The leaflet is stark and hard to ignore–a big white-on-black stop sign, a motto in large type (“Stop! Think! Organize! Prevail!”), and an opening paragraph sure to rivet its Kendall County audience:
“Are you aware that a private, Chicago based organization (known as the Open Lands Project) has deemed your property a mandatory ingredient in their plans to construct a thousand miles of public bike trails throughout northern Illinois?” (It sounds like a sweepstakes letter in reverse: “You may have already lost everything you own . . . “)
I first saw it not out in the land of lawns but in Betsy Otto’s pleasant 18th-floor Loop office. Otto is the director of greenways for Openlands Project–a key player in “their plans”–and on that day her normally brisk manner was tinged with bewilderment at STOP, the organization behind the leaflet. “What frustrates me is that we’re really working toward the same end as they are, but we can’t seem to come to a meeting of the minds.”
Later I heard almost the same words from Karen Steve, vice president and spokesman for STOP, in her Kane County dining room overlooking the Fox River: “We’ve sat down with local environmental groups, and we agree with them on almost everything except this–it’s not right to condemn one person’s property so that other people can play on it.”
As long ago as 1948, in his classic A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold complained that Americans’ relationship with the land “is still strictly economic, entailing privileges but not obligations.” Environmentalists have always had problems with private property. They aren’t socialists exactly, but the issues that upset them very often involve private parties taking unfair advantage of public resources: market hunters killing too many ducks, greedy farmers cutting trees and plowing erodible slopes, businesses dumping toxic waste into any handy pocket of air, water, or land. The solutions environmentalists offer also tend to fit a pattern: public limits on private actions. Government should outlaw these excesses, or prevent them by buying up land to preserve it open and natural forever, not just until somebody comes along with a better offer.
Now private property is biting back. A still inchoate, sometimes nasty movement without a name (commonsense environmentalism? free-market environmentalism?) is trying, audaciously, to argue that private property can be good for the environment. They aren’t Reaganauts exactly, but they do lean that way: they believe, for instance, that a privately run park supported by contributions or entry fees–something like the Morton Arboretum –is likely to be a better park than a publicly run one, because its owners must please the customers or lose business.
They have a point; Aldo Leopold was a better naturalist than economist. Owning land of course involves obligations, and the incentives to conform to them are built into the market. The suburban home owner who doesn’t weed her garden, the farmer who lets his topsoil wash away, the business that doesn’t maintain its machinery–all will lose money because they have ducked their obligations. If we need to develop a new “land ethic,” as Leopold called it, why not build it into the market as well?
On the national level and in national publications like Audubon Activist, Buzzworm, and Outside, it’s easy to see this confrontation as black and white: earth rapers versus earth savers. Locally it’s not that simple. As fate–or perhaps just midwestern cautiousness–would have it, the groups confronting each other in Chicago and the suburbs are relatively moderate representatives of their respective sides.
Openlands is Chicago’s oldest still-active locally focused environmental group; its founder, the late Gunnar Peterson, was the area’s first full-time paid environmentalist. For 28 years Openlands has lobbied for preserving and enhancing open space through public acquisition and other means, such as urban tree planting, easing access to vacant lots, and wetlands restoration. In 1990 it spent $780,637, more than double its 1987 budget. Late that year it unveiled its “21st Century Open Space Plan”–the subject of STOP’s leaflet–an ambitious scheme to add “thousands of acres” to existing forest preserves and to link them with 1,000 miles of trails (or “greenways,” as Openlands calls them) through nine counties as far west as LaSalle. About 300 miles of greenways already exist; when completed, the network would allow hikers and bikers–some of them may even be bicycle commuters–to pass through an “emerald necklace” around city and suburbs from Indiana to Wisconsin and beyond. Openlands sees its role in all this as coordinating–making sure that neighboring counties’ trails connect, and sometimes making quick acquisitions through its subsidiary CorLands when government agencies can’t move quickly enough.
In a sense, STOP isn’t playing in the same league. It’s younger, smaller, even more localized. It was born just three years ago over Kane County kitchen tables after that county’s forest preserve district notified 26 property owners along the west bank of the Fox River that it wanted to buy their backyards. Unlike Openlands, STOP keeps its budget and list of contributors secret–“not because we have anything to hide,” says Karen Steve, “but so the other side doesn’t know.” It claims 7,000 members (not all of them contributors) and acknowledges having raised more than $10,000 at a February 1991 fund-raiser. According to its newsletter, “S.T.O.P. is comprised of collar county residents banded together to promote environmental conservation while protecting the constitutional rights of property owners. Our task is to fill the widening void between those who would rape nature and its resources for their own benefit and the ULTRA Environmentalists who have gone off the deep end in their unrealistic, over-zealous demands. Organizations like the Open Lands Project, which have lost sight of the fact that people are part of the environment too!”
