PO:There should be no private ownership of land

I was going to restrict posts on this site to the topic of structural design, but since I am interested in the whole gamut of technology, I cannot really do that. The appropriateness of technology is dependent on human factors, sociology and politics. Technology consists of all the tools and techniques which are invented and implemented to benefit our lives. Buckminster Fuller suggested tools can be divided into craft tools which one person can create on their own, and industrial tools which require cooperation with others: and so suggested that spoken language was the first industrial tool.

To properly design a technology, cannot just limit the assessment to physics, I have long considered that so called “engineers” to be a public menace. A group of number crunchers who will gladly size a sewer pipe to dump sewage into the water supply. Just an interesting and challenging mathematical problem, who cares about the social context? That is someone elses problem and responsibility. Or is it?

Architects and engineers throw up multistorey buildings, because it boosts their egos, it also boosts the egos of politicians, and they us some flimsy excuse about the economic value of land.  Land closest to the central business district (CBD) has high value, and land distant from the CBD has low value: so the theory goes. It is however for the most part a fictional construct imposed on our activities. The centres are defined by people, and controlled by politics.

Why was Adelaide hospital constructed, when there has been a long going advertising campaign highlighting that medical and health care services are too distant from a large number of people. Those people who live in rural areas, and mining areas. The people who provide us with food and materials. Can Adelaide hospital provide service to these people? Well apparently it does have a helipad, though as I have indicated elsewhere the operational radius of a helicopter is relatively low. If that is to be the operational mode then, the rural and mining regions need helicopters located in their regions: so as to get people from these regions to the hospital as quickly as possible. Is operating a heliport in each of these regions less expensive than operating  a local hospital? Are helicopter pilots and support crew any easier to get, and any more willing to live in these remote regions than medical personnel?

Remoteness is not simply an issue of distance. It also concerns mobility, and hindrance to mobility. I have mentioned previously that during the 1970’s and 80’s people with mortgages on houses in Adelaide were working interstate and renting houses in their work location. They could not sell their houses because there was little work, and therefore little incentive to move into the area. In all likelihood the house they were paying for in Adelaide had all the features they wanted, except location, whilst the house they rented was deficient in some way. Houses can be heritage, a foundation on which the future can be built, or houses can just be junk hindering progress. Why would humans want to be tied to the land like plants: and loose all the benefits of mobility?

A lot of the poverty stricken areas of the world, are a consequence of people being pushed off the land and forced into inhospitable and less than habitable regions. These people need to be able to move, but national boundaries lock them in, or lock them out.

Countries and nations, are defined by geographical boundaries and the land contained within. Land belongs to the nation, and the nation represents the people, and in a full participatory democracy the nation is the people. The land is little different than the air we breathe. Why should land be permitted to be owned by individuals? What value is owning land? If the government wants to put a highway through the land you own, it generally can do so. The government can restrict usage of land. The government can put easements through your land to provide access to public utilities. Ownership of land is no longer relevant to voting rights.

In reality a “certificate of title” is little more than a license to occupy and use the land. So rather than maintain some distorted concept of ownership, why not reinforce the concept of license. Rather than buying and selling ownership of land, instead selling license to occupy and use. All land and resources are owned by the state: the national government. Extended further all nations have the responsibility and authority to manage the land within their borders, but all the land belongs to humanity. Better still we scrap the concept of ownership altogether: simply have responsibility and authority to manage.


The first requirement is that the current cost of land be separated from the cost of buildings. Buildings deteriorate in value, whilst location typically increases in value. So land does not increase in value, but its relative location to available and needed resources increases in value as population increases and access becomes limited. But this access is limited because of central control, and failure to develop other centres or explicit restriction on developing other centres. For example there was little point in building the satellite city of Elizabeth here in South Australia, if it was to remain dependent on Adelaide. Adelaide should be little more than a centre of arts and culture, whilst business needs to be more localised to the population it is meant to serve.

It would seem sensible and efficient to distribute water from a central supply out to a population. But it is seldom if ever distributed this way, because water is distributed from natural catchments and distributed to a widely dispersed population. The water supply is likely at one end of the populated region. Likewise for electrical power, sewage treatment, and gas supply. Data and communications are probably one technology which were originally distributed from a centre of the population. However cities expand and develop and what was once central may cease to be so.

