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Editorial: Agenda 21 paranoia

The Long Island Expressway at dusk.

The Long Island Expressway at dusk. Credit: David Pokress

Obstacles to a saner development pattern for Long Island are tough enough already. But now, efforts to make this region more livable are facing a new problem: a global conspiracy theory that features a favorite evildoer of intrigue-lovers -- the United Nations.

This turn of events is yet another threat to the sensible ideas that could help ease traffic congestion, bring in more property tax revenue, and create vibrant downtowns that will give our young workers a place to live and a reason to stay on Long Island.

Those ideas include concentrating more development in downtowns, instead of adding sprawl; creating walkable communities; providing additional rental housing in a region that has far less of it than nearby suburbs do, and focusing future development on the areas around railroad stations -- transit-oriented development.

All those concepts face stubborn resistance. If this conspiracy narrative adds power to that opposition, forget any chance of making the changes we need to keep Long Island livable.

The conspiracy centers on Agenda 21, a UN plan for "sustainable development" -- growth patterns that meet the needs of the present without endangering the future. Agenda 21 arose from a conference at Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Why are Long Islanders citing it only now as a threat to property rights -- at a public meeting in Hauppauge last month, for example, and in calls to the offices of lawmakers?

One possibility is Rio + 20, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, scheduled for Rio in June, marking the 20th anniversary of the conference that led to Agenda 21.

Another is a document approved by the Republican National Committee on Jan. 13: "Resolution Exposing United Nations Agenda 21." In ominous tones, it calls Agenda 21 "a comprehensive plan of extreme environmentalism, social engineering and global political control," warns of "socialist/communist redistribution of wealth," calls Agenda 21 "destructive and insidious" and urges "rejection of its radical policies."

The GOP resolution also refers to an organization that seems to be stirring as much fear as the UN itself: the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI, pronounced ICK-lee). Among its 1,200 member communities are such well known bastions of communism as Albany, Brookhaven, Cooperstown, Dallas, Huntington, and Westchester County.


Another sign of Agenda 21 fever is the arrival this coming Friday of a leading explainer of the menace, a former shampoo sales executive and current leadership consultant, John Anthony.

To warn of this threat, Anthony is scheduled to give a talk in Plainview. Making that presentation last month in New Jersey, Anthony said there's nothing wrong with concepts such as smart growth, open space and sustainable development, but added: "What's happened is a certain group of people have co-opted these ideas, co-opted this vocabulary, and they've begun to enshroud it with a social agenda."

We agree that there's nothing wrong with sustainable development. We also don't believe that it threatens private property rights. The real threat to the Island is the traffic-clogged, high-tax, brain-draining status quo.

Take the Ronkonkoma hub plan. It's about turning the dreary row of stores opposite the railroad station into a real downtown, with shops, restaurants and housing, next to Long Island MacArthur Airport. It has bipartisan support from the towns of Brookhaven and Islip. We can't let Agenda 21 hysteria derail it.

What this page has been advocating is not doing away with existing single-family homes, but making smarter land-use and transportation decisions. The nonthreatening goal is to keep Long Island a place where people want to live and work. It really doesn't involve blue-helmeted UN troops. We promise.


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