O’Malley Declares War on Sprawl

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You know how parts of Columbia (or Owings Mills, or Pikesville) just feel like vast swaths of strip malls with rivers of traffic in between? That’s what the urban planners like to call “low-density development,” aka sprawl. And it was all the rage back in the day… Until now, when Maryland has wound up with an average commute time (32 minutes) that’s longer than those in New Jersey or New York, and an immanent shortage of land.

These days  people are much more aware of the high, hidden (and sometimes not-so-hidden) costs of development that maximizes drive-time, land-gobbling, and paving everything in sight:  it’s bad for our farmland, for the Chesapeake Bay, and (if you’ve got to commute, or drive to the grocery store for more milk) our moods. So kudos to O’Malley and the whole Department of Planning for creating PlanMaryland, “a statewide smart growth plan that encourages the development of high-density residential pockets along established lines of infrastructure.” In a nutshell, the plan hopes to create a sustainable, smartly planned Baltimore-Washington mega-region.

High density sounds kind of… crowded, though, right? Well, that’s part of the problem; the state is running out of land at a rapid clip. (In the past four decades, Maryland’s population grew by 30 percent — but its land consumption increased by 100 percent, O Malley points out) To manage all the people we have now (and all the new ones who are coming in the next decades), we’ll need transportation, housing, sanitation, education, and public safety plans. Hence PlanMaryland.

On a quick read, the plan seems to be city-centric, and call for investments in already-existing urban areas. Will the counties feel left out? Some are already protesting the plan (and throwing around words like “communism”). Others say O’Malley’s vision is too timid and conciliatory to make any real change happen. Your take? Tell us, and tell the governor — the public comment period for PlanMaryland ends this week!



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