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Real Estate & Property Law

: Kelo and Beyond

Building From Scratch

By Greg Alvarez

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In a week where one of the last remaining original copies of the Magna Carta was purchased at auction, it seems fitting to return to the beginning of things, to a time when the built-up environment left a scant mark on the landscape, or even when places still had that stamp of newness that seems so long ago. The story item that caught my attention, and brought me to this topic, was the news out of the Chinese/Vietnamese border, where Asian Highway No. 14 is on its way to fruition. In an attempt to create a modern surface transportation network throughout the continent, plans are in the works for an 87,000-mile highway network across Asia. The 152-mile stretch from Hanoi to Lao Cai is meant as a gateway from China's Yunnan Province to the seaports of Vietnam, all in the interest of expanding the global reach of Asia's growing economic strength. As if drawn on a clean sheet of paper, the highway will change things, hopefully for the better, for the residents and businesses in this neck of the world. It will dirty things up further, and displace around 25,000 people, so hopefully it will all be worth it.

Another tidbit that got me to thinking about drastic changes to once untapped regions actually comes from the middle of the Chicagoland metropolitan area. How the heck are revolutionary changes supposed to happen on the well-tread shores of Lake Michigan, you ask? Well, in Evanston, the city nestled along the northern border of Chicago proper, they are looking to open up the door to a whole new kind of place from what it is now. Home to Northwestern University (which I called home for four years) and the Women's Christian Temperance Union movement, the current leaders of the city are welcoming in a proposed 523-foot tall building into the relatively modest skyline its downtown now musters. Nothing now existing in the suburb rises within 200 feet of the proposed tower. It would be seen miles away. A recent 4-3 vote of the Evanston Plan Commission has sent the process to the next step, but there are still significant hurdles to redefine the community. As one opponent noted, "Evanston is a little university town. It seems out of character to have a skyscraper here." We'll see which camp's vision for Evanston's future will win out.

And how about down in New Orleans, where the work to rebuild the city from the ground up continues to face daily battles as to what the vision will be. This week city politics have been ensnarled in a massive protest from citizens angry that the federal government plans to demolish thousands of low income housing units, with no real assurances that these units will be replaced. Brad Pitt's lofty plans aside, New Orleans struggles each day with these issues where complex, competing forces make the task almost impossible. People don't want to return to the past, but they do want to return to the home they remember. The real issue seems to be whether the vision for New Orleans actually foresees the inclusion of the residents that lived there prior to Katrina. As one of these stalwarts noted, "They don't want this city to be for the poor, working-class people. . . . Everyone else, kick them to the curb." Even though in some ways starting from scratch, there's a lot of history, resentment and suspicion planted on the banks of the Mississippi.

As we approach the time to put up a new calendar on the wall, it's another chance to start over. But for those out there celebrating Christmas (or even those who just get a few extra days off), this is the time to hold onto and enjoy a bit of the current state of things, before it is time yet again to forge ahead, and start anew. Enjoy!

Full post as published by Kelo and Beyond on December 21, 2007 (boomark / email).

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