Thursday Night 08.04.05 — Screening/Talk — All for the Taking: Eminent Domain and Urban Renewal

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Thursday Night 08.04.05 — Screening/Talk — All for the Taking: Eminent Domain and Urban Renewal
1. About this Thursday Night
2. A Rant
3. Film Synopsis
4. Brooklyn
1. About this Thursday Night
What: Screening / Discussion
Where: 16 Beaver Street, 4th floor (directions below)
When: Thursday Night 08.04.05 @ 7:30 Pm
Who: Open To All
We ask you to please join us for a discussion of the new techniques of gentrification, the Brooklyn MTA railyards, land rights, precarity, definitions of blight, meanings of home, the world heritage project and the infinite ironies of democracy.
The discussion will be structured around three anchors.
Anchor 1
We will begin the evening with a screening of the documentary film, “All for the Taking: 21st Century Urban Renewal” (George McCollough, Joy Butts, Sara Leavitt, Julia Lima, dir. George McCollough). The film tells the story of how Philadelphia — with its NTI program — its seizure of property through “eminent domain” to create massive land banks to entice developers — has become a guinea pig for all American cities. Sara Leavitt (the editor of the film) will be present to join in the discussion and field any questions.
Anchor 2
To connect the situation in Philadelphia with a more local context, we have invited artist Lize Mogel to discuss Forest City, Ratner’s Atlantic Yards eminent domain proposal for Brooklyn and the local resistance.
Anchor 3
Some of you may have had the pleasure of meeting Sarah Lewison in this last year at our events. We have been fortunate to share time and exchange ideas with her this year and as she prepares to leave for some teaching assignments away from New York, we managed to put this event together. The evening’s event is connected to a project she has embarked upon about place and the culture of property. She will be present to orient our discussion and explore the terms introduced above.
2. A Rant : And why should I care about this if I don’t own property anyway?
The recent Supreme court ruling Kelo v. City of New London apparently newly
expands the Constitutional 5th Amendment reach of eminent domain (*private
property be taken for public use, without just compensation*) from its
traditional limited uses– to build thoroughfares intended for direct public
benefit such as highways, railways, electric and sewage lines.
In truth, the court decision affirms what has already been the practice in
cities with large tracts of decaying buildings like Philadelphia. In these
cases, as with the New London, Connecticut case, property is seized from
private owners and residents and passed on to private developers for
‘improvements’ that will increase local property tax revenues. For a long
time, such eminent domain seizures had been rationalized by subjective
definitions of urban blight; the Supreme Court decision streamlines this
potentially messy qualitative debate about what is adequate urban living
space by turning it into a quantitative one about how much money there will
be on the tax rolls.
While some of the struggles documented in “All for the Taking” bear evidence
of being thinly veiled cases of contemporary redlining against struggling
African American neighborhoods, the huge popular outcry against the Supreme
Court’s Kelo/New London ruling bears witness to the threat felt by a more
affluent and larger class of homeowners. These people now fear that new
construction of super sized homes on their block is a harbinger of the
eventual condemnation of their own modest older dwellings. A whole new class
is threatened by precarity; we will all have company.
The definition of tax revenue increase as an acceptable ‘public use’ for
eminent domain is one that has a number of ideological implications beyond
the direct assault on the sanctity of our ironic right to ‘own’ (arguably
stolen) property and use it as we (sic) see fit. As the documentary about
Philadelphia witnesses, people who are most precarious (the aged) are thrown
out of their homes, histories of community development and agency are
destroyed or aborted, and the delicate and long term project of developing a
sustainable balance of economies and of a demos in an individual
neighborhood is indefinitely suspended.
3. Film Synopsis
According to the 2000 U.S. Census Bureau Report, Philadelphia had lost
nearly 500,000 residents in only forty years. On April 18, 2001, the City
of Philadelphia announced the arrival of the Neighborhood Transformation
Initiative (NTI) the most ambitious urban renewal project in its history.
Budgeted at $1.6 billion over five years, the NTI is designed to reverse a
50-year pattern of population decline by preserving and restoring
Philadelphias neglected neighborhoods.
Patricia L. Smith, NTIs Director, states, “For the most part, the urban
renewal programs of the 70s were defined by demolition, a massive
gentrification of traditional neighborhoods and by the lack of meaningful
involvement by neighborhood residents. Ironically those programs
contributed significantly to the creation of vacant lots and other blighted
conditions here in Philadelphia and in other cities across the country. We
have learned from the failure of those programs and will absolutely not
repeat their mistakes.”
Through the NTI, the City is attempting to stem the tide of population loss
in Philadelphia by using the right of “eminent domain” to seize thousands
of homes in neglected neighborhoods — often owned by elderly, lifelong
community residents — in an attempt to create a massive land bank to
entice private developers to rebuild some of the City’s most historic
neighborhoods. Thus far, the City has failed to include neighborhood
residents in their decision making process, and, as a result, residents are
unaware of their rights and have become confused and are scared they will
lose their homes.
All for the Taking tells the story of how Philadelphia — with its NTI
program — has become a guinea pig for all American cities struggling to
redefine the value of the American city in the face of a growing global
economy that continues to undermine the value of labor, the local economy,
and the sense of community that once defined the American city. The film
targets local residents who have been directly affected, or know someone
who has been affected by Philadelphias NTI program, as well as people
across America who have been affected by similar urban renewal programs in
their respective cities. Philadelphias NTI program is one of the most
ambitious urban renewal programs in America, and, yet, is reflective of
many of the urban renewal programs that have been initiated in cities
across America, from Rochester, NY to Tacoma, WA.
Director George McCollough was formerly director of Drexel University TV, a
community based television station that covered stories of local interest.
Contact: George McCollough 219 S. 46th Street Philadelphia, PA 19139
215-387-8818 georgemccollough@hotmail.com
4. Brooklyn — More information
MTA (Ratner Proposal) Railyards in Brooklyn:
Amendment V – Trial and Punishment,
Compensation for Takings. Ratified 12/15/1791.
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous
crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in
cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual
service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for
the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be
compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be
deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor
shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.