You Got to Be Kidding Me!

More on Kelo v. New London

Posted in Politics, Urban Planning by Stacy McMahon on March 2, 2005

The Fort Trumbull eminent domain case goes in front of the Supreme Court. The defense seems to have picked a salesman to argue their case, while the plaintiffs have made what are probably some strange bedfellows in arguing their case.

What’s the case? Well, that’s the main point of argument. The short version of events is that the city is attempting to condemn an older residential neighborhood in order to allow Pfizer to build a new research headquarters. To dress it up, they’ve also added a standard-issue “new urban” retail/condo development with a gym and marina. It’s not a bad plan, since Pfizer will most likely bring in people from outside to fill most of the high-skilled jobs at its facility, and those employees will need upscale digs to call their own. Problem is, the owners of 15 houses in the neighborhood don’t want to sell. There’s no crime problem, nor any extroardinary urban decay, and they like it there just fine.

The city comes back with the argument that the neighborhood is blighted, or well, not really blighted but in decline, and could be blighted …one of these days. Anyway, they’re just trying to do something about it, poor public servants of an economically depressed city, and here’s this great opportunity for comprehensive redevelopment! To back them up, they’ve trotted out Berman v. Parker (1954) where SCOTUS found that the use of eminent domain to take “blighted” land and turn it over to a private developer was constitutional. Prior to that, “public use” meant things like main roads, railroad tracks, and bridges–public infrastructure built by, and making a profit for, private corporations. Kind of like downtown redevelopment.

Exactly how much like it is the rub here. If every public use also involves private profit, then on what basis do we say a transportation project is more legitimate than a residential redevelopment? Public housing replaced blight with liveable, humane housing for innercity residents [before becoming blighted itself] and that’s legally a public use. If ritzy condos and a gym might attract upscale residents and kickstart the local economy, does that make it one too?

(links lifted mainly from Planetizen)

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