Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Kelo backlash and the poor

Back in January, while writing about the devastating effects of the so-called "urban renewal" program on Durham's Hayti neighborhood, it occurred to me that the outrage that we already were witnessing (culminating in last week's elections) in response to the Kelo decision was conspicuously missing in the aftermath of Kelo's key precedent: Berman v. Parker, the 1954 Supreme Court decision that authorized cities to enter into wholesale displacement and destruction for the sake of cleaning up "blighted" neighborhoods. (Pointedly, this decision said that non-"blighted" buildings could justifiably be torn down if they were within a "blighted" area. In Durham, this analysis played out in the demolition of a fine old church where Martin Luther King Jr. had spoken.) The ultimate outcome of the "urban renewal" projects that followed this decision was supposed to be improved housing options for the people who were displaced. But as Fitz Brundage writes in his narrative of Hayti, that wasn't what happened in Durham--a story that was repeated many times in other places. Where was the outrage then? I asked in January.

In a new online legal journal/weblog, Northwestern Colloquy (noticed via Balkinization), I find an article that addresses this question in very smart ways:

This Essay provides a review of the changes in state law following Kelo v. City of New London, and in particular focuses on the dominant reform: the prohibition of economic development condemnations in non-poor areas (which Kelo allows, as a matter of federal constitutional law) coupled with continued allowance for blight condemnations in poor areas. This dominant reform, the Essay argues, privileges the stability of middle-class households over the stability of poor ones, and thus expressively devalues poor people and poor communities in legal and political discourse.

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