Category Archives: Urban Issues

New Book: “The Fight to Save the Town: Reimagining Discarded America”

the-fight-to-save-the-town-9781501195983_lgNew Book: Michelle Wilde Anderson, The Fight to Save the Town: Reimagining Discarded America (2022). Overview below:

A sweeping and authoritative study of wealth inequality and the dismantling of local government in four working-class cities across the US that passionately argues for reinvestment in people-centered leadership.

Decades of cuts to local government amidst rising concentrations of poverty have wreaked havoc on communities left behind by the modern economy. Some of these discarded places are rural. Others are big cities, small cities, or historic suburbs. Some vote blue, others red. Some are the most diverse communities in America, while others are nearly all white, all Latino, or all Black. All are routinely trashed by outsiders for their poverty and their politics. Mostly, their governments are just broke. Forty years after the anti-tax revolution began protecting wealthy taxpayers and their cities, our high-poverty cities and counties have run out of services to cut, properties to sell, bills to defer, and risky loans to take.

In The Fight to Save the Town, urban law expert and author Michelle Wilde Anderson offers unsparing, humanistic portraits of the hardships left behind in four such places. But this book is not a eulogy or a lament. Instead, Anderson travels to four blue-collar communities that are poor, broke, and progressing. Networks of leaders and residents in these places are facing down some of the hardest challenges in American poverty today. In Stockton, California, locals are finding ways, beyond the police department, to reduce gun violence and treat the trauma it leaves behind. In Josephine County, Oregon, community leaders have enacted new taxes to support basic services in a rural area with fiercely anti-government politics. In Lawrence, Massachusetts, leaders are figuring out how to improve job security and wages in an era of backbreaking poverty for the working class. And a social movement in Detroit, Michigan is pioneering ways to stabilize low-income housing after a wave of foreclosures and housing loss.

Our smallest governments shape people’s safety, comfort, and life chances. For decades, these governments have no longer just reflected inequality—they have helped drive it. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Anderson argues that a new generation of local leaders are figuring out how to turn poverty traps back into gateway cities.


New Article: “Downtown Condos for the Rich: Not All Bad”

New Article: Michael Lewyn, Downtown Condos for the Rich: Not All Bad, 51 N.M. L. Rev. 400 (2021). Abstract below:

Through a survey of the academic and popular literature as well as a review of relevant data, this Article suggests that the growth of high-end condominiums is likely to increase supply and hold down costs for local residents. Part I of the Article discusses the background of the debate, including the increased popularity of downtown life, the explosion of urban housing costs in some cities, and the growth of high-cost condos. Part II critiques the claim that the growth of high-end condos will fail to lower housing costs and suggests that this claim is wrong because (1) at least some of these condos are purchased or rented by local residents; and (2) even if this was not the case, these condos might lower housing costs by shifting demand away from older housing units that might otherwise be purchased by out-of-town investors. The Article further demonstrates that even if out-of-town investment has increased housing demand, a vacancy tax would limit this demand more effectively than restrictive zoning. Finally, Part III discusses other externalities allegedly caused by these condos and argues that those externalities do not justify limits on condo construction.

New Article: “Barbed Wire Fences: The Structural Violence of Education Law”

New Article: LaToya Baldwin Clark, Barbed Wire Fences: The Structural Violence of Education Law, Abstract below:

In this Essay, I argue that, in urban metros like Chicago, poor Black children are victims of not just gun violence but also the structural violence of systemic educational stratification. Structural violence occurs in the context of domination, where poor Black children are marginalized and isolated, vulnerable to lifelong subordination across many domains. Specifically, I argue that U.S. education policy subjects poor Black children to the violence of intergenerational subordination by trapping children behind residential barbed wire fences, starving their schools of necessary resources, and abusively dangling powerless community control.

New Article: “From “Hearing” to Listening: Access to Justice and Indirect Displacement”

New Article: Emily McWey, From “Hearing” to Listening: Access to Justice and Indirect Displacement, 110 Geo. L.J. 151 (2021). Abstract below:

When local government policies cause households and communities to become homeless, those affected are entitled to due process. Yet when the government displaces households through zoning-induced gentrification, it often acts as the perpetrator of the harm, adjudicator of disputes, and favored party on appeal. Regardless of the merits of such disputes, that process raises prohibitive access-to-justice barriers.

The threat of homelessness is undeniably a substantial private interest for due process purposes. When this threat arises from government-driven policies, due process becomes particularly critical. For that reason, while the existing access-to-justice discourse about direct displacement is important, this Note reveals that access-to-justice barriers in the context of indirect displacement through zoning-induced gentrification are perhaps even more fundamental.

To illustrate the necessity of such research, this Note examines a recent case in which Ms. Sharon Cole, a pro se litigant, navigated the entire available process—from the zoning hearing to the final appeal—to defend herself and her community against indirect displacement caused by zoning-induced gentrification. The facts and substantive law over-whelmingly supported her community’s position, but Ms. Cole was denied a meaningful opportunity to be heard. By the end of the process, the government had initiated and subsidized the harm, and the legal system legitimated, facilitated, and—worst of all—erased it.

New Symposium: A Taxing War on Poverty: Opportunity Zones and The Promise of Investment and Economic Development

New Symposium: A Taxing War on Poverty: Opportunity Zones and The Promise of Investment and Economic Development, 48 Fordham Urb. L. J. (2021). Contained Articles and Notes listed below:



[Self-promotion] New Article: The Euclid Proviso

Ethel Lawrence HomesNew Article: Ezra Rosser, The Euclid Proviso, 96 Wash. L. Rev. 811 (2021). Abstract below:

 This Article argues that the Euclid Proviso, which allows regional concerns to trump local zoning when required by the general welfare, should play a larger role in zoning’s second century. Traditional zoning operates to severely limit the construction of additional housing. This locks in the advantages of homeowners but at tremendous cost, primarily in the form of unaffordable housing, to those who would like to join the community. State preemption of local zoning defies traditional categorization; it is at once both radically destabilizing and market responsive. But, given the ways in which zoning is a foundational part of the racial and economic status quo, it is time for scholars and policymakers to move away from traditional zoning and towards more permissive regional or state approaches to housing development.

