Greater Greater Washington

Baltimore's suburban downtowns emerge as more urban

Bethesda, Silver Spring, and Arlington are some of the best suburban downtowns in America. Baltimore's suburbs, by comparison, have lagged behind. But with large infill projects coming to Towson and Columbia, Baltimore's most walkable suburbs may soon catch up with DC's.


Towson Row. Image from Baltimore County.

In Towson, 1500 new residential units have opened in the past 4 years, with the largest redevelopment, Towson Row, announced just last week. The change has been enough that the Maryland Transportation Administration is now considering a Towson circulator bus network.

Columbia has further to go. Towson at least has a traditional grid of streets around which to build. Columbia, by comparison, was planned in the mid-20th Century around a mall. All Towson really needs is more buildings; Columbia must be reworked from the ground up.


Downtown Columbia master plan. Image from Howard County.

But they are getting there, slowly. In 2010 Howard County adopted a master plan to make downtown Columbia more urban. And now, actual projects are in the works.

Developers are moving forward with a 9-story infill project after plans for a 22-story one on the same property fell through. The shorter project is actually denser. It will have 160 apartments, 12,000 square feet of retail, and 130,000 square feet of office space, compared to 160 apartments, 11,000 square feet of retail, and no office space in the 22-story version. The 22-story tower was proposed nearly 10 years ago, and was a more suburban design.

Unfortunately, for the foreseeable future both Towson and Columbia will continue to lack an important piece of the urban puzzle: regional transit. DC's suburban downtowns have the advantage of Metro, but Baltimore's Metro is smaller, and serves neither Towson nor Columbia. Long range plans call for an eventual light rail connection to both places, but that's decades away.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

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Dan Malouff is a professional transportation planner for Arlington County, but his blog posts represent only his own personal views. He has a degree in Urban Planning from the University of Colorado, and lives car-free in Washington. He runs BeyondDC and contributes to the Washington Post

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Is Arlington really a suburb? I mean, draw a line from the white house and you find that it is as far as Lincoln Park in Capitol Hill, and closer than Petworth. These 2 areas arguably also are a lot more suburban in that they lack tall buildings, and clustered nightlife.

by ArlingtonTown on Jun 25, 2013 1:51 pm • linkreport

to clarify, I drew a line from the white house to the Clarendon metro.

by ArlingtonTown on Jun 25, 2013 1:53 pm • linkreport

Arlington and Alexandria are technically/politcally suburbs in the traditional sense though practically I think most people understand them as extensions of the DC urban core in practice.

by Alan B. on Jun 25, 2013 1:58 pm • linkreport

While Arlington is close in, and has very urban parts now, it was built largely as a suburb - the older parts as a street car suburb, the newer ones (prior to 1990 or so) as a more auto oriented suburb. It transitioned to become what it is today.

That said, its transition was easier because of its location so close in.

Columbia is planned community - like Reston but with a mall instead of urbanist Town Center. As such it has a network of trails that create bike ped options superior to many suburbs.

I note that there is also some urbanist style development planned for Ownings Mills, and White Marsh has at least an infill lifestyle center.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 25, 2013 1:58 pm • linkreport

Alexandria was historically an independent city, and its oldest suburban areas were built as suburbs of Old Town, which IIUC had its own white flight. Arlington, by contrast has been DC focused from pretty far back.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 25, 2013 2:01 pm • linkreport

Arlington developed mostly as an interwar/postwar suburb. Old Town and other elements of Alexandria make it more an old city absorbed by suburbia. Each has a somewhat distinct character much as Bethesda and Silver Spring are quite different. Neither seems anything like DC, in part because of things like the military. the difference isn't as pronounced as it was 20 years ago, but the whole vibe changes once you get there or go in that direction. I'd never consider it an extension of DC and most people I know in DC wouldn't be caught living in either place, even if they make the occasional shopping trip or take take company to Old Town.

by Rich on Jun 25, 2013 2:07 pm • linkreport

Is Arlington really a suburb?

Yes and no. Alan B, said it right that in a political sense it is. But it isn't when you consider the form and nature of its development and that was a concsious choice made by the county largely back when the metro was being planned. They could have just as well opted to try to preserve a suburban form across the county rather than doing what they did in Cyrstal City/R-B. It's all in the planning.

by drumz on Jun 25, 2013 2:10 pm • linkreport

The topic is "suburban downtowns", @ArlingtonTown, so yes, Arlington is a suburb.

by alurin on Jun 25, 2013 2:11 pm • linkreport

And to bring it back on topic you see that with Towson and Columbia. Planning makes all the difference.

by drumz on Jun 25, 2013 2:13 pm • linkreport

Columbia needs to be better connected to both Downtown Baltimore and Downtown DC by bus to start in order to start the process of removing "the bubble." The current operations are almost exclusively commuter based operations, and outside of those hours, reaching Columbia from the outside by transit involves heading to BWI first to connect to the hourly Silver Line.

by A. P. on Jun 25, 2013 2:15 pm • linkreport

Towson has a lot more possibilities for an urban setting and for possible transit links. The communities around Towson are older and more urban in character and it is closer to Baltimore downtown which would further stoke growth.

by Richard Bourne on Jun 25, 2013 2:36 pm • linkreport

I'm still not clear why a town center is considered a much stronger draw than a mall. In the DC area for example, neither the Rockville nor Reston town centers have even a quarter of the retail options that Montgomery Mall or Tyson's Corner offer. They may have more restaurant options, but mostly chains and nothing all that great.

by Chris S. on Jun 25, 2013 2:51 pm • linkreport

It's more social. Since there's no street culture in many of these areas people lack social contact. You know, hanging out. It makes people feel better. Shopping isn't the only thing people want to do. Look at Downtown Silver Spring.

by dc denizen on Jun 25, 2013 2:54 pm • linkreport

and fresh air and sunlight. At least in good weather (which just happens to also save the owners money on HVAC). Generally a nicer, less cavernous feel than most malls.

That said I dont know its intrinsically a much stronger draw. Reston and Rockville are mixed use, which adds density and street life (and can add better transport options) Life style centers without much mixed use arent quite as compelling.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 25, 2013 2:58 pm • linkreport

Reston and Rockville are mixed use, which adds density and street life (and can add better transport options) Life style centers without much mixed use arent quite as compelling

If you can create a base of people who live within walking distance/very close then you'll be fine even as newer developments are built. If that base isn't present (i.e. at most traditional malls) you're much more vulnerable, especially if the surrounding neighborhood becomes less desireable.

by drumz on Jun 25, 2013 3:01 pm • linkreport

Towson has a large mall and a lot of street life. They need not be incompatible.

by Richard Bourne on Jun 25, 2013 3:08 pm • linkreport

The Towson plan looks pretty good, but I'm not sure what good it is to distinguish between suburb and city beyond snob apeal. Any good center whether in town or on the perifery looks the same, beyond the age of the buildings. Meaning, with the right density, street life, and transit options, it will be desirable in this market. There are whole areas of NW which lack access to retail and transit within a 10 minute walk that are less "urban" than downtown Bethesda etc. But I have to second dcdenizen on the social qualities of a town or neighborhood center. Like it or not we prefer sunlight, people, and beautiful surroundings. It's sooo nice to live in a time when the bankers finally see the profit to be made building this way.

by Thayer-D on Jun 25, 2013 3:12 pm • linkreport

I am somewhat conflicted about this one aspect of the urbanist model. I came to the DC area for the second time about sixteen years ago and came to (North) Bethesda, witnessing a pretty massive transformation there. The last six years, I've commuted back and forth, having a girlfriend with a home and kids in Columbia, which is now planning for a somewhat comparable transformation.

Let me preface the rest of my remarks with the assertion that I am a massive fan of mass transit, especially rail. I grew up in NY suburbs, where traveling by commuter train (and then possibly subway) is more the norm than anywhere else in this country. I am also an activist on climate change -- having recently completed a degree in environmental law and policy, clerking at EPA, and now trying to land a full-time position in the field. I loathe traffic, and I feel I've endured a lifetime's worth already, on the Beltway, on I-270 and on I-95.

