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Reality Check Regional Visioning

“Reality Check” is a visioning exercise that allows participants working in diverse groups of 8-10 regional leaders to allocate expected growth using chips or legos on large scale regional maps. It is an exercise that asks the questions -- How should we grow? Where should we grow? The solutions developed by each group can be compared against current trends and plans and/or be aggregated with the other group’s growth scenarios into an average solution for analysis purposes.

Reality Check Regional Visioning

The level of growth projected to come to many parts of the state during the next 25 years could have adverse consequences for Maryland without better coordinated, long-range planning, say the approximately 850 Marylanders who participated in “Reality Check Plus,” a unique series of growth visioning exercises held around the state in May and June 2006. This broad cross-section of Maryland residents said they need a community vision for the future, comprehensive plans that codify that vision, and zoning that faithfully follows those plans. And, they said the state must step up to provide the financial support to meet critical local infrastructure needs. Reality Check participants in all four regions of the Maryland expressed strong and consistent support for a pattern of development that is different from the pattern that exists in Maryland today and vastly different from the pattern that is forecast for the state’s future or which current local zoning policies would permit.

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Already the fifth most densely populated state in the nation, is rapidly becoming more crowded. The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that Maryland’s population will grow from approximately 5.5 million today to 7 million by 2030 – just 25 years from now. Such an influx of new residents represents an increase of 500,000 beyond current state estimates. It means that the state’s population will expand from 563 people per square mile to 716 per square mile. Already, much of the new growth and development in Maryland is occurring far from Baltimore or other older cities and towns or even distant from the first tier of suburban counties. Instead, it has migrated to formerly rural counties in Western Maryland, Southern Maryland, and the Eastern Shore and even across the state line into neighboring Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. This dispersed pattern of development is consuming large amounts of farm and forest land, requiring significant financial outlays for infrastructure and services from taxpayers, and promoting a sharp increase in long distance commuting and traffic congestion.

The urgent questions facing Maryland are: Where will the state’s 1.5 million new residents – and the millions more who will follow them in subsequent years – live and work? Can our existing cities and towns absorb such an increase in population and jobs? Or, will this growth inundate our landscape, turning farms, forests and other natural areas into an endless series of houses, stores and offices? What will be the cumulative effect of such an increase in population and development on the health of the already troubled Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries? What, ultimately, will be the effect on the quality of life of all Marylanders?