This last remark may reduce some Chicago activists to giggles, since Openlands is known (and sometimes excoriated) as one of the environmental groups most willing to compromise. To put it another way, Openlands’ alumni have been more likely to go to work for the city of Chicago than for Greenpeace.
But why such heated rhetoric in the first place? If you take everyone’s statements at face value, Openlands and STOP disagree over only one thing: whether forest preserve districts should be able to “condemn” private property (in other words, force a sale at a court-adjudicated price). In fact, government bodies of all types use condemnation rarely and then only as a last resort. Why should condemnation be such a sticking point?
From Openlands’ side, the answer is fairly simple: a trail with a gap in it is no trail at all. It seems unfair that a 20- mile greenway corridor, which if complete could be enjoyed by thousands of people every year, could be stymied by one property owner in the middle who demands far more than market value or who refuses to sell at all.
From STOP’s side it’s a bit more complex. Condemnation may be rarely used, but it’s often threatened, and the threat is enough to make all but the stubbornest diehard give up and sell “voluntarily.” Second, STOP’s members feel strongly that private property is a basic American right and part of the glue holding society together: refuge, reward, economic reinforcer of political liberty, or all three. They see that during the 20th century the courts have consistently broadened the reasons governments can use to condemn private property. Instead of just standard public uses (roads, schools, dams) now almost any public benefit is enough. (The most blatant recent example came in the early 1980s, when the Michigan Supreme Court approved the city of Detroit’s using condemnation to take property from property owners in the Poletown neighborhood and give it to another private owner, General Motors.) STOP argues that forest preserves can preserve plenty of open space without encroaching on private property: they can buy land from willing sellers, ask for right of first refusal on properties not now for sale, and seek “conservation easements” (pay property owners for agreeing not to develop their land, something Openlands also advocates) instead of outright purchase.
Of course, it didn’t start out so clean and neat and intellectual. It started out with that most suburban of all feelings–in STOP’s words, repugnance at “the thought . . . of strangers playing, picnicking or riding their bikes at all hours of the day and night in what was once the sanctuary of our backyards.” On January 24, 1989, Philip Elfstrom, then chairman of the Kane County Forest Preserve District and a local Republican powerhouse, had identical letters sent to 26 property owners between Saint Charles and Elgin. The letter read: “At the January Board meeting the Kane County Forest Preserve Commission authorized the acquisition of the Flood Plain . . . portion of your lot by purchase or condemnation. A legal description of the property to be acquired from you is enclosed. . . . You have 90 days to respond to this offer.”
The heavy-handed move backfired. The riverside home owners, Douglas and Karen Steve among them, decided to fight. They didn’t want to sell their access to the river–they especially didn’t want to have to sell it. The forest preserve had already won a national award for its Fox River Trail, and about two-thirds of the land along the Fox River was already in public hands, they reasoned; where was the urgent public need for their land?
But there was no point in their fighting it in court. The forest preserve was within its legal rights, and Kane County’s 1982 master plan called for all floodplain land to be publicly owned. The fight would have to be political. Organized as STOP (originally Stop Taking Our Property), the home owners conducted a petition drive asking the board to rescind the vote authorizing the letters. The original 26 met up with people with similar grievances from other parts of Kane County. They packed an April 11, 1989, board meeting at which Elfstrom’s forces avoided rescinding the order with a parliamentary maneuver so devious it was slammed on the Sun-Times editorial page. And STOP began to look beyond its members’ backyards.
In the 1990 county elections they helped unseat five Kane County board members they saw as hostile. In 1989 and 1991, along with similar groups in Will County, they got state laws passed limiting forest preserves’ powers. They began to hear from distressed property owners elsewhere. “We don’t fight other people’s battles,” says Karen Steve, “but we are known in Illinois as the most successful and oldest voice on the property rights issue.” Now Steve herself is running for the county board.
To those familiar with grass-roots environmental mobilization, this story has to sound eerie. It’s the same process, except directed against a trail rather than a landfill or a factory. And that’s how Karen Steve talks about it.
