Sunday, July 17, 2005

Oh no, not another misbegotten urban renewal program :: WaPo


When I read about last month's Supreme Court decision permitting the city of New London, Conn., to use its power of eminent domain to seize working-class homes so that developers can build a waterfront office, residential and hotel complex, my first thought (after pitying the homeowners who thought that their property rights meant something) was: Oh no, not another misbegotten urban renewal program.

That's because I live in Southwest Washington, where nearly every day I contend with the wreckage -- architectural, socioeconomic and cultural -- from the first time the Supreme Court issued such a ruling. That was the 1954 case of Berman v. Parker , allowing a public entity to seize the heart of the District of Columbia's southwest quadrant -- a huge swath of working-class homes and businesses -- so that developers could build . . . a waterfront office, residential and hotel complex.
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The sorry truth is that governments aren't very good at rejuvenating neighborhoods. Revitalization is strictly a job for the private sector, as our own experience here in Southwest Washington is proving.

In 1954, much of Southwest was a slum, or at least some people in Congress, which authorized the taxpayer-subsidized demolition derby, thought it was a slum. (It was actually a densely populated, predominantly black neighborhood, dilapidated on some blocks, tidy and middle-class on others.)
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Charlotte Allen is a Washington writer and co-editor of the Independent Women's Forum online blog, InkWell.

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