Smart Growth in Maryland

In 1997, then Governor Parris N. Glendening and the State of Maryland launched the Smart Growth and Neighborhood Conservation initiative, an effort to use state funds as incentives to direct growth. The program was built on the foundation of nearly a half-century of progressive land use measures in Maryland, including the 1992 Economic Growth, Resource Protection and Planning Act, a policy that outlined seven (later increased to eight) visions for the future growth in Maryland.

The general goals of Maryland’s 1997 Smart Growth initiative were to enhance the state’s existing communities and other locally-designated growth areas; identify and protect the state’s most valuable farmland and other natural resources; and save taxpayers from the cost of building new infrastructure to support poorly planned development. The initiative was centered on two primary efforts, the Smart Growth Areas Act and the Rural Legacy Program. Through these measures, the State finances infrastructure development in designated Priority Funding Areas, and provides inducements for the protection of land outside of Priority Funding Areas.

The initiative was praised as an innovative way for state governments to combat the ills of sprawl and protect natural resources while retaining local land use control. In 2000, the Maryland Smart Growth initiative was proclaimed one of the ten most innovative new government programs in the nation in the annual Innovations in American Government Awards Program, co-sponsored by Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, the Ford Foundation, and the Council for Excellence in Government.  Other accolades—from the American Society of Landscape Architects, from the Congress for the New Urbanism, and from the World Wildlife Fund, among others—drew considerable national attention to the Maryland experiment. Yet, the program did not include any funding or requirements for measuring performance outcomes.

The National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education was established as a direct result of the considerable interest in the effectiveness of Smart Growth policies in Maryland and in the world at large. The Center now works collaboratively with the Maryland Department of Planning (MDP), as well as other state and local government agencies on land use issues. Dr. Gerrit Knaap, Executive Director of the National Center for Smart Growth, serves as a member of the Governor’s Smart Growth Subcabinet and also sits on the Maryland Sustainable Growth Commission.

Maryland’s latest steps toward more sustainable growth are collectively referred to as the Smart, Green and Growing legislative package.  Signed into law by Governor Martin O’Malley in 2009, the package includes laws intended to strengthen local comprehensive plans, creating 12 new visions for sustainable growth, and establishing statewide goals for growth.  Smart, Green and Growing also requires Maryland’s counties to track and annually report growth-related indicators to MDP. These data are then shared with the National Center for Smart Growth to aid in its efforts to measure and analyze the effectiveness of the Maryland Smart Growth effort.

Visit the Maryland Department of Planning website to find out more about the State of Maryland’s Smart Growth initiative.