A state agenda to stop sprawl

June 26, 1996|By Parris N. Glendening

SINCE 1970 WE in Maryland have seen rapid rates of suburban sprawl. The state population grew by one million people, a 25 percent increase. The Washington suburbs grew by 72 percent and the Baltimore suburbs by 67 percent.

At the same time older urban centers were losing more than 400,000 people. Baltimore alone has lost 50,000 residents since 1992. Cumberland is half the size it was during World War II.

Of course, growth itself is not the problem. Growth is vital to our economy and our future. The problem is the type of growth. As suburbs continue to extend their reach, as new developments continue to be built on previously untouched woodlands and farms, and as people continue to abandon established urban areas, I see an analogy to Judge Otto Kerner's words 25 years ago about race relations: We are creating two separate societies, one rich, the other poor; one with good jobs, the other that cannot find work; one in huge homes with perfectly manicured lawns, the other in run-down decaying neighborhoods.

Losing farms and forests

If these trends continue, Maryland will lose half a million acres of farmland and a quarter-million acres of forests in the next 25 years. This type of growth is bad for everyone. It is bad for the environment, bad for business, bad for government and bad for children.

To manage and encourage smart growth will depend upon two things: teamwork and creativity. Local governments must play an important role.

How well we use our existing infrastructure, how well we conserve and revitalize existing neighborhoods, and how well we find ways to use that which we already have instead of building new structures, new developments and new roads will determine the extent of our success.

Already, we see examples of using what we already have: the new Nabisco factory in Cambridge on the site of the old Chung King plant; the Biederlack blanket facility on the site of the old Kelly Springfield tire plant in Cumberland; the Aluglass facility on the site of the old Moore Business Forms printing plant in Snow Hill. In Baltimore County we worked with Avesta Sheffield to reuse the ''brownfields'' left by Eastern Stainless Steel.

Modernizing and refurbishing existing infrastructure protects our farmlands, forests and watersheds. It is crucial for the preservation of the Chesapeake Bay. It sustains our agriculture.

Our school-construction program has found that upgrading older schools costs 54 percent less than building new ones. That is why 82 percent of our school-construction budget now goes to modernizing older schools, almost twice as much as when I took office.

Incentives to business

Additionally, we have earmarked $72 million in Maryland Department of Transportation Funds for community conservation projects and have worked to implement the Job Creation Tax Credit that provides additional incentives for businesses to create jobs in targeted revitalization areas.

Our efforts to focus on areas where growth makes the most sense will help create and retain jobs in areas where they are most needed. They will provide communities where neighbors know each other and a sense of shared pride exists. Suburban sprawl too often takes this away.

I want to be clear. My administration will not overrule local zoning boards or create a state zoning board. I will not usurp local authority. We must, however, make people aware of the serious risks we run by continuing policies that encourage suburban sprawl and urban decay. Additionally, I intend to use state resources in ways that will encourage smart growth and neighborhood conservation.

Bold steps now will ensure that we pass on a state that is healthy, productive and safe for our children. We can no longer afford the environmental and financial costs of the inefficient growth patterns of the last quarter-century.

Parris N. Glendening is governor of Maryland.

Pub Date: 6/26/96

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