Case #2082.0

Caño Martín Peña: Land Ownership and Politics Collide in Puerto Rico

Publication Date: November 14, 2016
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Across the world, cities are looking for ways to reduce poverty and social exclusion, improve public services and infrastructure, and strengthen community life and civic engagement. The community land trust or CLT model provides an interesting alternative by combining communal land ownership and affordable housing. In Caño Martín Peña -- a dense, low-income neighborhood in San Juan, Puerto Rico, plagued by flooding and at risk for gentrification due to its proximity to the city’s financial district -- community leaders launched one of the first CLTs ever created outside of the United States and Britain, hoping it would protect them against displacement. But shifting political winds on the island soon threatened the CLT’s survival.

This multimedia case explores the history of the Caño Martín Peña CLT and the social, political and environmental challenges it has faced through video interviews with residents, community activists and local politicians (including the Mayor of San Juan), as well as compelling footage of the densely populated neighborhood and the floods that regularly hit the area.

Learning Objective:
This case offers rich material for thinking about the most appropriate scale and means for addressing a range of complex socio-economic and environmental urban challenges, such as community empowerment, affordable housing, urban planning, gentrification and water pollution. Pundits and politicians across the globe overwhelmingly view the everyday operation of the private market, coupled with some degree of local and state action, as offering the best way forward in tackling these thorny, complex issues. The Caño Martín Peña community land trust provides students with an opportunity to critically assess an alternative solution -- namely, collectivizing land ownership at the small scale of a neighborhood and rebalancing decision-making power away from city and state authorities as well as private developers to the communities that make the neighborhood their home. Using this case, students can analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the CLT model and consider how effective and sustainable it might be in different contexts.

In 2016, the Caño Martín Peña was awarded the United Nations World Habitat Award, which recognizes “innovative and replicable initiatives” that address issues affecting human settlements.

Other Details

Video Producer/Multimedia Developer:
Patricia Garcia-Rios
Faculty Lead:
Quinton Mayne
Pages (incl. exhibits):
Puerto Rico
Funding Source:
Joseph B. Tompkins, Jr. Fund for Case Study and Research