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.

Community Leaders and Agencies Band Together to Revitalize Downtowns

Many of America’s cities have fallen into disrepair. While it may be easy to blame the recession for the rise in empty storefronts, the truth is that, in many areas, this decline began decades ago. As people moved to their cul-de-sacs in the suburbs, a shopping trip downtown has become a rare occurrence.

However, planners and business owners have been working together to turn this around, collaborating on developments to revitalize our downtowns. In addition to attracting a variety of businesses to populate empty storefronts, they are working to make it easier to get around through an increase in bike lanes and readying the streets for more pedestrian traffic.

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In the city of Oakland, California—more specifically historic Old Oakland—a local business owner, Alfonso Dominguez and an urban planner and artist, Sarah Filly, have created Popuphood, an innovative project designed to entice businesses into the once vibrant downtown. Funded by a $30,000 grant from the Oakland Redevelopment Agency, Popuphood is giving interested retail shops six months of free rent.  The businesses can stay past the six months. In the meantime, the neighborhood gets a boost to the local economy, businesses become exposed to a new clientele and residents can renew their sense of pride in their thriving neighborhood.

While the concept isn’t new, an essential ingredient to success is having a business and residential community willing to take the risk and make a commitment to revamping the neighborhood. To increase the chances of locals patronizing the businesses, it helps if the shops and restaurants that move into the storefronts are locally based, especially if there’s already a strong sense of local pride in the area.

As the economy recovers, now is the time for local businesses, neighborhood leaders and redevelopment organizations to work together to foster entrepreneurship to revitalize the ailing downtown neighborhoods of our cities. I’m anxious to see the progress of the Popuphood in Oakland—let’s hope it thrives and serves as an example for other downtowns across the country.