Cannibalism. Seems to me that this used to be an anathema in America. But convenience and desperation have a way of assuaging our revulsion. We want what we want, when we want it and need to maintain a certain standard of life no matter what happens to us.
The viral proliferation of Wal-Mart stores across the country is a key example of the social cannibalism increasingly afoot in America over the last decade. Communities have willingly sacrificed small businesses to the corporate behemoth, resulting in bland corporate chintz being foisted upon us at slightly lower prices than we used to pay for delightful quality. But the feasting doesn’t stop there. Certainly not when there’s a buck to be made.
In a stunning setback for private property ownership in America, the Supreme Court has decided that local governments can demolish homes and replace them with strip malls whenever the economic balance in doing so favors the municipality. Using the ultimate governmental property power of “eminent domain,” towns, cities, and counties can now rip your precious turf and garden right out from under you and hand the fruit of your commuter labor over to slobbering corporate developers for commercial exploitation. Whereas eminent domain was formerly a public-use tool by which roads, highways, schools, or revitalization were enabled, the court’s decision today allows perfectly good and vital neighborhoods to be razed solely in the name of increased tax revenue. It’s a great day to be a wealthy corporate American with real estate development aspirations.
The situation in the deciding case best illustrates exactly what is so fucking wrong with the Supreme Court’s reasoning. City officials in New London, CT, have been conned into thinking that a great public benefit will arise from laying waste to the working-class Ft. Trumbull neighborhood and replacing it with a hotel, workout club, and office spaces. The alleged public benefit is the sum of new job creation and taxes generated by the businesses and customers of the new establishments. Never mind, of course, that the current residents of the doomed ‘hood have created quaint community featuring all the things that used to make America such a cool place to be. If you’ve ever been charmed by a small town’s attributes, you know exactly what I mean. Besides, these are people who bought into the American Dream of New London by putting their savings and earnings into their homes and local businesses, as did their families before them. Unfortunately, they also bought prime real estate that is irresistibly appealing to corporate interests who are eager to exploit New London’s current financial crisis.
See, New London is on the skids. Once a manufacturing hub along a major railroad line and bustling sea ports, its factories have long been silent. The presence of a U.S. Navy submarine base and Coast Guard academy helped pick up some of the financial slack left by the dormant factories. But the latest round of base closures has once again left the community in a lurch by shutting down the sub base. Emboldened by the success of a Pfizer office park that was constructed next to Ft. Trumbull, city officials apparently think that more office space will lure another big corporation to the town’s troubled shores. And, of course, tourists will flock to the new hotel, bringing with them disposable dollars that every resort town covets. With visions of payroll and luxury taxes dancing in their heads, the local politicos are set to let the ‘dozers roll.
New London city officials argue that the project will also bring much-needed jobs. However, this cry is fairly hollow. No one is guaranteeing that the construction workers used to tear down the Ft. Trumbull homes and erect the new corporate structures will be from New London. Nor does the presence of the proposed businesses on the converted site promise a job for any resident of the city. Sure, some folks may wind up as desk clerks at the hotel, personal trainers at the gym, and secretaries at whatever corporation winds up taking the new office space. But if the Pfizer model is followed, most of the high-paying jobs will go to people who already work for the company but live in another area. Thus, it may be new residents of New London who have the promised jobs, and not locals who have endured the hardships wrought over the last few decades.
Land continues to get more and more scarce in America, and most of the good stuff is already taken. The New London case serves as a grim portend to anyone whose ancestors snapped up prime real estate back in the day, or anyone who has lived on the same for decades now. Cash-strapped municipalities can now feed off their own lifeblood by devouring the very community members they claim to be saving through this action. I doubt the newly dispossessed will want to stick around after the seizure. Seriously—who would buy another home in a town that seized their prior dwelling without their consent? No one wants to be eaten twice, especially by a governmental entity.