Did you know that the seemingly geeky, mild-mannered profession of urban planning is actually a breeding ground for social engineers — part of a sinister international plot to rob you of your American Dream?
Well wake up already, people!
The East Bay Tea Party is here to tell you all about it. They have the true story behind the Sustainable Communities Strategy in the Bay Area, a planning effort that would encourage transit-oriented development and density.
And it’s scary! You can tell, because in their video about a recent meeting about the plan, they use the theme from “Also Sprach Zarathustra” as this text flashes on a black background:
The ‘New World Order’ is here … and it has many names … Agenda 21 … Sustainable Development … Smart Growth … Social Justice … Green Energy … Carbon Free … Livable Communities … One Global Vision … Designed by the United Nations … To Strip you of Your Freedom … Your Prosperity … Your Privacy … Your Property Rights … Your Choice of Transportation … Your Piece [sic] of Mind … Your American Dream … They’re Planning Your Future … Right here in the Bay Area … ‘For the Greater Good!’
This particular paranoid fantasy has been around for a while — Jon Hiskes wrote about it last fall — but it seems to have picked up steam lately. According to the Bay Citizen, members of the East Bay Tea Party (EBTP), including Heather Gass, were a loud and vocal presence at the meeting. Here’s how Gass wrote about it on the EBTP blog:
Saturday was a great day for freedom!!! Over 26 brave EBTP members and others we did not even know stood up against an army of well trained environmental activists and beat them at their own game. The fake visioning meeting for “One Bay Area 2035” was systematically dismantled by the few brave patriots who dared to question them. Let me tell you it was a bit nerve racking at first, but once we got started it was cathartic and fun!! …
We developed a plan and implemented it. We registered for the event, showed up and questioned them mercilously [sic] about the details of their plan. Here’s where their plan breaks down. Their plan for the future is to “stack and pack” housing near mass transit so we the people are not a burden on our environment by breathing and emitting CO2 from our cars. They want to limit building to existing urban growth boundaries, which are arbitrarily set by City Councils. They base their utopian model on high density housing with shops underneath, no parking, but lots of bicycles and walking (?????)
What these people don’t seem to understand is that people move to the Suburbs to get away from this type of Urban lifestyle. As a realtor I see this every day. Young earth minded eco-friendly brain-washed urbanites that have recently had kids and suddenly realize San Francisco is NO place to raise kids. There is no place to send your kids to play within eyeshot from your home. There is no easy way to grocery shop with a screaming 2 year old. They carry the groceries 10 blocks from the store to a high rise or three story walk up having no elevator. Sounds great doesn’t it? NO!!!
According to the Bay Citizen, the Tea Party presence didn’t seem to have much effect on the opinions of others in attendance:
Even with the group of vocal critics, when the audience voted on priorities for the Bay Area, the top five were: daily needs close to home, clean air, convenient access to jobs, water conservation and lower carbon emissions. “Large homes with big yards” was near the bottom.
The Tea Party isn’t the only opposition to dense development. The politics of density in the Bay Area have always been fraught, with much of the opposition coming from environmental groups. That has been changing, but it’s a history that underlies the current planning debate. From the San Francisco Examiner:
Environmentalists will keep fighting developments that involve the addition of traffic, but don’t expect the same kinds of fights over greater density in San Francisco.
“People understand if you just say ‘no’ in San Francisco, there’s going to be a million more people living in Modesto, and that’s a horrible carbon footprint,” said Jason Henderson, an assistant professor of human geography at San Francisco State University. “The City is willing to absorb its share of growth.”
But Henderson also said such growth will require an investment in transit.
Photo: Paul HohmannIt will also require planners to do better at explaining the benefits of transit-oriented development, and to make sure that legitimate concerns about density are dealt with. While their conspiracy theories are laughable, the Tea Party is tapping into a very real anxiety about what “urban” living is like — and politicians with real power, like Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), are only too happy to feed those fears. And the truth is that decades of autocentric planning has, in many cases, degraded the quality of life in American cities.
That can change, and it needs to. Because “smart growth,” or whatever you want to call it, is one of the best ways to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Not only that: research increasingly shows that living in walkable communities with good transit is a choice many homebuyers want more of. No matter what the Tea Party says.