“We don’t want to go back to the way we were, just raping the environment,” she says. “I think it’s important that our consciousness has been raised. We’re not against bike trails and open space. We’ve always said they’re an important priority, but not at the expense of individuals’ rights.” They see themselves as adhering to a Jeffersonian view of American society, in which property owners (Jefferson would have said farmers) are the nation’s backbone because they are not dependent on a lord or master who controls their livelihood. They believe they have helped open up a closed, almost machinelike county government to public scrutiny.
“We sat down and met with three or four local environmental groups,” says Steve, “and we filled out a whole page of things that we agreed on. But we disagreed on procedure, on condemnation.”
“What happened to those people’s backyards is inexcusable,” agrees Susan Harney, a director of Friends of the Fox and one of the environmentalists Steve met with. “When that letter first came out, I made it a point to talk to my county board representative and say they should back off.” But she doesn’t think STOP’s members care about the environment. “You can say you’re an environmentalist, but what tells the tale is what you do. [STOP]’s bill, 1283, was strongly opposed by every established environmental group, not because they wanted to put bike trails through people’s backyards but because its impact was so terrible on the environment.” Before Governor Edgar’s amendatory veto this fall, the STOP-backed bill would, among other things, have required forest preserve districts to get approval from the city or township involved before buying any land for a linear park or trail. “The public sometimes needs to acquire land for public needs, and condemnation is one way to establish that the price is reasonable–otherwise you’re always held up by the last guy.”
According to Patrick Reese, president and executive director of Friends of the Fox, the Fox River’s clean water and fine scenery need to be protected from development, and STOP isn’t helping. “They aren’t environmentalists because they miss the point. We need a conservation greenway along rivers and streams to protect the water quality. It’s essential to filter out the number-one source of pollution,” the leakage of runoff from streets, bare soil, and randomly dumped garbage. “One and a half million people live in the Fox River Valley watershed. Just east of us is the Des Plaines River–13.3 percent of its tributaries support no aquatic life at all, according to Illinois EPA reports. This could happen here if development is permitted unchecked.”
And development is spreading fast. According to the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission, since 1970 the six-county area has gained only 4.1 percent in population, but the acreage of built-up land has grown by more than 50 percent. “A lot of the people now afraid of greenways will wind up being our greatest allies,” predicts Openlands’ Betsy Otto. “Why? Because they moved out here for the natural character of the area, and now they find development is changing that.” Reese and Harney and others see themselves as trying to keep abreast of the collar counties’ fast-rising tide of development. STOP sees their sense of urgency as “unnecessary and costly. . . . So what if [giving up condemnation] will add a few years to the timetable?”
STOP’s financial secrecy leaves it open to the widely circulated charge that it is secretly funded by developers, and therefore neither a grass-roots nor an environmental organization at all. “That is absolutely, completely unfounded,” replies Steve. “My family didn’t move out here so that we could tear down the trees and build a parking lot. I don’t think we’ve ever taken a contribution from a developer, except when one bought a $20 ticket to our fund-raiser like everyone else. We work with E3 on a daily basis, and they are an antigrowth group [supporting low-density large-lot zoning]. There are a number of developers around here who’d laugh hysterically at this, because we’ve been giving them headaches over their high-density proposals. . . . I think the environmentalists have trouble grasping the idea that ordinary people would put down money to defend property rights.”
So if STOP is an environmental group, what trees does it plant? They have backed several recent Kane County Forest Preserve purchases of land from willing sellers, but Steve says “No one covers that because it’s not news.” She supports nonacquisitive forms of land preservation, such as (properly drafted) conservation easements and cluster zoning. She speaks favorably of a nearby subdivision with a bike path already attached, so that home buyers know ahead of time what to expect. Steve says that she and at least two other STOP members have in the past contributed to Friends of the Fox (though Reese, who keeps the books, categorically denies it). “Except for condemnation,” says Steve, “I don’t think we have different goals. Obviously the Friends of the Fox know a lot more about specifics of the environment. I trust and respect their expertise. They are doing a good thing.”
STOP does make environmental criticisms of the proposed trail that got it started, arguing that an eight-foot-wide asphalt path isn’t going to help the floodplain absorb water or filter pollutants. Much of Steve’s backyard floods in the spring (the family’s house is up on a bluff); she says a paved trail would cut that off from the river and impair whatever natural processes go on there. “The trail promoters have coalesced with the environmentalists,” says STOP board member Bob Aldis, “but they’re really not compatible issues. People say we need greenways for wildlife migration,” for instance, but greenways are usually interrupted by interstate highways. Patrick Reese acknowledges that the coalition between trail promoters and environmentalists involves a compromise, but he considers it a “small” one: “In order to have a greenway, you have to have a constituency, and that’s the [trail] user.”
