Survey Shows "Agenda 21" Crowd is Slim

American Planning Association poll finds only 6 percent of respondents oppose UN policy.
by | June 18, 2012

A new survey released by the American Planning Association shows that the vast majority of respondents don't know about "Agenda 21," and only 6 percent of respondents oppose it.

For those of you among the 85 percent of Americans who have no idea what this is about, Agenda 21 is a nonbinding resolution the United Nations passed in 1992 that encourages development in dense areas and conservation of open land.

The term has become the bane of many planners' professional lives. In recent years, a growing number of critics of community plans and transportation projects have cited the policy as part of their vocal opposition.

"We're used to having more conservative rural parts of the state versus the more liberal central part of the state, but I have never seen things this polarized," Maryland Planning Director Richard Hall told Governing earlier this year, citing the rhetoric -- often generated by members of the Tea Party -- associated with Agenda 21.

In some cases, critics have sought to portray American planners as bound by the UN resolution; in actuality, the resolution is a reflection of many of the standard practices and beliefs embraced by the planning community, and some have said they were unfamiliar with Agenda 21 until critics starting using the term.

The issue has dogged planners so much that it was featured in a front-page New York Times story earlier this year that cited the growing number of politicians and citizens who have invoked Agenda 21 during their arguments and transit and planning projects.

But a study released by the American Planning Association this week about attitudes toward planning revealed some interesting insights about Agenda 21. When asked whether or not they support Agenda 21, about 85 percent of respondents said they didn't know enough about it to answer. Only 6 percent of respondents said they oppose the policy.

The poll questioned 1,308 U.S. adults in March. It was conducted online by Harris Interactive on behalf of Austin firm Collective Strength, which was hired by APA.

Among those who said they oppose Agenda 21, about 14 percent were Republicans, 11 percent were Independents, and 2 percent were Democrats. (The rest didn't identify with any of those categories.)

The results suggest that the volume of Agenda 21 rhetoric likely exceeds the number of people who express it.

"My takeaway is I genuinely believe the Agenda 21 phenomenon is highly manufactured," says Robin Rather, CEO of Collective Strength, "It's not out there in the mainstream."

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