Cities: July 2005 Archives

Chris Norby, a county supervisor in Orange County, California, argues in an Orange County Register op-ed that eminent domain doesn't promote economic development, and often has the opposite effect:

Widespread use of eminent domain by cities has demolished whole neighborhoods and destroyed tight-knit communities. "Urban renewal" became a catch phrase for instant slums and urban deserts created through massive use of eminent domain.

Widespread eminent domain and billions in subsidies for commercial development have produced no net economic benefits, according to the 1998 Public Policy Institute of California study, Subsidizing Redevelopment in California.

Half-empty "ghost malls" include the Hollywood-Highland center, now worth a quarter of its original value. Costa Mesa's Triangle Square, built on land seized by eminent domain, now sits virtually empty.

Anaheim residents still mourn the complete destruction of their historic downtown during the 1970s by the redevelopment agency.

By contrast, cities like Orange, Fullerton and Santa Ana have respected the rights of small property owners and have thriving downtowns.

Having learned from its past, the Anaheim City Council has now sworn off the use of eminent domain for private development.

The new Platinum Triangle is thriving because the city is allowing greater land use freedom and flexibility - not dictating land ownership or land use decisions from above.

The role of government is to protect public safety and provide public services. It is not the role of any government to micromanage land use or dictate who can - and cannot - own property. That is the role of free enterprise, where there is a free exchange of goods and services on a voluntary basis.

Earlier in the same piece, Norby makes some points about the "compensation" paid for condemned property:

"Fair market value" must still be paid, but this is meaningless in a forced sale. People have strong sentimental attachments to their home and neighbors.

A small business owner has loyal local customers. They cannot be compensated by a theoretical "fair market value."

One of the hidden costs of urban renewal is the destruction of the social capital that develops in a neighborhood over decades. You can buy everyone in the old neighborhood an equivalent house somewhere else, but you can't rematerialize the neighborhood -- and all the ways neighbors come to take care of each other -- somewhere else.

(Via PrestoPundit, with a hat tip to reader Mel Rippy.)

Not-so-ancient Chinese secret


Oklahoma City's Downtown Guy has fascinating information about an underground Chinatown that existed under the basements of some of downtown Oklahoma City's buildings, from the turn of the 20th century until the 1940s.

In 1921 the Oklahoma Department of Health began a campaign to improve sanitation and living conditions in the stateīs boarding houses, restaurants, grocery stores and the like. So in January, state health inspectors swarmed over eighty locations in Oklahoma City - six inspectors and one sheriff went underground. The inspectors were doubly amazed when they entered the subterranean village via a blue door in the alley off Robinson between Grand (Sheridan) and California - they did not expect the underground area to be so extensive nor did they expect it to be so clean.

The inspectors found several caverns of sleeping rooms extending from a central living room and kitchen and they reported that all the passageways were expertly dug and quite securely designed. Apparently two men shared a hollowed out room with dirt walls and floor and slept on grass mats placed on the floor. There were enough of these rooms to house an estimated 200 people. One inspector reported that the area seemed well-suited for three things - sleeping, eating, and gambling. Inspectors assured the Chinese inside that they werenīt concerned with gambling, just safety, and went about their business. At first they had assumed there were only two levels, but when they were all-too-eagerly greeted by men at the far end of the system, they realized there mustīve been a third level below which allowed someone to run ahead and alert the other residents.

This is the sort of mysterious place you wanted to believe really existed.

There's a lot more information in the Downtown Guy's entry.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Cities category from July 2005.

Cities: June 2005 is the previous archive.

Cities: September 2005 is the next archive.

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