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Elizabeth L. Carter*


This paper argues for the development of an intentional community comprised of low-income people in urban areas who build social capital through the deliberate formation of a culture based on bartering, time- sharing, and mutual credit clearing in order to supplement their low-income capital and promote economic self-sufficiency. This paper shows how low- income communities are marginalized from the broader political economy, resulting in their chronic unemployment, lack of effective political representation, and insufficient judicial protection from harmful economic development projects. In addition, this paper finds that low-income communities that rely solely on their insufficient economic capital results in unproductive communities. Likewise, this paper finds that a sole reliance on the broader political system is not likely to produce long-term benefits for low-income communities since this is a majoritarian system that often leaves low-income communities disadvantaged. Therefore, this paper proposes the creation of an intentional community that promotes self-sufficiency among low-income communities through an alternative economy driven by social capital with the support of a form of community planning and community transactional law that recognize the shortcomings of the broader political economy.




“When the available ‘spiritual space’ is not filled by some higher motivations, then it will necessarily be filled by something lower—by the small, mean, calculating attitude to life which is rationalized in the economic calculus.”—E.F. Schumacher

An alternative economic system within low-income communities is necessary in order for these communities to effectively counter the limitations of the broader political economic system that negatively affect them.1 These limitations include a capitalist economic system that creates advantaged winners and disadvantaged losers where low-income communities are often disadvantaged as seen by their chronic unemployment and impoverished status.2 These limitations also include a majoritarian political system that also creates advantaged winners and disadvantaged losers where low-income communities are often disadvantaged due to their weak political power.3 Lastly, these limitations include a judicial system that uses rational basis review for economic state actions, thus resulting in the legitimacy of economic policies harming low-income communities.4 As a result, the broader political economic system leaves low-income communities insufficiently productive where chronic unemployment, lack of effective political representation, and insufficient judicial protection are a reality.

This paper offers an alternative to the broader political economic system in  order  to  empower  low-income  communities  to  become  sufficiently




* Elizabeth is a recent graduate from Rutgers University School of Law-Newark where she focused her studies on community development law and Rutgers University Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, where she holds a Masters in Community and Regional Planning with a particular focus on urban and community development. She also received a Bachelors of Arts with honors from the University of Michigan in Afro-American and African Studies, Political Science, and a minor in Philosophy. In addition, Elizabeth is a Fellow in the Sustainable Economies Law Fellowship Program and plans to incorporate her community planning studies with community transactional lawyering in order to support cooperative initiatives, including alternative economies, worker cooperatives, housing cooperatives, mutual aid societies, and community land trusts, in addition to small business development and nonprofit law and finance.

1.    The focus of this paper is on American, low-income communities, particularly within urban communities. However, the solutions provided by this paper may also be applied to similar communities that experience marginalization and neglect by the broader political economic system of that area.

2.    See generally Allan Litchenstein, The Underserving Poor, JEWISH CURRENTS (November 18, 2014), http://jewishcurrents.org/undeserving-poor-33694.

3.    See generally Allan Litchenstein, The Safety Net, the Poor, and the Democrats, JEWISH CURRENTS (January 21, 2015), http://jewishcurrents.org/the-safety-net-the-poor-and-the- democrats-34913.

4.    See generally Laura Mansnerus, Note, Public Use, Private Use, and Judicial Review in Eminent Domain, N.Y.U. L. REV. 409 (1983).



productive through self-reliance and cooperation.5 Specifically, this paper explains how low-income communities can create an alternative economic system designed to counter the limitations of the broader economic system through the utilization of economic exchanges that go beyond money in terms of dollars and economic capital. In addition, this paper describes how this alternative economic system is best developed by an intentional community designed to counter the limitations of the broader political system through a heavy emphasis on social capital and cooperation.

Likewise, this alternative economic system is best supported by an alternative community planning approach designed to counter traditional planning methods through an emphasis on qualitative research methods that require the participation of community members in addition to planning experts; the building of social capital in addition to community mobilization rather than relying solely on community organizing; the creating of urban designs and zoning plans that allow for cooperative initiatives over the traditional Euclidian zoning that arbitrarily separate uses; and aggressive advocacy planning where the planner is actively involved in social movements affecting low-income communities rather than simply persuading policymakers to make the necessary changes. Similarly, an alternative economy within low-income communities is best supported by a form of community transactional law that embodies the principles of rebellious lawyering and sharing law where nontraditional legal methods are used to support social movements in addition to traditional legal methods.

First, this paper will illustrate the limitations of the broader political economic system through an analysis of the U.S. Supreme Court case Kelo

v. City of New London (2005) in order to highlight the insufficient protection of low-income communities by the judicial system where courts have allowed municipalities to acquire less economically productive areas with minimal judicial oversight. Second, the paper defines an alternative economy and explains its necessity within low-income communities through an analysis of the current economic system. Third, this paper defines intentional community and explains how it can support an alternative economy within low-income communities through the development of social capital via entities that promote self-reliance and collective control. Fourth, this paper continues with a discussion on why community planning should include the principles of neighborhood planning, aggressive advocacy planning, utopian planning designs, and community mobilization in order to best support an alternative economy among low-income communities. Lastly, this paper explains how lawyers can support an alternative economy within low-income




5.    See discussion infra p. 18.



communities by adopting the principles found in rebellious lawyering and sharing law.



