WASHINGTON – Maryland’s “smart growth” effort to limit sprawl won a national Innovation in American Government Award on Thursday, one of 10 government programs from across the country so honored.
Baltimore County’s “gainsharing” program, which rewards government workers for cost-cutting ideas, was one of 25 finalists out of 1,600 entries in the competition to honor creative approaches to tackling local problems.
The Smart Growth and Neighborhood Conservation Program was a finalist last year, before winning one of the top 10 prizes this year. Other winners included Minnesota’s public charter school initiative, Pennsylvania’s program to reduce the use of seclusion and restraint in mental hospitals and New York City’s partnership with neighborhood groups to revive local parks.
The centerpiece of the smart growth program, which started in 1997, is its Priority Funding Areas effort, which limits the state to funding infrastructure, housing and other projects only in designated growth areas. Smart growth also includes money to redevelop brownfields — unused and abandoned industrial land — and rural land preservation, among other initiatives.
“There is national recognition regarding what we are doing with land use patterns,” said John Frece, Gov. Parris Glendening’s special assistant for smart growth. “It is a real innovation. . .and many states are trying to replicate it.”
Glendening said in a prepared statement that the honor was “a testament to the important role smart growth plays in improving and maintaining a high quality of life for communities.”
David Gergen, editor-at-large of U.S. News and World Report and chair of the committee that selected the winners, said the Maryland program won because it was the first statewide plan to grapple with “the issue of urban sprawl [which] has captured the attention of the public.”
Finalists in the competition each get $20,000 grants and winners get $100,000 grants from the Ford Foundation, which sponsors the program with Harvard University’s John Kennedy School of Government. The program has handed out more than $15 million in grants since it began in 1986.
Maryland Planning Secretary Harriet Tregoning said the state would try to use the recognition of the award to ensure that other states have the information they need to implement similar programs.
“We basically want to use this money to spread the word about this program across the country,” she said of the $100,000 grant.
Melissa Boone, manager of Baltimore County’s gainsharing program, said that the $20,000 in grant money it won would go to similar ends. She said that people from as far away as California have expressed interest in gainsharing, which is intended to allow the government “to do more with less.”
The 4-year-old program rewards Baltimore County employees who promote cost-saving projects on the job. Boone said that employee measures have saved the county $1.4 million over the course of the program. She expects the program to grow and hopes that it will garner the top Innovation prize next year.