Center for Urban Research and Learning

Loyola University Chicago

Here you will find all of CURL's research projects and publications. 

Community Uprooted: Eminent Domain in the U.S.

(6/1/2012 - 6/30/2015)

Loyola University’s Center for Urban Research and Learning (CURL) is partnering with photographer Richard Wasserman to create Community Uprooted: Eminent Domain in the U.S., an anthology of photographs and interviews that grapples with the impact of eminent domain – past and present -- on the lives of Americans across the country -- in cities, suburbs, and in rural and farming communities. The project combines a collection of stirring and evocative photographs with the words and experiences of the people most impacted by cases of eminent domain.

Eminent domain is the term for the constitutional power of a government to condemn private property, and with “fair” market compensation, take it for public use, with or without the consent of the owner. Projects using eminent domain vary widely in size; they can be as small as one building, or as large as a massive public works project incorporating hundreds of thousands of acres. This process can be used responsibly to encourage growth and development, but is also rife with possibilities for misuse and corruption. However, no matter how well implemented, the end result is that families are forced from their homes. These people are often the powerless and voiceless members of society. If their protests are heard at all, they are often dismissed in the name of “Progress”. The goal of Community Uprooted is to give voice to the land and communities claimed through eminent domain as well as capture the complicated nature of the issues of eminent domain.

In 2012, photographer Richard Wasserman began photographing examples of eminent domain, ranging from the recent takeover of homes in Bensenville, Illinois to make room for the expansion of O’Hare airport to the community displaced by construction of the first Tennessee Valley Authority dam in Anderson County & Campbell County, Tennessee. Scattered across the U.S., the five completed sites vary in scope and purpose of takeover. With three planned sites remaining, CURL is working with Wasserman to capture the firsthand account of displaced residents and community leaders who have been affected by eminent domain. CURL intends to interview displaced residents and community officials and document an oral history of the site through individuals who reside there.

With the participation of CURL, we will bring resident experience and knowledge to the forefront of discussions about eminent domain. Community Uprooted has three primary aims: 1) to highlight the physical and human dimensions of displaced communities and land seized for eminent domain; 2) to reflect on issues related to progress, the “greater good,” societal amnesia, the environment, and differential impact of displaced communities on different populations; 3) to reinvigorate discussions of eminent domain which include a high level of awareness of residents’ psychological, economical, and social needs.   

 Among the questions addressed are:

  • How do each of the eight sites present a unique and complex picture of the issue of eminent domain? If eminent domain is used for public good, whose “public good” is considered? Whose is not?
  • Are people of color and low-income individuals differentially impacted by eminent domain?
  • What environmental issues are at play when governmental organizations cease land?
  • How has the issue of eminent domain transformed since its first use and where is it now

Final Report: Community Uprooted: Eminent Domain in the U.S.

CURL created a separate website to house this research. Access eight essays compiling resident interviews, audio clips, historical research, additional photos, maps, and archived video to learn more about the stories of these complicated incidents of eminent domain.  

Research Team

  • Richard Wasserman, Photographer
  • K. Mullin, CURL Graduate Fellow
  • S. Young, CURL Graduate Fellow
  • B. Dyer, CURL Undergraduate Fellow
  • P. Nyden, CURL Director
  • T. Neumann, CURL
  • J. Naughton, CURL Undergraduate Fellow 
  • M. Janusek, CURL Undergraduate Fellow
  • O. Scheidler, CURL Undergraduate Fellow
  • K. Surla, CURL Undergraduate Fellow
  • Gwen Nyden