More than 1,300 folks have “played” GamePlanMaryland since we launched it last December. It’s a sim game to help communicate the trade-offs in more sustainable land-use. If you want generous parking areas, for example, you’re likely to face greater pollution from the runoff from all the impervious surface. And it’s hard to have both quieter neighborhoods and better transit access simultaneously, since public transit is prohibitively expensive when people are spread out. With the help of the design firm MetroQuest, we wanted to show the “guns versus butter” theory of environmental planning: To gain something, you probably have to give up something. We launched the app the week that Governor O’Malley accepted “PlanMaryland” as the first growth plan for the state of Maryland toward the end of last year. We have visited every county in the state since then to work with local governments on mapping for PlanMaryland. We are also working with other state agencies so they can align their approach toward smarter growth during the coming year.
In Maryland, residents of the largest jurisdictions have tried it the most, but it’s been used nearly everywhere around the state. We did note an interesting schism in the early results. “Players” are asked to choose their top five priorities out of 12 for future land use policy for the state. Two of the objectives ranked among the top three were “Large homes, large yards” and “Generous parking” – the very choices that exacerbated sprawl in recent decades and caused Maryland to consume as much forest and farmland in a 30-year span as in the prior 300 years. But on closer look, we noticed that users chose priorities like “Walkable communities” and “Greater transit access” 10 times as often as they did “Generous parking.” What we deduced, and what the good folks at Metroquest confirmed, was that some GPM users who weren’t favorable toward smart growth selected only a few non-smart growth priorities, while users who seemed to be more supportive of smart growth “played the whole board.”
We know that smart growth as an issue is contentious, and that not everyone agrees on it. We didn’t need GPM to confirm that. But we do hope the app helps give people a better glimpse into the inevitable tradeoffs and consequences of land-use policy on a large scale. And we would be delighted if folks who haven’t yet played GPM to try it.