Changing Urban Growth Patterns in a Pro-Smart Growth State: The Case of Maryland, 1973-2002

Qing Shen, Chao Liu, Joe Liao, Feng Zhang, Chris Dorney (2007)

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This paper presents a study of recent urban growth patterns in the state of Maryland, which is known as a leader in the current smart growth movement. Five research questions are addressed in this study. First, what have been the trends in urban growth and land use in Maryland for the past 30 years? Second, to what extent have recent urban development patterns in Maryland matched the typical characterization of sprawl? Third, how have the intensity of urban land uses and the physical forms of urban growth in this state varied among its counties? Fourth, have the smart growth initiatives, especially the “Smart Growth Area Act,” significantly affected urban development patterns? Fifth, does the effectiveness of smart growth initiatives vary significantly across local jurisdictions? To answer these research questions, we measure, analyze, and model urban development patterns in Maryland using land use and land cover (LULC) and demographic data for 1973, 1992, 1997, 2000, and 2002. By calculating several important indicators of urban development patterns, we find that for the past three decades population densities have continued to decrease for the state as a whole. However, this trend has slowed since 1997, when the state implemented the smart growth programs. The land conversion rate has somewhat decreased, which indicates that smart growth initiatives have helped, in a limited way, curtail the growing demand for urban land and residential space. Further, we find that the patterns of urban growth and land use have generally become slightly less fragmented and more continuous since 1997. Additionally, we find significant variations in urban development patterns among local jurisdictions. In general, higher densities, higher levels of compactness, and lower levels of fragmentation are observed in the more urbanized counties. Moreover, by estimating a series of logit models of land conversion, we find that Maryland’s “Smart Growth Area Act” has generally increased the probability of land use change from non-urban to urban for areas designated as “Priority Funding Areas.” The effectiveness of this program, however, varies significantly across the counties. We discuss the implications of these findings and identify the directions for future research.