On Wednesday evening I will be attending a gala dinner at which the keynote speaker is the governor of Maryland. I am an invited guest of the nonprofit organization responsible for the gala.
I'm a little bit nervous. I'm not even sure my best behavior is good enough for such a bash.
This nonprofit group, which has been instrumental in keeping development out of Terrapin Run, is all about "smart growth." Smart growth is amazingly logical. It's an intentional decision to grow communities where infrastructure and residences already exist.
The state of Maryland has a dizzying array of ecosystems. It has ocean beaches. It has the mighty Chesapeake Bay. It has the rolling farmlands of the Piedmont, and in its nether reaches, it has mountains. At its far western extreme, there's one place that actually has a few hundred acres of Arctic tundra (it's called a "frost pocket bog").
Maryland also has Baltimore. And the suburbs of Washington, DC.
Beginning in the 1960s, people moved out of the big cities in droves, to suburbs that kept cropping up farther and farther from the urban areas, in those beautiful natural regions of Maryland. The line of suburban sprawl has crept across the state in every direction. There are many people who drive 70 miles one way to work, so they can go "home" to the Chesapeake, or to the mountains, or to the Mason-Dixon Line.
If you want to see something sickening, go visit the Antietam Battlefield and then travel around that neck of the woods. You'll be cruising along a country road, and all of a sudden, up springs a hideous development of over-sized houses, with brick fronts and vinyl sides and grassy front lawns. These developments suck up farmland while older suburbs (and downtown real estate like Hagerstown, MD) abound with unused housing.
Smart growth advocates are trying to change that. They want to rehab existing houses in neighborhoods closer to urban centers. They want to concentrate housing on smaller parcels to save open spaces and farms. And they want to preserve wild lands in the state.
These are extremely laudable goals.
My heart, my soul, and my grave are in Appalachia. But it's easier for me to deal with not living there if I feel like I'm a "smart growth" kinda gal. And I am. There are 11 houses on my block. I can walk to the grocery store and the El train. This tiny plot of land where I lay my head could not be more different from the magnificent, empty vista that I cavorted through, summer after summer. But it's smart growth. I'm not sprawling in some former farm field. I'm not bulldozing trees for a mountain view. I live in a crowded neighborhood in a crowded county at the edge of a huge city.
It's idyllic to want to go "back to Nature" by living in the deep woods or on the edge of the rolling Chesapeake. Truth is, though, people don't go back to Nature. They bring the city with them when they move ... and suddenly Nature isn't natural anymore.
I pine for my mountains. I do. But when the fickle finger of Fate dropped me in Philadelphia, I just indifferently looked for a house near the El. Turns out I was a smart growther before it got called "smart growth."
My house is 90 years old. The yard is tiny. But suddenly, this expatriate hillbilly feels better. I'm proud to be part of the smart growth movement. It's one way to respect Mother Earth.