For three days, Dec. 2 to Dec. 4, more than 700 people from across the nation gathered at an Inner Harbor hotel to discuss innovative ways to improve development patterns in this nation.
This conference was a manifestation of a Smart Growth movement that is suddenly springing to life throughout mainstream America as we near the end of the 20th century. From Georgia to Virginia, from Indiana to Colorado -- speaker after speaker, environmentalist and builder alike, talked of the need to preserve our rapidly vanishing rural lands, to redevelop our abandoned cities and towns, and to make communities more liveable again.
If for no other reason, the "Partners for Smart Growth" conference was noteworthy because of its unlikely co-sponsors -- the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Urban Land Institute. Those two national organizations brought together environmentalists, public officials, homebuilders, developers, architects, planners and others who share a dream that this nation can find more cost-effective and aesthetically pleasing ways to grow without destroying our environment or ruining our quality of life.
Those who attended this conference arrived with practical, on-the-ground experience and an eagerness to exchange their ideas with others on how we can build better to live better.
An array of the nation's leading speakers on growth and land use issues were featured: Pat Noonan of The Conservation Fund; syndicated columnist Neal Peirce; "new urbanism" architect Peter Calthorpe; Bill McDonough, the dean of the University of Virginia's School of Architecture; and Kentlands' designer Andres Duany, to name just a few.
There was even a local hook. Maryland's Smart Growth and Neighborhood Conservation initiative was highlighted throughout the conference and Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who delivered the keynote luncheon address on Wednesday, was hailed as a national leader in the Smart Growth movement. But neither his remarks nor those of any of the other speakers were reported.
Too bad, because this is an issue that affects all Americans. As Oregon congressman and Smart Growth proponent Earl Blumenauer observed, "Building livable communities is what Americans want."
John W. Frece
The writer is Special Assistant to Governor Glendening for Smart Growth.
Medical report on life expectancy is criticized
One senses a strange complacency about The Sun's Dec. 4 report that Baltimore's men are living in a "pocket of low life expectancy," their lives as short as those of men in India and Bolivia. Why such complacency about men who are dying too soon in our city, an American capital of health care and medical research?
Dr. Georges Benjamin, Maryland's deputy secretary for public health, wasn't surprised to hear that the average life span of men was short in Washington and Baltimore. He ascribed this to cardiovascular disease, cancer, HIV (AIDS) and diabetes in relatively large minority populations with high mortality rates.
He was not puzzled by Baltimore's having more deaths than other cities where there are many minority males, high crime rates and problems with control of chronic diseases. Yet these are ailments that can be prevented, treated or ameliorated.
For years, higher death rates among male children have been documented. These include deaths even before birth and in the first year of life as well as in adolescence, during which older boys are more successful in suicide attempts than girls. Men are also more likely than women to die from homicides, many injuries and some diseases.
Nevertheless, reports like this one from Harvard are particularly exasperating in their seeming accuracy and specificity. For better understanding, one should know the sources of data being examined, when the numbers were collected, how they were verified and what changes in the figures had occurred when compared with previous reporting years.
A more nearly complete report should show which age groups suffer early death and from what diseases. What is also not a little infuriating is the use of a public forum to release an on-going, incomplete study without opportunity for a knowledgeable response from local jurisdictions.
The data should have been made available to Baltimore at least in summary form, so that a clear statement could have been made by the city's health commissioner.
Statistical reports like this one should never be funded without consideration of the cost of responsible corrective or remedial action by the political subdivision in which the danger is occurring. No mayor or health department chief should be given a problem of this size and complexity without a promise of funding and other assistance to correct it.
Just as in personal care it is axiomatic that one should have a remedy at hand when screening or searching for a personal ailment, so it should be in public health. Funds for a detection of a public problem should not have been provided without an offer of funds and help for its cure.
John B. De Hoff, M. D.
The writer is a retired city health commissioner.
Pub Date: 12/20/97