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Watch: The Dark Side of Eminent Domain

In cities like Boston, the government’s right to take private property displaced residents and destroyed vulnerable neighborhoods and communities.
October 3, 2019, 11am PDT | Camille Fink
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In a segment for the urban planning YouTube channel City Beautiful, Dave Amos looks at the history of eminent domain and how it has decimated neighborhoods in cities across the United States.

Government acquisition of private property for public use is not always a clear-cut process, and the idea of public use should really be understood as the public benefits such actions provide, says Amos. And the justifications for use of eminent domain are sometimes questionable, he argues.

"City leaders would often claim an area was blighted and use it as a rationale for abusing eminent domain and transferring properties from poor property owners to developers. And they would often build projects for the wealthy—things like condos, performing arts centers, and shopping centers," notes Amos.

He also takes issue with the very idea of blight and planners’ assertion that these areas needed to be destroyed and replaced with something better. One example of the urban renewal wave sweeping across the nation was what happened in Boston’s West End neighborhood. It was demolished in the 1950s, displacing over 10,000 residents, many of whom ended up in substandard housing.

The motivation for razing the West End was not improving neighborhoods, says Amos. Instead, developers saw the area as ideal for redevelopment of central Boston. "Poor and minority neighborhoods were seen as a disease that needed to be exterminated so that wealthy residents, shoppers, and businesspeople could return to the central city," adds Amos. 

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Published on Wednesday, September 18, 2019 in The Urbanist
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