Will “Smart Growth” Produce Smart Growth?

January 1999 / Abell Reports / Community Development, Environment

While the concepts embraced are sensible and well-intentioned, questions remain as to how effective the laws are likely to be.

Across America, concerns about “urban sprawl” and out-of-control development are mounting. The November 1998 election demonstrated voter appetite for state and local ballot initiatives to check development, and in the case of New Jersey, for increased taxation for purchase and preservation of open space. Maryland’s re-election of Gov. Glendening is viewed by some as an affirmation of his “Smart Growth” legislation adopted by the General Assembly the previous year.

This legislation, a package of bills labeled “Smart Growth,” encourages but does not require concentrations of growth within and contiguous to existing communities by directing State funding into already developed areas and areas planned for growth. It also protects some rural land outside growth areas by increasing funding in support of the preservation of farms, forests and open space. The strategy is intended to focus attention on renewing and revitalizing older neighborhoods and industrial areas — a goal of particular interest to Baltimore City.

While the concepts embraced by the Smart Growth legislation are sensible, welcome, and long overdue, questions remain about how effective the laws are likely to be in affecting the course of development, whether further steps are needed, and whether the measures so far adopted will significantly decrease the negative trends they are meant to address.

This analysis of Smart Growth policies examines whether the new legislation, principally the Smart Growth Areas Act directing State capital funding, is likely to have a significantly positive effect on the course of development in Maryland, and whether clear standards are provided against which progress can be measured. The analysis is framed by the following questions:

  • Does the Smart Growth legislation create an effective process for concentrating development and conserving natural resources? Does the legislation redirect State investment to areas planned for growth and older areas?
  • Where is accountability provided for the implementation process?
  • How will we quantify improvements in development patterns?
  • What additions or revisions will increase the likelihood that patterns of future growth will be altered in ways consistent with community goals?