President's Column - Agenda 21

In March 1801, President-elect Thomas Jefferson remarked in his first inaugural address: “But every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. ..If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.” That pretty much sums up how I think that we as Western Planners should frame claims that our work is somehow a conspiracy borne of the United Nations Agenda 21.

But every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. ..If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.
— President-Elect Thomas Jefferson in 1801

Keep in mind that most of the lands we now occupy and where we now plan were explored by Jefferson’s emissaries, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. Not everyone approved of Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase a few years earlier, nor did Congress unanimously approve funding for the Corps of Discovery. Fast forward two centuries and half a score more years, and the Union still prevails.

In fact I would venture to say that these words serve as the best visioning statement ever: “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” Most planners – especially those out West - take seriously Justice William Brennan’s 1981 admonition, “After all [if] a policeman must know the Constitution, then why not a planner?”

Western Planners have always encountered challenges and even opposition to the idea of balancing individual rights with those of the commons. During my career, I have seen the definition of the common good extend to the environment and its natural capital, without which there is no possibility for human endeavor or progress. We often use terms such as “sustainability” and it is true that these may befuddle some, or be misconstrued intentionally or otherwise by others. Perhaps we need to talk more in metaphors such as Aesop in the story of the mighty oak and the frail reeds by the stream: one is robust and the other is resilient. We must commit to plan our Western communities to be both so that they may adapt to inevitable change, and remain productive when encountering it.

The process whereby we design such places must also be robust and resilient, adaptive and productive. I hope that you will enjoy reading this issue that focuses primarily on planning and Agenda 21. Not every challenge is a fundamental difference of principle, but indeed some are. As Mr. Jefferson said long ago, let reason and civility prevail.

Dan Pava, AICP
President, Western Planning Resources


Published in the December 2013/January 2013 Issue

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