The Sedgwick County Commission will decide Wednesday whether to give a consortium of South Central Kansas governments and organizations broad control over community planning funded by a federal grant and based on a United Nations agenda.
The Regional Economic Area Partnership (REAP) Consortium for Sustainable Communities seeks to implement a Regional Plan for Sustainable Development (RPSD) for South Central Kansas.
REAP’s application for a federal grant said the plan will “provide an overall vision and commitment for sustainable growth in South Central Kansas. The RSPD will provide goals, strategies, and action steps to support that vision. Specifically, that RPSD will create a regional integrated transportation, housing, air quality and water infrastructure plan that aligns federal resources and provides for sustainable development and resources (fiscal, human and capital) to support our economic centers.‘
Much of the language and goals of sustainable communities grants reflect the goals of the U.N.’s Agenda 21, a global environmental agenda for the 21st century revealed at the 1992 U.N. Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro.
Agenda 21 is a comprehensive framework for global, national and local action aimed at improving environmental equality through massive changes in how resources are consumed and allocated.
According to Sustainable Development in the 21st century (SD21), a December 2011 UN review of implementation of Agenda 21, “Achieving greater equity requires a significant reduction in consumption by industrialized countries.”
The report, in a section titled “Ecological Debt and Over-consumption,” says, “It is vital that any discussion based on consumption of resources is also integrated with an understanding of equity and how such resources can be fairly shared amongst the world’s population.”
“We view the green economy as a means to achieve sustainable development, which must remain our overarching goal. We acknowledge that a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication should protect and enhance the natural resource base, increase resource efficiency, promote sustainable consumption and production patterns, and move the world toward low-carbon development.”
The Wordle word cloud, above, was generated from text of a Jan. 10, 2012, draft of the “The Future We Want.” The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text.
The REAP consortium of 37 local governments and organizations has received a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
About 35 percent of RPSD’s total budget of $2,322,804 will come from grant participants who must demonstrate local support through cash matches and in-kind contributions.
“The spirit of partnership to create a long-term vision for regional economic prosperity is exciting,” wrote Patrick Hanrahan, president of United Way of the Plains, in a letter committing his organization to the consortium.
Suzie Ahlstrand, vice president of Visioneering Wichita, wrote in her grant application letter:
This grant has the potential of making an enormous difference in unifying our region plus creating innovative jobs, leveraging area assets and infrastructure and propelling quality of life enhancements to make our region desirable for all people and a place that is affordable, economically viable and environmentally sustainable.
In September, Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau voted against joining the consortium.
“Unfortunately many of the local communities are being misled to believe that this is about economic development, when I think it’s quite the opposite,” Ranzau said. “I think there are better ways to plan our communities.”
Opponents of the planning grant and sustainable communities agenda say they are contrary to the independence and self-determination central to the U.S. way of life.
Ranzau recently told KansasWatchdog that pursuit of U.N. sustainable communities goals will have significant long-term consequences, including higher taxes, increased housing costs, more regulations and further restrictions on property rights.
“That’s one of the biggest big-government agendas ever created,” Ranzau said. “We’re being told that this is a good thing for our local communities — that it’s going to help reduce our costs — which I think is absurd. It goes against every limited government principle we have.”
The Sedgwick County Farm Bureau Agricultural Association’s board of directors unanimously opposes the planning grant.
Farm Bureau President Kent Winter in a March 30 letter to the Hutchinson News, said, “There is strong evidence that ‘sustainability’ in this context translates to an agenda that implements new local zoning codes and land use regulations that would threaten property rights.”
Winter pointed out that the grant contract gives HUD “substantial authority” including power to review and approve the process, work and product of the grantee but also to review and approve key personnel.
“From our side of the fence,” Winter wrote, “sustainable development is not about economic development. It’s about higher taxes, more regulations and centralized federal control over local issues, with unacceptable implications that threaten property rights. We encourage a no-vote from the commissioners to remove the unforeseeable costs this grant program would bring to our county.
Tom DeWeese, a determined critic of Agenda 21 who has spoken nationwide, visited Overland Park and Wichita last week. For most of the past 18 years audiences were small and skepticism high, DeWeese said after speaking to the Wichita Pachyderm Club on Friday.
DeWeese said the recent increase in interest in Agenda 21 comes from a growing number of people feeling the impact of planning in their cities and seeing phrases and ideologies from U.N. documents echoed in local planning: sustainable development, smart growth, comprehensive planning, growth management, livability, complete street, and visioning.
“The exact words ‘Sustainable Development’ come from UN documents,” DeWeese wrote in a recent article. “Its exact policies are imposed at the local level — yet, we are told by its proponents, none of these development plans have anything to do with UN policy. It’s an amazing tap dance.”
