADEL, MARKET AND ALTAR is also available from the same source [see ad on page 16].

Joseph A. Gilly is a California-based urban planner. He is an Associate Member of the American Institute of Planners.


[1] Spencer H. MacCallum THE ART OF COMMUNITY (Menlo Park, Calif.: Institute For Humane Studies, Inc., 1970).
[2] Spencer Heath CITADEL, MARKET AND ALTAR (Baltimore, Md.: The Science of Society Foundation, Inc., 1957).
[3] MacCallum op. cit., p. 2
[4] Ibid., p. 3
[5] Ibid., p. 85.
[6] Jane Jacobs, THE ECONOMY OF CITIES (New York; Vintage Books, 1970).
[7] Ibid., p. 62
[8] MacCallum, op. cit., p. 63-64.
[9] Ibid., p. 56.
[10] Ibid., p. 102.
[11] Readers of THE ART OF COMMUNITY may be interested in a further paper recently published by Spencer MacCallum containing actual case studies of dispute resolutions in shopping centers. This appears as the lead article in the Spring, 1971, issue of HUMAN ORGANIZATION, The Journal of the Society for Applied Anthropology, (Vol. 30, No. 1, pp. 3-10).