Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Monday, November 02, 2009

"Of course" "smart growth" in Maryland is a "flop"

According to today's Post, "Study says Md. law fails to direct growth, save open space."

From the article:

But a new study says 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. That's the conclusion of the study by University of Maryland scholars who lead the institute the former governor founded to promote the policy.

The reality is that 12 years is far too soon to judge the policy, although 12 years is just the right time to evaluate the gaps and problems seen in terms of trying to make such laws effective.

The reality is that to have smart growth policies work you have to change hundreds and hundreds of laws and processes at the local level--that means County by County.

And to do that, you have to have hundreds and hundreds of locally elected officials be in favor of the policy.

And to execute changes you need to have thousands and thousands of appointed officials (such as people in charge of the roads, planning, zoning, and schools) with congruent thinking--hundreds of officials in each County.

In my few weeks working for a county in Maryland, I have already found three significant barriers to smart growth planning that could be addressed by changes in laws and policies at the state level:

1. School systems aren't required to do balanced transportation and planning support walking and biking programs. (Plus state accreditation standards still probably--I haven't checked--support large school campuses as opposed to schools inserted into the urban fabric.)

2. The requirements on public universities for transportation demand management are minimal. And even though the universities are required to update their master land use plan every 6 years, they aren't required to have significant interaction with the local county for coordination purposes.

3. Most counties don't have bicycle parking requirements in their zoning code. (I was shocked to find out that the county I am working for lacks this... that's one thing that will go into the bicycle and pedestrian master plan I am working on.) State requirements for master land use plans--each county must update their plan every 10 years--could have much more significant requirements for transportation demand management elements within the transportation element.

(A 4th is the failure to require that local public facilities be located within transit station catchment areas if at all possible.)

... even Montgomery County elected and appointed officials can be a lot more resistant to "smart growth" than they come off. In fact, I have been meaning to write about this for a couple weeks.

The County Dept. of Transportation (last year it was split off from the DPW, which normally means that it is then able to be more "progressive") is still resistant to "boulevarding" Rockville Pike as a smart growth and quality of life strategy.

And County Executive Ike Leggett is opposed as well because he sees Rockville Pike's primary function as being the main route in and out of DC. While that may be true, from the standpoint of his county responsibilities, his job is to work on extending the quality of life and financial efficacy for the county, and that means compromises and focusing on doing things other than making roads wider and speeds faster...

Ironically, the Maryland State Highway Administration (who'd of thunk it right, but it does make a difference if a Democratic Administration is in power) thinks that boulevarding Rockville Pike could be a good idea.

Or, the Department's promotion of an underground road to better connect the Medical Center metro station to the expanded medical campus across the street, into which Walter Reed Hospital is moving, is an anti-pedestrian and anti-bicycling and somewhat anti-transit strategy, one that is designed to allow for expanded vehicle use.

There are many other examples. Meanwhile, Montgomery County has a pretty good land use plan and one of the most innovative "Growth" policies in the region.

If it is that difficult to institute smart growth policies in the State of Maryland's most progressive county, how hard do you think it is everywhere else in the state?

Especially in areas with "conservative" administrations, such as most of the rural counties.

2. The other problem is that politicians in the other party (regardless of who introduces the policy) attribute smart growth policies to the other party. Parris Glendening was a Democrat. So when Robert Ehrlich, a Republican, became Governor, he junked most every "Democratic" "Smart Growth" policy he could. It wasn't til it was time for reelection that he realized that some people cared about these issues regardless of the seemingly "Democratic" label he had originally given to the basket of policies (such as the Main Street commercial district revitalization program for small towns in the state, so he gave a bunch of money out, hoping to build support throughout these communities).

This happened in Massachusetts also. Republican Governor Mitt Romney, following Gov. Glendening's lead, created the Office of Commonwealth Development to coordinate land use, transportation, economic development and environmental policy in the State of Massachusetts. It was an unprecedented move.

They didn't force "smart growth" policies down the throats of the local jurisdictions, but they did change state grant programs to be congruent with smart growth policies, so that jurisdictions could only get money to do things if they were using relevant smart growth policies and principles for the projects.

But as soon as Deval Patrick, a Democrat, was elected Governor of Massachusetts, the Office of Commonwealth Development was abolished.

Changing land use and transportation planning policy takes decades.

For example, for at least 20 years after the creation of the WMATA subway system, economic analyses of the impact of the subway system on land use found no positive impact (through the mid to late 1990s), that's because it takes 20 years or more to start realizing changes.

And that was for an actual infrastructure improvement.

Getting policies changed in real and significant ways takes just as long.

That's why what Janette Sadik-Khan is doing in New York City is so exciting. Not to mention the progressivism of land use, transportation, facilities, and coordinated arts and culture planning in Arlington County, Virginia. It's all smart growth, even though they rarely use the term.

Labels: , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home