The University of Maryland hosted a workshop on creating an “Institute for Sustainable Maryland” on September 16. The idea was proposed by Professor and National Center for Smart Growth Education and Research Director Gerrit Knaap. The proposed institute would combine the University’s existing National Center for Smart Growth and Environmental Finance Center and also create a new “active learning program.”
The active learning program would allow local governments to present a land use, environment, economic, or social problem to the program, which would then form a class around the problem. Local governments could benefit by having potentially hundreds of students from various disciplines work on solutions to the problem. Students would benefit by receiving credit for real world experience. The program would be funded by the University of Maryland, state governments, private foundations. Local governments seeking to have the program address a problem would likely have to pay a low-cost technical assistance/consultation fee.
MACo Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp was a presenter at the workshop, which also included academic, state, municipal, and private sector speakers. In his presentation, Mr. Knapp stressed that if the Institute were to be viable from a county perspective, the Institute would need to: (1) have a clear and practical definition of sustainability; (2) recognize the demographic and geographic diversity of Maryland’s counties; (3) propose solutions that are linked to tangible benefits on a county’s budget or economy, or the lives of the county’s residents; (4) avoid partisan politics; and (5) understand the “bigger picture” facing counties with respect to their budgets and land use/environmental policies.
Professor Knaap also briefed MACo’s Legislative Committee about the institute and active learning program on September 18. County elected officials questioned how the program would function and some expressed interest in the program being able to take on county issues of regional or even statewide concern.