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Reason Foundation

Eminent Domain, Urban Renewal, & Smart Growth

Leonard Gilroy
July 1, 2005, 12:28pm

The NYT offers a few glimpses of the slippery slope engendered by the SCOTUS' Kelo decision: And check out Ms. Dunn's recent letter to the editor in the Cheektowaga Times: The Cheektowaga situation seems to present a cautionary tale of what can happen when eminent domain is enlisted to further an agenda built on seemingly noble intentions -- the wholesale replacement of an older, "blighted" neighborhood (a particularly subjective judgment, to be sure) with an upscale, neo-traditional development currently in vogue with smart growth planners. Actually, Cheektowaga isn't really even a cautionary tale, just a recent example. Shouldn't our past experience with urban renewal give pause to the utopian notion that a beneficient local government should use the power at its disposal to raze older, working class neighborhoods and replace them with something "better" in the interest of the public good? And a few questions to fellow planners...if we started seeing the promoters of smart growth projects increasingly advocate the use of eminent domain to achieve their goals, could we look past their noble intentions to see the deeper parallels with urban renewal? Would we recognize the similarity between the inner-city minority neighborhoods that were levelled (or at least stifled) via urban renewal in the 1950's and 60's and working class neighborhoods like Cedargrove Heights and Fort Trumbull (in New London, CT) that are targets today? Is it really our place -- are we so exalted -- as to be worthy of making a judgment that a neo-traditional, Portland-style neighborhood is better than a less affluent, less attractive neighbhorhood with its share of challenges, but also a fundamental sense of community and pride? As my colleague Sam Staley wrote in a study on eminent domain earlier this year: (Hat tip: City Comforts Blog)

Leonard Gilroy is Director of Government Reform


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