Glendening's crystal ball 'Smart Growth': Critics should join governor in taking a broad, long-range view.

February 02, 1997

A CRYSTAL BALL might give Gov. Parris N. Glendening what he needs to maneuver his "Smart Growth and Neighborhood Conservation" package through Annapolis. A vision of the Free State in 30 years would likely astound the public and legislators -- as much as post-war Marylanders would have been agog to learn how far residential development would reach into rural areas by the 21st century. Demographers see the state's population swelling from 5 million to 6 million by 2020; the ensuing footprint of forest and farmland lost to buildings will be as large as Baltimore, city and county combined.

The governor's plan to channel more resources to older communities, is, in concept, a work of vision. Mr. Glendening is asking Marylanders what they think their state should look like, not in five years, but in a generation. Will bedroom enclaves keep mushrooming farther from Baltimore and Washington? Will today's elementary schoolers decide as adults that for the sake of their children they must reside a county beyond where their parents raised them (which was a county away from where their grandparents raised their parents)? Will today's vibrant "outer counties" be viewed as undesirable when all the tract housing of the boom 1980s and '90s looks dated and worn?

Some jurisdictions grumble that the governor is just trying to solidify his urban base. Such assertions are badly off-base. Long-range land-use strategy is not fertile ground for populist support.

Mr. Glendening has discussed this subject with unusual passion. He ran a metropolitan county himself. He believes it is the right way to go. The governor has picked a sensible mid-course. He does not believe the state can slam the door on linking suburbs in the future, as some environmentalists want him to do. Nor does he believe the state can continue to make huge investments in exurban schools and roads without weighing the social costs of urban neighborhoods left to wither.

Minus the crystal ball, Mr. Glendening should have his Office of Planning display for the legislature a few of the zoning maps it recently transferred to computer discs. A high-tech view of growth's inexorable march through Maryland, in living color, might give skeptics serious pause.

Pub Date: 2/02/97

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