The judicial, political, and economic systems collectively form the broader political economic system. Through an analysis of the U.S. Supreme Court case Kelo v. City of New London (2005), this section will show how the broader political economic system disadvantages low-income communities and why it is necessary for these communities to form an alternative system in order to make stronger and more productive communities. These limitations are especially seen in municipal redevelopment plans in the name of economic development. These plans often favor labor, consumerism, and money over entrepreneurialism and community development; majoritarian interests over minority interests, including the most wealthiest interests over the least wealthiest; and rational basis judicial review over strict scrutiny judicial review. The stated purpose of these plans is often to increase tax revenue and this purpose is deemed legitimate by the courts even where lower socioeconomic communities are harmed in the process.6

Politically and economically disadvantaged communities, including low-income communities, are disproportionately and negatively affected by economic redevelopment plans.7 Justice Thomas highlighted this fact in his dissent in Kelo v. City of New London (“Kelo”) where he argued that “any economically beneficial goal guarantees that these losses will fall disproportionately on poor minority communities.”8 The losses that Thomas is referring to are the condemnations of lower economically productive properties “for the benefit of other private interests that will put it to a higher use.”9 Here, low-income communities are disadvantaged by economic redevelopment plans because they favor majority interests, including more financially powerful interests of large corporations over the interests of less powerful minority communities. Furthermore, low-income communities affected by these plans are at an even greater disadvantage within the courts where such plans are reviewed on a rational-basis, and deemed legitimate and





6.    See Kelo v. City of New London, 545 U.S. 469, 505, 521-22 (2005) (Thomas, J., dissenting).

7.    Id. at 521.

8.    Id. at 505, 521-22 (2005) (Thomas, J., dissenting).

9.    Id. at 504-05 (O’Conner, J., dissenting) (quoting Poletown Neighborhood Council v. City of Detroit, 304 N.W.2d 455, 464 (Mich. 1981)).



often upheld.10 These conclusions were clear in Kelo where the majority economic interests of the Pfizer facility trumped the non-economic interests of the community.11

In Kelo, the municipality used its eminent domain power to acquire a community that had less than optimal economic output in order to allow the development of a corporation that purported to bring more economic value to the city.12 Through this plan, the city hoped to “capitalize on the arrival of the Pfizer facility and the new commerce it was expected to attract.”13 However, this “new commerce” or economic plan negatively affected a community that apparently provided less economic output than Pfizer as shown by the community’s displacement by the new Pfizer Facility. For the governing body, it was not enough that the community had a history in the town that extended as far back as one-hundred years.14 The city’s choice to displace the community despite its rich history shows the connection between the majoritarian political system and the capitalist economic system where economic interests favoring labor, money, and consumerism are pursued at the expense of equally beneficial non-economic interests, such as preserving lower-income communities with strong social networks.15 To make matters worse, the highest court of the land (“Court”) upheld the city’s harmful decision as a legitimate one, which further highlights the limitations of the broader political economic system. 16

Kelo highlights the political and economic disadvantage of low-income communities. This alone should give courts reason to protect low-income communities through strict scrutiny, a more heightened form of judicial scrutiny, since low-income communities can be considered “discreet and insular minorities,” lacking the normal protections of the majoritarian political system.17 Under strict scrutiny, state actions, including municipal actions, are not given the presumption of constitutional validity or legitimacy




10.    See Mansnerus, supra note 4, at 427; United States v. Carolene Prods. Co., 304 U.S. 144, 152 n.4 (1938). See generally W. Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish, 300 U.S. 379 (1937).

11.    See generally Kelo, 545 U.S. 469.

12.    Id. at 474.

13.    Id.

14.    See id. at 494-95 (O’Connor, J., dissenting).

15.    Rarely do economic plans and their stated purpose of job creation and increased tax revenue benefit low-income communities. Instead, low-income communities are often displaced and replaced by higher income communities to whom these plans seek to benefit. See generally Marie Gorrild, Sharon Obialo & NienkeVenema, Gentrification and Displacement in Harlem: How the Harlem Community Lost its Voice En Route to Progress, HUMANITY IN ACTION, http://www.humanityinaction.org/knowledgebase/79-gentrification-and-displacement-in-harlem- how-the-harlem-community-lost-its-voice-en-route-to-progress, (last visited Apr. 2, 2015).

16.    Kelo, 545 U.S. at 500-01, 503 (O’Conner, J. dissenting).

17.    United States v. Carolene Prods. Co., 304 U.S. 144, 152 n.4 (1938).