Consequently, there is no statement I agree with more strongly than there needs to be regional rail connecting Columbia to both Baltimore and DC -- perhaps being the link or transfer point connecting to two urban/suburban commuter systems. I don't know why it needs to be decades away. Plans should start moving forward so that the lines are in place to meet the demands of the new downtown in Columbia, as well as the new downtowns being created a few miles to the south in Fulton and Laurel. It's time to move past spitballing and and actually move to the project planning stage. More delay will just mean that much more misery for those stuck on 29 and 95 and 495.

Having said all that, I want to make a case for preserving suburbia....even in the midst of cities. Cars are not the only enemy. We have paved over far too much of the world to make roads, but we are making a mistake if we pave over even more of the world transforming leafy suburbs into ring cities.

Density is fine, and the diversity and services that will follow will be most welcome. But, the real enemy we face is global warming, and cutting down all the greenery to pave over everything will only add to the problem. Cars are a problem now, but we are going forward with efforts that transform the automobile into a far, far cleaner form of transportation -- potentially cleaner than most forms of energy-gobbling mass transit.

Developing suburbs into ring cities won't take cars off the road -- it will add cars on to the highways....and widen roads to take the traffic being generated. The new asphalt will cut into any benefits that come from cleaner-burning cars...and the increased traffic will create greater quality of life issues. I suppose, eventually, it might generate local growth from those who are sick of the commute...but I'd rather see more effort put into preserving the bedroom community qualities and offer better commuting options.

Sorry for the long post. Maybe I can turn this into some reformed urbanist manifesto.

by Fischy (Ed F.) on Jun 25, 2013 3:17 pm • linkreport

I think it's great to have a town square where people can congregate and hold events outside, but it seems more like a supplement than a replacement for malls. I sometimes go to see movies in the Rockville and Reston town centers, and they are nice enough to walk around, but if there is any significant shopping to be done then there is no choice but to go to the mall. I don't know, it seems more efficient (and greener) to get all shopping done under one roof in a large mall than to criss-cross across the region from one small shopping center to another.

by Chris S. on Jun 25, 2013 3:32 pm • linkreport

@Fischy (Ed F.)
MARC already has two lines between DC and Baltimore. I think what needs to happen if you need the Baltimore Yellow line to head out to Columbia through the Jessep MARC station.

One day the Red line could also go down 29 to Columbia as well if there is sufficient population to make it worth while.

If the WMATA ever gets around to a rail line out 29 into White Oak it certainly could include conversation about going all the way to Columbia but over these distances it probably makes sense to use the Camden line infrastructure for longer trips.

by Richard Bourne on Jun 25, 2013 3:37 pm • linkreport

but we are making a mistake if we pave over even more of the world transforming leafy suburbs into ring cities.

Two challenges to help refine your thinking.

1. The growth is going to go somewhere and if its not going to go to Towson or Columbia or wherever a greater share of the growth more likely to go out to more rural or exurban places rather than into town like Baltimore. Maybe this is reversing with the rennaisance in many cities but that hasn't been the experience. So you still have the problem of loss of greenery and maybe the hope that the loss is relatively smaller.

2. You have jurisdictional issues. Howard county execs can't do anything about growth in DC or Baltimore. All they can control is Howard. Add the fact that the temptation to draw businesses and residents (and tax revenue) can be large you have to figure out a way to answer that challenge.

by drumz on Jun 25, 2013 3:37 pm • linkreport

"Towson has a large mall and a lot of street life. They need not be incompatible. "

never said they were. I was just explaining why people often prefer a lifestyle center to a mall.

"but if there is any significant shopping to be done then there is no choice but to go to the mall. I don't know, it seems more efficient (and greener) to get all shopping done under one roof in a large mall than to criss-cross across the region from one small shopping center to another."

On the occasions ive bought something at a lifestyle center, I havent gone all across the region. I had one thing I needed to get, and I went there. Also, I think you are conflating size with form. There are smaller malls, and I guess larger lifestyle centers.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 25, 2013 3:52 pm • linkreport

"But, the real enemy we face is global warming, and cutting down all the greenery to pave over everything will only add to the problem."

building more density does not mean adding to the global population, or necessarily having more economic activity. Its about arranging differently in space.

if you have 100 people at 1 person per acre, you develop 100 acres. If you have 100 people at 100 per acre, you develop 1 acre. By developing at 100 per acre, you arent increasing the birth rate.

