The Art of Land Assembly
Eminent domain for economic development is attractive and appalling. States need the power to condemn because so much land in America is inefficiently fragmented. But public land assembly provokes hostility because vulnerable communities get bulldozed. Courts offer no help. The academic literature is a muddle. Is it possible to assemble land without harming the poor and powerless? Yes. In this Article, we propose the creation of Land Assembly Districts or “LADs.” This new property form solves the age-old tensions in eminent domain and shows, more generally, how careful re-design of property rights can enhance both welfare and fairness. The economic and moral intuition underlying LADs is simple: Where the only justification for assembly is over-fragmentation of land, neighbors should be able to decide collectively whether their land will be assembled. Our legal theory solution is equally simple: use property law to retrofit communities with a condominium-like structure tailored to land assembly. Let’s try giving those burdened by condemnation a way to share in its benefits and to veto projects they decide are not worth their while.