2007-01-19, 13:40

Maryland as a longtime leader in smart growth

By: Jonathan Groner
A book review by Amy Cynkar in the January 2007 issue of Urbanite, a free-distribution Baltimore magazine, discusses This Land: The Battle Over Sprawl and the Future of America, by Anthony Flint. The 2006 book argues that suburban sprawl can seem enticing at first to urban residents but that this type of low-density development leads to ecologically destructive and financially unsustainable consequences.

In the book, Flint, a former journalist who is now at a think tank in Cambridge, Mass., discusses smart growth as an alternative to sprawl and says the smart growth movement "campaigns for using land to its fullest potential."

Flint also notes that out of all the states, Maryland has been one of the most aggressive in promoting smart growth. Here are a few paragraphs from the Urbanite book review.

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"You couldn’t write a book about smart growth without devoting a chunk to Maryland," says [Flint]. The state has been a sponsor of growth management since the 1960s, and while Marylanders have mixed feelings about the success of smart growth initiatives in the state, national experts continue to recognize that Maryland leaders began thinking about and attempting to curtail sprawl before most other state’s officials had defined the problem.

Flint discusses several of the state’s smart growth projects in his book. In 1997, then-governor Parris Glendening, an influential but controversial figure in the smart growth movement, established an Office of Smart Growth to oversee the state’s general development policy and launched the Smart Growth and Neighborhood Conservation Initiative, in an attempt to make Maryland a leader in smart growth policy. The program included policies to redirect state money to "priority funding areas" to help maintain and improve infrastructure in existing communities, and a farmland-preservation program to protect rural areas from being turned into subdivisions.

Although Glendening’s policies helped bring key development issues and the concept of smart growth to light in Maryland, the reality is that implementation has been slow and the few outcomes have been largely disappointing. Flint argues that smart growth initiatives need to "get into the DNA" of development and be actively pursued and executed rather than just included in a development plan that "sits on a shelf." Almost ten years later, Marylanders are still debating the true effect of Glendening’s efforts to curb sprawl in the state.

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So it seems that Maryland epitomizes both the successes and the disappointments of the smart growth movement.

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