Roundtable Report: Smart Growth in Small Towns and Rural Communities: Maryland's Eastern Shore

Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, Rebecca Jensen, and Elizabeth Walsh
Date Released
June 2000

The Chesapeake Bay region has experienced significant growth during the past 30 years and continues to grow at a rapid rate. The population of the region increased 26 percent between 1970 and 1994 and is now expected to increase by an additional 3 million people by the year 2020. The resulting demand for new development, often low-density and single-use, has led to a significant loss of open land and the emergence of new pollution concerns. For example, open land (consisting of farms and forests) now disappears at a rate of 90,000 acres annually -- including losses of 50,000 - 60,000 acres per year in Virginia, 30,000 acres per year in Maryland and 10,000 - 20,000 acres per year in Pennsylvania. During the past 30 years, the region has lost a total of 2.7 million acres of open land. In addition, the region has now lost 60 percent of its wetlands. New low-density, single-use development has caused an increase in traffic congestion, as the number vehicle-miles traveled has more than doubled since the 1970s. Furthermore, the new development also has contributed to rising levels of airborne pollution and polluted runoff, as well as increases in the cost of providing public services for low-density development.


Growth pressures are usually characterized as a problem of major urban centers that expand into the surrounding countryside. However, rural communities and smaller towns also constantly struggle with many issues related to growth pressures. In some cases, rural counties are under tremendous development pressures, while the local commercial centers still experience economic decline. In other cases, rural counties have taken strong actions to limit development, causing the local towns to suddenly need stronger tools to ensure that development happens in a way that is best for their communities. Small towns and rural communities in the Chesapeake Bay region are struggling with issues of how to coordinate and cooperate with each other, how to ensure that actual development meets the local vision for community growth, and how to ensure that they have the tools in place to guide growth effectively. Although growth patterns vary from county to county, all communities share several features in common. Small towns are faced with most of the proposals for new development, while rural areas struggle to maintain farms and protect water quality and habitat. State government provides strong leadership through Governor Parris Glendening