Would Steve have felt differently about that January 1989 condemnation letter if the forest preserve district had wanted her family’s backyard not for a trail but strictly to preserve a natural floodplain? Not really, she says. “I think that kind of thing can be dealt with through zoning and advance planning.” (On the other hand, zoning is always susceptible to political pressures.) “It’s better to get counties and municipalities to enforce their own zoning to prevent abuses of development. Tell the developers the rules they have to play by up front and stick to a long-range plan.”
This is one approach–and undoubtedly a good answer if you want to be elected to the county board. But it isn’t the only answer you can get from STOP people. During a lull in our conversation, board member Bob Aldis remarked casually that “along the river, you can tell what’s public and what’s privately owned. The publicly owned areas have more garbage dumped and beaten-down muddy trails.” Would he follow that logic and suggest that the county sell off all its land along the river? “Yes. It could be sold, not just to individuals but to private organizations that would run bike trails or a fishing organization. There should be some public access–not a free park, but an arrangement for people to use it at a discount if necessary.” This is the pure free-market position, and from this point of view Karen Steve’s endorsement of government zoning and planning may look like a wimpy compromise.
In STOP’s ideal world, no government would have the power to condemn property for recreational purposes. Short of that, it and allied groups have twice succeeded in getting state laws passed to limit forest preserve districts’ condemnation powers. State courts struck down the first attempt in 1990 because it applied to only two counties. In a second attempt this spring, state representative Larry Wennlund inconspicuously attached a similar measure to Senate Bill 1283, and before environmental lobbyists knew anything about it the amended bill had passed and landed on Jim Edgar’s desk.
“STOP says they’re for open government,” says Sue Harney, “but this was a maneuver that puts Phil Elfstrom to shame. There were no committee hearings, no public debate. They pulled a fast one. I salute their expertise, but that’s not open government.” After a frantic letter-writing campaign on both sides, Governor Edgar–himself an ardent bicyclist–split the difference in his amendatory veto. As the law stands now, forest preserve districts cannot condemn land without municipal or township concurrence, and they cannot establish a trail within 50 feet of an occupied house without agreement either from the owner or from the city or township government.
The battle over 1283 brought STOP face to face with the Openlands Project. At about the same time, the two groups also found themselves on opposite sides of another issue. In Joliet, in a neighborhood squeezed along the Des Plaines River at the northern edge of town, the city is buying up 36 homes–not just backyards–along Illinois Route 53 in order to make room for a tree-lined bike path and a headquarters building for Crosfield Chemical, a subsidiary of the multinational corporation Unilever.
Beautifying the roadways leading into town has long been a gleam in Joliet planners’ eyes. And this particular stretch of 53–which becomes Broadway within Joliet city limits–isn’t beautiful. It’s a narrow four-lane concrete highway with one- and two-story houses packed close against each other and close against the road, most with small or nonexistent front yards. But Broadway is hardly the main entrance to the city, and immediately north of this neighborhood the road runs through an unscenic section of suburban Crest Hill and then past Stateville prison. So why this particular corridor, and why now? Because Crosfield Chemical gave $1.1 million to Openlands’ subsidiary CorLands to give to the city to buy the property, on condition that the city sell back to Crosfield the eight lots it wants for a headquarters. CorLands’ fee for facilitating the deal is $50,000, which it can use for open-land acquisitions elsewhere.
According to the three institutional partners in the deal, everybody wins. The city gets a pretty entranceway, and city officials strongly imply that the residents, once moved, will agree that they are better off in new quarters. Crosfield Chemical gets a new headquarters, plus the cachet of being a good corporate citizen. (Their contribution is “very significant,” says Tom Hahn, CorLands executive director and Openlands associate director. “You don’t very often find a company of any sort donating $1.1 million to acquire land.”) Besides its fee, CorLands gets another piece of the “21st Century” plan in place. (The Broadway corridor may eventually connect with downtown Joliet on the south, and with an as yet unbought potential piece of forest preserve to the north.) CorLands’ board also got reassurance, according to Hahn, that “the city seemed to be taking all the correct steps for relocating people.”
