11 Aug THE STEALTH LAND GRAB OF REGIONAL PLANNERS
The people of Polk County Tennessee cherish their land. Farmers will tell you the soil conditions on every square inch of their acreage and landowners reverently discuss their properties’ history. These people would never knowingly submit to strict zoning regulations or government control of their land. Yet without their knowledge or their informed consent, that is exactly what is about to happen.
Thrive 2055 is a planning scheme to roll 16 counties in Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia into a single regional bundle effecting over 1 million residents. Drive distances to work, bike paths, light rail, mixed-use construction, and greenbelts will all converge into a unified scheme that is a carbon copy of plans unfolding across America. By forming a region, zoning decisions now made by local communities, will be under the authority of a powerful, regional board.
Most Polk County residents never heard of Thrive 2055. It is no wonder. Only a handful of residents attended planners’ meetings. On a recent radio appearance, a spokesperson stated that after 2 years of community outreach, planners received just 1200 completed community surveys. For every 1 million residents, 998,800 did not participate.
According to the planners, community members decide their plan’s makeup and the surveys are critical for gathering their information. The anemic participation suggests very few are interested. Nor have planners been forthcoming about who took the surveys. Were they stacked with the families of venders who stand to profit from Thrive 2055, or possibly groups of opponents and their friends? Why are they continuing with a so-called ‘community plan’ with so little interest on the part of the community? The planners have not answered one of these questions.
Community participation and full-disclosure about the good and bad of regional planning is fundamental if residents are to make informed decisions. Thrive 2055 offers no plan details. They claim the community decides the plan. What community? Are the 1200 who took the survey deciding the plan for the remaining 998,800?
The few who have heard of the Thrive 2055 have scant idea of the outcomes beyond the colorful brochures and trendy planner-speak. Feel good phrases like, “educated people with good jobs living in a great place” do not inform people. Rather, they disarm them from questioning the underlying flaws of the process.
Since many people own their land and can produce a property deed, they feel their rights are safe. This fatal misunderstanding sets people up to lose their property rights, their home values and their way of life. The government does not need to own land to govern what owners can do with it. Instead, they need to control the zoning of the land. That is what regional planning does. It turns zoning decisions over to unelected boards who must comply with the requirements of the federal grants that paid for the regional plan’s implementation.
Already, in Chattanooga, the financial epicenter for Thrive 2055, planners are entertaining the idea of form-based codes. This is a programmable system for fast tracking zoning ordinances while marginalizing or altogether bypassing legislatures.
Nowhere do planners discuss these important facts with community members.
The community did not ask planners to sell them a regional plan that would swallow their communities’ choices. It is incumbent on the planners to reach a representative number of people with full disclosure. It is not incumbent on the people to participate in a poorly defined and unsolicited scheme that endangers their property rights. Perhaps it is time for Thrive 2055 to admit their failure to inform and engage the public, and simply to move on.
(The story you have just read is unfolding in communities across the country.
New York’s Capital Region Sustainability Plan, Together North Jersey’s Regional Sustainability Plan, Envision Lehigh Valley [PA], and California’s Plan Bay Area are few examples. Google “regional sustainable development” and the name of a city near you to learn more about regional plans in your area. JA)