Honors class simulates eminent domain, takes over dorms

Imagine waking up one day to find a letter on your dorm door informing you that, along with the other residents of your hall, you must vacate the premises immediately.

You have fallen victim to eminent domain and will be forced to move so that your dorm can be destroyed to make way for a Regional Development Agency to improve the area with new construction.

This situation was the subject of a simulation staged by Honors 3376: Introduction to Consumer and Community Policy last Fall Semester. The class participated in public hearings and compared its case with the controversial RDA village-center project in Holladay, as well as others around the valley.

In comparing the cases, students found that the results are more positive when the public is involved in the RDA process.

Professor Ning Yu said he wanted his students to gain a broader perspective of the issues involved with eminent domain and RDAs.

The students acted as concerned residents, and private contractors paid to evaluate the situation. They studied and visited areas around the valley where RDA was being used to improve or rebuild a neighborhood.

Initially, Yu said that many students were strongly against the idea of using eminent domain, but after visiting some of the areas, many of them began to see how it could be useful.

“There was no set political position for the class. I challenged the students to analyze and evaluate the situation to try to understand the viewpoints of different parties,” he said.

Daniel Perry, a senior in computer science, said that the class made him realize how RDAs can benefit a community that needs improvement but can also be misused because the conditions that determine when an area needs improvement can be manipulated.

The students were required to write final reports in which they compared their simulation with the Holladay case and another RDA case of their choice.

Yu said that many of the students concluded that areas where the public was highly involved in the process ended up with a happy conclusion.

In the Holladay case, some residents were originally going to be forced from their homes, but after initial public comment, the boundaries of the RDA were redrawn and eminent domain was thrown out, Yu said.

Perry said that the Holladay RDA illustrated how an effective compromise can be made by allowing improvements to be made without forcing residents from their homes.

“This really was an eye-opening experience that helped me change the way I think about the topic,” Perry said.

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