Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Out of Tragedy, New Vision: Property Theory and Land Use, Part II

Five days after the April 27 tornado that devastated Tuscaloosa and other communities in Alabama, I had the great privilege of witnessing relief efforts in that region. It is cliche to say that words cannot begin to describe such disasters. But cliches often serve as profound expressions of respect, recognitions that to attempt to describe would be to belittle something that should not be made to appear any less monstrous than it really is. The enormity of the disaster was matched only by the grace and courage of those good people who were working tirelessly to bring relief to the afflicted. They were all working out of churches, reaching out to surrounding neighborhoods in active demonstrations of the very best virtues that communities can embody.

A colleague has placed into my hands Tuscaloosa's "Strategic Community Plan to Renew and Rebuild." Determined to produce new strengths from vulnerability, Tuscaloosa is using this unique opportunity, created by that terrible disaster, to remake its city. Typical of the sentiment expressed throughout the plan is this, from a citizen: "We have an opportunity to start from scratch. We should really try and rebuild in a fashion that allows the city to move forward and turn into something better than it was before."

The plan is very much in the big-ideas phase, and is almost entirely aspirational at this point. It would seem that this is the moment when the big ideas matter, when first principles matter. So I was struck by the following lines from chapter 1 of the plan.

A community is like an organism and all of the parts must work together in order to sustain the City's future. A plan works to align city programs, projects and government in a synergistic relationship. Specific community goals in a Plan allow local decision makers to align around a city-wide vision and ensure that all projects are supported by the greater community.

Based upon what I witnessed in April, I predict that the community will rally around the vision quite enthusastically.

These lines brought to mind John Finnis' remarks about the purpose of law, expressed in his great book, Natural Law and Natural Rights. Finnis grounded (legal and non-legal) authority in the basic human good of community. In order to promote the common good communities need to coordinate the actions of their constituent members. And this is true regardless of human failings; law is not merely about restraining Holmes' "bad man." Indeed, according to Finnis, the more excellent and complex the challenge that the community has set for itself, the more gifted the community's members, and the greater their commitment to the common good, the more legal coordination is required.

I will follow Tuscaloosa's efforts with great interest. The city has set for itself a monumental challenge.

Adam MacLeod


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