Smart Growth best used to help ailing Baltimore

The ability to get to and from downtown quickly on mass transit is key to Baltimore's revival. So far, the governor hasn't seen the light.

November 28, 1999|By Barry Rascovar

SMART GROWTH, the hallmark of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's tenure, needs a makeover. The concept is great, but the execution has been flawed.

Over the next three years, Mr. Glendening could firmly cement Smart Growth -- the sensible use of scarce and precious land -- in the psyche of political Maryland.

But doing that requires more than the halting and at times contradictory moves that have marked the program so far.

The idea behind Smart Growth is to direct state money toward developed areas. Sprawl is expensive to government and consumes wilderness areas and farmland.

Yet the Glendening administration lacks a tightly coordinated strategy. There's been no sign of huge sums of state cash for the urgent revitalization of Maryland's existing growth centers -- the best way to lure people back from the outer reaches of suburbia.

Call for a crusade

What's needed is an all-out crusade to turn around Baltimore's fortunes. Town centers in Maryland should be viewed as prime targets of Smart Growth.

Mr. Glendening's moves in the field of transportation have not been encouraging. He has picked symbolic fights over bypasses and an east-west road in the Washington suburbs. But he's been silent on giving Baltimore a first-class alternative to increasingly clogged roads -- mass transit.

Indeed, the governor was so lax he missed the deadline for submitting new mass transit plans to Washington for future funding. His long-range transit vision fails to include even a cent for a light-rail line to White Marsh, Woodlawn or a downtown loop.

Such "benign neglect" ought to change. The governor has the money to make a dramatic statement on mass transit.

One immediate step: Increase state subsidies and reduce fares on all mass transit lines. That's an easy way to encourage more people to ride the buses and rails.

The ability to get to and from downtown quickly on mass transit is key to Baltimore's revival. So far, the governor hasn't seen the light. But there are plenty of other steps Mr. Glendening could take to make Baltimore a mecca.

As "the education governor," Mr. Glendening should adopt the Pratt Library's Central Branch as his pet project. Central already is designated as a state resource center, but it lacks the financial support from the governor to become a beehive of regional activity.

The education governor could also stop talking about wiring all schools for the Internet and instead make it a reality -- with cash for computers, too -- for every city school. He's got the money to do that in the next year -- if he has the will.

A major infusion of funds to renovate Baltimore's schools should be part of such an initiative. The governor can re-direct school-construction funds to the state's most urgent needs -- where education efforts are failing.

He and schools chief Nancy Grasmick also should come up with special financial incentives to boost the fortunes of Baltimore's schools. That's an imperative.

Crime-fighting aid

So is crime-reduction. Baltimore's incoming mayor, Martin O'Malley, will need lots of state money and cooperation from state agencies to reduce drug-related crime sharply on city streets. It should be Mr. Glendening's highest priority. All these steps would strengthen the core of this region. These actions would make Baltimore more appealing as a place to live, to work, to shop and to have a good time.

Baltimore is heading in the wrong direction, driving citizens farther into the suburbs to escape the city's malaise. That runs contrary to everything Smart Growth stands for.

The governor's legacy could be tied to what he achieves in Baltimore. Failure to help launch a major Baltimore renaissance not only would damage the region's prosperity, but it also would be a body blow to Smart Growth. Helping Baltimore is the wisest land-use policy of all.

Barry Rascovar is a deputy editorial page editor.

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