This article joins in the chorus of criticism of the Supreme Court’s Kelo decision, which allowed the City of New London to condemn property for redevelopment even though the public value of that was fairly tenuous. But the article also thinks beyond the simple government power versus private property rights argument, by suggesting that the real issue is one of valuing the community that exists in an area, not just the market value of individual pieces of property. We might allow governments to take property, but require them to pay an additional premium for that community factor, for which a simple market payment does not adequately compensate. What’s interesting to me is that the author suggests the added community payment could go to the occupant of the property, not the owner, since after all the occupant is the one creating the intangible value, while the owner is the one who is entitled to the value of the actual capital.

Thinking more broadly than Kelo, I wonder if there could be ways that other sales of property leading to development, beyond just government takings, could somehow benefit occupants of a neighborhood. Right now there is a struggle over gentrification, between the desire to make a neighborhood “nicer” and safer, but the consequence of displacing long-time residents. If we could somehow ensure that a portion of the profits from an area’s land values increasing could accrue to the people of the neighborhood, then perhaps we could have things both ways, making areas more valuable while also raising up the economic fortunes of those already there so they can have more, rather than fewer, choices.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.