Just Because We Can Doesn’t Mean We Should
Historically, courts have given considerable discretion over the question of the public good to municipal entities. Municipalities seek to navigate the day-to-day realities of managing fiscal, social, and community and economic development issues within their boundaries. The courts have generally been slow to second-guess municipal governmental decision-makers as to whether the public interest is being served.
Reluctance to second guess local governmental action is reflected in the jurisprudence that has emerged around the law of eminent domain. Yet, as articulated in her comments as a part of her dissent in the Kelo v. City of New London, 545 U.S. 469 (2005), Justice O’Connor argued that the exercise of municipal authority in the form of eminent domain has had its greatest negative impacts on low-income neighborhoods. Generally, communities have not been protected from the less than favorable impacts of eminent domain. To be sure, there are a set of experiences within communities that memorialize the paradox of governmental action in the form of eminent domain, presumably exercised for purposes of advancing the public good.
Government has been required to do very little in terms of identifying the specific metrics that drive their taking decisions, nor has formal cost-benefits calculations played a role in the decision-making process. Typically, there is no objective calculation or precision devoted to assessing whether the taking will create the sustainable effect or public benefits speculated to occur. Fundamentally, the taking of private land by government is about the redistribution of resources within the context of serving a presumed public good that Dr. Harris argues should generate a greater level of equity and social justice, not less.
This seminar will provide an understanding of the constitutional and historical opportunities, constraints and trends that contour local governmental authority. It will also offer an understanding of the intersection between community development and eminent domain practice from a community benefits vantage point. Finally, it will explore ideas and strategies related to planning practice that will heighten levels of equity in the context of the exercise of eminent domain authority for purposes of community development.
Dr. Kirk Harris is a faculty member in the Department of Urban Planning at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. Dr. Harris has been working on issues related to community development for over 15 years. He is is considered a national expert on community building and is a national keynote speaker on issues related to fatherhood, family support and community development. As a lawyer and advocate, Dr. Harris has worked on a variety of public policy and community issues, included among them are responsible fatherhood, family support practice, community asset-building, parent-engagement and leadership and anti-poverty strategies. During the 2008 Presidential Campaign, Dr. Harris served on then Senator Obama’s Metropolitan and Urban Policy Committee, charged with managing the campaign’s public policy platform. Presently, Dr. Harris works very closely with White House staff and the leadership within federal agencies on issues related to families and communities.
More detailed information about the presentation will be available on the SARUP website at the following link: