RTCP Co-editor, Founder to Appear on Kojo Nnamdi Tomorrow

Apparently David Daddio, RTCP’s Co-editor and founder, has been invited to appear on the Kojo Nnamdi Show tomorrow to speak about his work on this website from 12-1PM. Daddio will join other guests in a conversation about Prince George’s County blogging and how local citizen journalists fill the void left by traditional news outlets:

It’s one of the most dynamic suburban counties in our region– home to diverse communities and the largest African American middle class community in the country. But Prince George’s County doesn’t always make it into the headlines of local newscasts and papers. We talk with local citizen-journalists about their communities.

The show airs on WAMU 88.5 FM, the leading public radio station for NPR news and information in the greater Washington D.C. area. If you miss the live show, check back here where we’ll post a recorded version soon after the broadcast.

College Park Business Breakfast and Real Estate Roundtable Announcement

On Tuesday, April 20 from 8:30-10:00am, Senator Jim Rosapepe and Delegates Barbara Frush, Joseline Peña-Melnyk, and Ben Barnes (D – 21) will be hosting a “College Park Business Breakfast” at the Clarion Inn, in cooperation with the City of College Park, and the Downtown College Park Management Authority (DCPMA). The networking breakfast aims to bring local merchants and area real estate development businesses together to discuss common concerns and interests.

A continental breakfast will be provided at no cost, and attendees should register to attend at 21stdistrictdelegation@gmail.com or 301 858 3141.

The featured speaker will be Peg Duchesne, Laurel businesswomen, on the subject of Linked In and other widely used social media to connect with customers to build good business relationships.

There will also be a development update from Christopher Warren, Economic Development Coordinator for the City of College Park, on the status of development projects in College Park.

The Clarion Inn is located at 8601 Baltimore Avenue in College Park. The breakfast will be held in the Meeting Room.

For more information:
Senator Jim Rosapepe
202-271-5545
Carolyn Brenner
301-858-3141

Who is Dan Mote?

“Dan cut to the meat and found out what needed to be done, and if that meant ruffling up some feathers, that would be done, as well,” Lieu said. “He has definite feelings on how things should be done. Dan would pick a path and stick with it until it gets done. ~ former Mote assistant at UC-Berkeley

A virtual unknown on the east coast at the time, after 31 years at the University of California at Berkeley Dan Mote was asked to assume the presidency of Maryland’s flagship university in 1998. He served the university and the state phenomenally well in the proceeding 12 years. Yesterday he announced his retirement.

In 1997, UMD research dollars totaled about $155 million. Last year, thanks in large part to Mote’s leadership and fund-raising prowess, that number was $518 million. In 1998 the university ranked No. 30 in the U.S. News and World Report rankings among public institutions. Despite it’s proximity to Washington, at the time UMD held basically no national or international academic esteem. Since then UMD’s student applicant pool has increased by 78% and six-year graduation rates are at an all-time high. Last year UMD ranked No. 18 nationally and is now considered one of the world’s premiere research institutions.

Mote also oversaw a building boom that added the Comcast Center, the 130-acre M-Square research park, the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, bioscience and engineering buildings and several other large academic halls that brought the campus into the 21st century. In 2000,  he appointed a steering committee to develop a modern master plan for the sprawling College Park campus which has proven extremely effective in encouraging the rational growth of campus. Later, in 2007, he signed the far-reaching Presidents’ Climate Commitment which led the way to an institutional plan for climate neutrality.

By many accounts, Dr. Mote’s take no prisoners leadership style has put UMD on the map and allowed the university to reach it’s full potential as an economic engine for the state. But all this success is tempered with plenty of failings. That same leadership style that brought the university out of obscurity oftentimes translated to intransigence when it came to consensus building and planning the built environment. As former Graduate Student Government President Laura Moore pointed out in yesterday’s Diamondback, Mote’s actions throughout the years have only deepened the surrounding community’s mistrust of the University:

“I think those relationships have become so bitter you almost have to have a person come in and make things better,” she said. “Neither side trusts the other, each blames the other for the bad things that have gone on in the history of the relationship. … I hope with a new person we can have a fresh start.”

When it comes to planning, gut instincts and shooting from the hip rarely lead to favorable planning outcomes. More often than not Mote’s stubbornness resulted in the further deterioration of the surrounding community. Rather than embracing the university’s shared destiny with College Park, Mote ran from it. He sought to build a bubble around the campus, alienated local leaders and consistently pursued the university’s narrow interest instead of its shared future with College Park.

Mote fought tirelessly for a four-lane, 1.5-mile “connector road” between campus and I-95 that will surely never be realized. Mote foolishly wrote a  letter to Maryland DOT in 2006 supporting Route 1 reconstruction only where it crosses University property despite the fact that much of university-oriented private development is taking place outside this area. He and his top administrators forged ahead with plans for East Campus with surprisingly little political adroitness and even less public participation. Perhaps Dr. Mote’s single greatest failure was his unwavering and completely illogical commitment to keeping the Purple Line off Campus Drive.

We can only hope that Dr. Mote’s replacement carries on his great legacy of fund-raising, capacity-building, and cheer-leading…. and leaves planning to the planners.