A number of the affected home owners, who first learned of the scheme when it was publicly announced July 15, didn’t see it that way. As Eleanor McGuan-Boza put it, “Private industry has bought the condemnation rights of a city government.” Homemade signs sprouted along the east side of the road reading “RAGE (Residents Against Government Encroachment).” People called STOP for advice, gathered petition signatures, and made fun of the city’s letter to residents, which read in part, “It is our desire to . . . capitalize on the Vista overlooking the Des Plaines River Valley.”
“There’s no ‘vista’ here,” Robert Rogel objected at a September 5 public meeting with city officials. “When you look east, all you can see is the chemical company. You can’t see the river. You can barely see the top of the old prison. You’re saying, everybody get out because we have a proposed park.”
To STOP, the “Joliet affair” is an inexcusable outrage and additional proof that Openlands Project is an extremist group with a “gold coast mentality.” (It also gave STOP a chance to assert, without evidence and against strong denials, that Openlands officials had stage-managed the whole transaction. During the battle over 1283, STOP had claimed–also without evidence and against denials–that Openlands has “unlimited funds for lobbying and political contributions.”) It confirmed their hardening conviction that the “ULTRA Environmentalists” don’t know when to quit–a parallel trail is already taking shape in Joliet on the opposite bank of the Des Plaines–and that they have no compunction about demolishing modest working-class homes so that better-off people can ride bicycles through a grove of trees . . . using money from a chemical company, of all things!
Puzzled by their message and offended by their style, mainline environmentalists tend to dismiss groups like STOP as just one more bad-faith effort to stymie environmental protection, a predictable but unwarranted backlash. “Scratch beneath the superficial rhetoric of the so-called property rights “advocate,”‘ sneered the newsletter Developments this summer, “and more often than not, you’ll find a diehard land speculator underneath.”
It’s true that STOP and groups like it sometimes have bad manners. People who think their homes are threatened become upset, and STOP has used this hysteria to further its cause. This summer a STOP cadre went down the Fox to Kendall County to knock on doors and distribute the ominous “Are you aware . . . ” leaflet. One door in the neighborhood they didn’t knock on belonged to Richard Young, president of the Kendall County Forest Preserve District and a former longtime employee of the Kane County FPD. After the leaflet uproar died down, Young explained to his neighbors that the portion of the trail under discussion is slated for the other side of the river. A local Kendall County paper (the Oswego Ledger-Sentinel) urged STOP to keep its “disinformation” in its own county, and STOP publicist Leo Denz of Batavia wrote a letter to the editor apologizing for the leaflet, which he described as “one instance of one member’s over reaction.” Young was not mollified: “That’s the kind of proselytizing they do, threatening and scaring people by circulating blatant lies.” Karen Ramey, who was one of the leafleteers, says, “I admit we were on the wrong side of the river. We weren’t intending to get people riled up for no reason. We wanted people to be aware that we’ve been told that a trail on one side of a river is no good without a return loop on the opposite side. We didn’t want to see what happened to us happen to them in Kendall County.”
Some of the property-rights people’s arguments, like some of their facts, are also shaky. The claim that trails as such are bad for property values has not been borne out in the case of long-established trails like the Illinois Prairie Path, which is even sometimes used as a selling point by real estate agents handling property nearby. Nor is there evidence that trails are more prone to crime than other public ways.
On a more philosophical level, naive appeals to property rights as the foundation of American democracy are a little overblown. The Constitution is strangely illogical on this subject: it never mentions property as a substantive right, but in the Fifth Amendment it does prohibit government’s taking property without due process and just compensation. The amendment appears to assume the legitimacy of both private ownership and government condemnation, and legal scholars ever since have written plenty on the subject.
Finally, the broad national movement that STOP is part of includes some genuinely scary characters like Ron “Destroy the environmental movement once and for all” Arnold of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise. There seem to be two schools of thought within this movement: one that private property and market economics can if properly used enhance the environment, the other that private property and market economics are supreme values regardless of their effects on anything else. (The two are not perfectly distinct; some who claim to espouse the first also believe, for instance, that nuclear power is a beneficial technology.) This split seems to be similar to the difference between environmentalists who say that environmental regulations will help the economy and those who say that they are necessary regardless and that in fact the capitalist economy will have to change radically if it is not to destroy the earth.
Bad manners, weak arguments, and dubious associations are certainly troubling, but none of them justifies mainstream environmentalists’ smug dismissal of groups like STOP. Every insurgent group is unpleasant almost by definition, sometimes inaccurate (remember Famine 1975, anybody?), and to some degree perceived to be tied to more extreme groups. Some even get money from sources with ulterior motives–but nobody kicked John Marlin’s Coalition on American Rivers out of the environmental fold during the 1970s when it fought dam-building projects in part with railroad money.
