Agenda 21 and the Threat in Your Backyard
Ready to trade in your car for a bike, or maybe a subway instead? Interested in fewer choices for your home, paying more for housing, and being crammed into a denser neighborhood? You can have all this and more if radical environmentalists and "smart growth" advocates have their way and local, state, and the federal government impose the policies set forth in the United Nations' Agenda 21.
You might have heard of this nefarious-sounding policy in a recent Republican presidential debate, but even if you haven't, here's some background information: Agenda 21 is a voluntary plan adopted at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. It calls on governments to intervene and regulate nearly every potential impact that human activity could have on the environment. The end goal? Getting governments to "rethink economic development and find ways to halt the destruction of irreplaceable natural resources and pollution of the planet."
As adopted, Agenda 21 was described as "a comprehensive plan of action to be taken globally, nationally and locally by organizations of the United Nations System, Governments, and Major Groups in every area in which human impacts on the environment." That includes hundreds of specific goals and strategies that national and local governments are encouraged to adopt. And that translates into restrictive zoning policies that are aimed at deterring suburban growth. Ultimately, they suppress housing supply and drive up home prices, in turn imposing unnecessary costs, especially on middle- and lower-income households. These policies contributed to and aggravate the real estate bubble by putting inflationary pressures on housing prices.
But here's the catch: Nothing about Agenda 21 is binding, and it's not a threat in and of itself. Instead, the threat Americans need to be concerned about is the one that lies in their own backyard. In a new paper, "Focus on Agenda 21 Should Not Divert Attention from Homegrown Anti-Growth Policies," Wendell Cox, Ronald Utt, Brett Schaefer explain:
Opponents of Agenda 21 should not be distracted from the more tangible manifestation of the smart-growth principles outlined in that document. If they focus excessively on Agenda 21, it is much more likely that homegrown smart-growth policies that date to the early 1970s and undermine the quality of life, personal choice, and property rights in American communities will be implemented by local, state, and federal authorities at the behest of environmental groups and other vested interests.
In the United States, smart-growth policies started in California and Oregon but then spread around the country to "deter suburban growth for all but the well-to-do," as Cox, Utt, and Schaefer explain. They also write that those policies were not without detrimental impact:
As they became more prevalent and restrictive, their impact on housing prices and construction likewise expanded. An explosion of exclusionary zoning throughout the U.S. encouraged many communities to adopt zoning policies to ensure that they maintained a certain demographic 'profile.' Such zoning limited real estate development to higher-cost homes in order to 'price out' moderate-income households, which included a disproportionate share of minorities.
Where do these home-grown smart-growth policies stand today? The Obama Administration has embraced them while also increasing environmental regulations and restrictions on the use of natural resources. But the White House isn't the only one behind the smart-growth movement. Local and state officials, along with interest groups, are promoting the policies at all levels of government.
And that's where smart growth must also be thwarted. It's not just a matter of standing against the implementation of Agenda 21 at the national level; it's also about protecting our own backyards against the home-grown threat.