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Week of: July 8, 2001

Should We Settle for Sustainability?

by F.R. Duplantier

What's wrong with growth? We all want our children to grow, don't we? Why shouldn't we want our communities to grow as well?

The notion of sustainable development was "conceived at the 1987 UN Conference on Environment and Development, and entered the world at the 1992 Conference, in the form of [a document entitled] Agenda 21," recalls Henry Lamb of the Environmental Conservation Organization. "Since then," he reports, "it has infested nearly 150 nations, including the United States. The symptoms are unmistakable," says Lamb. "Telltale terms begin appearing in local newspapers and local newscasts: urban sprawl, open space, brownfields, bike paths, public transportation, visioning process, consensus, and 'Something-or- Other 2000.' Then there are reports about the results of the visioning process. Finally," he concludes, "there is a plan. Suddenly, your town is a 'Sustainable Community.'"

In a recent installment of his internet commentary at eco-logic on-line (, Lamb confides that "the 'plan' for your sustainable community will be named 'Yourtown 2020' or something similar, it will embrace several political jurisdictions, involve a 'commission' or 'council' with some measure of authority to 'oversee' the implementation of the plan, and it will contain several components that are remarkably similar to [those of] all the other 'sustainable communities' around the country. Virtually all of the components," he contends, "come from recommendations contained in Agenda 21."

According to Lamb, "Many sustainable community plans go much further than defining where a person cannot live; they often define the size of the home, the type of materials that may be used to construct the home, and even the type of landscaping that may be used. These restrictions are imposed, ostensibly, to protect the environment. The individual's right to live wherever he chooses is rarely given any value at all," Lamb laments; "it is often disregarded in the belief that the so-called 'public good' outweighs the individual's rights."

Lamb charges that the acquisition of land by government "interferes with a free market in real estate, and thereby forces development to occur only where the government thinks that it should occur." He adds that land acquired by government "stops producing tax revenue, and thereby increases the tax burden on the remaining private property owners. What's even worse, the only way a government can get the money to acquire land is to force taxpayers to pay for it."

Lamb emphasizes that land acquisition doesn't necessarily mean "an outright purchase by the government from a willing seller." It could mean the government using "its power of eminent domain to force a private owner to sell. Increasingly," he reports, "governments are resorting to the purchase of development rights, and conservation easements, and third-party arrangements with land conservancy organizations. The result is still an interference with a free real estate market, a reduction in tax revenue, and government- managed development."

Although reputed to be "for the benefit of future generations," land acquisition by government is "actually a pox on future generations," says Lamb. "The current generation of land managers is assuring that future generations are unable to use the land as they wish or deem necessary."


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