Love them or hate them, the property-rights people are asking some hard questions that mainstream environmentalists ignore at their peril: How much is enough? And who decides?
1. How much recreational open space is enough? If there is a trail on the east side of the Des Plaines River, do we need another on the west side? You can’t tell by asking the users (or the potential users). Their share of the necessary taxes is tiny, their share of the outdoor fun is huge; why shouldn’t they want more of what is to them practically free?
I thought I could tell by asking Betsy Otto. But asking an open-space advocate how much is enough is a bit like asking a beginning runner whether she’d rather win the marathon by ten seconds or ten minutes. “It’s hard for me to even think about that,” she replied after a long pause. “We’re so far from there now! We’re decades away as a region from putting into place what needs to be saved.
“There are national guidelines, and we’re far below them. The six-county area has about 20 acres of open space for every 1,000 people. The National Recreation and Park Association’s most current  report recommends 55 to 58 acres per thousand, based on good plans made in South Carolina and Kansas City and other places.”
So I called up Barry Tindall, NRPA’s director of public policy. “The question is probably unanswerable,” he said. “Media people ask me all the time how one city compares to another. It’s impossible to say. Every place has its own unique circumstances. Chicago has Lake Michigan, for instance–people in Omaha would give an eyeball for a Lake Michigan.” He sent me Appendix B from NRPA’s 1987 Recreation, Park and Open Space Standards and Guidelines, which was quite revealing. It seems that in Kansas City in 1972, a committee of the Mid-America Regional Council determined that the KC metropolitan area ought to have about 30 acres of open land per 1,000 people. In 1980 they asked the question again and changed their minds, deciding the number should be 55 acres per thousand, apparently largely because they thought high-priced gasoline would make people want more parks close to home. In passing, they added, “There is some authority for the position that an area cannot have too many parks.”
That last statement, of course, is lunacy. Parks are wonderful places, but we also need auto-parts stores, bus depots, laundromats, supermarkets, and apartment houses. According to property-rights advocates, the way to find out how much is enough is to have everybody pay the full cost, and let them vote with their dollars. Such a system need not be private, but users need to have a sense of what the choices cost so that they can choose reasonably.
2. Who decides? In the case of parks, it’s comparatively easy to answer “the people.” With more life-threatening environmental issues the answer changes. In the case of warming or ozone depletion, for example, the views of those with the most knowledge may have to take precedence for survival’s sake. Ideally everyone in the world would be educated about chlorofluorocarbons, but meanwhile it’s probably best to pass a law banning the stuff.
Mainline environmentalists tend to assume that every environmental issue is a matter largely in the province of experts; property-rights environmentalists tend to assume the opposite. Economists Terry Anderson and Donald Leal argue in their new book Free Market Environmentalism, “Good resource stewardship depends on the information available to self-interested individuals. Free market environmentalism views this information or knowledge as diffuse rather than concentrated. . . . In visions of centralized, political control . . . the common man is not perceived as knowing much about the environment, and what he does know (including knowledge of his own values) is incorrect; . . . experts can manage for the good of the masses. Free market environmentalism sees a much smaller knowledge gap between the experts and the average individual. In this view, individual property owners, who are in a position and have an incentive to obtain time- and place-specific information about their resource endowments, are better suited than centralized bureaucracies to manage resources.”
Betsy Otto–no stranger to classical economics–doesn’t buy this argument. “As a theoretical concept, it’s beautiful. But if you believe that everything can be privatized, quantified, and marketed, you’re going to have to convince the ducks and the geese too. I’m not sure every single property owner can be convinced to follow the best management practices. We don’t have 50 years to make it happen–we don’t have five!”
I asked Openlands executive director Gerald Adelmann if STOP and its allies have significantly obstructed his group’s plan. “I see how much energy both sides have put into battling in Springfield,” he said. “If both sides are serious about our common ground–if they care about saving natural corridors and we care about residential property and using condemnation only as a last resort–then can’t we somehow together develop a program to accommodate our joint concerns? It would be nice to put our energies into something more productive” than more legislative fights.
Such a coalition might well be the first of its kind. But failing that, perhaps environmentalists should consider the property-rights people as a kind of hubris check. It is–or it should be–a long way from stopping global warming to telling inconveniently located residents of Joliet that they would really rather live elsewhere, they just don’t know it yet.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Jon Randolph.