Planning Assistance in Action
Over the last 18 months, the Maryland Department of Planning (Planning) with the Office of Smart Growth (Smart Growth) conducted over 84 meetings/listening sessions across the state on the new state development plan, A Better Maryland. One of the resounding themes was the need for technical assistance for smaller jurisdictions to help with economic development and environmental priorities. In an immediate response to address this need, Smart Growth and Planning collaborated with the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) in the summer of 2018 to secure a $50,000 grant for The University of Maryland’s (UMD) Partnership for Action Learning in Sustainability (PALS) to expand its services for Maryland’s communities.
The National Center for Smart Growth at UMD, College Park administers the PALS program, which is a campus-wide initiative relying on the expertise of faculty and the energy and ingenuity of UMD students to help Maryland’s communities develop local capacity in environmental, economic, and social sustainability. PALS provides innovative assistance to local governments while creating real-world problem-solving experiences for UMD graduate and undergraduate students. PALS projects are focused and limited in time, very intense and specific, and generate substantial, immediate products.
While the PALS program has existed for some time, this recent collaboration with Smart Growth, Planning and DHCD is new and is in direct response to the feedback we received from our A Better Maryland listening sessions. In addition to providing innovative technical assistance, this collaboration develops a creative opportunity to coordinate state and local priorities and resources in a cost-efficient manner.
Working with local government leaders, the team identified projects in New Market, Essex, and New Windsor that could benefit from the resources of the PALS program. On December 10 the first project was presented under this new grant. Undergraduate students in the Landscape Architecture program presented landscape designs for the New Market Plains Vineyards in Frederick County. New Market recently gained Main Street Maryland designation and is focused on growing as a commercial and tourist destination. The Town identified the vineyard as a component of that long-term plan. This same group of students also submitted the New Market Plains Winery project to the Sustainable Growth Challenge and presented to the review panel on February 12. Challenge awards will be presented at the March 25th meeting of the Sustainable Growth Commission.
In January, graduate students in the Real Estate Development program presented a market analysis of the Essex business corridor. They tackled a large set of corridors and looked at the potential for development in multiple sectors. Many community members attended the presentation, as well as Baltimore County staff and members of the Chesapeake Gateway Chamber of Commerce.
Funding only goes so far, but it goes farther when partners work together toward common goals. The collaboration between the PALS program, Smart Growth, Planning, DHCD, and Maryland communities is a great example of a targeted partnership.
Gaining real world experience while helping a community is not only rewarding for both students and citizens, but also transformative. Maryland stakeholders are interested in expanding this combination of project-based learning and localized collaborative planning.
A Better Maryland, due to Governor Hogan by July 1, 2019, will craft additional creative solutions to develop local capacity and build interjurisdictional partnerships with statewide and local organizations.