A letter to Aunt Hope

Some of you may know that I am happily married to Holly Munson, assistant editor of Constitution Daily and freelance writer. And while some of you may know that she is a great writer, you may not know that she comes from a great family. Holly’s folks have always been very friendly and kind to me, including her large network of aunts, uncles and cousins. These people are nice enough to take an interest in what I’m studying and will occasionally send me links to interesting material or ask me my opinion on a planning issue. Recently, Holly’s Aunt Hope sent her this email:

Hi Holly,

A friend sent this info to me, and I was wondering if Dave sees evidence of this in his city planning work…


Love to you both,

Aunt Hope

Holly forwarded this to me and I indeed took a look at it. I really enjoyed reading it, and outlined in detail what was accurate and what wasn’t about the website. Aunt Hope was kind enough to let me reproduce the letter on my blog. Here it is:

Aunt Hope,

Thanks for sending Holly this Post Sustainability Institute thing. I’ve enjoyed reading it. Some of the things in here are spot on; most of them are totally off base. Long story short, the UN is an essentially powerless body and can’t force us to do any of this (and isn’t trying to), but if you don’t mind, I’d like to go through it point by point and discuss it.

Economic collapse creates a chain of events, but on a micro level (county, city) there is a marked reduction in revenue for maintenance of services. Loss of services to outlying areas means, for example, roads not being maintained to rural and suburban areas. Roads not being maintained to those areas, schools not being supported in those areas, law enforcement/fire/social services not being supported in those areas means a gradual movement into the denser city centers.

This has happened in some degree. The main ways cities generate revenue are through property taxes and intergovernmental grants, i.e. from higher levels of government, both state and federal. As the value of people’s property has declined and as state and federal governments have become more stingy, many cities are having trouble paying for their services. Some cities have even filed for bankruptcy. Other cities (the only examples I’m familiar with are in Michigan) have set up programs where they will cut off services to outlying areas, de-annex areas from the city, or demolish abandoned properties and sell them to neighbors for low prices so that they don’t have to provide services to as many homes. So far, however, this has been fairly rare.

Smart Growth/New Urbanism in Redevelopment Areas is the supposed answer: smaller units, attached condos, little or no parking, few private cars.  More eyes on the street.

It’s certainly an answer, and one that many planners, myself included, generally support. This guy doesn’t really define what they are, though. New Urbanism is a movement, principally led by the private sector, to create towns and neighborhoods based on traditional development principles. New Urbanist developments often attempt to look a lot like the small, 350-year-old town I grew up in in Massachusetts. Smart Growth is somewhat of a public policy counterpart, which has more of a focus on developing zoning codes and other regulations that are friendly to the sort of traditional building found in New Urbanist developments, which are often hard to develop because of current suburban zoning codes.

Redevelopment projects are the implementation arm of the UN plan, and include rezoning of huge sections of your cities to Smart Growth zones.

The UN has no power to force countries to comply with its resolutions, even if it had made one about New Urbanism/Smart Growth, which it hasn’t.

This physical manifestation of UN Agenda 21 is social engineering paid for with your property tax dollars. These areas then have their property taxes diverted away from your services and into the pockets of a few developers and bond brokers for 30-45 years.

Cities don’t just give money to developers. In fact, all cities require developers to at least pay application fees to develop in a city. Many also make them pay impact fees, which go towards the costs of maintaining roads or expanding schools that will be impacted by the new development. Some cities may assist large developers by assembling land or maybe waiving some fees, but only if the city’s Economic Development division thinks that doing so will bring in enough revenue and/or jobs to offset the waiver.

Water well monitoring and loss of water rights reduce the opportunity for living outside of cities.

I’ll be honest and say I don’t know a lot about this. Water rights aren’t a huge deal in the East because it rains enough that we rarely have water shortages.

