Open forum: Lead in smart growth; don't just talk about it
We released our Smart Growth 2010 Platform for Prince George's County. In the platform, we urge candidates to make creating great, walkable places around the county's 15 Metro stations a top priority. These Metro stations are the county's leading asset for attracting much needed economic development. Leveraging our Metro stations for new jobs, residences and shops will strengthen the tax base to pay for better schools and public safety. These Metro stations can also create convenient, walkable and transit-oriented places to live and work capturing a greater share of the jobs and households coming to our region.
Most politicians say they support smart growth and transit-oriented development, but do they mean it? We've seen county officials use public infrastructure and other subsidies to support giant new developments across open fields and "town centers" far from Metro stations and existing communities. While inner Beltway communities witnessed multiple school closings and infrastructure deterioration over the last decade, new growth was increasingly scattered across the county's former fields and farms outside the Beltway and established towns.
When the county isn't putting development in the wrong place, it often allows poorly designed buildings and streets in the right locations, like at Metro stations. Smart growth is about both where and how we grow. It means reversing the trend of spreading housing tracts, strip malls and "town centers" across the outer parts of the county. It means investing in established communities, especially inside the Beltway. It means taking advantage of the county's 15 Metro stations that have hardly anything around them.
We know that people who live closer to jobs, services and high quality transit drive less. But if there's no sidewalk to the Metro station or safe crossing to nearby stores, how can we expect these areas to thrive as transit centers? We continue to build suburban, automobile-oriented places, even around Metro stations. This is a tremendous missed opportunity. We need to ask candidates and future elected officials to put growth in the right places and pay attention to good design so we can fully leverage the value of our 15 Metro stations. Our focus should be on building great, walkable places around our Metro stations and saying no to scattered development.
Karren Pope-Onwukwe of Hyattsville is co-chairwoman of Prince George's Advocates for Community-based Transit.