1. To hasten economic recovery after the Great Depression, the Federal Housing Authority began to guarantee private mortgage loans. These guarantees, coupled with the GI Bill of 1944, a severe housing shortage, and the mortgage interest deduction, were tremendous catalysts to suburban growth. One commentator has compared the combined the effect of these forces on suburban growth to “setting a match to a pile of drywall.”
2. Suburban growth went largely “unchecked” for many years, save the requirements inherent in traditional zoning, which separated uses. Not until 1988 did the County require developers to set aside 1,000 square feet of open space per residential development unit.
3. The post-World War II era hastened the creation of mass-production techniques that lowered costs and shortened the time necessary to build a house. Small homes like those made popular by William Levitt were constructed quickly and sold for $8,000-$9,500. They dominate the residential fabric inside the URDL today.
4. With construction of the first “Eisenhower” beltway in 1957 fueling suburban migration and threatening to decimate the County’s rural heritage, rural land owners commissioned the Plan for the Valleys, in 1963. The Plan, drafted by landscape architect Ian McHarg, underscored the importance of the rich aquifers underlying the valleys to the quality of the region’s water supply. It led the County to establish the “Urban Rural Demarcation Line” (URDL), in 1967, prohibiting public water and sewer utilities outside its boundaries and relegating growth to the inner suburbs. The area is densely populated today, with 90% of the County’s 826,000 residents living on just 1/3 of the total land area.
5. The combined effects of these forces are far-reaching and include a chronic shortage of public open space, as shown in the map at left.
6. As shown in the map at left, most communities within the URDL are largely unwalkable, negatively impacting both public health and the environment. In many of these places, over half of the housing stock is pre-1970, with many neighborhoods struggling to remain competitive with other metropolitan communities where the housing is newer.
7. Stormwater runoff is the primary cause of pollution of the County’s urban water resources, including the Chesapeake Bay. All but one (the Gunpowder) of the watersheds that includes areas inside the URDL are impaired by sediment, nutrients or both.
8. There is, thus, a pressing need to “retrofit SubURDLia,” a play on the title of architect Ellen Dunham Jones’ 2009 book, Retrofitting Suburbia. She argues that the solution to the foregoing problems lies in retrofitting things like walkability and sustainability back into the suburban fabric.
THE BACK STORY
Residential Street in Parkville, 2014