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Poletown -- a racially integrated community of Polish immigrants -- no longer exists. In 1981, General Motors Corporation usurped the Detroit, Michigan community in order to create a new Cadillac assembly plant. Poletown residents vehemently objected to their neighborhood being bought out.

Suing General Motors, City Hall, the United Auto Workers, banks, and the news media, Poletown residents tried to defend their homes and their community: “No amount of compensation could repair the destruction of roots, relationships, solidarity, sense of place, and shared memory of the Poletown community”, they said. But the courts dismissed this “weak” defense, failing to see that individual property rights may be more important than economic stimulus and employment opportunities for the overall “public”.

General Motors won the state lawsuits and built the assembly plant, which was projected to bring 6,000 jobs into the Detroit area. In the end, the Cadillac plant failed to produce the economic benefits that had been glowingly predicted. But “The most massive and rapid relocation of citizens for a private development project in U.S. history" displaced 4,200 people along with their 1,400 homes, schools, 16 churches, and 144 local businesses.

Mary Ann Glendon, author of Rights Talk: The Impoverishment of Political Discourse describes the fight over Poletown as "the most striking example of how low the right of individual property has sunk in the official hierarchy of United States constitutional values."


Glendon, Mary Ann. Rights Talk: The Impoverishment of Political Discourse. The Free Press. 1991. pp. 29-30.

Poletown Neighborhood Council v. City of Detroit, 410 Mich. 616, 304 N. W. 2d 455 (1981).

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