• Agenda 21, or, how ‘plan’ became a bad word

    by Gabriel Cross

    Most people don’t give a damn about it, but my life is full of architects, developers and contractors who are deeply involved with land use planning. The average person, however, begins yawning loudly as soon as the word zoning is even uttered, much less discussed. Bringing up this subject is a good way to keep people from inviting you to parties, unless the parties are hosted by building industry types. But there is an odd newcomer to the tiny group of people who get excited about planning: reactionary conspiracy theorists.

    “You may not be aware, but people around you are Making Plans about your land!” There is apparently a shadowy conspiracy, taking orders from the UN and deciding your future behind closed doors. The manifesto of these evil socialists/ fascists (according to the conspiracy theorists) is a document titled “Agenda 21.” Google Agenda 21 and you’ll find scores of hastily edited videos about this insidious plan. In most of them, the word “plan” itself comes to mean “plan to steal your freedom.”

    One kinda funny thing about labeling “Agenda 21” a secret socialist manifesto is that it is not a secret; it’s available publicly on the Internet for anyone to read, which I took the liberty of doing (it’s very dry). Another funny thing is that it is not about communism. Or socialism. It doesn’t mention fascism, or any other ‘ism’ for that matter. It is largely about what kind of living arrangement uses the least amount of energy, and how the UN can encourage that kind of living arrangement.

    But back to the war on plans. I should warn you that I am biased: I have a plan. I have lots of plans, actually. Some of them work, some of them don’t. But without them, I would be adrift, with no idea of how best to move forward on anything.

    My city has lots has plans too. These plans have to exist. If they didn’t, someone could purchase the house next to yours and turn the land into a paper mill (which smell awful, I used to live downwind of one). There are any number of industries that you don’t want in your backyard; land use plans and zoning assure that they won’t be.

    Recently, a number of cities have got on the energy security/fuel efficiency bandwagon, and started allowing “mixed use” zoning, making energy efficiency part of the plan. The idea is to provide alternatives to driving. When it works, it works very well. It works so well, in fact, that in well-planned mixed use neighborhoods, some citizens choose not to own cars at all. And that’s where the conspiracy comes in. According to those who think “Agenda 21” is a communofascisocialist plot, “they” (whoever “they” are) are trying to force you to move into a city and take your car away.

    The thinking goes like this. The UN has a plan for world domination, and it has three steps: 1, take our cars; 2, (something something… this part isn’t clear); 3, WORLD DOMINATION! If you read my column two weeks ago, you know my feelings about equating cars with freedom, but let’s just analyze the plan above for a bit.

    First off, how does not having a car and living in a city make you any more docile toward an evil dictatorship taking over? Ask some New Yorkers if they own a car, and then if they’re okay with America being taken over by a foreign power, and you will probably find that there is no correlation between car ownership and willingness to defend our freedoms.

    Second, if I were hatching a plot to take over the world, I wouldn’t look at America and think, “Its impossible, look at all the cars they have!” I would encourage people to drive more, to rely more on their cars, and then I’d disrupt the oil supply. Whoever controls the flow of oil really controls most of the world, including America — which is why our military is so invested in the Middle East: We want to have as much control over the flow of oil as humanly possible.

    The Department of Defense is so sick of the focus on the Middle East, in fact, that it is starting to invest huge resources into energy efficiency. So unless you believe that the DOD is in on the UN plot to take over our country (in which case we are probably screwed, cars or not), energy efficiency and lower fuel consumption must be good for our security, and not playing into the evildoers (you know, the “they” from above) plot at all.

    So yes, people are making plans about your land, or at least the city you live in. They are fellow citizens, however, not UN puppets. And they aren’t doing it behind closed doors — usually they have public meetings that you can attend, at the risk of falling asleep in public.

    The UN is trying to get people to use less energy, but as far as I can tell. it’s not connected to some half-baked world domination scheme. In short, plans are not a bad thing. There are bad plans, to be sure, but planning in general should be lauded, not demonized.



    • I love plans, they help organize my life. Also, as far as community plans I agree with you Gabriel. If you look at some of the worst cities the state or county was lax in making plans. Speaking of lax look at LAX. The airport is out growing it’s space and no real plans except expansion in a limited area is happening. Also, plans for super trains and light rail need plans and if you want to see how poorly it looks without one come to LA and see what is happening. Certain cities refuse to let transit go through their cities and of course the bullet train fiasco from SF to LA is beyond plan less. I must reiterate I love plans.



    • You managed to make a column on planning readable. THAT is a miracle!!! Driest material on earth!



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