When "SD" comes to your town

By Henry Lamb

"SD" is Sustainable Development, and it has probably already permeated your town, county, and state. It was conceived at the 1987 U.N. Conference on Environment and Development, and entered the world at the 1992 U.N. Conference on Environment and Development, in the form of Agenda 21. Since then, it has infested nearly 150 nations, including the United States.

The symptoms are unmistakable. Tell-tale terms begin appearing in local newspapers and local newscasts: urban sprawl; open space; brownfields; infill; bike paths; public transportation; visioning process; consensus; and "somethingorother-2000." Then there are reports about results of visioning process. Finally, there is a plan. Suddenly, your town is a "Sustainable Community."

Typically, the "plan" for your sustainable community will be named "Yourtown 2020," or something similar, it will embrace several political jurisdictions, involve a "commission" or "council" with some measure of authority to "oversee" the implementation of the plan, and it will contain several components that are remarkably similar to all the other "sustainable communities" around the country. Virtually all of the components come from recommendations contained in Agenda 21.

The plan is designed to limit urban sprawl; preserve open space; infill dilapidated brownfields with public/private partnership projects; provide bike paths and improve public transportation; and do it all in a coordinated fashion with all the other political jurisdictions in the region.

What could possibly be wrong with this objective or the process that brings it about?

Much! To begin with, the concept of sustainable development and sustainable communities, completely disregards a fundamental principle of freedom that has been honored in the United States since before our country was founded: a person should be able to live wherever he chooses to live. In a sustainable community, a person can live where he chooses to live - as long as it meets the approval of the governing body.

Many sustainable community plans go much further than defining where a person cannot live; they often define the size of the home, the type of materials that may be used to construct the home, and even the type of landscaping that may be used. These restrictions are imposed, ostensibly, to protect the environment.

The individual's right to live wherever he chooses is rarely given any value at all. When the question is raised, it is often disregarded in the belief that the so-called "public good" outweighs the individual's rights.

This belief assumes that growth limits are a public good. We challenge this assumption. Growth in a community is evidence of economic expansion propelled by a free market. If a person chooses to live ten miles from town, he must acquire the land, build a home, provide transportation, and whatever services he requires.

The argument in support of a growth boundary says that if the person is required to build within the growth boundary, the public will be spared the expense of providing roads and utilities, and the avoided travel will reduce the demand for fossil fuels and the pollution from automobile use.

This argument sells well, but it is not valid. The roads and the utilities are paid for by the segment of the public that uses them - not the public at large. If people choose to live ten miles from town, they do so fully aware of the costs they must incur to satisfy their desire. Why should the desire of these people be less valid than the desire of others who think they should not live where they choose?

Open space is the great bugaboo. "We have to preserve open space for future generations," is the oft-quoted reason for growth limits. Open space is a wonderful asset for any town or community. The park systems in Chicago, and in many other cities can certainly be described as a public good. But should a city or county own land that is not a public park, just land - owned for no other reason than to insure that it is not developed?

The land acquisition fever that has descended upon federal, state, and local governments is not for the purpose of expanding parks and public areas; it is to insure that development cannot occur on that land. This is an extremely dangerous practice.

The practice interferes with a free market in real estate, and thereby forces development to occur only where the government thinks that it should occur. Once again, thwarting the free choice of individuals. More importantly, when land is acquired by government, it stops producing tax revenue, and thereby increases the tax burden on the remaining private property owners. What's even worse, the only way a government can get the money to acquire land is to force taxpayers to pay for it.

From this perspective, taxpayers are being forced to pay a higher tax than would otherwise be required, to enable a government to buy the land which will no longer produce tax revenue, insuring that the tax bill for the remaining private property owners will be higher than would otherwise be required.

Land acquisition has many faces. In some cases, it is an outright purchase by the government from a willing seller. In other cases, the government may use its power of eminent domain to force a private owner to sell. Increasingly, governments are resorting to the purchase of development rights, and conservation easements, and third-party arrangements with land conservancy organizations. The result is still an interference with a free real estate market, a reduction in tax revenue, and government-managed development.

A procedure that is said to be for the benefit of future generations is actually a pox on future generations. The current generation of land managers is assuring that future generations are unable to use the land as they wish or deem necessary.

Look a hundred years into the future with the current government land acquisition fever unabated. Governments, which already own more than 40 percent of the total land area in the United States, will own a much higher percentage, that we, the taxpayers, have paid for. Perhaps more importantly, is the quality of the land that is owned by government, or its surrogate land conservancy organizations. The resources this land contains will be owned and controlled by government. When government owns the sources of production, it is a defacto socialist society.

Land acquisition and land use policies embraced by sustainable community plans dictate where people may or may not live. Sustainable community plans also seek to control how individuals live.

Getting people out of automobiles and into public transit, or onto bicycles and foot paths is another common component in the vision of a sustainable community. Using the flawed argument that automobiles contribute to global warming, community planners feel compelled to do everything possible to force people out of their cars. Thus, the urban boundary.

Many communities are using some variation of the "Community Unit" development concept. This idea requires that any proposed development set aside a specified percentage of the acreage in open space, sometimes as much as 50%, thereby doubling the price of the land for each dwelling. This concept also requires the inclusion of specified businesses, often with access by non-motorized vehicles, and quite often, even requires houses to be constructed of materials that meet certain "green" standards. These "unit" designs can also prescribe the number of houses that may be built within specified price ranges.

This is how governments are transforming what was a free society into a managed society - and calling it a sustainable community.

The sustainable community process says that free markets have produced unlivable communities and the visioners can design communities that are much better than the ones individuals have created on their own.

Sustainable development, sustainable communities, any activity preceded by the word "sustainable," means that some authority - not the private individual - decides what is or is not sustainable. The word "sustainable" should be replaced with the words "government-managed" when considering any proposal.

Government-managed development, and government-managed communities are not quite as inviting as sustainable development and sustainable communities. They are the same, however. You can't have one without the other.

from http://eco.freedom.org/el/20010601/hl.shtml

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