After 'Smart Growth' Sprawl: New law is just a start if Maryland hopes to reverse 40 years of out-migration.

April 13, 1997

PASSAGE OF the "Smart Growth" legislation to combat suburban sprawl was feted around Annapolis. The governor crowed that it placed Maryland in the rare company of Oregon, noted for its environmental ethic. The House speaker claimed his share of credit for the law, too, saying the legislature honed it into "sensible land management policy." Environmentalists and local officials seemed satisfied, too.

Now for the hard part. How to reverse 40 years of outward migration -- from 1950, when Baltimore's residency was double that of all the suburban jurisdictions combined, to today, when the suburbs' population is triple that of the shrinking city. The challenge is akin to the turnaround of the Inner Harbor from a dumpy waterfront into a people magnet, only on a much greater scale encompassing social issues of poverty, race, education and crime.

The "Smart Growth" law mandates that the state take into account where development belongs when paying its share for schools, roads and some other programs. It is only a beginning. Without sensible zoning and imaginative programs and planning at county and local levels, smarter growth doesn't have a prayer.

The building community must get behind this, too. It was disheartening to read a day before "Smart Growth" passed that Pulte Homes has opted out of Honeygo, the "old-fashioned" community Baltimore County hopes to create. (Ironically, Pulte just started selling homes in a new "neo-traditional" development with alleys and village greens in Howard County called Terra Maria that has been lauded as an alternative to cookie-cutter housing.)

The argument that buyers desire traditional design, emphasizing rTC cars over pedestrians in developments located deeper and deeper in the countryside, ignores the fact that they have not had much choice. Not long ago, folks didn't own personal computers, they ate home-cooked dinners every night and few owned minivans or pickups. But times, tastes and conditions change. Developers and public officials must be partners in coaxing the population inward to the cities and towns.

Pub Date: 4/13/97

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