Monday, May 30, 2005

A new take

What if homeowners in the inner city claimed that government policies encouraging sprawl had decreased the value of their property so much, it was the equivalent of a "taking" and they were entitled to just compensation under the Fifth Amendment? That was one of the more intriguing ideas to emerge from the 2nd National Summit on Equitable Development, Social Justice and Smart Growth in Philadelphia earlier this month, put on by Policy Link and the Funders Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities. Former Albuquerque mayor David Rusk and Myron Orfield, director of the Institute on Race and Poverty at the University of Minnesota, said legal specialists were reviewing the possibility of such a landmark lawsuit. The idea is to flip around the accepted notion that government action can result in a de facto taking, the standard approach of property rights lawsuits coast to coast. In this lawsuit, property owners in a hollowed out city -- and one or two distressed first-ring suburbs -- would make the argument that government action to promote growth at the periphery sucked all the economic vitality out of their neighborhoods, leading to sharply decreased property values. It's too early to say whether this would go forward, but the legal papers in such a suit would have to include an exhaustive and detailed account of how state and local governments actively supported sprawl. It would be interesting reading.


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