RTCP 2.0 and New Twitter Account

If you have been following the site for awhile, you probably have noticed that we’ve implemented a new theme over the last couple weeks. We’re very excited to bring all our old content and great new content onto a more modern blogging platform. Please bear with us as we work out some of the kinks and tweak the new layout. Comment on this post if you notice any problems. Also, join the conversation on our new twitter account!

A New Way to Understand Development Plans for CP

People get at all the information on RTCP in a lot of different ways. Many use our popular development map, others use the categories in the side bar, still others just follow the site religiously and commit everything to memory. Clay Gump recently launched our area projects by the number page. Basically, it’s a way to view the City’s economic development update and all the hard numbers we throw out on this site in one condensed spreadsheet. We decided to take that concept one step further by embedding a google spreadsheet directly into the projects by number page and at the bottom of the development map page. That way, the most up-to-date information we have, you have also.

You’ll notice that we also created a nifty column for project “status”. This is a good way to visualize the state of construction in College Park and see what’s moving and what’s not in the nebulous world of College Park real estate development. Finally, we added a column for student housing beds, since that is an issue so near and dear to our hearts. Let us know what you think and if you notice anything we’re missing.

John Frece, Director of EPA’s Smart Growth Division Coming to Campus

smartgrowthbookAccording to the 1000 Friends of Maryland, John Frece, former Associated Director of UMD’s National Center for Smart Growth and current Director of EPA’s Smart Growth Division is coming to McKeldin Library Tuesday at 4:30. He’ll be talking about his recent book: Sprawl and Politics, “a political history of the origin, enactment, and implementation of Maryland’s well-known Smart Growth and Neighborhood Conservation initiative.”

Frece worked for several years on the staff of former Maryland Governor Parris  Glendening, the so called founder of Maryland Smart Growth, where Frece was a coordinator, adviser and chief spokesman for Maryland’s Smart Growth initiative. He also was a reporter for many years for the Baltimore Sun. I’ve seen him speak before and he has a lot of fascinating inside information and background on MD Smart Growth. Should be an interesting discussion especially given the recent uptick in debate over efficacy of the program.

Also, check out commentary by Glendening and current secretary of planning Richard Hall in Sunday”s Washington Post regarding that controversial Post article last week.

Looking Deeper into UMD’s National Smart Growth Center Study

Sprawl in Western Howard County, Maryland has rapidly destroyed farmland over the last two decades. Photo from Google Maps.

“Single-family homes and townhouses are scattered on ever-larger lots in areas designated for dense, compact building, as lots outside those areas shrink, the study concludes. “The number of parcels developed, the acres of land developed and the average size [of lots] are all moving in the wrong direction,” it says.” ~ Washington Post reporter Lisa Rein

University of Maryland’s National Center for Smart Growth released a milestone study (read the full report here) in the September issue of the Journal of the American Planning Association, which the Washington Post just reported about yesterday. In the paper, the researchers analyze the success of the centerpiece of Maryland’s nationally acclaimed 1997 Smart Growth legislation: Priority Funding Areas (PFAs). This planning tool was meant to prioritize state infrastructure funding in and near existing communities and thereby provide a disincentive to the sprawling development pattern that now characterizes much of the northeast.

The legislation became a national model that other states used to craft their own policies that rely on economic incentives instead of strict top-down regulation. But 10 years after the fact, did the trailblazing policies live up to all the hype? Apparently not, according to the Washington Post’s analysis, which concludes Maryland Smart Growth is “a flop”  and  “a bust.”

Greater Greater Washington goes as far as to call the headline itself “a flop.” The article even misquotes a major conclusion of the study, saying: “There is no evidence after ten years that [smart-growth laws] have had any effect on development patterns. ” The study actually says there is little evidence.” I decided to pull out some key excerpts from the study and draw on my background on the subject to get the full story.

PRIORITY FUNDING AREAS – WEAK INCENTIVES

Statewide PFAs in orange. Image courtesty of Maryland Department of Planning.

For background on PFAs, you should understand a little of the economics from the study:

“The logic behind PFAs presumes that the state pays a significant portion of the cost of infrastructure and that investment in infrastructure, particularly in sewers and roads, shapes the rate and location of urban growth.”

On the PFA incentive structure, the study says:

“Both economic theory and common sense strongly support the proposition that extending highways leads to urban decentralization and low-density development patterns. According to economic theory, land rent gradients, and thus urban structure, are largely determined by the tradeoff between accessibility and transportation costs.”

But then the authors go on to point out that the strength of incentives is just as important as the existence of incentives:

“In sum, the research to date suggests that policy instruments designed to concentrate growth in spatially designated areas can be influential. The extent of the influence, however, depends critically on the strength of the incentives or regulations and their institutional context. The limited research on the effects of PFAs is similarly mixed.  There is some evidence that PFAs do serve to concentrate urban development, job growth, and investments in wastewater infrastructure. The extent of concentration, however, varies by county, by industry, and by the extent to which local governments rely on state funds.”

SO WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?

