Volume 12, Issue 25 ~ June 17-23, 2004
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Something’s Missing in Our Sense of Place
So where are you going on vacation?

Place is what vacation is all about; you choose a place and change your space expecting that the physical change will set up harmonic vibrations in mind and spirit.

Going out on the road makes us worry, like Bill Burton this week, that at home in Chesapeake Country we are losing our distinctive sense of place.

Reflecting on the transformation of Parole, Burton frets that the impending loss of the architectural sails on Sun Trust Bank will remove a landmark that tells us where we are. On top of that, he fears that all the new stores, perhaps even a Wal-Mart, take us one more step down the road to becoming like every other place in America.

As we traveled down the Atlantic coast in recent days, we saw some fetching places: in Virginia, people-friendly beaches along the Potomac; in North Carolina, broad rivers with ferries to carry you across; in South Carolina, longleaf pines and willow oaks draped in Spanish moss; in Georgia, sprawling marshes mixing land and ocean; and finally, in Florida, famous beaches with pounding surf. Despite the dulling sameness of I-95, each place had a distinctive character it had managed to preserve.

About our own state, we know why Burton worries. Maryland’s natural resources are as rich and distinctive as those of any of our neighbors’. But it’s getting harder and harder to see what makes us special. We’re talking way bigger than crossroads developments. We’re speaking here about policies that maximize development and minimize our physical and cultural heritage.

Everybody agrees that Chesapeake Bay is in trouble, but how many Marylanders — boaters and fishers excepted — get close enough to the Bay to know firsthand what a treasure we’re losing? The ocean has replaced Chesapeake Bay as summer’s great destination, and each year our Bay becomes a little more like the Midwest’s great abandoned rivers: just a dirty body of water that runs through. It’s hard to care about a Bay you can’t get to, and public access to our Bay is not a priority of public policy.

Now, we’re losing one more of our few connections to the Bay as we’ve been warned off PCB-tainted rockfish. Meanwhile, Maryland-style crab meat is imported to what was once the very heart of the industry that satisfied the nation’s appetite for crab.

On land, the Smart Growth push of the late 1990s made a first step in shaping our sense of place as valuable and endangered. But that policy wasn’t around long enough to make a difference that people could see and appreciate. We never got to neighborhoods boasting Smart Growth signs anymore than we’ve gotten around to building roads with bike lanes or gateways that mark our communities as special places.

Nowadays, even the idea of Smart Growth has been forgotten. Without incentive or education to do better, we’re back to growth that can be dumb as developers want.

Without bright ideas from our policy makers, Maryland’s special places will be driven — or developed — out of existence. Eventually, Maryland and Chesapeake Bay could become some over-developed, polluted place that’s only a byway for people on the way to their own special places.

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.