Maryland’s Smart Growth a Bust, Study Says

The Washington Post has a story today on how Maryland is losing its fight against sprawl. A decade ago state officials were considered innovators by passing the first so called “smart growth” law in the country aimed at preserving more open space by directing denser development around Metro stations and other mass transportation hubs. But, a new study conducted at the University of Maryland and published in Journal of the American Planning Association concludes that, despite the Smart Growth law, three quarters of all new homes in the state built between 1998 and 2006 went up on pasture lands and forests. The story reports that “the law has been a bust, largely because it has no teeth to force local governments to comply and because builders have little incentive to redevelop older urban neighborhoods.”

Pretty sobering news, considering that the pace of suburban sprawl in recent decades has been mind-boggling. More than half the U.S. population lives in the suburbs today, half of them in the exurbs – 60 or 70 miles from the nearest city or job center. With population growth expected to add tens of millions more suburbanites by mid-century, developers have been converting farms and forests into bedroom communities at breakneck speed: An average of two million acres of rural land is turned into subdivisions each year.

The trend has huge environmental consequences in terms of habitat losses that put endangered species in peril, as well as human health affects, most notably air pollution from automobiles required to get around in the suburbs. As we become increasingly aware of global warming, those costs are adding up. Auto emissions already account for more than a quarter of the greenhouse gases spewed by Americans. Sprawl not only means more car-centric living, but it requires the bulldozing forests that could otherwise serve as greenhouse gas-absorbing buffers against climate change.

Smart Growth had been one of the few proposals to breakthrough the din of public policy debate, making the conclusion’s of this study all the more disturbing. But smart growth may not be doomed everywhere. The Post story offers few details but does mention beefier laws in Oregon and Washington State that have had better success at reigning in sprawl by spelling out exactly where growth cannot occur. So, perhaps it’s not smart growth that has flopped but Maryland’s political will to reign in developers.

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About greendistrict

I'm Christine MacDonald, a journalist and the author of the book: "Green, Inc., An Environmental Insider Reveals How a Good Cause Has Gone B

Posted on November 2, 2009, in Environment, Global Warming, lifestyle, sustainability and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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