Driving along highways and roads, I’m sure we have all witnessed the development of property on once beautiful lands that sprouted with nature. The old farm? Oh, it’s now a mall. The patch of land filled with grass and wildlife? Oh, it’s now a government building. This phenomenon of governments acquiring land from private owners is known as eminent domain, and it has sparked a lot of controversies. On one hand, we have those who argue that eminent domain is beneficial to society, communal values, and the economy. But, on the other hand, we have those who argue against this encroachment on land, rightfully so. Although eminent domain has its benefits, it is a practice that is only advantageous in certain situations, disproportionately affects minorities, and facilitates both corruption and corporatism.
During World War 2, we saw an ideal exemplification of the unity between business and government in efforts to win the war, and overall economically prosper. We are now witnessing it again manifested through eminent domain. However, now, it is much more powerful and known as corporatism. With this alliance, we have two profit-hungry institutions gaining increased power over the country. With more power comes an increased ability to manipulate, and this is exactly what they are doing. “Last decade, the New London Development Corporation — a quasi-governmental body —crafted a plan for revitalizing the small Connecticut town. This plan involved a new Pfizer plant.” A new Pfizer plant, sounds beneficial, doesn’t it? Well, that’s not all this plan entailed. The effort to revitalize the town and create a new Pfizer plant also included the diminishment of the surrounding homes. What the politicians want, they get. So, surrounding citizens were kicked out of their homes and this was justified by claiming it “will provide appreciable benefits to the community, including, but not limited to, new jobs and increased tax revenue.” In reality, this plan failed. Pfizer ended up abandoning this new plant, displacing numerous people for no reason. From this, we can conclude that eminent domain, despite contrary beliefs, is not always advantageous. Eminent domain is a danger to people’s lives and enables manipulation of power and surprisingly, this is not the only time eminent domain has introduced danger into the lives of American citizens.
America has had a long history of displacing people from their rightful land. We saw it with the Native Americans in the colonial period, and we saw it again in the 1940s. With an increased trend towards modernization and economic development, America held the prosperity of corporations to a higher standard than the lives of their citizens. Why? Because these citizens being hurt by eminent domain were predominantly minorities, of low social class, or both. As mentioned previously, these efforts of eminent domain were done with the intent to improve the lives of citizens through introducing better public services and institutions. But once again, this is not what happened. “Most of the people displaced were left even worse off than they were before. The condemned property was often transferred to politically influential developers and business interests. While such condemnations are less common in recent years, blight takings still disproportionately occur in poor and minority neighborhoods, and still inflict great harm both on their victims and on the surrounding communities.” This exemplifies both the corruption of corporatism and the indirect influence of race on eminent domain. Since the poor and minorities are marginalized and thus lack adequate resources to fight against this encroachment, they are left susceptible to issues of homelessness, poverty, etc. Ultimately, the eminent domain seems to follow a trend of creating more problems than benefits. This is not something that can be allowed in our current society that boasts inclusiveness and equality.
A common argument in favor of eminent domain is that it improves society and the economy, which can be exemplified through the Freetown neighborhood in Greenville. This neighborhood was full of deteriorating infrastructure until eminent domain prevailed and helped reinvent the neighborhood: “Today, Freetown is a different place after undergoing a complete makeover that replaced decaying housing and junk- strewn lots with 80 affordable new homes and ten rehabilitated residences; neighborhood street, water, and sewer infrastructure also were upgraded. One of the most dramatic improvements is a new $600,000 community center-” This development also witnessed the replacement of households which had previously been displaced. So, yes, eminent domain can have its benefits. But lest we forget the instances in which people have been displaced from their homes without any hope of replacement. Nevertheless, eminent domain is also said to fairly compensate landowners for their property: “whenever the United States acquires a property through eminent domain, it has a constitutional responsibility to justly compensate the property owner for the fair market value of the property. . . .”. This does not seem to be the case for landowner Richard Stebelton who was offered low compensation for his land: “When Canal Winchester offered Richard “Pete” Stebelton $9,249 for a 1-mile strip of his property, Stebelton thought the payment was too low.” The article goes on to state that the land that is wanted is in reality worth $37,000 and will damage the rest of his property by an amount of $558,625. This further exemplifies the fact that eminent domain is unfair and ruled by corrupt fallacies.
Eminent Domain is a larger issue than we think as it enables corporatism, displaces people from their lands, and disproportionately targets the poor and marginalized. Although some may argue that it contains benefits like bettering society and the economy, ultimately, it does more harm than good and is only truthful and advantageous in some instances. This issue has plagued America for years. It has brought negative effects, like the tension between classes and racial strife. Everyone says we must learn from history, but for some reason, we continue to repeat it. We continue to repeat it because of materialistic desires for a profit with little regard to who is impacted and how. The only way we can fight against it is if everyone comes together; but in an increasingly divided world, who knows when that will happen.
Porter, Douglas R. Eminent Domain: An Important Tool for Community Revitalization. Urban Land Institute, 2007.