The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. - Wm. Blake

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

"Thriving small businesses"

You know, like porn theaters.

What the hell am I talking about? Well, just remember that, when earnest conservatarians talk about the evil of eminent domain, they're liable to fudge the facts a bit. Like describing a battered old XXX theater, located across from a landmark park and an elementary school, as a "thriving small business."

The Garden could not better embody the pro-Kelo argument, but of course John Tierney knows that readers of the Times are unlikely to know that. They also probably don't know that the Pittsburgh Wool Co., displaced by an expansion of the Heinz (now DelMonte) plant- the last major plant in town - is still in business, across the river in one of those "newly gentrified neighborhoods with renovated homes and converted warehouses." I was opposed to that move, but to be honest, it had more to do with the beautiful old building (and the proposed steel warehouse replacement) than with principle. As often happens with eminent domain, the family owners of the business got more for their property than they ever could have in the open market, and, their contemporaneous protestations to the contrary, they're still in business, even expanding their new location.

So what else? Well, Tierney is right about a lot of his history – we in Pittsburgh are surrounded by eminent domain gone wrong. That’s why it’s been odd for me to find myself so vociferous in criticizing Kelo’s opponents. So what’s the deal?

Well, first of all, most of our bad history in ED – the Lower Hill, East Liberty – had nothing to do with Kelo-style considerations. It was foolish, but taking private property for public parking or public housing (I guess there is one “upscale apartment building”) is within any “literal” reading of the Bill of Rights. Meanwhile, his lament about the Ville Radieuse-style Gateway Plaza (which is financially successful, and architecturally isn’t that bad - and I hate that kind of shit) ignores Point State Park, the main beneficiary of ED downtown, and a vast, smashing success. Again, see the opening of this piece.

But anyway, the main point is that we have, to a great extent, learned our lessons about ED. The Lazarus failed largely because the rest of the Mayor’s plan was scotched by citizens who opposed it. You know – democratic action, rather than decisions made by unelected judges in Washington?



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