How It All Began
Lambda Alpha, which stands for “study of the land,” was established as a scholarly fraternity at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, in the autumn of 1930. It was formed for the encouragement of the study of land economics in universities; the promotion of a closer affiliation between its members and the professional world of land economics; and the furtherance of the highest ideals of scholarship and honesty in business and the universities.
Richard T. Ely
The inspiration for the fraternity was Professor Richard T. Ely (1854-1943), who is commonly referred to as the “Father of Land Economics.” The first honorary member of LAI, Dr. Ely was a leading progressive economist of the early 1900s. As a professor of land economics at Northwestern University and the University of Wisconsin, Ely influenced national leaders. He was a close friend to Theodore Roosevelt and President Wilson's advisor for his PhD, and Franklin D. Roosevelt incorporated many of his ideas in his New Deal policies.
Growth in Chicago and Beyond
LAI moved beyond its fraternal structure on campus to become an honorary land economics society in the broader Chicago real estate community, with members chosen solely by invitation on the basis of an outstanding contribution to the advancement of the knowledge or practice of land economics. The first LAI professional chapter, Chicago’s Ely Chapter, included distinguished members such as the economist Homer Hoyt. As certain members of LAI moved from Chicago, they helped to establish new chapters, the first being the New York Chapter (1949). The Los Angeles Chapter (1955), George Washington Chapter (Washington DC, 1957) and Golden Gate Chapter (San Francisco, 1964) followed. The founding of the Simcoe Chapter (Toronto, 1964) marked the beginning of LAI’s international growth.
LAI continues its original purposes through a network of 29 chapters in Canada, India, Spain, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States. With a twice yearly international gathering – the Land Economics Weekend—LAI nurtures ethical and sustainable land economics practices and professional fellowship on a global level. The intent of Northwestern University’s land economics scholars of the 1930’s continues to be advocated by LAI members across the world.