After going through the Smart Growth Listening Session we had locally last night, tonight I turn my attention to what all the hubbub was about. Let me begin as they did with their description of Smart Growth:
“Growth is smart when it gives us great communities, with more choices and personal freedom, good return on public investment, greater opportunity across the community, a thriving natural environment, and a legacy we can be proud to leave our children and grandchildren.” (Emphasis mine.)
This passage comes from a pamphlet called “This Is Smart Growth” which can be downloaded here. Unfortunately, knowing that it’s the state of Maryland who is planning this I doubt we’ll actually get the more choices or personal freedom. And it’s worth pointing out that the Smart Growth folks talk about a good return on public investment, but no mention is made of whether they’ll encourage private investment. It goes without saying that too much restriction on land use will naturally discourage innovation and capital investment. While the perception in these parts is that things are too developer-friendly my fear is that the pendulum will swing too far in the other direction with this new statewide plan. It might just take the “One Maryland” concept espoused by Annapolis liberals too far. (I despise it because there’s at least three Marylands insofar as I can tell, split by Chesapeake Bay and that very thin strip where Virginia and Pennsylvania nearly touch.)
However, here are the 12 Visions that the Task Force on the Future for Growth and Development has drafted up thus far:
- Quality of Life and Sustainability – A high quality of life is achieved through universal stewardship of the land, water, and air resulting in sustainable communities and protection of the environment.
- Public Participation – Citizens are active partners in the planning and implementation of community initiatives and are sensitive to their responsibilities in achieving community goals.
- Growth Areas – Growth is concentrated in existing population and business centers, growth areas adjacent to those centers, or strategically selected new centers.
- Community Design – Compact, mixed-use, walkable design consistent with existing community character and located near transit options is encouraged to ensure efficient use of land and transportation resources and preservation and enhancement of natural systems, open spaces, recreational areas, and historical, cultural, and archeological resources.
- Infrastructure – Growth areas have the water resources and infrastructure to accommodate population and business expansion in an orderly, efficient, and environmentally sound manner.
- Transportation – A well-maintained, multimodal transportation system facilitates the safe, convenient, affordable, and efficient movement of people, goods and services within and between population and business centers.
- Housing – A range of housing densities, types, and sizes provide residential options for citizens of all ages and incomes.
- Economic Development – Economic development that promotes employment opportunities for all income levels within the capacity of the State’s natural resources, public services, and public facilities is encouraged.
- Environmental Protection – Land and water resources are carefully managed to restore and maintain healthy air and water, natural systems and living resources.
- Resource Conservation – Waterways, open space, natural systems, scenic areas, forests, and agricultural areas are conserved.
- Stewardship – Government, business entities, and residents are responsible for the creation of sustainable communities by collaborating to balance efficient growth with resource protection.
- Implementation – Strategies, policies, programs and funding for growth and development, resource conservation, infrastructure, and transportation are integrated across the local, regional, State, and interstate levels to achieve these visions.
Oh my gosh, this is wrong on so many levels it’s not even funny. But I’m going to go through these one at a time anyway.
The very first point describes “universal stewardship.” The way I read this fits right in with the topdown concern I had about the whole state planning process. In other words, you’re just an individual who may think he or she can be the steward of one’s own property but in reality you must do what we determine is for the common good. Maryland has had sustainable communities for over 300 years, but apparently these bright folks think they can handle them better by placing themselves in charge of all – they know what’s good for you.
The next topic of public participation is nice, but the trick in that is having a well-informed, well-educated public and I’m not so sure that we have that at the moment. Sure, there are a few but the majority of people have no desire to be leaders or to make many of their own decisions – a sad commentary, but true. Besides, my responsibility should be to my own self and my family first, well before the responsibility in achieving community goals. That’s not to say I should shirk my tasks there, but the order this places responsibility is out of whack.
Number three is lofty in principle, but restricting growth to certain areas makes both the land outside those areas less valuable and the land inside those areas too pricey. This is why California, one of the largest states in the country, has the highest home prices – they restrict land usage to a great degree. I believe in the concept of highest and best use, which is inverse to restricting growth.
Let me define the terms in number four:
Compact – multifamily dwellings where you share walls, or homes with little to no private yard space. Playtime activities are limited to what you can do in a small area or using community parkland.
Mixed-use – essentially what it says, but limiting in terms of retail.
Walkable – discouraging the use of personal transport in favor of public modes of transportation (hence “located near transit options”). Certainly there’s benefits to walkable neighborhoods, but the option of having a car should be encouraged too.
“preservation and enhancement” – see number one under “universal stewardship.”
I guess the other question is whether all historical, cultural, and archeological resources are worth preserving, and who decides?
Regarding infrastructure (#5), the way I saw this was that if growth areas had these attributes, to heck with the rest of you who choose to live outside of them. Eventually it could lead to the whittling away of that population outside growth areas and the radical environmentalists’ dreams of large green corridors for wildlife restored and safe from nasty human interaction.
Sixth, we have a long way to go to achieve a well-maintained transportation system, particularly in some of those multi modes. Personally I’d like U.S. 13 to be upgraded to an interstate highway from Wilmington to Norfolk and another bay crossing closer to home, but I suspect these planners are thinking more along the lines of public transportation (the term “affordable” gives that away).
As for the seventh point, housing, don’t we already have this range in the market as it is? I can buy a 3,000 square foot house with a large yard, a 700 square foot house in town, a condominium, and so on and so forth. Or I could live cheek-by-jowl next to someone in an apartment. Something tells me that these folks with the bright ideas in Annapolis all live in the former situation but want the rest of us commoners to live in the latter. The market has shown people want bigger and better but that contributes to sprawl and sprawl must be banned, according to the Smart Growth folks.
Number 8 is economic development. (I’d place it number one myself, but that’s just me.) The key phrases in this passage are “public” services and “public” facilities. One can certainly read that to mean that private enterprise in those areas is discouraged. Also troubling is the concept of employment opportunities for all income levels. Is this to say that there’s going to be a quota of lower-skilled jobs which has to be met? Maybe they need to clarify that one some more.
Number nine needs no more explanation than to say that things will be regulated to the nth degree. Hell, Maryland’s almost there now when they already dictate the new cars which can be sold and the soap your dishwasher uses, among many other things.
To me, resource conservation (number 10) means no growth. One can maximize efficiency of resources to a degree and achieve a little bit of growth, but real growth by necessity means using more resources. I could use 10% less steel in a car and increase production from 1 million cars to 1.1 million, but I couldn’t ramp up to 2 million if the market dictated it without needing more steel.
Number 11 offends me because the order is exactly backwards. It should be up to residents to take the lead, not be led by the nose by a power-hungry government. And it’s more evidence of a topdown process.
As far as the final point, implementation, goes they actually have the order of items correct in some cases; however, the rest of these points belie the listing of the local level first. But as I noted in number 10 above the concepts of “growth and development” and “resource conservation” are pretty much mutually exclusive.
There’s no doubt that I can hear the wailing and gnashing of teeth from those who will react to my piece. And I know I have a LOT of education to do when they polled the opinion on these twelve visions at the Listening Session. I wrote down the results on the question of whether you strongly agreed, agreed, were unsure, disagreed, or strongly disagreed with the 12 Visions.
- Strongly agree – 35%
- Agree – 23%
- Not sure – 13%
- Disagree – 7%
- Strongly disagree – 1%
It doesn’t add up to 100% because not everyone clicked in, so I gather that 21% had no opinion or were afraid to be politically incorrect like I am. But I doubt there were more than 100 people in the room so that would mean exactly ONE person strongly disagreed. Any guesses as to who that was?
The educated one, apparently.