A radical fringe conspiracy theory has become Arizona state law: “Agenda 21” is the new FEMA death camps. Tinfoil hat, Glenn Beck-addled Republicans are in charge of an American state legislature; before they’re done, Jan Brewer may have signed legislation against George Soros and black helicopters.
Let me stress that Agenda 21 is absolutely a nontroversy — a bizarre creation of the paranoid fringe that now enjoys a place in American law. Here’s how the New American, the website of the magazine of the John Birch Society, reported the bill before passage:
The two-page bill, known as SB1507, would prevent the state, county, and city governments of Arizona from adopting any tenets of the UN Declaration and the Statement of Principles for Sustainable Development. It would block any other international schemes that violate the U.S. or state constitutions as well.
Under the proposed law, all public entities in Arizona would also be barred from cooperating with, funding, or implementing any programs linked to a controversial global organization known as ICLEI (formerly named International Council of Local Environmental Initiatives). The UN-backed non-profit organization, based in Germany, seeks to force the “sustainability” plan on the world by stealth.
It is difficult to describe how insane this nonsense is. “Agenda 21” is a nonbinding resolution that encourages local sustainability efforts and provides definitions of success. It has no enforcement mechanism or powers of persuasion; ICLEI could not “force” a sustainability plan on anyone even if it wanted to.
The organization’s website carries news and information about world cities adapting to climate change, reducing carbon footprints, encouraging gardens, etcetera. Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI) is an association of cities and regions interested in such sustainable development practices; the organization holds events to let cities show off their planning and construction.
What part of this strikes anyone as a conspiracy? Frankly, it’s the word “sustainable.” A buzzword has been turned into a shibboleth, and it is now aimed with regularity against things like efficient light bulbs and electric vehicles.
This absurd paranoia extends to organizations like the American Planning Association and the Urban Land Institute. Indeed, all of the thousands of community groups, planning commissions, and nongovernmental organizations that participate in any form of sustainable urban planning are suspect.
Agenda 21 is such a broad “conspiracy” that it includes much of the free market. Developers, for instance, want to develop cities for profit, which requires planning. Governments want more tax revenue from their streets and want to avoid a repeat of the sprawl that nearly killed them. Taxpayers want a sense of place and a better city. Contractors want the work. Entrepreneurs want the opportunity. Businesses want the location.
Normally, such ventures enjoy broad bipartisan support. Mitt Romney, for instance, has supported sustainable development initiatives. The hottest real estate markets are now in the urban core, especially those near transit, because a new generation is less willing to endure the hourlong car commute. None of this is socialist.
In fact, smart, sustainable growth advocates see local entrepreneurship as crucial to the sustainability of the neighborhood. For this reason, they often find themselves at odds with misguided ordinances. Dallas restricts street-level shops from shading their sidewalks, for example, discouraging walkers from sitting to spend money at an outdoor cafe.
Smart, sustainable planning is the free market unleashed, profitable from the bottom-up. Anyone who says otherwise is selling you stupid.
After several years of transportation agencies and organizations lobbying for a connection between land uses and transportation planning, the industry is finally starting to walk the talk. I posit that the land use/transportation connection did not swell dramatically because of heightened awareness in the design community; it took a nationwide financial crisis. We haven’t been letting the market work.
State and local agencies can no longer afford to build their old wish list of transportation infrastructure that prioritized the fast-moving automobile over quality of life, personal freedom, return on investment, and public safety. They can, however, afford the paint and flowerpots needed to create bike lanes and pedestrian plazas.
And since these efforts are all local, they’re as “small government” as you get. God forbid that local governments share information on their successes at building more prosperous and sustainable communities, however, because…you know, foreigners. Terms like “smart growth” or “transit-oriented development” are insufficiently polemical for this kind of activism; “agenda” sounds so helpfully sinister.
Agenda 21 activism, like tea party activism, is really about suburbanism. “Agenda 21” is a notional plot in which property developers and transportation departments and international socialists want Americans to give up the “freedom” of exurban automotive distance and separation for “communist” buses, trains, sidewalks, and bike lanes.
Arizona’s new law is just one of a raft of similar teapublican initiatives around the nation, and there is nothing at all “free market” about any of them. The anti-Agenda 21 agenda is paranoid, lunatic, radical big government — and deserves to be reported as such.