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Eminent Domain in Urban Areas

© Mike Lester, www.caylecartoons.com

The constitutional issue of eminent domain rose to prominence in national political dialogue after the landmark Supreme Court Case Kelo v. New London in 2005. Once a right reserved for government takings for “public uses,” like highways and schools, Kelo legitimized the government’s right to seize property for the “public good-” specifically economic development.   This broadly expanded the strength of the government power, and many viewed the ruling as a significant step backwards in securing strong property rights in the United States (few savored the idea of their family home being labeled “blighted” so Chicago could build another movie theater or Outback Steakhouse).  While many a paper has been penned on the political ramifications of the court case, few academics have researched the economic and socioeconomic impact the use of eminent domain can have on an urban area.

This literature survey will address the literature we do have- its effectiveness in correcting market inefficiencies (urban renewal and urban sprawl) and whether the usage of eminent domain inherently “targets” a minority or impoverished population.  Miceli and Sirmans pontificate on the holdout problem and urban sprawl, O’Flaherty evaluates the effectiveness of urban renewal on a theoretic level, and Carpenter and Ross examines a racial, economic, and educational bias inherent in eminent domain.


Brueckner, J. (2000). Urban sprawl: diagnosis and remedies. International Regional Science Review, 23(2), Retrieved from doi: 10.1177/016001700761012710

Carpenter, D.M., & Ross, J.K. (2009). Testing O’Connor and Thomas: Does the Use of Eminent Domain Target Poor and Minority Communities?. Urban Studies, 46(11), doi: 10.1177/0042098009342597

Miceli, T.J., & Sirmans, C.F. (2007). The holdout problem, urban sprawl, and eminent domain. Journal of Housing Economics, 16. doi: 10.1016/j.jhe.2007.06.004

O’Flaherty, B. (1994). Land assembly and urban renewal. Regional Science and Urban Economics, 24, 287-300.