Thursday, November 6, 2008

US Homestead Act of 1862: Instigator of Modern-day Gentrification?

By: Sherry Rashad

After almost two centuries of carving up the North American continent into bastions of private mini-kingdoms in the name of Manifest Destiny, it just makes me wonder if then US president Abraham Lincoln ever foresee the “political monster” that he unleashed by enacting the US Homestead Act back in 1862. Especially since it evolved - by aid of successive Capitol Hill lobbyists – into a law that allows the Federal Government during the post 9 / 11 Bush Administration to confiscate privately owned lands not fully utilized to its economic viability in the name of Eminent Domain.

On another facet of the issue, I do admire Abraham Lincoln’s idea of giving American and newly Americanized citizens a fair shot of developing those pre-partitioned - via the 1862 Homestead Act - undeveloped lands outside of the original 13 colonies to be claimed as their own. Given that most European Immigrants back then probably experienced the injustice end of gentrification for centuries. Even their grandparents have tales of experiencing first-hand textbook gentrification via landed gentry on horseback. Giving the new Americans a chance to own their own parcel of land in the “Land of Opportunity” may have been too good an offer to resist – or even contemplate the long-term negative side-effects of such an act.

But the US Homestead Act of 1862 did undergo several revisions as the years go by. Usually the studies conducted by environmentalists and other Federal Government tenured academics and their findings were the primary reasons for the various revisions. Sadly, the same data from the study is also used by corporate industrialists as their raison d’ĂȘtre for claims of the bigger share of the partitioned land since they can make the land create more money than by simple farming.

As Capitol Hill lobbyists became the primary driving force of transforming the US Homestead Act into its present incarnation, the term ownership in conjunction with land ownership has become increasingly confused with the terms “holdings” and “interests”. This is primarily due to the manner in which various rights to the land are distributed. Thus making it possible for a number of different parties to have claims on the same parcel of land – e.g. one may be the titleholder or “owner”. Another the lessee; another the “owner” in terms of timber rights only; another the “owner” of the right to drill for crude oil; etc.

In practice though, dispute resolution mechanisms for torts related to the private ownership aspect of the 1862 Homestead Act has eloquently maintained an impression of equitability for most parties involved. Making lawyers and their law firms gainfully employed while making private landowners / titleholders cherish the belief of the idealism behind that Woody Guthrie song "This Land is Your Land”. Whether you view it as an illogical delusion or an equitable legal compromise, the self-correcting mechanism behind the constantly evolving nature of legal precedents that shaped the US Homestead Act of 1862 into it’s current incarnation will always tend to favor private property style ownership over fair use.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Of Real Estate Developers and Popular Music

By: Sherry Rashad

I recently acquired a property in lieu of someone owing me money and all he can afford to pay me was his not-so-often-used house. It was located in a gated community fancifully named “Musicians Village” in some out-of-the-way suburb north of where I live - i.e. Tayod, Consolacion. The streets are named after musicians, mostly from the rock end of the spectrum. The howls of protests will probably bellow once this heavily gentrified gated community gain further press exposure. Its quite refreshing that the property I acquired is located on a street named after Mia Zapata. After all, it is only respectful to name a street after the brutally slain extremely talented musician lead vocalist of The Gits, who is for all intents and purposes an integral part of the Seattle Grunge Scene before she met her brutal end back in 1993.

Ironically, the famed street intersected on a one named after Avril Lavigne. Avril Lavigne!? My surprise did brought back memories of me protesting against the Smashing Pumpkins’ inclusion into Guitar Player magazine’s “30 Tones That Changed the World…and how to get them!” cover story back in 1997. I really am quite liberal, reminiscent of the Crown Prince of Brunei’s forays into the world of Western pop culture. But after several unavoidably “repeat auditions” of Avril Lavigne’s “I’m With You” over the airwaves, I’m since convinced that she is inciting / advocating teen-age girls to be consenting – or is that willing - participants in underage teen sex with “on line predators”. I’m still surprised though that Dateline NBC ‘s To Catch A Predator hosted by Chris Hansen hasn’t used Avril’s “I’m With You” as their opening theme. Sadly, the street named after her is the hottest section of this “gated community”. Twelve year-old girls that lived on this street had since lived their lives like their “Masters of the Universe”.

One of the streets that I really admire is the one named after Jennifer Batten. Sadly, only a handful will probably know this extremely talented guitarist and her extensive body of work as a session musician and as a solo artist. She probably single-handedly made Michael Jackson matter to those regular subscribers of guitar magazines like Guitar World and Guitar Player, back in the 1980’s.

The most ironically named street of all is the one named after Joni Mitchell. She’s the one who originally performed the pro-environment anti-gentrification protest song titled “Big Yellow Taxi” before most of us heard – or had grown weary – on the overplayed FM radio versions sung by Amy Grant and later by The Counting Crows. I think the real estate developer(s) who approved the nomenclature of this gated community’s streets are probably really clueless when it comes to American pop culture. To the real estate committee’s credit, this property is the hottest piece of real estate that I had the good fortune to acquire.