In a previous post I indicated that cities should be designed to allow at least 60% of the population to be mobile. Such mobility can be via rented houses and residential hotels, by transportable houses, or it can be via use of caravans and tents. Houses in the vicinity of certain facilities can be restricted to renting, with people moving in and out of the area on an as needs basis. For example houses in the vicinity of schools, nursing homes in the vicinity of hospitals.

Workers could live close to factories and industrial facilities during the week. For example there are already Japanese workers who live in hotels during the week and travel home on the weekend. There also already exist British allotment garden properties and Russian Dacha. Then there are the relative rich who have normal residence and vacation homes elsewhere. The point is that high density housing, and close proximity to facilities doesn’t have to place restrictions on others: where one gains the benefit of a resource to the detriment of all others.

Rather than allowing all to destroy a beautiful landscape by wanting to a build a house in close proximity to, only rented housing is permitted in such area. So no one gets full time benefit or inconvenience of such area. Everything has advantages and disadvantages, the issue is not which advantages which to benefit from but which disadvantages willing to tolerate. For example the benefit of a waterfront view, is countered by the inconvenience of possible flooding. The disadvantages which one person or group is willing to tolerate others may not be. For example if stuck living on a floodplain because no other option, the benefit is secondary to the hazard of flooding.

Since the land becomes a common resource of the people, the peoples representative the government, is responsible for developing the land accordance with the  usage restrictions it imposes. So if land is zoned residential, the government is responsible for fencing off the land, providing water supply, sanitary drainage, power supply, and gas supply, data and communications, and road access to the properties. If such is not provided then the land cannot be zoned residential, or different classes of residential zone are to be defined.

Get Your Junk off the Land

Now the typical argument would be, if do not own the land then little incentive to develop the property. Maybe, for the myopic. For the most part houses and other buildings do not constitute development of the land, but junk dumped on the land hindering its future use. Humans are not hermit crabs. Your dream home is likely someone else’s nightmare.

So a requirement of the license to occupy and use, also imposes the responsibility that the licensee is required to move their junk from the land when they cease to need license to the land. That is users are required to restore land to the basic requirements of the zoned usage. So for residential zone, the requirement would be to move the house from the land, unless future licensees are willing to accept responsibility for the junk already anchored to the ground.

If houses are to be removed in such manner, then land would also need to be put aside for storage of such buildings. Alternatively the buildings can be disassembled and stored in a warehouse. The extent of disassembly would depend on how modular and transportable the components of the building are.

The approach would tend to preclude the use of in situ construction, such as concrete, rammed earth, and bricks. It would instead promote greater use of modular transportable buildings. Modular transportable allows buildings to expand and contract on an as needs basis.

Buildings with expected lifespans greater than 100 years, would still be anchored to the ground in traditional manner. Such buildings would be part of public infrastructure, and would tend to be in central hubs of cities. For example within 5 km radius of a city, buildings may be considered permanent, between 5 km and 20 km radius the buildings are semi permanent, and beyond 20 km the buildings are temporary.

A quick survey of the world using google earth, indicates that most cities have a central hub less than 5km diameter, and the cities have radial extents of around 25 km, and a total stretch of around 50 km. Few cities form circles, as they are located on the coast or the banks of rivers. The cities stretch around bays, fill peninsulas and other outcrops of land, or they are flanked by mountain ranges and ocean and extend in narrow strips. The result is that the one most efficient centralised point of distribution are the ports and harbours of these cities. It is thus relatively clear why local industry is losing out to imports: internal to the city distribution from manufacturers to retailers is relatively poor. Build factory on a ship, and push goods through the local port, likely to achieve efficiencies in distribution.

Transportation by rail, road and canal have placed some restrictions on width, height and length of vehicles and modules which can be transported. Transporting empty space is potentially wasteful. Shipping container architecture arises, because empty shipping containers are accumulating in some places, and it is considered too expensive to ship them empty to a place where they can be filled and used. However for construction in general, it is the dimensions of the shipping container which are important, not the shipping container. Steelwork, timber trusses and precast panels all have to be transportable to the work site. Steel roof cladding, bricks, wet concrete, it all needs transporting to site. It all gets transported from a multitude of different locations to the one site. The logistics of such distribution doesn’t necessarily result in the most efficient use of the trucks. The trucks are not necessarily fully loaded, as the cargo needs to have convenient access in the order of which the sites are visited. Construction in a factory however can allow fully loaded trucks to deliver materials on a regular basis. So whilst the modular buildings may mostly be empty space, overall for the building industry, there maybe a reduction in fuel consumption.

