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Volume XVII, Issue 12 - March 19 - March 25, 2009
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Letter From the Editor

Time to Smarten Up

Finally, it’s ourselves we must count on

As we wait for winter to yield to spring, the last thing we need is another disillusionment.

Yet that’s just what Marylanders got in last week’s report from the watchdog group Environment Maryland. Another hope, another promise bites the dust in Not So Smart: Land Consumption in Maryland after a Decade of Smart Growth.

Smart Growth was a political promise — and we’ve all learned to take such with a handful of salt. A hallmark of former Gov. Parris Glendening’s administration, it’s an idea we endorsed. And one that lost political will and wind in the Ehrlich years.

So we’re not entirely surprised at the contents of Environment Maryland’s report.

In one way, we’re heartened. For over the years of the great Chesapeake Bay stall, science has become as distrusted as politics. Another study, ho hum, and nothing changes. It took five years for the Environmental Impact Statement on the future of oysters to tell us nothing.

But this report tells us plenty. “Since the passage of Maryland’s nationally recognized smart growth laws in 1997,” we read, “development steadily consumed vast amounts of land.”

“Vast amounts” translate to 175,000 acres developed for homes or commerce over the decade. That’s an area three times as large as Baltimore city. Except it’s happening where we live, in our own back yards.

Apparently, the Smart Growth years have been anything but.

Development now consumes three times as much land per new resident than from 1950 to 1970. And the main tool to make Smart Growth work, Priority Funding Areas, has failed laughably. Within the Priority Funding Areas, the figure for new residential parcels is an average 0.3 acres per resident compared to 2.1 acres outside.

Those findings tell us that Smart Growth’s failure — we might as well call it Dumb Growth — is more than a political failing.

All those houses don’t get built without people.

Maybe you didn’t carve a new subdivision out of farm or forest land. Didn’t even buy a McMansion.

But sins of omission are also to blame. For development can and has been stopped. In Anne Arundel County — where land consumption per new resident rose by 41 percent in the Smart Growth years — determined community activists have succeeded in Annapolis Roads, Crofton, Deale, Shady Side and Wayson’s Corner, to name a few exceptions to the pattern.

The lesson of Not So Smart may be that we can’t depend on our lawmakers to shape the future of our communities. We just may have to do it ourselves.

But we may still get some help from representative government. The Smart Growth Visions and Performance Standards Act, pending in the General Assembly this year, could, the report notes, “add a measure of accountability for local government growth policies.”

       Sandra Olivetti Martin
     editor and publisher


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