Maryland leaders gather to discuss leadership in smart growth at Maryland Association of Counties Winter Conference

 Maryland Association of Counties Winter ConferenceCounty Executive Rushern Baker, Councilmember Roger Berliner, and County Executive Jan Gardner describe the smart growth efforts they are championing.

Over 50 local elected leaders from Maryland, including members of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council, gathered on Wednesday, January 7 to discuss smart growth successes and challenges during the Maryland Association of Counties Winter Conference in Cambridge, MD. Smart Growth America and 1000 Friends of Maryland cosponsored the event.

During the event, County Executives Rushern Baker of Prince George’s County and Jan Gardner of Frederick County, and Councilmember Roger Berliner of Montgomery County, all of whom are members of the Maryland Chapter of the Local Leaders Council, discussed the smart growth efforts they are championing in their communities.

Councilmember Roger Berliner described the creation and implementation of the White Flint Sector Plan. The community-supported plan aims to transform Rockville Pike, a large highway with suburban strip malls adjacent to a metro station, into a grand boulevard with transit options, green space, and mixed uses. The project ran into trouble, however, when the county Department of Transportation’s revealed new road designs that were not in line with the plan.

“Change is hard,” Berliner remarked, “and changing in a deeply rooted culture is even harder. This is true even in a progressive county like Montgomery County.” Ultimately, public pressure led to adoption of road designs in line with the plan. The key, says Berliner, is public involvement. “As difficult as it is, change is possible. Culture can shift. Values can be realigned. But to do so requires perseverance, grassroots organizing, coalition building, outreach, and even an occasional press strategy — basically, something that every elected official here understands – a real campaign.”

County Executive Rushern Baker talked about how Prince George’s County is using transit-oriented development to spur economic development. The County is targeting resources in five key areas that are near transit, including infrastructure investments, financial incentives, and faster regulatory approval for projects in those areas.

Baker also described his Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative, which takes a holistic approach to uplifting economically challenged neighborhoods. “We looked at areas that are our most challenging areas. We looked at education, lack of job opportunities, lack of transportation, and health challenges. It came down to six areas that were the most challenged, but also had the most promise because they were near the Metro. After two and a half years of this initiative what we saw was a 25 percent reduction in violent crime and a 23 percent reduction in property crimes.”

County Executive Jan Gardner concluded the panel by talking about what coming demographic changes mean for the future of suburban and exurban communities. Frederick County is expecting huge growth in the elderly population. The 65 and over age group in Frederick County is expected to grow twice as fast as the rest of the nation. “If we want to remain prosperous we must accommodate this population change and the social and economic changes that come along with it. We need to focus our development around existing communities,” she says.

Do you know a local elected official championing great community development in Maryland? Encourage them to join the Maryland Chapter of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council today.

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