We had to destroy the village in order to save it
It seems that we don't have a monopoly on half-baked redevelopment schemes here in western Pennsylvania. Officials in Ardmore, a Philadelphia suburb, want to create a transit-oriented development district. In so much as they want to encourage high-density, pedestrian-friendly development, this is a great idea. But it's not the ends but the means that befoul this project. Officials are proposing using eminent domain to acquire and demolish several buildings in the town's business district. Sound familiar, Pittsburghers?
There is one legitimate reason for governments to invoke eminent domain to acquire private property: the construction of public works or public buildings like highways and schools. But using the power of government to acquire property from one private party merely to transfer or sell it to another private party--in this case, to build an "urban shopping village"--is an abuse of government power and reeks of fascism. (It is, unfortunately, sanctioned by state redevelopment law.) You'll recall that in Pittsburgh, the Urban Redevelopment Authority has threatened to use eminent domain Downtown, and is currently in a legal battle with the owner of the adult Garden Theater on the North Side, who has refused to sell to the URA and thus is holding up the Federal North redevelopment project. The URA has spent a half-million dollars in legal fees; meanwhile, the URA-controlled Federal Street and North Avenue remain blighted.
The bottom line is this: Government-driven redevelopments projects rarely if ever succeed. Pittsburghers need look no further than the Hill District, Allegheny Center and East Liberty. And Pittsburgh is not alone. Many American cities have neighborhoods that were destroyed by urban renewal projects during the middle and latter parts of the last century. The projects accelerated urban decline; they did not arrest it. The fact that urban renewal is migrating to the suburbs is ironic yet still tragic.