Editorial: Time to Privatize Maryland’s Smart Growth Initiatives

In a likely preview of Republican proposals should the party win the Maryland gubernatorial election next month, its 1998 candidate for the U.S. Senate [sic], Baltimore lawyer George Liebmann, writes on a Baltimore Sun opinion page that the state’s current Smart Growth practice ”has reached its limits” and that the time has come to privatize the fight against sprawl. He outlines a host of measures for recharging Smart Growth and increasing its effectiveness. School construction funds should be cut, because ”The state payment for each new building relieves counties of the financial consequences of the sprawl they permit.” Inner city redevelopment should be made easier by letting local property owners ”organize to buy out dissenters who are not owner-occupiers,” an approach called ”land pooling” or ”land readjustment,” popular in the Far East and Europe. Instead of ”knee-jerk hostility” to improvements in suburban roads, the state should minimize curb cuts, which congest roads with new traffic ”entering every few feet,” require greater use of parallel service roads and allow counties to charge higher rush hour tolls. Furthermore, local zoning should be liberalized to eliminate the need ”to drive five miles to buy a bottle of milk;” mass transit deregulated to permit easier starts for ”new taxi, van and bus services;” older neighborhoods given association power and self-control, which makes new suburban communities attractive; and state tax breaks and payments for farmland conservation easements should guarantee public access or rights of way in return. Conceiving the possibility of ”free-market environmentalism” –where builders and localities bear new infrastructure costs, developers form ”cooperative land-pooling associations,” industries help dispose their waste and election precinct residents may impose ”modest tax surcharges or receive modest grants” for community rooms, bus shelters, crime prevention cameras or speed bumps –the writer sums up his view. ”After eight years of centralized, bureaucratic approach to land conservation, it’s time to see what methods involving neighbors and the private sector can do to alter the incentives that create sprawl.”

Posted in: Comment, Urban Affairs