The Village of Arden: 1900 – 2000
|January 9, 2007||Posted by Fred Foldvary under Archive, Progress Report, The Progress Report|
Fred Foldvary’s Editorial
The Village of Arden: 1900 – 2000
by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor
Arden village is one of the oldest intentional communities in existence, and its 100th anniversary demonstrates the success of its intended mission. The intent was to demonstrate to the world that it is possible for a community to be financed from land rent, and that this would create a vibrant and prosperous community.
Located north of Wilmington, Delaware, Arden is the only entire village in the USA on the National Register of Historic Places, placed as a successful experimental community, an example of a garden city, a direct democracy, a center of the arts, and for the preservation of a true village feeling and sense of community.
The residential land in Arden is owned by a non-profit trust which collects the land rent from the leaseholders. The buildings are owned by the leaseholders. The leasehold rents are set by elected assessors according to market-based formulas. The trust pays the county property tax, so that leaseholders only rent on their site and no taxes on their buildings. This preserves the full incentive to maintain and improve the buildings.
Arden was founded in 1900 by followers of the economist and social reformer Henry George, who had died a few years earlier. They wanted to build a model community which would demonstrate George’s theory of public finance. Henry George had proposed to abolish all taxes except for a single tax on the value of land, excluding the value of any improvements.
The rolling hill country Arden was built on reminded the founders, Frank Stephens and Will Price, of the woodlands of Warwickshire, England, site of the Arden Forest in Shakespeare’s As You Like It. They bought an abandoned farm, helped by financing from Joseph Fels, a supporter of the ideas of Henry George. Arden has kept alive the memory of these origins, including the Shakespearean legacy, with an open-air theater to present his plays.
The founders were also influenced by the ideas of the 19th-century William Morris and envisioned a village with craftsmen and much art, music, and theater. Ebenezer Howard’s concept of a “garden city” influenced the founders as well. Over a third of the city is open space as greens, forest, and roads. Most of the settlers built their own houses. No restrictions were imposed on the architecture, and the houses are different from one another. I visited the village in 1989 and found the trees and gardens and various styles to have a very pleasing and beautiful appearance.
Arden Village is governed by Town Assemblies held four times per year. The town meetings vote on the budget, on committees and officers, and on ordinances, of which very few have been enacted. The election for the Board of Assessors, of seven persons, uses the Hare system of proportional representation that places votes in piles according to successive choices on each ballot. Arden may be the first community in the USA to elect officials by proportional representation.
The rent is calculated at a base rate per 1000 square feet of land. There are then increases (“factors separately appraised”) for lots facing the greens or by woodlands, and other adjustments. This system of assessment of the rent is attributed to W.A. Somers, who found that various factors add value to lots in a uniform way. The assessors study the sales prices in and around Arden and take into account rates of return on funds.
Opponents of the Georgist collection of land rent often claim it is impossible to separate land and improvement values. Arden has successfully demonstrated the possibility in practice, which rejects the hypothesis that this is not feasible. Land rent has also been used for public revenue in many cites, so there is also nothing unique about Arden’s use of rent. What was unique was the use of a trust to create a contractual community financed from the rent.
Arden was so successful that two similar communities were founded nearby, Ardentown and Ardencroft. There have also been other land trusts for housing, farm preservation, and conservation, many of them affiliated with the School of Living in Pennsylvania.
Many “Arden Centennial 2000″ 100th anniversary celebrations are taking place in Arden. “As You Like It” is being performed in June by the Shakespeare Gild. The Arden Birthday Bash takes place on July 15. In November, the Arden Lecture Series presents “In Harmony with Nature: Lessons from the Arts and Crafts Garden” in Gild Hall. An exhibit on “Art, Craft, and the Utopian Ideal: Arden, Delaware 1900 – 1935″ takes place at the Delaware Art Museum from June 22 through September 3, 2000.
Arden’s 100th anniversary should be widely celebrated as a real- world model of real social progress and a tiny glimpse of nirvana, of what life in harmony with the laws of social nature would be like for all humanity.
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Copyright 2000 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.