From the February 2010 Idaho Observer:
What’s Behind “THE VISION” in Your Town?
by Susanna L. Jennings
Television makeover programs that transform men and women from sloppy to slick are popular. Makeup artists, hair dressers and clothing specialists remake their passive subjects and the new look is shown off to gasping friends and family. However, transformational changes are not limited to people these days. American neighborhoods, swarming with central planners and government funds, are getting made over too.
America’s new look starts with federal and state funded “visioning councils” that impose their plans, utilizing compliant politicians, compliant business people and paid representatives from foundations and tax-funded non-profit organizations. The unsuspecting public becomes the recipient of a vision that implements “Smart Growth.”
Smart Growth restricts housing construction to high-density subsidized (cost-shifted) apartments or condominiums. Cities are “filled in” by building vertically and cramming people together. Occupants living in these new developments are often subject to increasing rules and regulations administered by Associations or Housing Trusts. Cluster developments with purposely limited parking (near train or bus stops) are designed to take people out of their cars, thereby frustrating people’s ability to get around as they might choose.
Some planners in the Western U. S. learned their terminology and techniques from a group called Envision Utah, a “smart growth” planning agency under the Utah Transit Authority which offers workshops to share ideas for future transportation and land use. UTA General Manager John Inglish brought a case study for carbon reduction to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December. Through “Envision Utah” planners learn about the “visioning process,” which includes: “values” research, how to run “facilitated” workshops and to how to use “consensus building” to create scenarios for area “change”. (See Jan/2010 I.O. “The Delphi Technique”) When public officials and non-government organizations (NGOs)) use the term “visioning” it really means Agenda 21 principles are being implemented.
Planners return from the visioning workshop with a mission in place. “Our visioning sets up a framework project for zoning,” reported Gordon Garry, Director of Research and Analysis for the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, after one such workshop.
Once the framework for zoning is in place, local governments, non-elected regional councils and public/private partnerships begin to change residential neighborhoods to “mixed use,” often utilizing processes that work outside constitutional governmental procedures. By transforming the look of the town, planners and politicians also engineer social changes that negatively affect the lives and the lifestyles of existing residents. Utah is one example, as it is currently proposing to eliminate resident-convenient bus lines in favor of the Envision Utah light rail.
If your town is working toward a “vision,” it is a good idea to attend the planning meetings and discover the Smart Growth plan behind the façade.
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