Departing Transportation Chief Faults County Planning

May 01, 1991|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff writer

In an ideal world, former county transportation coordinator Louis H.Pinkney would have begun a paid sabbatical today. But the county government doesn't offer paid sabbaticals -- even in the best of times.

And these are not the best of times. So Pinkney simply quit.

Pinkney, who was appointed to his $54,274-a-year job as county transportation coordinator in 1987 by former County Executive M. Elizabeth Bobo, says his decision to leave government was only indirectly brought on by the change of administrations.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker invited him to stay on, but Pinkney decided to resign effective yesterday. He felt it was a "convenient time" to take a break and do the kind of reflection he has been thinking about.

There were other factors as well -- a decline in federal funding for transportation and "changes in the whole constellation of relationships" at the state department of transportation.

"My function was to get things started, get things in place. What we need now is a transportation manager," Pinkney says.

The Ecker administration appears to agree. Instead of filling the post of transportation coordinator, it is turning those functions over to the department of planning and zoning.

Prior to his appointment as transportation coordinator, Pinkney worked for eight years as a county planner. He now plans a "good solidvacation" that will take him to Central America, Los Angeles and thepyramids. More than just a sightseeing trip, his will be an interiorjourney.

Pinkney, 43, will be looking back at his 20 years as a planner and forward to his future -- a future that may include returning to government, working with private industry, teaching or some combination of the three.

The question he is asking himself is: How productive he has been over the last 20 years? Have things improved, and if not, can he convert the idealism he felt upon receiving his master's degree in city planning from the University of Pennsylvania in 1972 into a vision for the future?

"I have serious concerns about the direction planning and development are taking," Pinkney says. "Twenty years ago, cities worked much better than today. Suburban development has not so much produced neighborhoods as track development -- an absence of identity and community."

In western Howard County for example, the "replication of individual kingdoms" -- homes costing upward of $1 million that are built on out-of-the-way lots of three acres or more -- is defeating attempts to build community, Pinkney says.

The 1986 division of the county into five districts, each with its own council member, further isolated the county, he says, by creating "little cells."

"I don't see how it has been helpful," Pinkney says. "It has limited people's expectations" because they tend to think on a smaller scale. "It has put blinders on opportunity." The county itself, despite being "one of the hottest properties on the eastern seaboard, sometimes behaved as a little island," he added.

The consequence, he says, is a "cultural genocide, a cultural cannibalism in which groups are pitted against each other along the lines of class and race."

Pinkney finds it particularly ironic that such a thing is occurring here while less-developed cultures in other parts of the world are making "dramatic strides" in "the meaning of life andthe nurturing of family."

"The simple life is what people are trying to understand," he says. The difficulty, he said, is planning forit because politicians "don't want so much to lead, as to follow" narrowly focused constituent groups.

The lack of a county rapid transportation system further isolates the county, Pinkney says. "The recession of the '70s closed off opportunities. The rapid transportationsystem the Rouse Co. planned for Columbia never occurred. When opportunities are lost, the future is different."

Pinkney says it was because of "a lack of foresight" that the county never lobbied for metro service from Baltimore and Washington. "The county in its isolation sat that one out," he said. "It did not help itself."

Likewise, Route 100 and Route 216 should have been built across the county 20 years ago, he says. Isolationist pressures have kept them from being constructed, he believes.

He says the same pressures prevented the county from establishing a viable agricultural land preservation program until recently. "If it had been accomplished sooner, some of the development issues that have since erupted never would have occurred."

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