What is a Land Grab?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

While one side may describe the aggressive acquisition of new real estate as annexation, eminent domain, expansion or even manifest destiny, the other side may just as easily describe it as a unwarranted land grab. A land grab is generally defined as the acquisition of valuable or strategic territory for much less than its actual worth. Whenever European explorers "claimed" New World territory by planting their native country's flag, for example, it could have been easily described as a land grab by others.

The Louisiana Purchase Treaty was signed April 30, 1803, transferring claim to the property from France to the United States.
The Louisiana Purchase Treaty was signed April 30, 1803, transferring claim to the property from France to the United States.

The term "land grab" is almost always used in a pejorative sense to describe a hostile or unfair real estate transaction. When president Thomas Jefferson negotiated a deal to purchase French-owned territory in North America, many people saw this "Louisiana Purchase" as a legitimate way for the United States to expand westward. Others may have viewed it as a land grab, since the price paid for the property was a fraction of its actual value. The United States benefited from France's need for cash in its beleaguered coffers.

Acquiring strategic land for less than its market rate would be considered a land grab.
Acquiring strategic land for less than its market rate would be considered a land grab.

The history of the world's wars could be described as a series of land grabs and subsequent attempts to reclaim it. Although the Louisiana Purchase essentially doubled the size of the young United States, expansion into the far western regions was more of a land grab. A policy called "Manifest Destiny" attempted to legitimize these questionable land grabs by declaring it to be God's will that the United States possess all the territory from coast to coast.

Sometimes a land grab is a private affair, however. When Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, many residents and business owners had little choice but to abandon their property and relocate elsewhere. Large amounts of prime real estate in New Orleans and other coastal cities became available for literally pennies on the dollar. Several major real estate investors seized the opportunity to acquire this property through what critics viewed as an unethical land grab. When landowners feel undue economic pressure to sell their land at a loss, the results could be seen as more of a land grab by opportunists than a genuine interest in future development by the new owners.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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