The Tea Party’s Love Affair with Sprawl

The Tea Party’s Love Affair with Sprawl

Benjamin Ross: The Tea Party’s Love Affair with Sprawl

The Tea Party thinks controlling sprawl is a United Nations plot. As the New York Times reported a week ago, people are flooding zoning boards across the country with opposition to transit, bike lanes, and the like. They say these things are all part of a global conspiracy against ?the American way of life? codified in a 1992 UN resolution called Agenda 21.

Tea Party supporters have even convinced the Republican National Committee to condemn Agenda 21. A look at the text of the Republican resolution helps decode the seemingly bizarre contentions that bike lanes and apartment buildings are a nefarious plot.

Single-family houses and private cars are the American way of life, it declares. Residents of apartments and townhouses are, by implication, un-American, especially if they get to work on a bus.

As much as the campaign against Agenda 21 advertises itself as a property rights movement, what it really seeks is enforced uniformity of living arrangements. Zoning rules that force people to live in single-family houses by denying landowners the opportunity to build other kinds of homes are good. Only regulations that keep land undeveloped are evil.

The same urge to impose a single lifestyle shows up in debates over transportation. Real Americans drive, Agenda 21 conspiracists insist; they don?t walk or take the train, and they certainly don?t ride a bike. Thus the cuts in funding for transit, bicycles, and even sidewalks approved by the House Ways and Means Committee earlier this month.

At its root, the hysteria over Agenda 21 is driven by an urge to impose the suburban lifestyle on everyone. For all its talk of freedom, the Tea Party has a program of coercion.