Already the fifth most densely populated state in the nation, Maryland is expected to grow from a population of 5.5 million in 2000 to more than 7 million in 2030 according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Such growth, as well as that of jobs and the built environment, has economic benefits for current and future residents and businesses. But it also has effects, many of which are negative, on issues of equity, cost of living, environmental quality, mobility, and many other aspects of quality of life in the State of Maryland.
Today, much of the new growth and development in Maryland is occurring far from Baltimore or other older cities and towns or even distant from the first tier of suburban counties. Having experienced the development of both first and second tier suburbs, the state is now experiencing the effects of third tier suburbs. Growth has migrated to formerly rural counties in Western Maryland, Southern Maryland, the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay and even across the state line into neighboring Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. This dispersed pattern of development is consuming large amounts of farmland and forests, requiring significant financial outlays for infrastructure and services from taxpayers, and promoting a sharp increase in long distance commuting and traffic congestion.
In an age defined by issues of homeland security and climate change, with the growing threat of sea level rise and other natural disasters, with an economy based heavily on a federal government presence, with growing retiree and immigrant populations, with congested roadways and aging infrastructure, and with limited water supplies and an unhealthy Chesapeake Bay, the National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education has embarked in recent years on an effort to develop and fully evaluate the impacts of Maryland’s future regional and statewide growth patterns.
In 2005, the Center and several partner organizations launched a statewide and highly successful public participation and awareness-raising project entitled, Reality Check Plus. The project included four regional visioning exercises conducted across Maryland in Spring 2006. A diverse group of nearly 850 participants created a vision for future growth in Maryland by allocating 1.5 million new people and 500,000 new jobs across the state. In the project’s summary report, Today’s Vision, Tomorrow’s Reality, Center staff compared the Reality Check Plus scenario across a number of growth indicators to existing conditions, projected growth patterns, and a build-out scenario based on existing zoning and local land use regulations. The results were astounding – Reality Check participants envisioned a future Maryland very different from where the current trends are headed.
Reality Check Plus was designed to generate some technical information, but mostly to raise public awareness and interest in the state’s growth challenges. Successful in this regard, Reality Check Plus served as a launching event for a broader scenario evaluation effort – the Maryland Scenario Project.
With the Maryland Scenario Project, the Center is leading a more technical and rigorous effort with focused input from a small but representative group of stakeholders serving as an advisory group. In Spring 2007, the Center convened the advisory group of nearly 40 technical land use and planning experts from across Maryland to assist in identifying the future driving forces of Maryland’s growth. The group met three more times that year to create alternative scenarios for future growth in Maryland, based on the interactions of those driving forces of growth with potential local and state policies.
Concurrent with the creation of the scenarios, the Center has been working with consultants, state agencies, and the LEAM Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to develop a set of loosely coupled impact models. The interactive modeling framework includes statewide econometric, transportation, energy, nutrient loading, land use, and fiscal impact models. These models will be used to evaluate and compare the impacts of each scenario as well as tools for policy impact analysis.
In the near future, this website that will provide descriptive and spatial representations of the growth scenarios. Visitors will be able to view additional spatial and graphical output from the impact models in order to better visualize the impacts the scenarios and policy interventions will have on various growth-related measures. Additionally, the site will serve as a forum to engage the general public and state and local officials in discussions and debates on growth and policy alternatives.