Local Sustainability Grant Wants You (to change)

By. Neil Williamson, President

As mentioned in a previous post, the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) has been awarded a $999,000 for Housing and Urban Development’s Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant.  The program will be launched late in April but last week the TJPDC provided a preview to the a joint meeting of the Planning Commissions of Charlottesville and Albemarle County.

The TJPDC sees this as a 3 1/2 year program.  According to their website this federally funded program will promote sustainability:

The project will move sustainability in the region from a regional goal to actual implementation through products resulting from this planning effort:

  1. Sustainability Baseline and Performance Measurement System
  2. Common Land Use – Transportation Vision for the Charlottesville/Albemarle Region
  3. Integration of Sustainability Strategies into Comprehensive Plans and the Long Range Transportation Plan
  4. Code and Ordinance Sustainability Recommendations
  5. Plan for Behavior Change Processes

After understanding the overview of the project, the Free Enterprise Forum is very concerned that the TJPDC will clearly be rewriting  both the City and County Comprehensive plans.  In addition, we believe the TJPDC will be allowed the opportunity to rewrite ordinances and, according to their website, create a plan for behavior change.

Over the past few days I have been struck by the planner change agent philosophy that is often found at the TJPDC.  The philosophy was well described in a recent blog post, A War On Cars? Let There Be Peace!,  by New Urbanist Todd Litman:

Current demographic and economic trends (aging population, rising fuel prices, increasing urbanization, changing consumer preferences, and increasing health and environmental concerns) are raising demand for alternative modes. People increasingly want to walk, bicycle and use public transport, provided these modes are convenient and comfortable to use. Meeting this demand can help achieve various planning objectives, including congestion reductions, road and parking facility cost savings, consumer saving, and improved public health, to name just a few. It therefore makes sense to shift a portion of resources (road space and money) currently dedicated to automobile transport to support other modes, and to reform land use policies to help create more multi-modal communities.

But some Americans fear these changes. Many lead automobile-dependent lifestyles and have never experienced an efficient, multi-modal transport system or an attractive and successful urban neighborhood. As a result, they assume that such changes will harm them overall. Some people and groups exploit this fear by claiming that a war exists against cars and suburbs. According to this narrative, motorists are victims of unfair attacks on their rights and freedoms, and are therefore entitled to defend themselves from a devious enemy. [Emphasis added – nw]

The highlighted passage tells the reader a great deal about the arrogance of some in the planning community, ‘If you knew what I know, you would agree with me.  Since you disagree, you must be ignorant about such things’.

When combined with the fifth bullet of the TJPDC Sustainability plan, it seems clear one of the goals of this grant is to change citizen behavior [to better mirror what the planners plan for you to do].  The Free Enterprise Forum believes this will result in limiting mobility by limiting mobility choices.

Is there a war against cars and the suburbs?

vanishing automobile In his 2001 book The Vanishing Automobile, Randal O’Toole highlighted the 1999 “Clinton-Gore Livability Agenda” [interestingly similar to the current HUD program] that the media immediately dubbed the war on sprawl.

Yes, there is a philosophical war on.  It is larger than bus versus car or city versus suburb.  The battle that is raging is between the concept of central planning versus individual choice.

The next 3 1/2 years, as they rewrite the text of the City and County Comprehensive Plans, the TJPDC will be promoting this sustainability grant under the tagline “Many plans, one community”.

Perhaps a stronger (more truthful slogan) would be (to change).

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President


20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and Nelson County.  For more information visit www.freeenterpriseforum.org


One response

  1. George Orwell was all too familiar with their ilk.

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