Need to find cases of state-sanctioned development projects against local consent, especially if by private for-profit companies
May 13, 2011 12:34 PM   Subscribe

I am looking for good examples to cite for a brief section of paper that looks at contemporary debates over development -- specifically examples of economic development projects which have gone ahead against the consent of local people on the grounds that the benefit to the larger society outweighed any detriment to the local people - especially if the development itself was/is carried out by a for-profit company.

The specific example I have of this is the case of Kelo versus the City of New London, where eminent domain was used to seize property against the will of the local people for the benefit of a private development.

I was hoping that mefites who work in the areas of development/popular politics might have other good cases which I can look up which have similar circumstances: state action used to seize property/evict people/subsidize some development which local people protested against, on the grounds that the overall effects on GDP would outweigh detriment to the local people. If these examples are in the context of rural development, that would be great - as I mentioned, I have New London as one example, but I would like to broaden it. I am specifically interested in projects which are aimed at economic development - I am less interested, for example, in the draining of the Iraqi marshes (which was supposedly for security reasons), though if there are other wetlands recently drained to expand agriculture against the will of the local people, I'd love the references (I really should know them, but my head's stuck 400 years ago - I know about the Mississippi delta in the 19th cent, but politics there quite different).

This is in aid of supporting a 1-2 paragraph discussion in a paper on seventeenth century development projects; I was just hoping to find contemporary situations/debates around this question: "is economic growth, even one which benefits a private investor or disproportionately benefits an elite, still such an overall good that it justifies going against the consent of those most directly affected?" to support my point that it's still an unanswered question, or at least not a simply answered question.

Any references for discussion papers on this issue would also be very welcome; I can always use secondary discussion instead of specific examples.
posted by jb to Education (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You might want to look into the debate around Transit Oriented Development (TOD) and how it is carried out with respect to issues of gentrification. Maybe check out Streetsblog for reporting on recent cases.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 1:07 PM on May 13, 2011

The development of the London Docklands in the 1980s was perceived at the time as being the work of a private developer building skyscraper monstrosities on the old London docks, supported by the London Docklands Development Corporation (a Government agency), with jobs and homes for Thatcherite yuppies and nothing for local people. This has turned out to be largely not the case - the docks had gone, they were never coming back and regeneration of the area has revitalised it.

Interesting article from The Guardian about it here.
posted by essexjan at 1:12 PM on May 13, 2011

I would recommend looking through some of the long history of the Oregon logging conflicts of the 1990's and 2000's. Short version of the issues: logging provides piles of money, but clearcutting methods favored by the logging companies destroy the landscape and ecology and make massive fires more likely. Communities of loggers are very pro-logging (they want jobs), while other communities mounted massive resistance to keep loggers from destroying their areas.
posted by kaibutsu at 1:15 PM on May 13, 2011

Chapter 2 of Economic Facts and Fallacies by Thomas Sowell has a section on "eminent domain" (near the end of the chapter) that might be useful. He is strongly opposed to all eminent domain, even (especially!) if it's a purely public project. There are also endnotes that might point you to other useful sources, though I haven't checked them.

My mom did this blog post about the Empire State Plaza in Albany, NY, which has a link to a local newspaper article as well as her photos. (I've linked the Google cache because her blog is temporarily out of order; this link should work once it's restored.) She says:
New York spent $2 billion to demolish 98 acres of 19th century buildings, displacing 9,000 human beings, in order to build a sickeningly ugly collection of government buildings.
(There are about 100,000 residents of Albany altogether.)

One thing you might want to focus on (which Sowell explains well) is that even if the displaced residents are supposedly paid "just compensation," they're probably going to be far worse off than they were before. If you run a local business and have a loyal base of customers from the neighborhood, and then the neighborhood is destroyed and the government pays you an amount based on its assessment of the property just so it isn't violating the Constitution, are you going to feel like you've been fully compensated? You might not recreate the success of your business. Your life, and your family's life, could be ruined!

Your own property that you've been using for a long time is usually worth more to you, subjectively, than the objective market value of the thing. In fact, the whole reason you were willing to buy it is because you valued the tangible thing more than the money you gave up.

I just spent 2 years living in Albany, NY, and I can't fathom how the Empire State Plaza was worth uprooting about a tenth of its population! What's so great about the Empire State Plaza? You can go for a walk, and there's a decent farmer's market there. Those are nice. But there are other places in the city to go for a nice walk, and Albany has other farmer's markets. The people who used to live there cannot get their old lives back. Just because government gives you a benefit doesn't mean the cost was worth it.
posted by John Cohen at 1:17 PM on May 13, 2011

Have you looked at the briefs filed in the Kelo case? If anyone has dug up similar conflicts, at least within the US, it's the lawyers filing for the parties in that case as a means of distinguishing or advancing their own petition. The format of a SCOTUS brief will make it pretty easy to see the cases and articles used as they require a table of authorities (basically the list of things you are citing in your argument) at the front of the document. You can see the merits briefs here and the amici here.
posted by HonoriaGlossop at 1:17 PM on May 13, 2011

Thank you for your suggestions so far. I haven't looked at the briefs - just the opinions, so far. I'm not actually interested in eminent domain or American law, per se, but the overall issue as a moral/public policy argument. In fact, since I have New London in the US, I was really hoping to find a non-American example, especially one from a developing country. Several years ago, I saw a film on the protests surrounding a dam project in India which flooded tribal farmland - again, it was justified on the grounds that the electricity produced and water reservoir created by the dam would benefit more people than the dam project displaced. That would be another good example, but I'm having trouble locating the details again (googling "dam India" brings up a lot of hits, and I can't remember the name of the famous author who was involved in the protests because I'm a philistine and don't read good books).
posted by jb at 1:26 PM on May 13, 2011

Apparently the secret is to just keep googling - turns out that the film I remember was about a dam on the River Narmada and the author was Arundhati Roy.
posted by jb at 1:35 PM on May 13, 2011

You may also want to start googling for stuff about the Three Gorges Dam in China.
posted by BobbyVan at 1:38 PM on May 13, 2011

Oh - thank you, BobbyVan - I'd forgotten about that project. Another one that I had seen a documentary on, but if I can cite some of the debates, that would be great.
posted by jb at 1:42 PM on May 13, 2011

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