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VOL. 6, NO. 1 -- SPRING 2004

Smart Growth's Governor Parris N. Glendening

Parris Glendening began to see the soullessness and wretched waste of sprawl in the early 1960s while he was an undergraduate and graduate student at Florida State University. At that time, and over a period of seven years, Glendening was working to put himself through school. There was no way the young student could have known that some three decades later he would become a two-term governor of Maryland. Yet, during that period he had begun watching and learning things that would impact his gubernatorial legacy in ways that affect us today and will continue to affect us -- positively -- in years to come.

It was back then that Glendening began to feel alarmed about something he couldn't name -- something ugly, something wrong.

There is a name for that something today: sprawl.

Whenever FSU was closed for a few days and the opportunity presented itself, student Glendening would drive nearly 500 miles from Tallahassee to Hialeah, Fla., where he had a job in a machine shop. He always drove the "back roads" on the way to Hialeah, and his scenic route took him through the very edge of the Everglades' magnificent marshy grasslands. Throughout the FSU years, Glendening noticed that the western edge of the Everglades' magnificent subtropical wilderness was moving east. "They were filling the swamps and building subdivisions," he says.

"That's when I first started thinking that something was wrong. Time after time, I'd drive through and think, 'This just can't be right.'"

Glendening had no idea what the impact would be in years to come of the things he saw along the road to Hialeah, but he would not forget what he saw.

Eventually, through years of civic experience, education, study, teaching and living, he would come to realize that what was happening in the Everglades was happening everywhere. When he finally stepped into the Maryland governor's office in 1995, he brought with him a sense of urgency about sprawl -- this process that in the Everglades had resulted in "40 miles of subdivisions" where there had been wilderness -- and what it was doing everywhere in the United States to the quality of life and the landscape.

Glendening's great concern -- which by the '90s was shared by many other people -- led him to put together an unprecedented gubernatorial legislative initiative for a program now called "Smart Growth" that would provide a tool kit for counties and municipalities concerned about growth and the impact on size and type of growth on quality of life.

Prior to his becoming governor, Glendening's election to higher and higher political office continued to keep his concern about sprawl on the front burner.

In 1967, having earned a doctorate in political science at FSU, Glendening went to College Park, Md., to begin a distinguished, 27-year career teaching political science at the University of Maryland. He settled in the town of Hyattsville, Md., a tiny, traditional community of quaint "porch" neighborhoods located close to both College Park and the District of Columbia.

Glendening was elected to the Hyattsville City Council in 1973. He was elected to the Prince George's County Council in 1974 and twice served as council chair.

He was elected Prince George's county executive, the county's top office, in 1982 and then reelected twice.

Prince George's County is large -- 487 square miles -- that wrap around the eastern side of Washington, D.C. In 1990, the population of the county was about 723,400; in 2001, nearly 817,000. In 2005 the population is projected to be 825,500; in 2025, almost 941,000.

Watching sprawl in and around Prince George's County over the course of 21 years in city and county government, Glendening became more disturbed about the urban/suburban development patterns he saw "happening" around him.

When he set to work to improve things, one of his focuses was on Route 1, a major artery, which comes into the county from Washington, D.C., and traverses the county.

"It was just plain ugly," he says, a never-ending chain of parking lots, strip centers, abandoned stores.

He tried to get people to support the idea of a Route 1 redevelopment and realized the collection of laws that had been passed over the years to govern development and redevelopment were themselves the greatest impediment to healthy development/redevelopment. Tax laws, he says -- in fact, all the laws -- were "stacked in favor of sprawl."

It was clear to Glendening that sprawl had become perpetual -- and would continue as self replicating and unstoppable -- until there was intervention.

Parris Glendening was elected Maryland governor in 1994. He took office in '95 and served two terms, leaving office in January 2003.

"After I became governor," he recalls, "it took two years put a package of about a dozen different laws together" to address development patterns. That group of laws -- every one of them -- needed to be enacted by the Maryland legislature in order for the program to work.

By the end of 1997, the entire package had been adopted by the Maryland legislature, and the program in its totality came to be called "smart growth."

The Maryland smart growth package includes a number of pick-and-choose initiatives available to counties and municipalities including a model infill code that local governments can incorporate by reference. "We call it a 'tool bag' for smart growth."

There were also financial incentives for counties and for developers in the tool bag. Counties had to identify "smart growth areas," places on public water and sewer, and only in those areas would the state government spend any money building infrastructure, Glendening explains. Regarding green areas, "we said to developers, 'you can build out there, but we will not fund it.'"

Glendening said the smart growth toolbox also contains tools for open space programs, and incentives for small business loan programs to work in concert with smart growth.

In only a few years, Glendening has seen many positives come of smart growth programs where they have been adopted. One positive is the community strength that comes of improving the schools in established areas is that it creates powerful incentives for people to stay in those areas. "There is no reason for young families to build way out."

He is particularly proud of what has happened in Maryland. "When we came into office, "82 percent of state construction funds [in education were being spent on] new schools being built because of sprawl. When we left, 84 percent [was flowing to new schools in already settled areas or renovation.]"

Glendening sees new urbanism as a natural friend to smart growth -- "the nexus is in the effort to stop sprawl, and preserve open space."

The two programs take different approaches, but they also talk the same talk and walk the same walk, sharing goals such as livability, less traffic and increased transportation options including light rail, mixed land use, a range of housing options, walkable neighborhoods, sense of place, quality of design and more.

Today Parris Glendening continues to work with communities, businesses, governments, grass roots organizations and others to achieve smart growth. He is founder and president of the Smart Growth Leadership Institute, a nonprofit organization that is part of the nonprofit Smart Growth America. SGLI's goal is to help state and local elected, civic and business leaders design and implement effective smart growth strategies.

"We work with everyone. We warn about the problems associated with sprawl -- fiscal, environmental and others. We look at local codes to find what items encourage reinvestment; we recommend code changes. We try to create support for smart growth within political and other groups.

"We are strong smart growth advocates."

Parris Glendening is also involved in personally putting the principles of smart growth into action. As chairman of the board of Smart Growth Investments, LLC, Glendening is a developer in for-profit undertakings. He and his partners recently purchased 100 acres of brownfield near the Georgia coast and are now developing the property for high-density housing.

He looks forward to the project's success for several reasons, including profit. "We believe a reasonable profit is reasonable. We want to do well without harming the environment."

So, the governor who has made perhaps the biggest difference in the last 60 years in the way this country develops and how the quality of life here develops, is now a public advocate and private citizen still working to make things better. They still call him the "father of smart growth" -- and with good reason.

For more information, contact the Smart Growth Leadership Institute in Washington, D.C.: 202.207.3348; 1200 18th Street, NW Suite 801; Washington, DC 20036 or go to the website at E-mail: