How Big is Too Big for Anne Arundel County?
by Bill Papian
A year ago, New Bay Times printed five of my articles entitled "Must Anne Arundel County Grow?" My answer to the question was yes, but cautiously and slowly; and I discussed some of the reasons and such tools for managing growth as downzoning and land-use revisions.
This, of course, assumed that the political will to constrain growth was shared by the electorate and its elected officials.
A great deal has happened since then, primarily changes in the county administration and the council, reflecting the strong desire of the voters to see residential growth slowed and constrained. Also, more Small Area Planning Committees were formed and began their labors.
Discussed hardly at all in those 1998 articles was the important question of whether there exists a fundamental ultimate limit on residential growth. In other words, is there a point where growth stops - or should stop - completely?
It is a question worthy of serious consideration if only because there are people who believe that growth should be stopped now, others who believe growth must continue forever and yet others who haven't thought about it at all.
Is there an ultimate limit? Theoretically yes, when the basic environment and infrastructure (water, roads, schools) in the area can no longer support the population. There is another less theoretical limit, and that is when growth has ceased for one particular reason or another and decay has set in. Examples such as some mining towns in Pennsylvania or the Midwest rust belt have led to a belief that when growth ceases, decay inevitably sets in: The "grow or decay" superstition.
The arrival of an absolute limit for our planet gets postponed again and again by scientific and technological developments and, no doubt, will so continue for a very long time. Just how long is for philosophers to think about. We need to think about how long before our county becomes so crowded that our lives become unbearable; clearly, that would be for us an absolute limit. Do we really want it to go that far?
Equally clear, there's no reason growth has to proceed that far. It may already have gone that far in Calcutta, but fortunately Anne Arundel County hasn't and, by the farthest stretch of the imagination, is not likely ever to arrive at that state of affairs. So where do we go from here?
There is a better road. We can decide now just how much growth our present infrastructure can handle while still allowing a desired quality of life to be maintained. We can estimate how much infrastructure improvement should be planned and constructed over the coming years to handle some degree of modest growth. We have the tools enabling this county to grow at a gradually decreasing rate that will reach zero at about the time we think it should.
Do we have the political will to do it?
Bill Papian is president of the Shady Side Peninsula Association.
Volume VII Number 35
September 2-8, 1999
New Bay Times
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