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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

A Sustainable Stimulus

Air Date: Week of

How will the trillion dollars that’s going to be infused into the economy during the next two years be used? If Parris Glendening has his way, the money will stimulate sustainable equitable growth. Glendening is the president of the Smart Growth Leadership Institute and the former governor of Maryland. He tells host Steve Curwood the money should be invested in green infrastructure, including transportation and walkable communities.


CURWOOD: The first item on the Obama agenda has to be getting the U.S. economy back on track - and it won’t be cheap. Many billions of dollars could be funneled into projects like rebuilding highways and roads, and improving schools and public transportation. Or the money could wind up in schemes like wider and new highways that feed sprawl, encourage more imported oil consumption, and add to global warming.

Parris Glendening, the former governor of Maryland, is among the many who say what we need is “smart stimulus”. Many credit Governor Glendening with coining the phrase “Smart Growth” - the development philosophy based around sustainability and green building patterns. And since leaving office he’s been president of the Smart Growth Leadership Institute in Washington. Governor Glendening, welcome to Living on Earth.

GLENDENING: Thank you.

CURWOOD: Right now we’re looking at what apparently will be a once in a lifetime opportunity to inject a lot of money, of federal money into growth. Literally we want to grow the economy to get us out of this deep economic malaise we seem to be headed for right now. How do we grow our economy, applying the concepts of smart growth?

GLENDENING: Well, first of all, we all agree that it’s desperate times out there. And that something bold, something dramatic, probably in the range that President-elect Obama’s talking about, that is 750 billion dollars or more, certainly over a trillion dollars in a two year period. Now the question then becomes, if you put that into the same old approach that’s been used in the past, even if we’re successful in getting a lot of people employed and back to work and stimulating the economy, what have we done? What we argue instead is if you think to the future, we should be investing in things like transit. It should be invested in creating walkable communities. It should be invested in the schools and the technology, and it should be invested in the green infrastructure, the expansion of solar and wind power and things of this type. We could have an extraordinarily, not just thoughtful, but maybe even nation-moving opportunity here.

CURWOOD: Now, let me ask you Governor Glendening, how equitable is smart growth? I mean, how will those with economic disadvantages benefit from smart growth?

GLENDENING: Well it is very equitable, and in fact, equity is one of our big issues on this. But let me address the premise behind the question, which is very valid and very good. In the past, and, in fact, indeed, in a number of cities today, smart growth has actually become the revitalization of a major community that had deteriorated significantly in which the housing costs were very low. In many, many cases, and this is still happening in some jurisdictions, the poor were forced out of those areas as the $600,000 condominiums were converted in these beautiful old buildings and things of this type.

CURWOOD: Gentrification.

GLENDENING: Gentrification, that’s exactly correct. There are a number of tools, however, that will make sure that that does not happen. Among other things, 'inclusionary zoning'. Inclusionary zoning simply means that if you’re gonna come in as an investor as a builder, it is not unreasonable to require that a certain percentage of those units should be at a much more moderate price for either rent or purchase. And so you have to always have a full mind on, yes, this is what we want for smart growth, but it cannot come at the expense of those already living there and those who so desperately need that range of housing cost.

CURWOOD: On Capitol Hill, let’s face in, Governor Glendening, the way that construction and new projects and stimulus stuff gets done is really based on a system of of earmarks. You know, you represent a certain part of the country, you come in and you hope to bring that bacon home for your constituents, after all, you face an election in two or six years. I mean, how do you change the system so that all this money, the trillion or so dollars that’s being talked about, can go to what you want, smart growth, as opposed to, you know, pork growth.

GLENDENING: I am hoping that starting with the stimulus bill that the sheer force of both the crisis, but also of President-elect Obama’s vision and the political power that he’s going to come into office with, that he will be able to direct – starting with the stimulus bill – the expenditures far more geared to broad policy that to the specific earmarks. Now, I understand earmarks is part of the process, and no matter what he or anyone else does, it’s going to continue to be part of the process. But if within that process, you could have a certain transparency and particularly transparency about how does this expenditure relate to other national goals.

So, for example, if you said to the states as they start to submit their list for transportation projects, a major goal is energy sustainability and reducing the reliance on petroleum, how does this rank relative to that? And if it’s just about adding more lanes to existing roads or building new interstates or whatever, then in fairness it should not rank very high at all.

On the other hand, if it comes in and it’s a fix-it first approach, or if it’s a walkability approach or a transit approach that significantly contributes, not only to the energy sustainability goal, but perhaps to the environmental global climate change goals and things of this approach, then it should rank higher. That still permits senators and Congress members to bring some of the pork home, but to bring it home in a way that is consistent with those national goals.

But if we are successful in even, let’s say, changing 50% of the decision making, to move not even completely, but to start moving in the direction of energy sustainability, in the direction of environmental policy that recognizes the impact of the sprawl and so on, it would have been a great victory.

CURWOOD: Let’s say right now you have a check, one trillion dollars. It’s in your hands, you get to put it into your smart growth account. How would you divvy it up?

GLENDENING: First of all, I would indeed do what President-elect Obama’s going to do, and that is rely greatly on state and local decision making. They’re going to be the ones implementing and they’re going to be the ones that have the inventories of problems and so forth.

But in that I would put pretty tight guidelines. So when you start talking about the competitiveness of that, how do you make those decisions? It will be: To what extent are you achieving these guidelines? Does it reduce vehicle mile traveled? Does it reduce energy consumption? Does it reduce carbon emissions? Does it make a community more economically competitive? Is it equitable?

If you have those types of questions, I would be able to hand those trillion dollars out, I believe, almost as fast, perhaps just a tiny bit slower because of the nature of some of these projects, but almost as fast. And in the long run, position the country far better. It would be not just an employment program. It would be an investment for the future program. At that’s how I think we ought to be looking at these monies.

CURWOOD: Parris Glendening is a former governor of Maryland, and is now president of the Smarth Growth Leadership Institute in Washington D.C. Thank you so much, sir.

GLENDENING: Thank you. Pleased to be here.



Click here to listen to an interview with environmental writer Richard Conniff

The Smart Growth Leadership Institute


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