Thursday, February 9, 2012

UN Agenda 21 and Smart Growth--Transforming American Life

At the end of January, I got an email from a long-time acquaintance of mine about the city of El Paso's new Master Plan.  Bob is a developer with one of the most prominent commercial real estate developers in the city, and he was concerned because he had just finished examining the city's 800 page new master plan--part of Love El Paso/Plan El Paso.  Since I am the immediate past chair of the El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, he wanted to know if the business community is aware of the huge changes that are coming to our city as part of our leaders' efforts to "love and plan" it.

Up until about a year and a half ago, I was unfamiliar with Smart Growth and Smart Code.  Then in the fall of 2010, Chris Dodd made a push to pass what would have been his final bill before he retired from the Senate, "The Livable Communities Act."  In researching the bill and its ramifications, I got a crash course in Smart Growth and Smart Code.  Dodd's bill turned out to be a failed attempt to do on a federal level what many states and communities are already doing on a local level--to remake American society and to fundamentally alter the way we live, work, play, worship, educate our children and raise our families--in short to completely remake the United States.

Smart Growth and Smart Code are local communities' attempts to implement the United Nations' Agenda 21.  Passed in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro and reaffirmed several times since then, Agenda 21 calls for highly dense "human settlements" with green spaces, ultimately transitioning away from private property ownership and into communal living.  In the United States, local communities that sign on to the goals of "sustainability" are implementing Agenda 21 by taking private land through eminent domain and by rezoning communities to require higher density living areas which rely heavily on public transportation.

The result is very expensive, unaffordable housing, narrow streets, and "walkable neighborhoods" where cars are discouraged as the residents walk to their various destinations or take public transportation.  Our new Master Plan was developed with the help of the consulting company Dover, Kohl & Partners who conducted community-wide meetings to help the members of the community understand how Smart Growth could benefit El Paso by refurbishing older areas.  I attended one such meeting (I was actually the only person from the community who showed up so I was able to see the entire presentation and ask questions.)  Dover, Kohl hails from Portland, Oregon--the home of Smart Code--and the consultant told me how wonderful it was to live in his picturesque community where he walks each morning to a small local coffee shop and gets his coffee and then goes to work.  Of course, the consultant did not mention that, according to the city of Portland's data, the average temperature in Portland, Oregon, in the summer time is no higher than 80 degrees, whereas in 2011 El Paso experienced approximately 50 days of temperatures over 100 degrees and it was not our hottest summer on record.  These are minor details for an advocate of Smart Code.

Smart Code proponents do not want suburbs--they want us to redevelop the cities and live in mixed use, mixed income neighborhoods where we can shop, eat, play and raise our children.  No more driving to the Super Walmart for groceries--instead we can walk to a local Mom and Pop grocery store and carry our groceries back.  No more two car families--Smart Code homes that have garages feature detached garages behind the house and no parking on the street.  But only the lucky few who can afford a single family home get a garage at all--one bedroom town homes have just a single parking pad.  Hopefully you don't have a car with a custom paint job that will peel in 100 degree plus temperatures.  Families need to learn to depend on public transportation and with gas rising to $4.00 a gallon families really cannot afford to drive anyway, so driving needs to be discouraged. No more owning a home with a backyard for your kids to play in--Smart Communities feature tiny yards and small "pocket parks" throughout the community where your children can go to play.  Of course, if you don't have time to escort them to the "pocket park" whenever they want to go play, you will have to hope that you have been blessed by The Planners with good, safe neighbors.

What Dover, Kohl consultants apparently forgot to mention is that even in Portland, Oregon, the Mecca of Smart Code, the residents are rebelling.  According to the EPA's website, Portland Oregon was the 2010 winner of  the EPA's National Award for Smart Growth Achievement in the Policies Procedures and Regulations category.   In 2002, a citizen's group called Oregonians in Action got a initiative on the ballot to prevent Portland's Planning Commission--"the Metro"--from forcing high density into single family areas.  Smart Code design plans call for apartment buildings, single family residences, and mixed use multi story retail with apartments above to be zoned together in one community.  The problem is that the owners of existing single family homes don't want mixed use retail and apartment buildings in their neighborhoods because it leads to congestion, problems with ingress and egress and declining property values. Oregonions in Action believes that it would have won the issue if "the Metro" had not floated its own ballot initiative--deceptively written, according to OIA--which also purported to prevent new high density initiatives in single family neighborhoods.  That measure passed with 66% of the vote to OIA's 43%.  So essentially the voters in Oregon voted almost unanimously for differently worded initiatives to stop the Metro from forcing them into high density neighborhoods. As Portland has continued to push Smart Code policies, the prices of housing in the city have risen dramatically and  many residents are not happy and have dubbed their city "Fake New York."

And Portlanders are rebelling in other ways.  In spite of a huge city wide commitment to public transportation in the form of light rails, trolleys and buses, self-proclaimed veteran environment journalist Todd Woody writes in his blog Grist that only 12.2% of Portland residents take public transportation to work, 4.9% walk to work and 61.5 % drive to work alone. This is in spite of the fact that downtown Portland contains the "free rail zone" where the public light rail system is actually free to ride.

The rejection of the use of public transportation by the residents has led to traffic congestion.  In 2009, A Kirkland-Washington based traffic firm ranked Portland-Hillsboro-Vancouver 22nd on its list of the 100 most congested urban centers in the U.S.  Since Smart Growth focuses on investing in public transportation rather than road projects, the traffic congestion is unlikely to improve any time soon.

Unfortunately, Portland is now a model city for Smart Growth and sustainable living throughout the United States. Over 1200 cities in the United States have pledged a commitment to sustainable living; El Paso, Texas is one of them.  Over the next few weeks, I will be writing about the ways in which Agenda 21 and its implementation through Smart Code and Smart Growth will be changing the way we live and work, here in El Paso and in other communities throughout the U.S.

Alexandra Swann's new novel, The Planner, about an out of control, environmentally-driven government is available on Kindle and in paperback. She is alxso the author of No Regrets: How Homeschooling Earned me a Master's Degree at Age Sixteen. For more information, visit her website at Frontier 2000


  1. You know, I worked for a Civil Engineer and heard him complaining about the plans for this years ago, and every time I hear something about it, It makes me angry. Any thoughts on how to stop this madness?

    1. Fortunately some communities are passing resolutions to stop Agenda 21. In June of 2012, the state of Alabama passed a law stating that no part of Agenda 21 can be implemented in the state and no organization supporting Agenda 21, such as ICLEI can be supported by any municipality. As people get informed and local communities reject Agenda 21, it can be stopped.

  2. I just attended a meeting last night in Schodack (Castleton), New York and there it was!!! Scared the bejesus out of me!!! Dover Kohl was touting its plan to the townspeople! I mentioned that this is an AGENDA 21 clone and people had no idea what I was talking about!!! How do we get the word out to the uninformed?

    1. The only way we can get the word out is to keep talking about it whenever we can.