Gabriel Townsend Darriau

“Highest and best use : The reasonable, probable and legal use of vacant land or an improved property, which is physically possible, appropriately supported, financially feasible, and that results in the highest value.”
-Duncan and Brown Real Estate Analysts

"As much land as a man [...] improves, [...] so much is his property. He by his labour does, as it were, enclose it from the common."
-John Locke, Two Treatises of Government, 1689.

Highest and best use is a piece about land value.

A light, movable wooden structure (‘The Pavilion’) is installed on private properties across Montreal. The sites targeted by the Pavilion range from highly valued and heavily built-up downtown properties (e.g. skyscrapers), to vacant lots. Once in operation on a site, the Pavilion offers an experience to the public, who are invited to ask questions and leave their impressions of the piece.

Their impressions are recorded and then processed through a specially-crafted data manipulation tool, which converts the public's experience into monetary value. The price tag that results from this process represents the value that the Pavilion has been able to generate on the site.

For any given site, The Pavilion wields the power to extract the value encased in the land, even if some or most of its value has already been extracted by the ‘improvements’ that a landowner has made to it. The Pavilion reaches deeper into the land and, in doing so, lifts the property ever more closely to its ‘highest’ and ‘best’ potential. The results of this process (the amount of value generated with the Pavilion) is communicated to the landowner (by means of a bill for services rendered) and public authorities (by means of a request for reassessment of the property's value on the tax roll).

The project is borne of a desire to unpack the real estate maxim of ‘highest and best use’, whereby land should always be developed to its maximum economic potential. This curious idea is a starting point for addressing several pertinent questions:
  • How is land value understood? What is ‘highest and best’?
  • Who is allowed to create value? What are the mechanisms for land value extraction?
  • Do alternative kinds of ‘investment’ or 'improvement' create value in a real estate economy? 

The piece is a gross caricature of the land value system, speculation, and the culture of property more broadly. It is also a reappropriation of the city. Movements like tactical urbanism have attempted reappropriation before in Montreal, but have not made notable inroads into private property. For The Pavilion, no property is off limits, and every property can be brought closer to its highest and best.

 Le Pavillon, Phase 4 
15 août 2021, 13h-16h
77 Bernard est
¬Valeur immobilière : 498 900 $
¬Usage : Immeuble commercial
¬Propriétaire : Ville de Montréal

(En collaboration avec Art Pop Montréal)
(Commissariat par Christine White)