In June 1998, J. Gary Lawrence, an adviser to President Bill Clinton’s Council on Sustainable Development, former director of the Center for Sustainable Communities at the University of Washington, and chief planner for the City of Seattle, told a London audience:
Participating in a U.N. advocated planning process would very likely bring out many of the conspiracy-fixated groups and individuals in our society, such as the National Rifle Association, citizen militias and some members of Congress. This segment of our society who fear ‘one-world government’ and a U.N. invasion of the United States through which our individual freedom would be stripped away would actively work to defeat any elected official who joined ‘the conspiracy’ by undertaking LA21 (Local Agenda 21). So, we call our processes something else, such as comprehensive planning, growth management or smart growth.
A July 2011 summary of a High Level Dialogue on the Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development (IFSD) held in Indonesia is one of many U.N. documents acknowledging the ongoing connection between Agenda 21 and national or local planning efforts.
The discussion reviewed progress in institutional development at global as well as regional, national and subnational levels. While the starting point was provided by the stated positions of different countries and groups, the discussions saw genuine engagement and even progress in identifying possible steps towards convergence.
There was a broadly shared view that the concept and principles of sustainable development had gained acceptability in policy circles as well as civil society. Various participants reiterated the principles of sustainable development, as articulated in Agenda 21
A particular question that was highlighted in the discussions was the need for a bottom up approach to coherence and integration, starting at national and local levels. It was emphasized that sustainable development actions at the local and national levels need to be governed nationally and locally, instead of being governed from the global level.
The IFSD chairman’s summary included the following messages to move the discussions forward:
To achieve our shared goal, we need to renew our political commitment for sustainable development. We also need to translate this commitment into implementation.
More broadly, sustainable development governance at the local, national and regional level needs to be reviewed, supported and strengthened.
Two executive orders signed by President Barack Obama in 2009 created the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, a cooperative effort of the U.S. Departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Transportation (DOT) as well as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The federal agencies were ordered to “establish an integrated strategy towards sustainability in the Federal Government and to make reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) a priority for Federal agencies.”
Sustainable development grant participants in South Central Kansas are required to agree to and invest in the Sustainable Community goals and a governance structure that makes REAP the managing entity with final decision-making authority over the consortium.
REAP also will appoint members to the Consortium Leadership Team (CLT), which will oversee implementation of the regional plan.
Two other Kansas regions have received HUD Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grants. In March 2011, HUD awarded a $4.25 million grant to the Mid-America Regional Council in the Kansas City area.
REAP is hosted by the Hugo Wall School of Urban and Public Affairs at Wichita State University. In April 2010, the school received a $190,000 grant from the EPA to establish an Environmental Finance Center (EFC). The grant offers up to $2.4 million through 2015. WSU was one of 10 universities selected nationwide to host an EFC to help create environmentally and financially sustainable communities.
Proponents of the sustainable communities grant note that Wichita ranks last among the 55 most populous cities in the United States in environmental livability, according to an August Wichita Eagle story.
Criteria and ranking was done by Kent Portney, a Tufts University political science professor and author of “Taking Sustainable Cities Seriously: Economic Development, the Environment, and Quality of Life in American Cities.”
Portland, Ore., ranked first in Portney’s list based on sustainable cities criteria that includes smart growth, land use, transportation, pollution reduction, energy conservation and public policy goals that include “having a city sustainability policy to drive decision making.”
Randal O’Toole, a senior fellow with the Cato Institute and author of “The Best-Laid Plans: How Government Planning Harms Your Quality Life, Your Pocketbook, and Your Future,” is also a former resident of Portland, Ore.
In a letter to the editor offered to Wichita-area media, O’Toole wrote, “The region’s housing policies made single-family homes so expensive that most families with children moved to distant suburbs where they can afford a house with a yard. Residents of subsidized high-density housing projects drive just about as much as anyone else in the Portland area, and developers have learned to their sorrow that if they follow planners’ guidelines in providing less parking for these projects, they will end up with high vacancy rates.”
“By forcing out families with children,” O’Toole said, “inner Portland is left mainly with young singles and childless couples who eat out a lot, making Portland a Mecca for tourists who like exciting new restaurants. This makes Portland a great place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there unless you like noisy, congested streets.”
O’Toole visited Wichita in 2010 and gave KansasWatchdog a walking critique of city planning. “It’s a form of social engineering,” he said of efforts to create high-density, walkable development. “The reality is, most Americans don’t want to live that way.”
City of Wichita Spends $2 million, Rebuffs Citizen’s Transparency Request (kansaswatchdog.org)
Executive Order Marks Change in Kansas Economic Development (kansaswatchdog.org)
The Spirit is Willing, But the Law is Weak (kansaswatchdog.org)
Randal O’Toole on Wichita’s Waterwalk and Government Planning (kansaswatchdog.org)