November 12, 2009 by FofFC
Filed under Municipal Growth: addressing the hidden costs of sprawl in New Market, Press and Media, Share your Opinion on Policy
With all the talk we’ve heard in the last decade promoting the concept of smart growth, a lot of people might assume that its principles are guiding growth and development here in Maryland.
After all, Parris Glendening was an early, forceful proponent of the idea during his tenure as governor.Wrong, at least according to a story in the September issue of the Journal of the American Planning Association. The journal titled the study “Managing Growth With Priority Funding Areas: A Good Idea Whose Time Has Yet to Come.” The Washington Post echoed that sentiment, headlining its Nov. 2 story on that report “Study called Md. smart growth a flop.”
How can this be? After all, according to The Post, “Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government called the idea one of the country’s 10 ‘most innovative’ public policies after Glendening muscled it through the General Assembly in 1997.”
Chalk it up in under the heading “The best laid plans.”
Actually, only the idea was good. The plan itself, in the form of the smart growth legislation passed in Annapolis, was lacking in several important respects.
According to the study, implementing smart growth in Maryland has failed for two reasons: (1) the law has no real power to force local governments to comply with it, and (2) builders have little incentive to redevelop older urban areas.
Smart growth’s principles were considered innovative and sound. The idea was to preserve open space and farmland, and ease traffic congestion and air and water pollution by focusing development on dense urban settlements near mass transportation.
The numbers tell the tale. In the last decade, three-fourths of the lots that have gone to single-family houses in Maryland were carved out of woods and pastures that fell outside the smart growth areas designated by local government.
Here are some telling specifics. In neighboring Montgomery County between 1998 and 2006, development outside smart growth areas ate up an average of 915 acres a year. In Prince George’s County, the average was 486 acres a year.
On what has come of that grand and good idea of a dozen years ago, the journal report says: “There is no evidence after 10 years that (smart growth laws) have had any effect on development patterns.”
The specifics of why this plan has failed to materialize are numerous and complex. For those who are interested, we steer them to the story in The Post (www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/11/01/AR2009110102470.html?). It is an interesting read that explains exactly how such a seemingly good idea has come to fail so miserably in the very place where it was born.
Originally published November 12, 2009