Baltimore’s Mayor introduced its Climate Action Plan (CAP) with these words: “While we as a City alone cannot change the course of world climate patterns, we must do our part. The City of Baltimore’s Climate Action plan is our promise to take action, reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, increase our quality of life, and grow Baltimore.”  The focus of this ambitious agenda is walkability, specifically the concept of a 20-minute neighborhood; a place where land uses are located so that a person can walk or cycle to important daily destinations, such as their workplace or the grocery store, within a reasonably short time. This is a climate change mitigation strategy that greatly lowers vehicle miles traveled and their enormous contribution to CO2 emissions. Baltimore’s Climate Action Plan uses the framework of 20-minute neighborhoods to develop pedestrian-friendly infrastructure and ensure its citizens can reach necessary and recreation services. The CAP is unique because it lays out clear goals and assigns each goal to specific agencies of the city government. For example, for developing mixed-use development near transit through updated zoning codes, the plan assigns the Baltimore City Planning Commission and the Baltimore City Department of Transportation.

The Planning Commission incorporated the goals of the CAP into its Master Plan laying out city planning goals and expectations. The City of Baltimore Department of Planning Master Plan includes creating a city-wide Pedestrian Plan to promote pedestrian safety and “improve connectivity between destinations.” The Master Plan also includes goals to implement a Transit Oriented Development strategy by careful land use planning in neighborhoods around public transit stations, and to create “intermodal transit hubs in areas with low automobile ownership.” The goals laid out within this Master Plan are assigned to implementing bodies, timelines, funding sources, and calculate the related return on investment. Having the goals of pedestrian-oriented development written clearly with expectations on delivery has an impact on the law as well. Zoning codes and infrastructure projects are adjusted and developed to comply with the targets laid out in the Master Plan and CAP.

Baltimore Article 32 – Zoning provisions implement the goals and accountability laid out within the CAP and the Master Plan. The law states that development in certain zones must be in line with the goals of the Planning Commission’s Master Plan, “ensure compatibility” between residential and commercial uses, and specifically, § 13-203, approval standards, mentions that plans may only be approved if the use is compatible with the surrounding neighborhood.

The CAP also incorporates other aspects of sustainable development such as in-fill and adaptive reuse. The plan labels specific communities that it wants these projects to focus on in hopes of developing some of the city’s abandoned properties. This is reflected in the zoning code in § 13-203, Approval standards in mentioning that it will consider if the project encourages “innovative design features or adaptive reuse of structures” in its approval and consideration of exceptions.

The city is receiving support for its infrastructure and transportation improvements from the federal government, specifically the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The funding from this legislation will be used to deconstruct the historical “Highway to Nowhere” to reknit the communities it separated and make more services accessible to the population. This removal of an obstacle to transportation will also provide an opportunity for in-fill and adaptive reuse opportunities and improve the quality of life for the residents whose community was disjointed for many years.

By prioritizing pedestrian-oriented transportation and access in their CAP and zoning law, Baltimore exemplifies how communities can work within Climate Resilient Development (CRD), specifically through decarbonizing transit. While decarbonization of transit can take multiple forms, Baltimore’s dedication to walkability and the 20-minute neighborhood—with the support of accompanying mixed use zoning laws—serves as a strong example of local-level sustainable development.

Many cities have begun evaluating more pedestrian-friendly infrastructure to evolve with their citizens’ preferences. These cities, however, differ from Baltimore because many of their plans lack specific goals, timelines, and accountability. Baltimore’s CAP is unique because it incorporates accountability by clearly delegating projects to specific city departments. The detailed plan laid out in their CAP and the subsequent updates to the zoning law establish the city as a prime example for other municipalities.

This article is part of a series from the Land Use Law Center that explores how local governments can implement Climate Resilient Development (CRD) as defined in the Sixth Assessment Report of the IPCC. CRD requires innovative reform of land use planning and regulation by local governments. The series presents and analyzes numerous local laws and policies capable of adapting to and mitigating climate change to create equitable and sustainable neighborhoods, achieving “sustainable development for all.” 

Author: Bridget Molnar, 1L Land Use Scholar