The other issue is that land represents location and proximity to resources. If the buildings are modular and mobile, then the land’s use can be kept in use to the great convenience of the licensees. A four bedroom house can be reduced to a one bedroom dwelling, and likewise a 1 bedroom can be expanded to 4 bedrooms. Rooms can be moved in and out on an as needs basis. A bedroom module has already been built, the problem is that it is in the wrong location, on the wrong block of land, and in close proximity to the wrong resources: it needs moving. In buildings permanently anchored to the land, the unused and unwanted enclosed space remains permanently useless and hinderance to the current owner.

These useless permanent structures hinder people getting and owning houses. First home buyers, do they want houses or land? When they rent they are restricted in the modifications they can make to the house. there is no incentive to improve the house, the landlord is responsible for the state of the house. If tenants invest their money to improve the house, they lose that investment and the landlord gains the benefit. If buildings are mobile and modular then the owners can modify the buildings without touching the land.

Further property speculators cannot buy land, and build the largest building they can, using other peoples money. They can only buy license to occupy and use. Property speculators do not want to occupy, so they are passing license to others. In short they can only be private managers of the license. The landlords can either place a transportable building on the land, or simply rent the land, allowing the tenants to bring their own building. If landlords hinder people occupying and using the land, then their license to use the land can be revoked, as they are not occupying the land. In short license fees to occupy and use the land are paid to the government, and maybe combined with council rates. Use of the land is controlled by government regulations. People are free to move, and they shall be provided access to land where they can rest.

When someone dies the license to occupy may pass to those who shared the occupancy. Shared occupancy maybe managed by an association, which is signatory to the license rather than an individual. Whether individual or association, such entity is responsible for removing buildings from the site and reverting it back to clear space, prior to license being passed on to others. Shifting a building off site is potentially easier than demolishing a building and disposing of the waste. The modular transportable remains an asset, the permanently anchored building becomes a hindrance.

Whilst a steel framed building has the potentially to be dismantled and transported off site, the footings still remain on site. Such remaining footing and floor slab, can be difficult to remove. Removing them may also be considered a waste of energy. Therefore footings, pavements, and landscaping may be considered part of land development, which is the responsibility of licensees and landlords rather than  the government. The form of such development can be controlled by regulation to ensure that it supports multipurpose long term use. In this way a site can be reverted to clear space, down to the footings, and the footings can be used for an alternative building.

For example for a residential site, a grid of piers at 1200 mm centres can be installed, with a specified load rating. These piers would have appropriate anchorages to attach beams to, and remove beams from. Piers are not required to be installed at all grid points, only those points where they are needed. So for example in the first instance the piers may be at 4800 mm centres. The next building moved onto the site may require additional piers at 2400 mm centres.

For smaller buildings the exposed piers may be a hinderance to alternative use of the site such as increased garden and landscaping. Thus removable soil anchors/nails and screw piles offer greater flexibility, than concrete piers. Concrete piers could be installed say a minimum of 600 mm below ground surface, with exposed attachment point protected by appropriate cap. When the pier needs to be put back into use, the protective cap is removed, and extension shaft installed to bring support point back above ground level.

Now one issue with transportable buildings is that they are typically placed on piers with a resultant floor level at least 600 mm above the ground surface, whilst a dwelling with a concrete slab on ground is close to ground level. Even if a house is not transportable, there may still be a reason to keep the floor structure above ground, for example keeping timber away from the ground to keep it dry, and avoid rot. Floor levels kept high to avoid flooding, with concrete slabs this requirement typically involves imported fill to raise the ground. Crawl spaces below buildings also help with ventilation, and access to services such as electrical supply, and plumbing. Broken pipes under a concrete floor slab are difficult to replace. So whilst concrete slabs on ground are now more popular than timber floors supported above ground on walls, such slabs do pose problems relevant to long term maintenance. The deeper the concrete footings beams the more difficult to remove at some future date. Given that such beams are largely only required to minimise visual cracks in decorative brick work, it is not really an acceptable practice and is a waste of material. {Brick veneer is decoration, it is desired for appearance. In brick veneer, the brick has little functional value. HOuses can be more affordable if we stopped using brick and stopping wasting concrete to support.}

