The Central Server Model

The Central Server Model is an approach that has been developed within the community land trust movement to facilitate the rapid scaling of citywide approaches to permanently affordable housing, striking a balance between neighborhood control and leveraging the expertise of larger organizations. This model was first implemented in 2009 in Atlanta, and soon thereafter in New Orleans. Supporters hoped it would lead to a rapid growth in the number of neighborhood-based community land trusts, by using a central entity to support their work with a variety of technical services. These would range from accounting, development, and real estate transactions, to negotiating with funders and lenders, and a variety of other services that require expertise difficult for a small nonprofit to muster.

The effectiveness of the central server model in Atlanta and New Orleans is a complicated topic, the details of which would require more space than we have in this chapter. In short, although affordable housing CLTs continue to adopt and adapt the model, the jury is still out. One takeaway is that in the complex context of affordable housing development, the burden placed on a central entity can be quite onerous. But in the context of urban farming, where the nature of the transactions are not quite as complex — since they do not involve housing or residents — the model could hold more promise.

The key to successful implementation of a central server model in an urban farming context will be developing an architecture that strikes a proper balance between preserving local control while taking advantage of economies of scale.  This architecture should describe a web of neighborhood-based (or “satellite”) organizations that will be served by a citywide organization (the “central server”) that will provide a host of services to the satellites and the farmers to whom they provide land.