By Erich Veyhl

This article was originally published in The Land Rights Letter, May 1992.

Greenlining is a euphemism for control. It is the political process by which preservationists increasingly seize power to control and prohibit land use. A “Greenline Park,” is a “protected landscape” containing both public and private land, but in which land use is strictly controlled or prohibited by an appointed commission overruling the choices of both the landowners and local democratic processes.

Preservationists began promoting Greenlining in the 1970's when it became apparent that the public would not accept their claim that “too much of the nation's land had passed into private ownership” and taxpayers were not going to fund their plans to “buy back America.” Greenlining controls became a way to take control of private land without having to pay for it or publicly acknowledge that the concept of private property itself was under attack.

With the failure of attempts at Congressional authority for Federal land use controls in the 1970's, planners had to exploit existing state zoning authority to control private land, and the Park Service began promoting Greenlining as a means of creating parks by involving itself in regional planning.

In 1982 a National Parks and Conservation Association (NPCA) report entitled Greenline Parks: Potential New Areas was widely disseminated to preservationists by the National Park Service. Preservationists succeeded in taking control of some of the recommended sites, including the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon and Washington in 1986, but during the Reagan years of the 1980's the Federal land control and acquisition agenda was relatively dormant in comparison to the previous decade.

More recently, with a bloated war-chest and a more sympathetic Administration, the environmentalist movement and entrenched, career bureaucrats have revived the land control and acquisition agenda of the 1970's.

The Park Service's American Heritage Landscape (AHL) proposal for nationally sponsored land use controls is the most recent manifestation of the Greenline control agenda. Despite the new name and Park Service rhetoric about “living landscapes” and “local partnerships,” the recent Park Service AHL Concept Paper acknowledges: “These [1970's] initiatives went by the names of greenline parks, areas of national concern, national reserves, greenways, national landscapes, the collaborative landscape model, and others. The thought and direction of these earlier initiatives provide the groundwork for much of this concept paper.”

The Park Service proposal also cites the Adirondack “Blueline” in New York, the New Jersey Pinelands National Reserve, the Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts, the Lake Tahoe Regional Planning Agency in California and Nevada, and other existing Greenline areas as examples of the kind of government “partnerships” it is promoting.

A local “partnership” with a Federal or State agency with control over land use is a contradiction in terms: landowners and local officials become surrogates and straw men for preservationist goals and procedures established by law.

Misrepresented as a friendly attempt at “cooperation” and “meaningful partnerships” with Park Service “assistance,” the “partnership” strategy is actually a Federal collaboration with preservationist activists (and sometimes developers) to co-opt local officials and the public into Federally sponsored control -- what the Park Service euphemistically calls “bridging the strict separation of Federal, state, and local roles.”

In the already established Greenline areas, property has been taken by eminent domain, political extortion, and regulatory prohibitions on a large scale -- although, unlike areas dedicated strictly as wilderness or recreation, most existing homes and small businesses have been allowed to stay, at least so far, provided they are in approved areas and not declared “incompatible” with “scenic resources.”

Preservationist abuses typical of Greenlining include taking of land and some homes, requirements for bureaucratic permission for activities such as landscaping or choosing the color of your house, and prohibitions on building new homes on even large lots -- resulting in landowners begging to be bought out, which by then the government has no incentive to do since the landowner can't do anything with his land anyway. Greenlining is making parks “on the cheap.”

Preservationists usually cite the source of Greenlining as the British system based on the nationalization of development rights by the post World War II socialist-leaning government and used to prohibit development in vast areas of the rural countryside. This was legally possible because Britain has no Constitution, and in particular, no 5th Amendment protections against land takings without compensation.

But despite our Constitution, preservationists continue to promote Greenlining in the U.S. An activist in the Thoreau Society told me recently, “I don't care about the Constitution,” and explained that duplicating his image of quaint little villages and the open countryside in Holland was more important than “bailing out [compensating] the landowners.” Others simply deny that anything has been taken because the landowner still holds the deed (and the tax bill). Greenlining is a reservation system, an internal colonization that disenfranchises rural people and herds the population into densely populated villages or “settlement clusters” while politically controlling human activity to preserve a bucolic landscape. Those caught inside a Greenline have fewer rights than those outside.

In essence, Greenline residents and their economic activities are allowed only as long as they put on a Currier & Ives show for tourists and those elitists who don't want the “viewshed” around their already developed estates to be “mucked up” by the “locals”.

The rural countryside, as well as many parks, are valued by most of us for their scenery and open spaces, and it makes sense for local residents to make mutual agreements to protect their common conservation values. But the preservationists' inverted priorities and their pursuit of ends without regard to means has collided with the rights of landowners, our privacy, and our political freedoms -- all essential to the American way of life.

The Park Service illustrates this inversion of priorities with a single statement in its AHL Concept Paper: “these landscapes, perhaps more than any of our other national symbols, represent the essence of the American experience.” Since the landscape untainted by “unacceptable” human activity is what matters most to them, they revert to a feudalist form of land control in which private property rights and normal human freedoms are all but eliminated in favor of preservationism for a political elite that thinks this is the “essence” of the “American experience.”

The Park Service is arrogantly promoting its AHL Greenline agenda as “assistance” needed by local people to “protect their heritage, keep their traditional ways of life, enhance their economic opportunities, and manage change in an orderly fashion.” But we already have this with private property and locally elected town government. The American Heritage Landscape “partnership” agenda is a trojan horse that would further undermine our Constitutional freedoms on behalf of the bloated institutional ego of the National Park Service and its surrogates who will do anything to “preserve” someone else's property.

Copyright © 1992, 2004, Erich Veyhl, All Rights Reserved

page last updated 7/4/04