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A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE NATIONAL LAND USE PLANNING MOVEMENT
by
Mary Lou Seymour

In the 1920s, with the siren call of "centralized planning for the collective good" emanating from Europe, came the first big push for nationwide land use planning. In 1928, collectivists in the US formed the "Public Administration Center." Popularly known as "1313" after its address in Chicago, the center promoted regional planning through the National Municipal League and National Association of Counties. The Standard City Planning and Zoning Enabling Acts were drafted by an advisory committee of the U.S. Department of Commerce in the 1920s and served as the basis for enabling legislation for planning and zoning for much of the nation.

Unfortunately for the "central planners" but fortunately for the rest of us, many states either totally ignored the central planners in Washington, or passed weak laws leaving land use regulation local and voluntary. The push for national planning dropped from public view with the defeat of National Socialism in World War II. In the 40's and 50's, the collectivists remained active, but concentrated efforts on promoting administrative (non elected) government through the National Advisory Committee on Intergovernmental Affairs, with branches in all states.

The next big push was in the 70's. In 1969, Nixon divided the country into 10 Federal Regions, and multi county Councils on Government were set up, to allocate Federal funds and promote uniform State and county laws. Spurred on by promises of federal funds through the new "regional governments", most states did actually pass statewide planning acts. (COG provides "model" land use plans, ordinances etc to local and state governments, so they don't even have to write them on their own.)

But again, many states watered down the model ordinances, and left it up to local cities and counties to voluntarily pass laws. Local opposition from citizens and businessmen who just didn't buy into the idea that some bureaucrat was better able to tell them what to do with their own property than they were caused many cities and counties to back down from the state's request and refuse to pass local ordinances.

In the mid 90's, the Feds again started pushing states to pass state land use planning acts, zoning and other tools for the govt to regulate private property, this time with a "time line" to force counties to pass regulations by 2000. (These acts are usually called Local Government Comprehensive Planning Enabling Acts, the term "central planning" having fallen into disfavor.) Many states (but still not all) fell in line.

In 1996, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency joined with several non-profit and government organizations to form the Smart Growth Network (another new buzzword for central planning) (4) Enlisting the aid of The American Planning Association (APA), the quasi-public organization which provides training for "planners", "experts" to come and indoctrinate local planning commissions, studies on how necessary government planning is, etc, did a survey of all 50 states (5) ... and horrors! Many states were STILL not falling in line. Six years later, after the end of the 90's push, a large chunk of states, particularly in the freedom loving Northwest, are still holding out and haven't fallen into the "smart growth comprehensive planning" quagmire. (6)

In some states, according to the APA, "the challenge facing planners may be more of one preventing bills from being adopted that erode the ability of local government to plan for, and regulate, land use and development." (A quick click on the "dark red states" on the APA map shows some of the initiatives embattled property rights activists tried to get passed in the past few years, usually involving compensation for landowners under the "takings" clause of the Constitution.) There are still pockets of "resistence" even in those states which are "taking the first steps" (the gray ones.)

The Feds have even tried to indoctrinate schoolchildren into the glories of centralized -- whoops -- comprehensive planning -- whoops -- sustainable development -- whoops -- Smart Growth ... using the popular statist computer game SimmCity, "which requires the player to plan a city in exhaustive detail from uninhabited terrain.The game' s simulator factors in population density, commuting distance, crime, land value, water supplies, school systems, pollution, and a host of other variables before generating buildings for zoned sites. The government plans; the citizens dutifully react." (7)

The National Parks Service recommends SimmCity as a "teaching aide for Community Development - Based on the computer game "Simm City", students will design their own community, keeping in mind the need for jobs, living space, waste disposal, energy, etc." (8)

See what the national planners are up against? After 80 years... 80 years, mind you, they have still been unable to bring the nation in line and regulate private property to the extent their little statist souls desire.

 

NOTES:

4 EPA Smart Growth Network
5.
APA 1996 State Summaries of Planning Statutes of All 50 States.
6.
APA 2002 Update
7.
Simulating Statism
8.
National Park Service Teaching Aides
9.
Urban Futures