Public Use, Public Choice, and the Urban Growth Machine: Competing Political Economies of Takings Law

The Kelo decision has unleashed a tidal wave of legislative reforms ostensibly seeking to control eminent domain abuse. But as a policy matter, it is impossible to determine what limits should be placed upon local government without understanding how cities grow and develop, and how local governments make decisions to shape the communities over which they preside. This Article examines takings through two very different models of urban political economy: public choice theory and the quasi-Marxist Urban Growth Machine model. These models approach takings from diametrically opposite perspectives, and offer differing perspectives at the margin regarding proper and improper condemnations. But surprisingly, both models stand united in opposition to economic development takings and both view skeptically the current wave of eminent domain reform. By discussing why each model comes to this conclusion, this Article sheds additional light upon the substantive limits that legislatures should place upon eminent domain authority and procedural reforms that would help assure proper exercises of that power within this circumscribed scope. The Article also recommends greater cooperation between legislatures and judiciaries to develop these broad standards and to assure that condemnation authorities adhere to them in individual cases.