New Book: White Space, Black Hood: Opportunity Hoarding and Segregation in the Age of Inequality

9780807000298New Book: Sheryll Cashin, White Space, Black Hood: Opportunity Hoarding and Segregation in the Age of Inequality (2021). About the book:

Shows how government created “ghettos” and affluent white space and entrenched a system of American residential caste that is the linchpin of US inequality—and issues a call for abolition.

The iconic Black hood, like slavery and Jim Crow, is a peculiar American institution animated by the ideology of white supremacy. Politicians and people of all colors propagated “ghetto” myths to justify racist policies that concentrated poverty in the hood and created high-opportunity white spaces. In White Space, Black Hood, Sheryll Cashin traces the history of anti-Black residential caste—boundary maintenance, opportunity hoarding, and stereotype-driven surveillance—and unpacks its current legacy so we can begin the work to dismantle the structures and policies that undermine Black lives.

Drawing on nearly 2 decades of research in cities including Baltimore, St. Louis, Chicago, New York, and Cleveland, Cashin traces the processes of residential caste as it relates to housing, policing, schools, and transportation. She contends that geography is now central to American caste. Poverty-free havens and poverty-dense hoods would not exist if the state had not designed, constructed, and maintained this physical racial order.

Cashin calls for abolition of these state-sanctioned processes. The ultimate goal is to change the lens through which society sees residents of poor Black neighborhoods from presumed thug to presumed citizen, and to transform the relationship of the state with these neighborhoods from punitive to caring. She calls for investment in a new infrastructure of opportunity in poor Black neighborhoods, including richly resourced schools and neighborhood centers, public transit, Peacemaker Fellowships, universal basic incomes, housing choice vouchers for residents, and mandatory inclusive housing elsewhere.

Deeply researched and sharply written, White Space, Black Hood is a call to action for repairing what white supremacy still breaks.

Editor’s Note: I just finished reading the book and found it a worthwhile read for a number of reasons. It does a good job bringing together various strands of work exemplified by The Color of Law, Dream Hoarders, and the Ferguson Report. Indeed, Cashin’s work connecting property law with over-criminalization is probably the biggest contribution for academic readers, though I also appreciated the tone of Cashin’s writing throughout. At times indignant, upset, and hopeful, the book makes a powerful case (similar to one Alexander Polikoff made years ago) that policymakers should focus on helping African Americans trapped in poor areas–that those communities should be prioritized–given both their unique history of subjugation and the role those spaces play in the country’s ideas about race and class.

New Article: “Black Transit: When Public Transportation Decision-Making Leads to Negative Economic Development”

New Article: Audrey McFarlane, Black Transit: When Public Transportation Decision-Making Leads to Negative Economic Development, forthcoming Iowa L. Rev. Abstract below:

In 2015, the Governor of Maryland cancelled a light rail project planned for Baltimore City. Around that time, governors in five states had also cancelled federally funded, mass transit rail projects. Each cancellation was similarly justified by claims that the transportation projects were unwise and unnecessary. This trend is concerning because public transportation is often crucial to low- and moderate-income people. The cancellations raise the question whether there should be some circumstances when a state should not be able to cancel transportation projects. The federal framework for public transportation funding allows seemingly unfettered discretion to cancel, while not acknowledging the perverse incentives that now exist to refuse funding for projects perceived as beneficial to stigmatized racial and class groups. Most strikingly, principles of development worked in reverse. Instead of pursuing economic development through guaranteed infrastructure investment and the multiplier potential of construction jobs and transit-oriented development likely to take place, the state decided to reject development under a rationale that such investment would be wasteful. This Essay argues that there is room in the federalism logic of the Spending Clause to ex ante consider pervasive and systemic racial hostility to public transportation and a discriminatory exercise of discretion. Federal mass transportation decision-making should be structured in a way that accounts for the pervasive, consistent, and structural hostility to Black mobility and projects perceived to benefit Black people. Because mobility is crucial to self-determination, economic survival and flourishing, the veto of rail projects like Baltimore’s Red Line is an opportunity to consider the limitations of ex post racial remedies such as the equity-infused planning framework and Title VI disparate impact litigation. The Essay considers how racial equity and racial realism principles can inform the obligations of federal public transportation funding decision-making.

New Book: “Shaking Up the City: Ignorance, Inequality, and the Urban Question”

9780520386228New Book: Tom Slater, Shaking Up the City: Ignorance, Inequality, and the Urban Question (2021). Overview below:

Shaking Up the City critically examines many of the concepts and categories within mainstream urban studies that serve dubious policy agendas. Through a combination of theory and empirical evidence, Tom Slater “shakes up” mainstream urban studies in a concise and pointed fashion by turning on its head much of the prevailing wisdom in the field. To this end, he explores the themes of data-driven innovation, urban resilience, gentrification, displacement and rent control, neighborhood effects, territorial stigmatization, and ethnoracial segregation.

With important contributions to ongoing debates in sociology, geography, urban planning, and public policy, this book engages closely with struggles for land rights and housing justice to offer numerous insights for scholarship and political action to guard against the spread of an urbanism rooted in vested interest.

New Article: Racial Justice for Street Vendors

New Article: Stephen Lee, Racial Justice for Street Vendors, 12 Calif. L. Rev. Online 1 (June 2021).