City Desk

“The Plan,” Tea Party Style

The Atlantic Cities has a fascinating piece on the Tea Party's objection to urbanism. Across the country, members are showing up at municipal planning meetings to fight the pro-sustainability "Agenda 21" plan proposed by the United Nations 20 years ago. While Agenda 21 is voluntary, Tea Partiers insist its existence is a way of "herding humanity into compulsory habitation zones."

The protesters clearly feel there is a form of Moses-style planning going on today, but rather than highways, it’s high-speed rail and transit, and compact, mixed-use, dense development, all of which are designed to bring about long-term sustainability. As one Florida Tea Party activist put it, "compact development aka smart growth, aka New Urbanism, aka Traditional Neighborhood Design, aka Transit Oriented Development, aka Livable Communities, aka Sustainable Development ... are all names meaning the same thing: they are anti-suburban, high-density dwelling design concepts that are part of the UN's Agenda 21 and will make single family home ownership for our posterity unattainable." Another summed it up this way: “We don’t want none of your smart growth communism."

The author concludes that responding feels futile, since these activists aren't interested in any form of compromise. But will angry Tea Partiers soon be showing up at Advisory Neighborhood Commission meetings?

Photo by Averain via Flickr/Creative Commons Attribution Generic 2.0 License

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  • Mrs. D

    Wow...can't believe that no one has responded to this. I guess maybe in most areas undergoing substantial urban renewal development, these specific voices have not been that prevalent (although others like them have been), but I see this in my hometown and it's incredibly sad. My hometown is a post-war suburb, the original parts of which are very sustainable, compact (though almost exclusively single-family, eat that, tea baggers), and walkable (the bounds of the "old town" are all less than 2 miles from the city center/high school/etc., and every block has good sidewalks, street trees, 2- to 3-lane street crossings -many with lights and crosswalks - and other amenities to make walking realistic). They have recently floated some "urbanist" ideas to get them back to their former glory, like providing locally-sourced funding for people to buy homes in the old "core" over the new planned developments, redeveloping the retail and services in the city center (as opposed to the far-flung mall, Wal-Mart, and other areas only accessible by car), and providing some limited public transit throughout the "old town" to the city center to support this redevelopment. It only makes sense, the population of the city is aging and less and less able to drive to the far-flung amenities, property values are falling and the "grand homes" in the old town parts are more affordable than ever, and the downtown area is already structured to support mixed-use development (many old storefronts with long-abandoned apartments above).

    But people are all up-in-arms about this! I simply cannot understand why people would prefer to live in the generic "planned communities" on the outskirts of town rather than the awesome old homes close by the city center. My grandmother's home is one of those homes in the "old town" and it's breathtakingly beautiful (brick, high ceilings, chandeliers, leaded glass windows, fireplaces, *4* bedrooms with a yard and amazing porches, etc.), and my grandma loved to tell me stories about how they would walk or take the bus downtown back in the good old days. Why would someone want a generic "McMansion" in a car-dependent location over a large, beautiful, SINGLE-FAMILY home close by everything? Sustainable development doesn't mean everyone lives in a 200-square-foot condo, fercrissakes! Instead, these people think that the city should provide expensive on-demand "senior's transport" to the far-flung amenities (without sidewalks and crosswalks and with 5- or 6-lane speedways that would need to be crossed if you attempted to do it on foot), allow developers to continue to destroy parks and protected areas (like the areas around the reservoir, preserved to protect the water supply but increasingly encroached upon), and remove lights and stop signs to preference driving over walking. It would be so much cheaper to just bring the businesses downtown and get the close-in people there, but, no, it's all about having your private choice to live in some cheaply-built McMansion on the outskirts of town subsidized when you can no longer privately fund that choice! SMH, big time.

  • Me


  • Bruce

    Possibly you should go talk with people that live in the suburbs/exurbs and really hear what advantages we see. I have lived in the city/burbs/country and none are perfect, but clearly urban areas are entirely dependent upon rural areas for food. Possibly you could open your mind that the diversity of the two areas are not such a bad thing.

    If you are unwilling to go out and learn about the other side, simply try to think of us as people living in an alternate lifestyle, as city-diverse people that want to have a choice in where we live and how we act without someone forcing their personal belief system upon us.

    If you agree that a person should not be discriminated against based upon sex orientation, race, etc... then likely you should be tolerant of us as well. We are not coming to your urban area and forcing you to live like us.

    Besides, from a political perspective what happens when the power shifts in the other direction ... and suddenly those that disagree with you had the power to shut down YOUR rights?

    It is good to sometimes consider what it would be like to have the shoe on the other foot. The Rule of Law that protects the rights of those not in the majority truly does cut both ways. Without the Rule of Law, society's control falls to the most brutish fist or biggest/only gun.

    This issue was never about suburbia vs brownstones.

    It is about who will control who.

    Think about it.

    Best regards,


  • Robbo

    The freedom to live in a suburb comes at a large cost. This cost is almost all borne by the taxpayer.

    I think many people who describe themselves as New Urbanists, aka Traditional Neighbourhood Designers, aka Transit Oriented Development proponents etc recognise that, more often than not, the building and maintaining of suburbs or exurbs requires massive subsidies from federal, state and municipal governments. These subsidies come in the form of building roads, sewers, community services like libraries etc.

