Is eminent domain necessary for revitalizing cities?

<p style="margin: 0in 0in 0pt" class="MsoNormal"><font face="Times New Roman" size="3">Planners are split on eminent domain—one group believes it’s a critical component of planning since it allows them to implement plans more quickly. Others believe eminent domain does more to destroy urbanism than build it up. I’ve weighed in on it numerous times, including </font><a href="/node/150"><font face="Times New Roman" size="3" color="#800080">this commentary published by Planetizen</font></a><font face="Times New Roman" size="3">. </font></p>

Read Time: 3 minutes

January 9, 2008, 12:55 PM PST

By Samuel Staley


Planners are split on eminent domain-one group believes it's a critical component of planning since it allows them to implement plans more quickly. Others believe eminent domain does more to destroy urbanism than build it up. I've weighed in on it numerous times, including this commentary published by Planetizen.

One of the biggest hurdles for opponents to eminent domain is the simple and highly relevant question: "What's the alternative?" Many believe the presumption should be in favor of sweeping away old urbanism to accommodate new development. Without eminent domain, how could neighborhoods revitalize or adapt to changing economic circumstances?

I was prompted to revisit this question while viewing the most recent video installment of the Drew Carey Project on reason.tv.  This is the second segment on eminent domain by Drew, and this one has a pretty important twist: It highlights the redevelopment efforts of Anaheim, California. Anaheim, under the leadership of Mayor Curt Pringle, has adopted a resolution prohibiting the use of Eminent Domain for redevelopment purposes.

Guess what? Redevelopment is humming along just nicely in Anaheim without eminent domain.

This is quite a contrast to the efforts north of the city in Los Angeles. There, the City of Los Angeles cleared away an entire block, including 30 local businesses, to build a high end luxury hotel and condos. The city claims it's a win-win because the property owners got paid market rates. The business owners and property owners think otherwise.

The video also raises an important policy question: just because someone is paid market rates for property, is it fair? Is it fair to forcibly seize someone's property just because the property owner had a different vision for redevelopment than the city council-organic, street-level development instead of a high-rise luxury hotel in the LA case? The property owners are now deprived of the opportunity to redevelop the property because they city had a different, potentially more lucrative (for the city) vision. Eminent domain proceedings don't compensate for unrealized expectations or plans by the property owner. 

As a libertarian, of course, I don't think it is fair. Market prices don't necessarily reflect the value we individually place on property, land, buildings or other goods and services we own, especially if we don't want to sell them. The so-called market price used in legal cases reflects the value others place on those things. In the case of eminent domain, even though a property owner is compensated, the transaction is coerced so the entire concept of a market price is problematic from the get-go. (Market prices presume that transactions are voluntary.)

Notably, the developer for the LA property in the video admits the project would not have gone forward without the implicit subsidy of eminent domain. This raises yet another question: if the market would not have supported the project, what public purpose was it serving? 


Samuel Staley

Sam Staley is Associate Director of the DeVoe L. Moore Center at Florida State University in Tallahassee where he also teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in urban and real estate economics, regulations, economic development, and urban planning.

Hyperloop

The Hyperloop’s Prospects Dim

The media is coming around to the idea that the hyperloop is not a near-term solution for the country’s transportation woes. It’s too little, too obvious, too late.

September 27, 2022 - James Brasuell

Miami and Key Biscayne

The Great American Exodus: A Conservative's Perspective

During his keynote speech on September 11 at the National Conservatism Conference in Miami, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis describes the demographic shifts in America since he became governor in 2019 in what he calls the 'Great American Exodus.'

September 27, 2022 - The Wall Street Journal

A crowd of people cross the street with a sign for the entrance of Disneyland in the background

Disneyland Is Too Crowded. Is More Capacity Needed?

Disneyland has a plan to create more supply to meet contemporary demand, a strategy reminiscent of contemporary debates surrounding housing and transportation.

September 29, 2022 - James Brasuell

A crosswalk activation button is shown in the foreground with two pedestrians show blurred while crossing the street in the background.

Jaywalking Decriminalized in California

Another day, another historic planning-related bill signed into law in the Golden State.

October 4 - Los Angeles Times

Aerial view of Walla Walla, Washington

Smart Growth Plan Hopes to Rein in Sprawl in Walla Walla

The Washington city reformed its zoning code to support more multifamily development and a diversity of housing types to meet the needs of its growing population.

October 4 - Planning Magazine

Man with leather messenger bag riding CitiBike bike on New York street

The Resilience of Bikeshare

The inherent simplicity of bikes makes shared mobility systems a crucial transportation option during natural disasters.

October 4 - Bloomberg CityLab

New Case Study Posted on HUD User

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

New Updates on PD&R Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

The World’s Leading Event for Cities

Smart City Expo World Congress

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Hand Drawing Master Plans

This course aims to provide an introduction into Urban Design Sketching focused on how to hand draw master plans using a mix of colored markers.