Shortly after spending a week in the Atlanta Metropolitan Area, I read with a complete lack of surprise a report at The Atlantic‘s CityLab subsite confirming that Atlanta is and remains the Sprawl Capital of America. A “compactness index” of 162 urban areas finds the following ten communities, in order of least compactness, the most sprawling in the country: Atlanta, Hickory (NC), Victorville (CA), Winston-Salem, Charlotte, Nashville, Greenville (SC), Chattanooga, Fayetteville (NC), and Baton Rouge. Over the last ten years, Chattanooga has made some very significant progress in becoming more compact, while Atlanta has actually sprawled even more (though the rate of change in sprawl isn’t as bad there as in Charlotte and several other cities, with Myrtle Beach having the worst recent record). You will note that nine of the top ten sprawl cities are in South, eight of them in the southeast.

Looking at the baleful numbers for Atlanta, I recalled nostalgically that when I was working in state government there in the late 1980s and early 1990s, “smart growth” was actually a buzzword you could utter without being accused of communist sympathies. Since then, of course, the John Birch Society’s bizarre campaign associating regional planning and better land-use practices escaped from the far margins of political discourse and has been largely adopted by Republican politicians, particularly in the South, and particularly in Georgia. Check out this post from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s Jim Galloway back in 2012 when Georgians were about to vote on a regional transportation planning initiative (most regions subsequently voted it down):

If you’ve been shopping for a sizable reason to vote against metro Atlanta’s transportation sales tax next month, but have been unable to find one that’s XXL or larger, try this on:

The tax and the people behind it are part of a United Nations plot called Agenda 21.

Laugh if you like. The topic is now center stage in Cobb County, as part of the debate over the penny sales tax, and the contest for chairman of the county commission as well.

Those who aren’t hardcore GOP will need a bit of background. Agenda 21 is also known as the “Rio Declaration on Environment and Development,” and was adopted in 1992 at a conference in Brazil.

In most languages, the report is a vacuous U.N. document that declares the need for a “sustainable” world environment. But to a certain segment of those who speak Republican, it is a secret declaration of war.

At the state GOP convention in Columbus last month, delegates overwhelmingly condemned Agenda 21 as an attempt to “outlaw private property and redistribute wealth.”

At a debate in Paulding County two weeks ago, state Sen. Bill Heath, R-Bremen, criticized Republican challenger Bill Carruth for labeling Agenda 21 a mere “conspiracy theory.”

“It’s not a conspiracy. This is the real McCoy,” said Heath, in dead earnest. “Their vision is to essentially conquer the world through limiting everything we do, incrementally taking our liberties away from us.”

This is a pretty good example of the close connection between “constitutional conservatism” and pure greed, with strip-mall and subdivision developers getting to play the role of liberty-defending patriots and anyone tired of sitting in endless traffic jams a putative One-Worlder determined to force everyone onto bike paths, veritable roads to hell. The practical consequences are the kind of endless sprawl you see in Atlanta and across the South. And in most parts of the region the climate for action on this issue is, incredibly enough, getting worse.

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Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.