    State and local governments here in Australia have tried to recoup a greater proportion of the total cost of hooking up these suburbs to water, road and sewer networks, provide parks and other community services.

    However these costs imposed were in many cases $40,000-$50,000 per dwelling (AU$1 is about = to US$1).

    This was considered too expensive by developers as a cost to bear or pass on and so a system has been replaced by one that levies much lower costs.

    The shortfall is picked up by rate/taxpayers. To me this support of one persons lifestyle subsidized by others through tax doesn't sound very 'Tea Party'.

  • Mrs. D

    Um, "Bruce," it's not really about those who live in rural areas and produce food for the rest of us. My DH is from a farming family that continues to live in a rural area and farm. Them are good people. What I commented on were people who wanted to live a car-dependent suburban/exurban lifestyle and have that subsidized by the government in numerous ways on a grand scale. Surely we can help rural farmers who provide our food, but not mass quantities of people who want to live *near* the conveniences of a city/dense suburb (shops, jobs, and entertainment) without all the hassle of having their neighbors within an acre of them. I think, at least I *hope,* we're talking about different people. Again, I don't think that everyone needs to live in a small condo/apartment, but walkable, human-scale suburbs are possible, even given the "dream" of single-family homeownership for people who are not farmers, and readily exist in many post-war boom areas (you know, most families had no car or only *one* car that the breadwinner got use of back then, and if my grandma were still alive I'd make you talk to her about this). People are free to make their choice about where to live, but I shouldn't have to provide for them to get where they need to go (grocery store, doctor's office, etc.) because of that choice, in an inefficient way (totally willing to pay for well-used public transit, but not expensive, on-demand transit because they made a choice that isn't sustainable in their old age, without a good reason - i.e., they're a farmer who needs some land to grow my food, as opposed to a suburbanite who just hates people being nearby). FTR, I grow a good bit of my own food, in my house and right out on my little tiny patio, and buy local produce all the time. Don't lecture me about the need for farmers until you've milked a cow at 5 AM and then climbed up into the attic to get some semblance of cell phone signal (ah, the joys of being married into a farming family).

  • Bruce

    Milked a cow at 5am?

    You are exceptional in that I have never met anyone 'preferring' the urban lifestyle that has ever milked a cow.

    But this does point out precisely where the problem lies...and it is a very serious, even dangerous, 'educational/cultural' problem.

    Note in particular slides #1-6 at this link:

    Home Page

    All that rural property owners want is to be left alone and not have their property rights and values compromised, but that is not happening.

    Many cannot even imagine it happening here, but history shows that similar tyrannical actions have seriously adverse consequences. From the Weimar Republic to the Chinese Cultural Revolution, when personal property rights are taken away and a person loses everything ... they have nothing left to lose. (I am not being redundant here.)

    America is turning from the Rule of Law that has protected personal rights, kept us safe and prosperous for better than two centuries.

    Are you personally comfortable that YOUR personal property rights are perfectly safe and not threatened at all?

    Best regards,


  • Mrs. D

    Well apparently I am exceptional, and so is the DH because he *grew up* milking cows at 5 AM and wouldn't have anything but his urban lifestyle now. I don't think you have much to worry about from us. We need farmers, and we need them to continue to thrive nearby job centers, as that is how agricultural efficiency is achieved in the least harmful way to the environment AND farmers' livelihoods. We're talking about totally different people here. The people I am opposed to *are* a threat to farmers...they want the government to re-zone previously rural, agricultural land so they can build McMansions on acres of property and have long, car-dependent commutes to their jobs in job centers, and then want us to subsidize that commute in numerous ways. They want us to provide tax benefits to people buying this rural land to live, rather than farm, on. I say, if someone wants to live 60 miles from their job, let them foot the bill for that choice themselves.

    My DH's father's job is a short walk from his house - out to the barn. Sure, he needs to get his food to market (roads) and get himself to the doctor's and the store (transportation), but he would never demand that we provide him with extensive, expensive, on-demand publicly-funded transit for his daily activities, as the car-dependent suburbanites I have mentioned do. If we truly had sustainable communities (like what my suburban - not at ALL rural or agricultural, OR urban - suburb once was, or as cities are now and are increasingly becoming again), the meager needs of farmers and other people who provide services that REQUIRE a rural community wouldn't be a problem. Instead, we're subsidizing people who work in job centers living in McMansions on former agricultural/protected lands and bending to their desires for city-like services. Again, I think we're talking about different things here. We need people who provide the services that only rural land can provide, and public amenities like reservoirs and parks, but professionals, para-professionals, and service workers do not need to live in far-flung, car-dependent, modern suburb configurations and be subsidized by those of us who choose a more sustainable life given our chosen profession. Urbaists like us want to exploit every housing and transit option in denser areas for people who live, work, and need services in job centers, not push farmers off their land to build planned developments. I think you have us confused with the people who are the biggest threat to farmers and their property rights. And, again, if you want to live in a rural/exurban/sprawly suburban area and commute to a job center...fine, but I shouldn't be forced to bear the burden of that choice when we can provide very suitable and diverse housing and transit options more efficiently if people could only stand the sight of their neighbors once in a while.