PlanMaryland: The Free State Gives Smart Growth Another Push

Faced with a rapidly expanding and aging population, Maryland is working to figure out how best to use its limited land and resources

images from cover of draft PlanMaryland (by: MD Dept of Planning)

I'm of the opinion that the package of (bold, at the time) smart growth policies introduced in Maryland in the 1990s by then-governor Parris Glendening has done a great deal of good, particularly in encouraging revitalization of city and town centers and conservation of rural lands. No, the smart growth laws have certainly not put an end to sprawl, which I'm sure is as or more disappointing to Glendening than to anyone.

But, with the benefit of hindsight, that was way too much to expect. To reduce state subsidies for infrastructure construction outside of locally designated growth areas was a big step for the 1990s, as was putting several policies together in one package, from highway spending to brownfields reclamation, from live-near-your-work incentives to affordable housing and rural land protections. It's not for nothing that Glendening is still regarded as one of the country's foremost leaders on these issues, even if the legislative compromises necessary to pass the laws set density targets too low and failed to provide enough oversight to prevent all sorts of abuses of local discretion.

map from PlanMaryland (by: MD Dept of Planning)  map from PlanMaryland (by: MD Dept of Planning)

But it is no longer the 1990s, and it is time in Maryland as elsewhere to take additional steps. Governor Martin O'Malley and planning secretary Richard Hall realize that, and as a result have been moving forward with an ambitious statewide planning process. A draft of PlanMaryland was published for comment in April and an updated version is to be released this week for another comment period. I haven't read the new draft, but I'm expecting it to continue (as it should, in my opinion) a number of key aspects from the initial draft:

  • Designation of tighter areas for planned growth will be a shared responsibility between state and local governments.
  • There will be more integration among currently separate policies and programs at both levels of government. As the April plan's executive summary puts it, "rural resource lands cannot be sufficiently protected from development through the State's preservation programs unless local zoning and related tools limit adjacent development consistent with the programs' objectives. Similarly, greenhouse gas emissions from mobile sources cannot be effectively controlled if the majority of the workforce can reach their jobs only by driving from homes so widely dispersed that they cannot be served by public transportation."
  • The state will establish a "PlanMaryland Consistency Process" to ensure that both local and state actions support the goals of the plan and that state policy and spending contribute effectively to the achievement of plan goals.

In other words, PlanMaryland, if it proceeds to adoption, will begin to put some teeth into the existing smart growth policies now largely controlled by the municipalities. About time, I say.

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Kaid Benfield is the director of the Sustainable Communities and Smart Growth program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, co-founder of the LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system, and co-founder of Smart Growth America. More

Kaid Benfield is the director of the Sustainable Communities and Smart Growth program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, co-founder of the LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system, and co-founder of Smart Growth America. He is the author or co-author of Once There Were Greenfields (NRDC 1999), Solving Sprawl (Island Press 2001), Smart Growth In a Changing World (APA Planners Press 2007), and Green Community (APA Planners Press 2009). In 2009, Kaid was voted one of the "top urban thinkers" on Planetizen.com, and he was named one of "the most influential people in sustainable planning and development" in 2010 by the Partnership for Sustainable Communities. He blogs at NRDC's Switchboard.

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