All the conspiracy theories around Agenda 21 are just gifts that just never stop giving. If you’ve been reading Weird Things for a while, you know about its roots as a supposed manifesto of an evil, socialist one world government trying to take over the world through environmentalism, and the subsequent paranoia about every single urban planning idea that features words like green and sustainability, with far right conspiracy theorists going out of their way to look for a threat in anything they could possibly tie to Agenda 21 and indulge in their fantasies of martyrdom in the Environmentalist Socialist Illuminati ruled society. The latest freakout mentioning the fluffy nice-to-maybe-think-about list of talking points from 1992 to be sang to the tinfoil choir? The U.N. will destroy your suburbs and make you move into a densely packed city to free up green space. If this sounds like a really far-fetched flight of the rabidly paranoid imagination that came from the rants on Glenn Beck’s version of Coast to Coast Radio, you’re right. It’s exactly what it is.
Here’s what the brouhaha is all about. Today’s urban planners are looking at how to help cities grow efficiently and they hate the suburbs, therefore, they’re suggesting less sprawl, more and better planned modular architecture, and fewer individual family homes as the best way forward for the future. And they have their reasons. Suburbs mean more roads, less farms, more waste, pollution, underutilized infrastructure and all that sprawl only makes the city bigger and frees a lot of parking space. We can certainly point to lower crime and good schools, but these are not functions of suburbs being suburbs. These are functions of taxes from high earners and smart voters who insist that their municipal governments put their hard-earned money to good use or cut the tax rate. When city planners look at cities, they’re not seeing how one’s desire for a plot of land with a single house on it really moves the overall community forward and the decline and fall of many exurbs across the nation shows that they’re not inevitable.
However, the catch is that despite not liking suburbs, city planners have no right to tell you how and where to live so if you find a plot of residential land, you can buy it and build anything you’d like on it. The city may not be happy with everything you might build, but unless you’re doing all sorts of illegal, police complaint generating things, there’s not all that much it can do even if it so badly wants to. Likewise, the U.N. has zero jurisdiction there because if every proposal it posted on the web was somehow binding or enforceable, Russia and the United States would be forced to mine asteroids and the Moon and share everything they find according to a U.N. schedule of who gets what resources around the world (see: The Moon Treaty) but because there’s nothing that can be done to enforce these ideas, following them is strictly optional. So the suburbs won’t go anywhere as long as there are people who’d like to live in them or see few options for raising their families in a more urban setting. They may shrink, but they’re unlikely to vanish, and even then it would be a case of lower demand rather than some sort of edict from above.
Just think about this, what elected government would want to tell people as fiercely individual as Americans where they could live and how? It would be a disaster and more than likely be thrown out as unconstitutional in some way, shape, or form. But then again, very few urban planners will be so radical as to level the suburbs and stick everyone in high rises. Give them a taller, slightly denser populated version of the suburbs with multi-level condominium blocks, parks, and more mixed use areas, and they’ll be happy. And again, as noted above, they have their reasons not to like sprawling McMansions as far as the eye can see, and those reasons do make sense if we consider entire cities rather than only what John Q. Public wants. Just because a document from over two decades ago says that it may be nice for cities to be more eco-friendly and sustainable in the long run, doesn’t mean that urban planners in America turned into mindless zombies from a magical power exuded by the vague bullet points and decided to demolish the nuclear family’s one plot, white picket fence home on the whim of their New World Order masters.