Format Type: PDF, ePub
Read Online: 1049
When governments use eminent domain to transfer property between private owners, Americans are outraged - or so most media and academic accounts would have us believe. But these accounts obscure a much more complex reality in American conceptions of property. In this book, Debbie Becher presents the first comprehensive study of a city's eminent domain acquisitions, exploring how and why the City of Philadelphia took properties between 1992 and 2007 and which takings led to protests. She uses original data - collected from city offices and interviews with over a hundred residents, business owners, community leaders, government representatives, attorneys, and appraisers - to explore how eminent domain really works. Becher surprises readers by finding that the city took over 4,000 private properties, or one out of every hundred such properties in Philadelphia, during her study period. Furthermore, these takings only rarely provoked opposition - a fact that established viewson property are ill-equipped to explain. To investigate how Americans judge the legitimacy of eminent domain, Becher devotes several chapters to two highly controversial sets of takings for redevelopment projects. The American Street takings were intended to win popular support for redevelopment and initially succeeded in doing so, but it ended as a near total failure and embarrassment. The Jefferson Square takings initially faced vociferous opposition, but they eventually earned residents'approval and became a political showpiece. Becher uncovers evidence that Americans judge eminent domain through a social conception of property as an investment of value, committed over time, that government is responsible for protecting. This conception has never been described in sociological, legal, political, or economic scholarship, and it stands in stark contrast to the arguments of libertarian and left-leaning activists and academics. But recognizing property as investment, Becher argues, may offer a firm new foundation for more progressive urban policies.