Increasing design forces so that houses can  resist the forces of nature is not very sensible. All design loads can be exceeded, so the best approach to design is to consider the consequences of the design load being exceeded and control the mode of failure. A yurt brought down by an earthquake, poses little harm to people, and can be readily reconstructed after the event. A multistorey building typically becomes a pile of rubble burying the occupants of the building. Resilience is not about resisting higher and higher loads, using more and more material, but rather the speed with which the nation can reconstruct. Modular and transportable, allows buildings to be moved from the path of a hurricane, and otherwise to be rapidly replaced after a earthquake.

So transportable houses can be moved on a seasonal basis. So houses can be in one location during the cyclone season, and in another location when such season is over. Thus land needs to be kept in reserve for such purpose.

Since all the land is owned in common by the people as a nation, the land can be subdivided and merged as needed. If the majority of buildings are modular and transportable, it becomes easy to collapse the city and move housing closer to needed facilities. It becomes easier to expand a city to accommodate more people for a specific need. For example major infrastructure project may need a large workforce, but once the project is over there is no longer any need for the people to live in the area, and likely no means of supporting them. So the people move to another city, with their dwellings and businesses.

Dwelling and Vehicle Extension of Self

Investment isn’t by individuals in the land but in the systems they use to provide services.  To build a hospital in a remote rural town, poses a problem in supply of medical personnel, and having adequate need for hospital to support the living costs of the personnel. A mobile hospital however can move from rural town to another. A group of doctors doesn’t have to invest in building a clinic or hospital which becomes redundant, instead they invest in a vehicle which can be moved to where it is most needed. They can bring the service to the people, rather than expecting the people to travel to the distant service.

Dwelling and vehicle become an extension of self, in a manner which enhances and augments natural human mobility. consider the following article:

The car of the future will be in the living room of the house of the future

I would like the idea a lot better if the car and house had a docking pod, and the car extended the living space rather than occupying the space.

If the vehicle is to be permitted inside the building, then it should be personal and extension of self. Personal modules can be combined together to form larger vehicles, but mostly represent machine enhancement of human ability (something like an enhanced space suit and exoskelton). The smaller vehicle has lower volume to heat and cool. A bed for example can be encapsulated, like traditional four poster bed with curtains around, or the more modern capsule hotels. The bed capsule could be a convertible recumbent bicycle, or motorcycle. The bed capsule can provide protection to individuals during hurricanes and earthquakes. For infantry soldiers such machine, increases the weight they can carry and the speed of movement, and provides shelter and protection from the environment.

For workers in general such machine is their toolbox and their primary tool kit. The machine gets them to work, and protects them at work, and enables their work. As the machine can contain digital communications technology.

For example to become mobile, I need to cart around a large number of books which I have become dependent on. Today people can get access to information from the internet. If you don’t have the information, then may be able to find the information on the internet, however if already have books, then easier to use a book. Whilst books can be available in digital format, reducing storage space, it doesn’t change that already invested lifetime collecting the paper books. It is expensive to convert large collection of books into digital format. Though it maybe viable if the publishers of books, CD’s and the like offer exchange program. So I could exchange my books for digital format, rather than buy new digital versions and then still have to store or get rid of the paper versions. However it is still generally easier to study with printed information. Studying information is not the same as reading a book from cover to cover: at the minimum it requires side by side comparison.

Anycase mobile mechanics have tools and equipment stored in small vans, people in building trades have their utes to store tools and transport materials. Then there are mobile vets, mobile food trucks, cafes, libraries all operating from vans, and old buses. Whilst in some countries the most common businesses are operated from hand carts, or motorcycles with general utility sidecar.

Do we really need land and houses? The first private space most people acquire in the industrialised west, is a car. there are shortages of houses, schools and hospitals, but not an apparent shortage of cars. More to the point it seems we have all the cars we need with manufacturers shutting down local assembly plants. With average household occupancy of less than 3 persons per household, and two vehicles per household. With a large percentage of 3 bedroom houses occupied by one person, and large numbers of homeless, it would seem that more construction of houses will push household occupancy to 2 persons per household, and further construction of cars would push to 1 vehicle per person.

