PRISON CITY PT. 1

Batman: Arkham City is the second game made by Rocksteady Studios in the Batman Arkham video game series. In this game the city of Gotham has gotten so bad that the prison of Arkham Asylum has gotten so big it is now a whole city, composed of a lot of the “undesirable” parts of town. That sentence there is not that long, but its implications are numerous. Today I’ll only be examining how a part of a city became another city that is just a prison. Next week I’ll examine what laws exist inside this new city.

First, we have to contend with the fact that Arkham Asylum, a privately owned prison, has expanded so much it is now considered a city by the public. A favorite blog of mine has already covered the liability of Arkham when prisoners escape. More importantly, several blocks of a municipality are now held by a privately owned corporation that has turned all of that property into a prison. They have not changed many of the buildings. The inside of Arkham City looks a lot like a normal city. Let’s just consider for a moment that Arkham City is a new city. (A city with very tough rules on who is allowed in or out.) Every state in America has rules on how you can incorporate a new town, city, or village. I’ll examine how to incorporate in Wisconsin because I live here and maybe that information will be useful someday. Also because New Jersey’s statute website is way clunkier than Wisconsin’s.

Batman visiting Arkham City
Batman visiting Arkham City

The process of incorporation has a lot of steps. First you must present an incorporation petition that has “an accurate description of the territory involved.” Wis. Stat. §66.0203(1) (2015). This incorporation petition has to be (1) signed by fifty “electors and freeholders in the territory” if the territory holds more than 300 people; (2) “filed with the circuit court of a county in which all or a major part of the territory to be incorporated is located;” and (3) the petition must designate a person to represent the petitioners for incorporation, describe the territory that is being incorporated with a scale map, and specify how many people are in that territory. Wis. Stat. §66.0203(2)(a-c) (2015). Then the court where the petition was filed will have a hearing. In order to be considered a city the territory must be at least three square miles, have five thousand people and a population density of at least 750 people per square mile. Wis. Stat. §66.0205(4) (2015). Then the court looks at two standards that the community must meet, the “[c]haracteristics of the territory,” and the “[t]erritory beyond the core.” Wis. Stat. §66.0207(1)(a-b) (2015). To save some time I’ll say that this means they look at how many houses there are, school districts, natural drainage basins, and other important geographical and socio-economic factors. If you’re interested it is best to check the statute yourself, there is a lot the court considers. After meeting all of these hurdles that must be complied with, the court can still look at four more factors to determine if the new municipality is worth it. These factors are (1) tax revenue, (2) level of services, (3) “[i]mpact on the remainder of the town,” and (4) “[i]mpact on the metropolitan community.” Wis. Stat. §66.0207(2)(a-d) (2015). Finishing that process gets you to the actual referendum that the public gets to vote on and if a majority votes in favor, you’ve got yourself a new city. Wis. Stat. §66.0211 (2015).

More photos of Batman's Arkham vacation
Another photo of Batman’s Arkham vacation

There is no way that process is what is used in Gotham. I can believe there was an accurate description of the property given to those in power. In the original game, Batman: Arkham Asylum, there is an easter egg where you can find the blueprints for Arkham City in the warden’s private office. So there is a map that has already been created for the court to look at. The first problem is that the petition has to be signed by fifty electors and freeholders. I don’t know if people who go to Arkham are still allowed to vote while in the asylum or after they have served their term, but they most definitely do not own any of the land inside the asylum. It looks like the warden, who has now become the mayor, is the only person that owns the land. So Gotham either allows rich people to create municipalities when they want to, or they have no respect for the voters/landholders inside these areas. We haven’t even examined who used to own this land and whether it has been taken by the government through eminent domain and then given to Arkham, or if the asylum paid everyone for the land. Both of those are concerning as well and will not be considered today. There probably isn’t a problem with the petition being presented to a circuit court, and the warden is probably the point man for this project. So at least a few of the steps line up so far. I don’t have any maps of Gotham on me so we’ll assume the requested territory satisfies the demands Wisconsin has to be considered a city. But there is no way the circuit court cares about the same factors in Gotham and Wisconsin. Wisconsin cares about school districts, tax revenue, level of services, impact on the surrounding area, drainage basins, and other factors that affect the city and its neighbors. Gotham cares about whether they can build big enough walls to separate this new city from what already exists, and they certainly don’t want any schools or buses in there for the prisoners to use. It also seems very unlikely that there was an actual vote as to whether this city would be incorporated.

So this week we examined how a city that had a fair share of problems gave up on the idea of fixing them, moved a bunch of people from their homes, and then replaced a portion of the city with a prison. Though Arkham Asylum has asylum in the title, it is most definitely used as a prison in Gotham, instead of a system of rehabilitating the mentally ill. In Gotham, in order to make a city you just need to have a plan and the ear of the local government. You don’t need to convince the people who live there that it is a good idea and make them sign your petition or vote for your idea. You just need to convince the circuit court that it is a good idea for your city to be there and you can begin your stupid idea.

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