Long-Developing Problems Not Fixed Overnight
The Natural Resource’s Defense Council (NRDC) operates a great blog — Switchboard — with contributions from their staff members on the full gamut of environmental policy issues. If you are particularly interested in Smart Growth and/or have trouble keeping up with all of the coverage on Switchboard, Kaid Benfield solves your dilemma.
In “Lessons from the Sun Belt: Replacing Sprawl with Smart Growth Requires Sustained Commitment” Benfield points to Maryland as an example of a state that was once a leader in the development and implementation of smart growth policies but has lost its way:
When Parris Glendening was governor in the late 1990s and early 2000s, for example, the state of Maryland had real leadership on progressive land use; it was just beginning to make progress. But Glendening’s work was unfinished, and his successor quickly dismantled the state’s smart growth office and gave lip service at best to the state’s pioneering land use laws. As a result, instead of being strengthened, those programs soon lapsed into not-so-benign neglect, and the state’s landscape shows the unfortunate results.
The fundamental premise of Benfield’s piece should be both sobering and reassuring for smart growth advocates.
So, what’s the lesson in all this? Mecklenburg County, where these communities are located, is as good a poster child as any for the challenges associated with Sun Belt sprawl. It’s a part of the “real” America in a way that, I submit, Washington, New York and San Francisco are not. I think the lesson is that, to borrow an overworked cliché, we are in a marathon rather than a sprint. There are going to be setbacks, variations, and imperfections even in projects and policies that are mostly good. We must keep our eyes on the prize, hold on, and work not just for political advances that disappear with political changes, but for deeper, cultural progress as well.
The problems associated with sprawl developed during the better part of a century as the result of social, political, and economic forces at work within a particular legal/regulatory framework. Changing the legal framework and shifting the forces acting on is a difficult task that will take time. Smart growth advocates should not lose heart if progress does not occur as quickly as one might prefer.