Annually, Americans pour out their sympathy for people displaced from their communities by natural disasters such as fires, floods, and hurricanes. We respond, knowing the anchor that the concept of “home” supplies to body, soul, and family; we intuit the toll exacted by the loss of familiar walls, private homes and community-shared places. Yet, redevelopment policy and practice in the U.S. today relies upon the massive relocation of poor people and the destruction of poor people’s neighborhoods with only token recognition of the costs and burdens imposed on the displaced. Although the devastation of community, family, and lives is just as complete when the disaster is the government-sanctioned wrecking ball, comparable sympathy is not commonplace for urban redevelopment refugees. Urban land is being reclaimed from low-wealth residents by local governments through their active participation in the urban real estate market, through public/private partnerships rather than the exercise of constitutional police powers, with the purpose of engineering new urban territories and repopulating them with the wealthier classes. Although this social engineering is sometimes characterized, or justified, as a modern version of the pioneering that peopled the American plains with striving Europeans, the public policy to so restructure the territories of the central city wrongly allocates the costs of revitalization on the current residents, and distributes the benefits to others. This is the antithesis of governance for the general welfare. The Article argues that public/private redevelopment of urban community space must be controlled by and directly benefit the affected city residents so that the displaced receive meaningful equity shares in the value-added redevelopment. I propose to recognize the meaningful claims of residents displaced by government-aided changes in urban land use patterns, through the allocation of equity stakes in the wealth generated by such city-supported urban redevelopment. This approach would update resident participation strategies in urban land use planning and regulation extant now for nearly sixty years, by recognizing with market value the legitimate interests of residents in the space they co-inhabit. This view is justified on three grounds: (1) the legal framework offered by property law recognizes numerous rights of persons residing in the path of municipality-assisted redevelopment, which currently are destroyed without acknowledgement or compensation, in the exercise of urban redevelopment powers; (2) important community interests of persons and communities are similarly destroyed, although they have yet to be recognized as interests in property, they could can and should be; and (3) equitable arguments of varying political stripes support claims for both recognition of property rights and development of appropriate remedies for the harms redevelopers inflict on present residents. Part IV proposes the creation of community equity shareholding to achieve community ownership, participation in decision-making, and material benefit from public/private urban redevelopment projects that displace long-term residents.
35 Hofstra Law Review 37 (2006).