The video on the MarylandPlanning channel on YouTube made up in sentiment what it lacked in production value: A silver-haired, goateed gentleman rises with a microphone at a meeting of nearly 100 people in Charles County and says something perhaps not often heard at government meetings that size: “Thank you for holding this kind of a forum,” he says, stirring crowd applause at the College of Southern Maryland at LaPlata. “Maryland at the state level is listening.”
The 13 PlanMaryland forums held by the Maryland Department of Planning since March had a unique challenge: Turn out hundreds of people for two or three hours to discuss the future of Maryland 20 or more years from now. The sight of Marylanders huddled in small groups, brainstorming ideas and placing red stickers on large checklists to rank their most important “visions” for the state, conveyed a Town Hall atmosphere—although, in this case, the “town” has 5.7 million residents and expects 1 million more by 2030. The goal of PlanMaryland is to better prepare the state for that growth in the most sustainable way.
As much land development occurred during the past 30 years in Maryland as in the previous 300; at current trends, 560,000 more acres would vanish by 2030. Rapid loss of farmland, more pollution, insufficient affordable housing, traffic congestion, and walkable communities in short supply has been, and would continue to be, the result. Sprawl consumes eight times more land per household than Smart Growth and produces almost five times more nitrogen pollution in the bay. A Smart Growth approach could cut land use and the resulting impact significantly.
Concerns voiced during the forums varied by region, but overall, the top three were: Quality of Life and Sustainability, Community Design, and Environmental Protection. Residents said they want well-designed, walkable communities that provide a mix of uses, open space, and options for transportation. They want the bay and their air and water to be clean and healthy. They also want a healthy economy that provides opportunities for people of all income levels.
Finally, people want to see plans implemented. They made clear they want to see governments at all levels working together to get things done. A dozen state agencies, in fact, are part of the PlanMaryland effort, and many of them staffed the forums this spring. Dissolving inter-government “silos” and pursuing sustainability are prime objectives of the process.
All the comments will help form the basis for the draft of the State Growth Plan in the coming months. For residents who couldn’t make it to the forums, the planning department is collecting further input at Plan.Maryland.gov.