Posted by Richard Moore April 10, 2014
For years now we have been discussing and reporting in these pages the obsessive drive of environmentalists – we more accurately call them radical aestheticists – to depopulate rural Wisconsin, especially northern Wisconsin.
For years we have talked about the environmental elite’s capture of the state Department of Natural Resources and its use of its bureaucratic machinery to enact population control. Ostensibly, the goal was to protect the environment by halting suburban and urban sprawl and by preserving so-called wilderness areas.
The reality was to effect total government authority by herding people like cattle into cities.
For years we have warned about the environmental elite’s too-cozy relationship with crony capitalists. Strangely enough, we cautioned, big business and the radical aestheticists have something in common: neither one cares about environmental protection.
The rigid bureaucrats inside the DNR did not care about the agency’s sell out to sulfide mining companies in the 1990s or whether its officials made cozy deals with golf course real estate developers in the already ‘polluted’ (read, ugly) suburbs, so long as they could undertake their obsessive drive to keep northern Wisconsin as uninhabited as possible. That was quite all right with the captains of industry because of the lack of a corporate presence in the North.
The goal all along had nothing to do with environmental protection; it was all about population control.
Now, as much as we hate to say it, and we do hate to say it, our prophecies have come true. As our reporting on population trends shows, rural America is vanishing before our eyes.
Nationally, we report, between 2010 and 2013, nonmetropolitan counties lost aggregate population for the first time ever. In Wisconsin, the mostly rural North was the only region of the state to lose population; some northern counties have experienced losses of more than 10 percent of their residents.
Of course, as usual, the government doesn’t want us to see anything. All of this is due to temporary economic conditions, particularly the Great Recession. Pretty soon, the numbers will bounce back, we are assured.
But the government also acknowledges that the population shift has been underway since the mid-1990s – which coincides precisely with the enactment of Smart Growth laws and comprehensive land-use planning, and with the blooming of various schemes to confiscate land on the government’s behalf.
To cite just one example, Maryland’s Smart Growth laws, enacted in 1992 and in 1997, “guide development to existing urban areas” by establishing urban growth boundaries and by restricting state infrastructure funding to mostly urban “priority funding areas” within those boundaries. Housing?
Only priority funding areas have been eligible for government-assisted financing of new rental housing construction.
Other states have enacted their own versions of urban growth boundaries. The obvious impact is to drive infrastructure, jobs and capital to existing urban clusters, and thus force people to live there.
In Wisconsin, the radical aestheticists inside the DNR have through the years promoted a host of schemes – in addition to comprehensive planning – to confiscate millions of acres of land in rural Wisconsin. As we reported on extensively, in the early 2000s the DNR’s big push was to reclassify, with the wave of a magic wand, wetlands as lakebeds, and thus transfer ownership and control to the state.
Since the mid-2000s, the agency has been pushing onerous impervious surface standards that give the DNR unprecedented jurisdiction over private property in the name of fixing a problem that doesn’t exist in rural areas, namely, watershed pollution from impervious surfaces. Naturally, the urban areas where that problem does exist receive flexibility under the rule so they can pollute even more.
That the aim of all this is to force people to live in urban clusters cannot even be seriously argued, for the radical aestheticists have proudly proclaimed this goal for decades. The whole idea of Smart Growth is to “guide” development to existing urban areas; the whole idea of shoreland zoning is to restrict development in ever-larger northern districts, as long as those areas are in unincorporated mostly rural communities.
Meanwhile, the Republican Legislature and the Republican governor wave their own wand and redefine the shoreline of Milwaukee so development can proceed there, and the state continues to promote various ”waterfront development” projects in the cities.
It doesn’t stop there. Transportation plans effectively work to limit vehicle access to businesses – as the recent Hwy. 51 project in Minocqua demonstrates – in the name of public safety, even though the local police department said there were no safety issues with the existing access points. The real point was to stifle as many businesses as possible.
Public health is invoked, too, in the drive to create walkable communities, another code word for shepherding people into cities. You can walk to work, you can walk to school, you can walk to church, you can walk to the store – but only if you live in an urban cluster. But, hey, it’s good for you.
Here’s how Kaid Benfield of the Natural Resources Defense Council put it: “I don’t see the fundamental future choice as between city and suburb but between more walkable, diverse and healthy places, on the one hand, and more automobile-dependent, monolithic, and unhealthy ones, on the other.”
In more candid moments, the radical aestheticists even admit “walkable” is a code word. Here’s Harriet Tregoning, the planning director for Washington, DC (she’s moving to Housing and Urban Development): “Walkability is shorthand for placemaking. What makes people walk is what makes great places to live. Walkability is the secret sauce that improves the performance of many other things.”
Ah, placemaking. Sounds sort of like nation building. What “makes” (forces) people to walk makes them happy. Eat the government sauce and become a happy, healthy human being.
It doesn’t stop there. As state Sen. Tom Tiffany of Hazelhurst points out, environmental roadblocks are thrown in front of any serious attempt to create jobs in rural Wisconsin, whether it’s iron-ore mining or timber harvesting.
Think Republicans are any better than Democrats on these issues? Well, as mentioned above, just take a gander at their attempts to increase state jurisdiction over private property through shoreland zoning. The administration’s business subsidies heavily tilt, too, toward the state’s urban areas; the North is thrown a few crumbs in the form of tourism grants.
Tourism is supposed to be the only industry in the North apparently, but, as Mr. Tiffany has observed, the North cannot sustainably thrive on tourism alone.
Many people love city life – I have lived in cities, and enjoyed it – but the decision to live in the city should be a choice, not a government directive. For when the government controls where you live, well, by any other name that’s called a prison sentence.
Enacting laws that force people to relocate to urban areas is thus totalitarian; doing so in a way that masks control in smiley-face code words such as ‘walkability’ and ‘healthy’ makes it fascist to boot.
First published in The Lakeland Times