Newswise — The state of Maryland is making only slow, barely discernible progress towards "smarter" growth, concludes a new report from the University of Maryland's National Center for Smart Growth. The study is the most comprehensive assessment of Maryland's Smart Growth Program to date.
"Under the current system, the state is barely moving the needle on most widely accepted measures of smart growth," says report co-author Gerrit Knaap, director of the University of Maryland National Center for Smart Growth. "The state has made a significant effort to encourage development in designated areas, but the smart growth tools in place are apparently not adequate for the job."
"Indicators of Smart Growth in Maryland" summarizes data on 120 measures related to growth and development trends in the state over the past decade. It finds that in several key smart growth performance measures - multifamily housing construction, per capita vehicle miles traveled, housing affordability, and compact development - Maryland has tracked national trends, and has not measurably gained ground over the last decade.
The study concludes that if the success of Maryland's Smart Growth Program is measured solely on these currently available indicators, substantial progress has not been made.
The researchers add these caveats in interpreting the data: 1) the indicators alone cannot ascertain whether trends would have been worse in the absence of Maryland's Smart Growth Program; 2) change in development patterns take a long time; and 3) currently available indicators are highly imperfect measures of environmental quality or quality of life.
Among the report's key findings:
* Development patterns: The predominant form of urban development in Maryland remains suburban. Three-fourths of the new single-family acres were developed outside designated growth areas after 1997 when Maryland's Smart Growth Program was launched. While this indicator has shown some improvement as housing development has slowed, the share of parcels developed outside designated growth areas continues to increase over time. Further, a substantial amount of the new growth in Maryland has been occurring in the exurban areas of the state. The share of population that lives within a half-mile of rail transit stations, however, has generally risen over time.
* Housing: When housing prices were rising, they rose faster in Maryland than the rest of the nation and higher than neighboring Virginia. Although the single-family share of new housing construction has fallen recently, it remains high for a highly urbanized state like Maryland. The dominance of single-family housing throughout the state is indicative of the lack of housing choice and affordability, while diminishing the potential for multi-modal alternatives to automobile transportation - both major tenets of smart growth.
* Natural areas: Maryland continues to lose farm and forest land to new development, a nationwide trend. Though, the state and its counties have protected more than a million acres of land, substantial acreage remains unprotected. Measures of air quality are mainly stable or improving, but measures of water quality demonstrate poor conditions in watersheds across the state - despite improvements achieved in the recent past with respect to point source pollution in the more densely populated areas of the state.
* Transportation: On most standardized measures of transportation, Maryland looks like other states - vehicle miles traveled, congestion, and car ownership all rose consistently over time, until the spikes in gas prices. Maryland does have higher transit ridership than most states, perhaps due, in part, to the smart growth program, though mostly reflecting the well-developed transit systems in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C. metropolitan areas, as well as a recent emphasis placed on transit-oriented development. The share of population that lives near transit stations has risen over time.
* Population & Employment Growth: The population growth rate in Maryland approximately equals the national average. The indicators provide no evidence that the states smart growth program either increased or decreased the amount of population growth statewide. Persistent population and employment growth in the face of smart growth initiatives do not support earlier concerns that the program would dampen the state's growth. Employment and other measures of economic activity have consistently grown over the last two decades in Maryland, and generally faster than most other states. The indicators allow the conclusion that the smart growth program did not prevent economic growth, but it is not possible to determine whether growth might have been greater or smaller in the absence of the Program.
The report does not offer policy recommendations.
A full-text copy of the report, Indicators of Smart Growth in Maryland, is available online: http://smartgrowth.umd.edu
The Baltimore-based Abell Foundation funded the research. The National Center for Smart Growth is a non-partisan facility for research and leadership training on smart growth and related land use issues in Maryland, in metropolitan regions around the nation, and in Asia and Europe. It is a cooperative venture of the University of Maryland, College Park's School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, School of Public Policy, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and School of Engineering.
The University of Maryland, the region's largest public research university, provides education and research services statewide, supporting Maryland's economic and social well-being.