Maryland's Smart Growth Initiative: The Next Steps

Article excerpt

In 1997, the State of Maryland ignited a national movement to improve land use and development decisions throughout the United States. This modest effort started with the passage of a series of new laws called the Smart Growth and Neighborhood Conservation Initiative. (1) These laws, which have been subsequently broadened and refined, (2) represent a new approach to managing growth while limiting its environmental, fiscal, and social impacts and channeling it towards improving the state's economy.

In the four years since its enactment, Maryland's Smart Growth initiative has received national (3) and international (4) recognition as the nation's first statewide, incentive-based program to reduce the impact of urban sprawl. In the year 2000, it was named one of the ten most innovative new government programs in the nation in an annual competition sponsored by Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, the Ford Foundation, and the Council for Excellence in Government. (5) Maryland's Smart Growth effort has received numerous awards from various organizations. (6)

The Maryland program has several objectives: support of the state's established communities; protection of the state's best remaining farms and natural areas; and saving taxpayers the high cost of building infrastructure to support increasingly dispersed development. (7)

States as diverse as Maine and Utah are using Maryland's program as a model for their own growth management efforts. (8) Maryland's program has become a model for other states because the approach is incentive-based rather than regulatory. The program uses the state's budget, which in fiscal year 2002 totaled $21 billion, (9) as an incentive for growth within locally designated growth areas. (10) By withholding state funding elsewhere, the Maryland program hopes to discourage growth outside of these designated growth areas. Before the Smart Growth plan was implemented, the state had no geographic restrictions on providing financial support for growth. (11)

Maryland has also rejected the losing proposition that all growth is bad. Maryland's Smart Growth plan' is not a no-growth or even a slow-growth program. Instead, it recognizes the inevitability and value of growth to the Maryland economy. Indeed, the state has numerous programs designed to attract and encourage economic growth. The Smart Growth program, however, attempts to minimize the adverse effects of growth by channeling it to those areas of the state where existing or planned infrastructure and services are in place to support it. (12)

The Maryland initiative rejects the longstanding notion that society must choose between the economy and the environment and that for one to get stronger, the other must get weaker. This is a false dichotomy based on the old premise that society must be prepared to accept some level of environmental destruction in the name of economic growth.

In the long run, economic growth and environmental protection are inextricably intertwined. This fact is illustrated by the exceptionally strong state of Maryland's economy. Maryland has the highest family income (13) and the lowest poverty rate of any state in the nation. (14) Welfare cases are down sixty-eight percent with more than 155,000 people moving from dependency towards self-sufficiency. (15) Maryland can claim all these accomplishments while being recognized as the national leader in environmental protection.

The Maryland effort is more than a fight against the unplanned or poorly planned development that we call sprawl. It is a fight for prosperity and a better quality of life, what we call Smart Growth.

A major part of any state's economic development strategy is to assure a high quality of life for workers. Under the old model of economic development, states attracted businesses by providing them with tax benefits or financial incentives. …