“This is the story of a place that no longer exists.” Those are the words of Matt Rahner, whose photo series “Eminent Domain” has been featured in a CityLab article. The series documents the city’s taking and destruction of properties in the neighborhood of Wendell-Phillips in Kansas City, Missouri, in order to build a new police station and crime lab.
As Rahner explains in a statement on his website:
Twenty-five potential sites were considered before settling on a 4-block portion of Wendell-Phillips. Within the neighborhood there were 43 occupied homes of which 75% were owner-occupied. Of the twenty-five sites considered, Wendell-Phillips had the highest rate of occupancy. … The majority of residents, unable to fight for their property and unaware of legal protections, accepted the city’s initial offer. For residents who rejected these offers, the city arranged to have their homes condemned.
Eminent domain is the government’s ability to take private property for a public use. It is a powerful tool and one that can, in the wrong hands, be abused. As Rahner’s photos demonstrate, it can dramatically reshape a community, harm businesses and upend the lives of residents.
The harsh realities shown in the photos are why strict limits on the use of eminent domain are so necessary. The emotional scars condemnation leaves on its victims are as powerful as the physical scars on the land it reshapes.
On the other side of the state, the Institute for Justice is working with residents on the north side of St. Louis to ensure their neighborhood avoids Wendell-Phillips’ fate. The neighborhood is one of four locations the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) is considering for its new site. If the north side is chosen, and residents refuse to sell, their homes will be taken through eminent domain. In February 2015, the St. Louis Development Corporation’s executive director, Otis Williams, indicated that north side residents could stay in their homes if the NGA chose a different site. A petition asking the NGA to take the neighborhood out of consideration has earned nearly 100,000 signatures.
Rahner’s work is not the first time aesthetics and eminent domain have collided. IJ previously helped James Dupree, a world-renowned artist, save his studio from a land grab by the city of Philadelphia.
(The photos are all embedded with Rahner’s permission.)