Wildlands programs that prohibit roads and trails into rural areas while supposedly protecting them with conservation easements increase the loss of our food source independence.  The sale of development rights to Agricultural Land Trusts that restrict farmers and ranchers from using their lands and therefore make it impossible to farm for more than one more generation endanger our ability to feed ourselves.

America has never had a problem with “food source independence,” and I really doubt that it ever will. Agricultural land trusts don’t restrict farmers and ranchers from using their lands, they require it. Selling development rights means that you can’t sell your farm to a developer and that it will always be a farm.

Add to this the pressure from ICLEI Climate Protection Campaigns to reduce our energy usage to pre-1985 levels, and increased regulations on industry and you have the perfect storm for loss of jobs and greater dependence on other countries for goods.

First of all, the United States doesn’t participate in ICLEI, the Kyoto protocol or any of these other energy reduction programs. Even if it did, it isn’t believed that it would lead to a net loss of jobs; people who currently work in refineries would find jobs in solar panel plants. And as far as dependence on foreign countries for goods, reducing our energy consumption would make us more self-reliant, since we are the world’s largest importer of oil.

As the population becomes more and more urbanized and less able to provide food or necessary products, more people are dependent on the government for housing, food, and other basic necessities.

People have lived in cities for millennia and not relied on the government to provide these things. Cities are tied to their rural hinterlands and are still able to get food from them, and even within cities you get vegetable gardens and other small-scale forms of agriculture. Urban agriculture is actually a growing movement. And the best way to provide housing for people is not to have the government provide it, but to remove suburban-style density restrictions and let people build more densely so that there are enough housing units to drive the prices down so that the government doesn’t have to subsidize them.

As a major leveler, the loss of money, land, food, and energy independence brings the US into ‘social equity’ with the poorer countries.

That’s not what “social equity” means. From Wikipedia:
Social [equity] is a social state of affairs in which all people within a specific society or isolated group have the same status in a certain respect. At the very least, social [equity] includes equal rights under the law, such as security, voting rights, freedom of speech and assembly, the extent of property rights, and equal access to social goods and services. However, it also includes concepts of economic equity, i.e. access to education, health care and other social securities. It also includes equal opportunities and obligations, and so involves the whole of society.

Community Oriented Policing will encourage, if not require, people to watch their neighbors and report suspicious activity.  More activity will be identified as ‘crime’–such as obesity, smoking, drinking when you have a drinking problem, name calling, leaving lights on, neglect (in someone’s perception) of children, elderly, and pets, driving when you could ride a bike, breaking a curfew, and failure to do mandatory volunteering.

The UN would be powerless to do this, as well as planners, who have no police power. The only organization with the police power to do such a thing would be the government itself, and it is doubtful that, in a democracy, a state like this could arise. The “Chinese and Russian models” are both dictatorships, and unless such a government is established in America, a police state like that he describes is unlikely. As a planner, the only one I even care about is driving when you could ride a bike, and I can’t give someone a ticket for that, I’ll just make the cartway narrower and add a bike lane so that they have the choice to bike and the cars are encouraged to move at a safer speed. Also, no one in planning uses the word “communitarianism.” We’re appointed officials or hired consultants, not the government. We are powerless advisers to elected officials. If someone is worried about “communitarianism,” they should call their city councilperson, not blame the planner.

Communitarianism is the ‘balancing’ or subsuming of individual rights below the needs of the ‘community.’  The community is defined now as the global village.  So anything identified as serving the global village takes precedence over the rights of the individual.

Even if this were accurate, again, there just isn’t an enforcement mechanism. It can’t happen. Basically, this isn’t something you need to worry about. I hope that helps answer your question, although I could probably afford to be more brief. I really want to thank you for bringing it to my attention, though. Would you mind if I mention it in my blog?


I again thank Aunt Hope for bringing this to my attention and again want to reiterate that this is nothing to worry about. New Urbanism and Smart Growth aren’t about controlling your life; they are about providing opportunities for a better one.

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