“Cannot we create from a beautiful, natural landscape an environment inhabited by man in which natural beauty is retained, man housed in community?”
– Plan for the Valleys of Baltimore County, 1962

THAT pretty much sums up what we should be about here on this earth – peaceful co-existence between us and the plants and the animals, making room for people without trashing what attracted them.

Sounds like a job for the Sierra Club. But it was a bunch of Baltimore businessmen, golfers and gentleman farmers who foresaw the coming sprawl. They raised an outrageous sum for the time – $300,000 – for a plan to retain the rural character of tens of thousands of acres in the Greenspring, Worthington and Caves valleys.

They hired Ian McHarg, who was just writing his Design With Nature, which would become a classic of landscape design worldwide.

McHarg let the Baltimore County landscape shape the plan. The “genius” of the place, he felt, lay in the rural-agricultural valley floors and the forested slopes. They must be protected, even as development was steered to densely clustered villages along the plateaus.

This was Smart Growth decades before the concept became a nationwide approach to development. And more than 40 years later, though tattered in places, the genius of the valleys persists.

Ironically, the part that had the least success, and which is also proving the hardest for modern Smart Growth, was creating high-density development.

The old Green Spring Valley Association, formed in 1962 to plan the valleys’ future, became in 1968 the Valleys Planning Council, a private advocate for the rural landscape that remains a vital force in county land use.

Building on the precedent set by the Valleys’ plan, Baltimore County enacted an Urban-Rural Demarcation Line in 1967. Unique in Maryland, and rare anywhere, the URDL declared in concept that the half of the county north of the Beltway should remain essentially rural.

Since then, there has been many a battle over making the vision a reality – and plenty of losses with the victories – but by and large, the war’s still being won (and still being fought).

I’ve been living part-time in the north county for a couple years, but its ambience helped Baltimore keep an Eastern Shore boy who enrolled at the Johns Hopkins University many decades ago.

I was overwhelmed by the city and shocked by its rowhouses. “How do they tell which is theirs when they come home?” I asked my mom on delivery to college.

Read the article complete with photos in its original format.