Urban Planning Attacked by Idiocy

I read an article today on Treehugger about the anti-Agenda 21 people. Usually, I like to avoid such crazy talk, especially in an election year when the crazy is all around, but I feel compelled to address some things because it’s too ridiculous not to address.

No one is trying to take away your private property, or force you to give up your McMansion or house in the country for an urban mixed-use development. No one’s going to come into your home to round you up and put you on light rail trains and bicycles to transport you to the nearest city to toil in an urban garden and live close to your child’s school. Put down the Kool Aid, Captain Kooky; you’re getting your panties in a knot for nothing.

Bikes on the streets of Tokyo

Yet there are people who are convinced that this will happen. They’re all in a tizzy because the evil United Nations created the equally evil Agenda 21, a completely voluntary set of guidelines for sustainable development to improve the lives of people, particularly those who live in cities as much the world does. I’m not entirely sure what the anti-Agenda 21 zealots are smoking, but they need to get a refund from their dealer…or turn off the Faux News and maybe read something that isn’t from the John Birch bookshelf.

Mixed use development isn’t the enemy; neither are bike lanes, urban centers, light rail, high speed trains, pedestrian walkways or being in close proximity to work, school and your basic consumer needs. If you’re scared that your small town will turn into a ghost town, it’s not because of highway exits or propaganda to lure young folks and families away, it’s probably because there are no jobs. There are no jobs because your community is probably going through an economic shift to keep up with the times and citizens aren’t starting new businesses and/or established businesses aren’t interested in setting up shop. People go where the jobs are and if that means moving away from their hometowns, so be it. That’s been happening since the beginning of civilization. It’s nothing new and it’s certainly not a new Commie agenda.

Although the 5th amendment of the Constitution puts limits on eminent domain, the government can take your property and use it to expand a roadway, for example, so long as they adequately compensate your for it (e.g., give you fair market value for the land). They can’t take it away to build a mixed use development; however, they may do so to expand a light rail line or expand the roadway to add a new lane or a bike lane, basically anything that is for public use. This is also nothing new. Growing up in New Hampshire, people would constantly get all riled up about the Man trying to take away their property. Calm down, son. You can keep your weeds and dirt lawn, as well as your collection of cars on blocks and assorted lawn ornaments…until your road needs to be expanded, which if no one’s coming to your town anyway, really won’t be a problem.

While public comment is always welcome when new development or plans are on the table, it should at least take the form of informed opinion, not fear mongering. Blocking plans because you fear that someone will take away your SUV and house is irrational. As is threatening planners because some ignorant paranoid talking head, who has issues that a black man is president (clutch your pearls!), told you that all planners are part of some Communist U.N. conspiracy to take away all of your rights and make you wear utilitarian garments straight out of 1984. If you believe that, I have some magic beans to sell you real cheap—only $500,000 a bean. It’s the deal of the century. Did I mention they’re magic?

It’s true, trends in urban planning are moving towards walkable mixed-use communities with tree-lined streets, bike lanes and nearby schools, shopping and employment opportunities. I know it’s crazy, but it’s what people want, just look at the latest NAR Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers. Who wants to continue to commute 30 minutes each way five days a week to and from a home that they paid too much for during the boom, and are now underwater on, that’s located far from pretty much everything? Sure, there are some people who will say, “That’s my dream because it’s my property!” Good for them. For the rest of us, after a few years that luster will fade and you’ll be as fat , unhealthy and unhappy as the other commuters on the road. Perhaps some fresh air (fresh thanks in part to those ‘evil’ environmental laws enacted during the 1970s when rivers and the air were ablaze from reactions of toxic chemicals) would do you good.

Three Advantages of an American Bicycle Culture

Long Beach, California is getting attention in planning circles due to its commitment to creating bike-friendly districts within the community. Certainly it helps that the mayor, Bob Foster, is a cyclist himself. Under his watch, the city has revamped its image and put in bike trails, new bike racks, protected bike lanes and now bike-friendly shopping districts. The city has reached out to local businesses to demonstrate how attracting more bike traffic can add to their bottom line. Bike racks boost visibility and draw customers to the stores. As someone who cycles to most places, it’s really nice to see bike racks outside of shops instead of having to lock my ride to the nearest tree or fence.


Cities such as Minneapolis, Portland and Long Beach are demonstrating that bikes belong in our communities. The advantages of a bike-friendly community:

  1. A healthier populace. America is fat. The majority of Americans are big fat fatties, shoving fast food down their gobs as they drive their giant SUVs around town and blame having increasingly sedentary lives on their jobs and other obligations. By getting out and making short-distance trips by bicycle, people will find that they have more energy as they burn calories and get things done.
  2. Less traffic congestion. More bikes on the road mean fewer vehicles, which in turn translates to less traffic congestion for those who have to drive.
  3. Vibrant communities. The easiest way to get to know your local community is to get out of your vehicle. You can’t meet the people on your street if you’re stuck sitting between four walls. On your bicycle or on foot, you can greet your neighbors, which leads to a safer neighborhood.

There’s a fourth, more obvious advantage, which is cleaner air. The fewer the vehicles that are on the road, the less pollution that fills the air, leading to healthier lungs and less incidence of asthma and other lung ailments.

While we’re not quite at the level of creating a bicycle superhighway like Sweden, our cities can get to the point where cycling is encouraged in the community.

Finally, A Town for Bikers!

I’m a very lucky bike commuter—my little California beach town is full of 3-foot bike lanes on all of the major roads. The only hairy part of my commute is merging with traffic when the bike lane ends before the freeway on-ramp. Most bike commuters aren’t so lucky and have to deal with narrow streets, rude drivers and random idiocy.


Artist rendering of Bicycle City

However, a town in South Carolina is looking to change things and become a bike-only community (although cars are allowed to park on the outskirts of town). Bicycle City LLC has selected Gaston, South Carolina as the first car-free community. In addition to encouraging cycling and walking, all homes will be build in compliance with LEED standards and rely on clean energy. The community is located near the Three Rivers Greenway, an existing bike trail, and is close to Columbia, an established bicycle-friendly city. Situated between the mountains and the ocean, this Bicycle City boasts a myriad of amenities to its future residents.


Artist rendering of Bicycle City

Green features:

  • Multi-surface trails for walking, hiking and biking (oh my!)
  • Green homes
  • Recreational opportunities around the local lake
  • Access to a local organic market


Currently, only trail work is underway, but interested parties can reserve a home site in the community.

A Hobbit House in Wales


Throw in a hobbit house, like the sustainable one built in Wales, and consider me sold. Built by Simon Dale, the house was built with the environment in mind, touting straw bales for insulation, reclaimed and locally-sourced materials, natural ventilation, solar panels, gravity-fed water, compost toilet and a rainwater catchment system. Plus it took 1000-1500 man hours and £3,000 (about US$4,650). According to his website, Dale built the home for his family in order to live the life they wanted to lead, without the burdens of a mortgage payment or rent. He also did it to meet the challenges of sustainable land use issues and energy consumption. Armed with tools, motivation and a little help from his friends, he completed the home in four months. Since this project was a success, he’s in the process of building a home within an eco-village in Wales that is part of the Lammas Project.

Rendering of the Hobbit House


Rendering of Hobbit House