Between 1987 and 2007 metro Washington’s agricultural land declined by 23% according to the recently released Region Forward Baseline Progress Report.
Currently the entire region has less agricultural land than neighboring Fauquier County alone. This trend in which metro Washington is losing more than one percent of agricultural land per year represents a huge shift culturally and economically for the region.
At the current rate metro Washington will drop below the Region Forward target of preserving at least 450000 acres of agriculture land very soon. Now is the time to observe the positive and negative impacts of our development choices and determine what we want our future to look like. As we noted last week economic growth and development need not be at odds with preservation and environmental protection if better land-use decisions prevail.
Metro Washington is one of the fastest growing regions in the nation. Sixty years ago Fairfax County’s principal economic output was milk. Today it is the region’s most populated jurisdiction with an economy led by several fortune 500 corporations. This type of shift has occurred throughout the region and it has brought increased prosperity and resilience to our economy. However this shift has also resulted in a rapid and fundamental change to our environment that will continue to impact all residents into the foreseeable future.
For several decades land use and transportation policy encouraged expansive low to moderate intensity development characterized by single family homes and auto oriented commercial facilities. However the dominance of this highway-centric development model is quickly fading. Over the past two decades the region has chosen to plan for fewer and fewer new highways opting instead to pursue transit-oriented development and promote other alternatives to automobile travel such as walking and biking.
This development pattern is more compact devouring less land to house the same number of people and companies and has led to creation of vibrant new centers of activity throughout the region as well as the revitalization of areas that had been in decline.
Communities throughout the region have successfully implemented different approaches to development. Some jurisdictions have opted to concentrate growth in key areas; others have decided to preserve their environmental resources first. As we continue to grow we are quickly reaching a critical point at which we must decide as a region 1) whether we want to preserve local agriculture? And 2) what tradeoffs are we willing to accept to preserve open space?
Every year more acres of agricultural land are developed for commercial purposes. If we wait too long to decide what we want from these resources they will be gone.