Relatively weak incentives leads to a situation where sprawl continues unchecked:

“In many of the largest counties… the number of parcels and the share of parcels developed for residential use outside PFAs went up after the PFA law went into effect; and in many of these counties, the number of parcels developed for residential use outside PFAs continued to average 500 parcels per year or more after the PFA law.”

As further proof of the poor performance of Smart Growth legislation:

“It is notable that the total acres developed for residential use outside PFAs increased for over half of the state’s counties after the PFA law went into effect. Further, several central corridor counties, including some with nationally prominent growth management programs like Baltimore County and Montgomery County, continue to develop over 900 acres per year for residential uses outside PFAs.”

As a percentage of all parcels developed in Maryland, the share of parcels developed outside PFAs is increasing. From Maryland Department of Planning.

MORE THAN JUST MONEY

Part of the issue may be that local or private funds have picked up where the state has left off on infrastructure spending, thus mitigating the effects of a reduction in state funding. But even in cases where state funds are spent, it seems that the State of Maryland has struggled to make spatial distribution of funds within PFAs an integral part of its budgeting and reporting processes:

“Because reporting requirements were never fully met, it is difficult to assess whether or how much state agencies restricted their spending in conformance with the Smart Growth Areas Act or the extent to which state agency spending serves to contain urban growth.”

…and later:

“Without developing an allocation process that considers how funds are allocated spatially, it is unlikely state agencies will take the steps needed to make the targeting strategy meaningful. Finally, it is unclear that a targeted state spending strategy alone will be sufficient to alter state growth patterns.”

PFAs as incentives don’t necessary also translate to PFAs as a regulatory framework at the local level. As Richard Layman at Rebuilding Place in Urban Place points out, it is extremely difficult for state-level legislation to infiltrate the thousands of decisions made at the county level where the brunt of planning and zoning occurs in Maryland. The study says that PFAs…

“…are not consistently incorporated in local land use plans, and as a result are not an integral part of the statutory framework that governs land use planning, zoning, subdivision regulations, and appeals processes in the state.”

Dense infill project proposed for College Park, MD. Image courtesy of StreetSense Inc.

A NEW ATTITUDE

It is easy to draw a big target on Maryland smart growth, take pot shots at it by point to the changing landscape and trends in development patterns, and claim these laws are a complete failure as the Washington Post did yesterday. Maybe sensationalist journalism is one way to kick Maryland politicians into action, but a basic reading of the study shows a much more nuanced picture of Maryland’s trailblazing policies.

The more appropriate way to think about smart growth is: what would would have happened had these policies not been enacted? It is clear that PFAs have not produced the intended effects over the last 10 years and sprawl marches on at an alarming pace. Maryland smart growth does have significant failingsI recognized this and did an extensive post on it back in February 2008 and concluded the following:

“Should we amend our Smart Growth legislation? Probably. It’s clear that changes in prices and incentives are necessary, but not sufficient to achieve more compact development. Changes in coordination, planning, and zoning are necessary, but not sufficient for building more livable, transit-friendly urban environments. Atrociously poor funding of public goods and infrastructure combined with our impossible expectations of developers have created a situation where the constraints to building in dense urban areas act to propel development. What people need to realize is that there are real cost constraints to development projects. Shallow lot sizes, expensive land, burdensome and unpredictable approval processes make infill development expensive, risky, and difficult.”

THE REMEDY?

To get real results, Maryland’s incentive structure needs to be strengthened and combined with stricter land use controls, better coordination between counties and the State, and more streamlined processes for dense infill and transit-oriented development. As Dru-Schmidt Perkins, executive director of 1000 Friends of Maryland, points out at the end of the Washington Post article:

“if you continue to allow low-density sprawling development, then any developer in their right mind would say, ‘This will be lucrative,’ whereas smart growth is going to be complicated and expensive.”

Rethink College Park’s Impact?

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David West, a City and Regional Planning Grad Student at Cornell University, recently contacted Rob Goodspeed and me about Rethink College Park. He’s one of the several students that has approached us over the years to talk about this community participation and information sharing project. We had an interesting hour-long discussion about the site and at the end he sent me a follow up email with a great question that I thought I share it with you: “Is the project [Rethink College Park] more about community involvement or education?”

Keep in mind that of the 65 or so respondents to our 2007 Reader Survey, 16% reported contacting a University official and 23% a City official after reading the site. That was a self-selecting survey of our most avid readers and had a number of humbling comments, which I took great joy in reading again just now.

After some time thinking about David West’s question and providing him with some areas where I felt RTCP had real on-the-ground impact, I ended with the following:

“I’d say overall I recognize that a small minority of the population will really ever get involved actively in hyper-local politics, so I try not to get frustrated by the lack of involvement and instead embrace the fact that the site has quietly changed the way thousands of readers view College Park… it has given people hope where there was none before. I’m not talking about baseless hope. I’m talking about hope grounded in the economic opportunism of developers and a decade worth of nitty-gritty policy change instituted by forward-thinking people. We [Rethink College Park] just had the audacity to tell people what was actually going on in their community and try to help push it from paper to reality.”

I’m hoping that we’ll get more than the usual suspects commenting on this post:

I’d really like to see what people think. Is the project more about community involvement or education? What’s the impact of the project on how you view College Park?