• Reforming Local Property for an Era of National Decline

    Daniel Rosenbaum
    MSU Law Faculty Repository
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    Following a century of rapid growth, the global human population is predicted to crest and then decline in the coming generations. Some industrialized countries are already grappling with the economic and societal consequences of population loss. Others, including the United States, have only started to realize that decline might arrive on their doorsteps far sooner than originally anticipated, a prospect for which policymakers and legal scholars are presently unprepared. Global and national demographic change threaten to cause far-reaching dislocations, and local municipalities, too, will be asked to reckon with the aftermath. Yet local governance in the United States has long followed a dominant vision of population growth, with decline left stigmatized as a regional anomaly-as a symptom of crisis rather than a discrete catalyst for it. The growth gospel prevents local officials from preparing for decline preemptively when the resources can still be mustered to confront shifting demographics and dwindling tax streams. On the other hand, once a locality enters an era of decline, it runs headlong into vexing problems of property law. Underutilized land cannot simply be deleted or removed. It cannot be exchanged with utilized lands elsewhere in order to retain density, maintain vibrancy, and consolidate local infrastructure. As scholars have explored in the context of climate change, another looming challenge of the coming century, property law's traditional preference for intergenerational stability hinders its utility when preparing for a changing world. Keeping pace requires that the institution evolve to become more adaptive and dynamic.
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    1 year ago
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