A situation of 1 car per person is unlikely given license restrictions. But given autonomous vehicles which are an extension of self, then vehicles can continue to be used by the elderly, as such vehicles would maintain their mobility. Additionally autonomous vehicles would be within the capabilities of the young to use.

If only paying for license to occupy and use land, then more likely to free money for other purposes, and investment can be into technology which has future value. A mobile hospital can be located where it is needed. How long until Adelaide hospital is too small and its technology obsolete? How much will its replacement cost, and how long will it take to construct? A mobile hospital can be built in any factory anywhere, and whilst an existing hospital is in use. The existing hospital can be readily retired from use, and its materials sent for recycling. Many more mobile hospitals can be put into circulation than hospitals anchored to the land. Mobile hospitals can operate in the world. Investment in mobile hospitals is an investment in providing health care and medical services to wherever they are required, anywhere in the world. Such investment can meet foreign aid commitments, benefiting a far greater percent of the world population than fixed base hospital. Mobile hospitals can be set down where needed and then moved again. Why give foreign government funds intended to benefit their people, when the funds actually get misdirected into buying weapons.

Mobile facilities, like business, do not have geographical boundaries, they go where they are needed. If there were more mobile food stores, would the undeveloped world remain undeveloped? How much space does a business need, and how many customers are needed to support a lone operator? Is a motorcyle with utility sidecar adequate to make a reasonable living? What is a reasonable living?

In the past shops and dwellings were one and the same building. The buildings were typically 2 storey, the lower storey the shop, and the upper storey the dwelling. Imagine the possibility of motor homes operating as both workplace and home.

Modular and transportable doesn’t exclude multistorey buildings. Multi-storey carparks can be used for market places and offices, with vehicles moving in and out taking shops and personal offices with them. Already shipping container hotels have been constructed with rooms being moved around from one site to another: the rooms supported in an open framework. Such approach maximises the use of the leasable space, as seasonal downturns in demand in one region are balanced by increase in another region.

The use of land can be seasonal, and license can permit such. Hence the licensee can use the land for one purpose during one season and then temporarily lease to others during another season, and then take over use of the land again as the season come around again. At the simplest the alternative use of the land is just for storage.

In the future I expect there would be more mobility and yet less travel. Currently people expend a lot of time travelling large distances back and forth between two locations, day after day: largely wasting resources. In the future people will mostly be able to travel by walking, as they will be able to move their residence closer to where they need to be. Cities will contract, and new hubs of activity will assemble, and then disassemble on an as needs basis. More land will have multi-use zoning, allowing more flexible use of the land. Land sizes adjacent to central hubs will be small, those further from the hub will be larger.

Dwellings will be built in factories and transported to sites. The roads will get wider to permit wider building modules to be transported with causing inconvenience . This will be possible because the buildings can be moved and roads also relocated, and there are no restrictions on what can be done to the land, as none of it is owned by individuals. No new dwellings will be permitted to be permanently anchored to the ground, so slowly as buildings deteriorate they will be replaced by transportable dwellings, until eventually an entire region can then be reorganized. During such reorganisation the roads can be widened, to allow a building with an internal width of 3.6 m, allowing a maximum of 300 mm either side for walls, then minimum external width of module would be 4.2 m. Such wide corridors for infrequent transport may be considered wasteful of land, however, even these corridors can be transient. The corridors can shrink in width as development occurs, and be increased in width as the buildings start to move out. That is assuming the buildings move in for a fixed time of stay, and no building moves out until that time is up. So wide corridors are not needed all the time.  So one set of buildings are moved in, then the corridor in front is shrunk, and the next row of buildings are moved in: the first row can no no longer be moved out. Such constraint being a part of the license to occupy and use the land.


PO is a term invented by Edward de Bono, and presented in the book “Beyond yes and no”. The term is derived from poetry, suppose, hypothesis and provocation operation. Its purpose is to provide a word which indicates neither yes nor no. Rather than direct acceptance or rejection of an idea, it indicates a willingness to give further consideration.


  1. [17/09/2017] Original