I think I read somewhere " every one tree in the suburbs, cost 2 trees in the woods"

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 25, 2013 3:55 pm • linkreport

To play into what drumz says above, in response to Fischy,

Having an urban canopy (what I think you're getting at with the 'green' suburbs) is certainly great to achieve if you are developing an area, but trust me, the environment would much more appreciate not being developed in the first place. Having suburban edge cities is a way of absorbing jobs and residents, keeping development from occurring on the edges of the region in the first place. With green roofs and street trees, we can further green the street level. It doesn't seem like it now, but when built out, places like North Bethesda/White Flint have the ability to actually look very green from top down.

If we're having more pipe dreams about transit between DC and Baltimore, lets not forget the push to extend the green line north toward BWI. I'm not actually sure how pratical that really is, but i'd love to see it go north a few miles, if it continues following the existing rail for ease of construction, we'd have Beltsville, could put another station near Virginia Manor office park area, and then turn the station west a bit, and hook up with Konterra. Talk about a total greenfield want to be urban town center, with the 5,000+ housing units 1,000,000 sq ft + retail and many millions of desired sq ft of office.

Transit in Columbia should focus on the surrounding area as much if not more than DC and Baltimore. Why can't we think of this differently, and imagine Columbia as just another downtown, with suburbs around it. There already are a few office buildings there, with plans for more. Add the new housing, retrofit the way the retail operates, and you've got a reason for much of Howard County to stay in county to work, live, eat, play... Columbia may always have ties to the two big neighbors, but it doesn't mean they need to be exclusively tight.

by Gull on Jun 25, 2013 3:55 pm • linkreport

There are smaller malls, and I guess larger lifestyle centers.

And in 20 years we'll be able to call the lifestyle centers, neighborhoods. ;)

by drumz on Jun 25, 2013 3:55 pm • linkreport

"MARC already has two lines between DC and Baltimore."

Which is why I wrote there needs to be regional rail connecting the two cities and suburbs in between. MARC ain't it -- at least not now...It's slow, unreliable, stations are generally tiny, with little access and the schedules are a fraction of what's really needed. Besides, in New York, where I grew up, there were three commuter lines connecting the northern 'burbs to the city. There is a need for and the space for a line along 29, for all those commuters who are ill-served by existing MARC service.

Right now, there is talk of BRT, which is getting some resistance on the southern end, in Silver Spring -- and, if doesn't connect up with Metro, it will be of very limited utility.. That's why I think light (or heavier) rail is a better long-run option.

by Fischy (Ed F.) on Jun 25, 2013 3:59 pm • linkreport

@Gull -- Yeah, it's all pie-in-the-sky right now, with governments refusing to do anything ambitious now. -- but the Green Line extension into Beltsville and Laurel would be an excellent idea. Put in enough parking - or lots of bus routes headed there -- and you might go a long way to alleviating the bottleneck every morning from Laurel down 495 and over to Silver Spring...and down 16th St....and the other way in the afternoon.

by Fischy (Ed F.) on Jun 25, 2013 4:06 pm • linkreport

It's about time. Towson was the flagship streetcar suburb for Baltimore like Silver Spring was for DC before the war. Just as Silver Spring was the end of the Georgia Avenue streetcar, Towson was the end of the Charles Street streetcar. Just like the 70 bus that replaced the 70 streetcar still serves Silver Spring, the number 11 bus that replaced the City and Suburban railway still serves Towson. (The 11 doesn't follow the rail route as faithfully as the 70 due to route changes in the past 50 years.)

Towson actually had an advantage in that it's in it's region's Favored Quarter, like Bethesda and Rosslyn-Ballston rather than Favored Quarter-adjacent like Silver Spring.

Towson being behind Silver Spring was largely a function of Baltimore County being behind the times as well as a lack of fixed rail infrastructure. Baltimore County is starting to wake up so Towson will wake up.

Columbia is more ambitious. It's closer to downtown Baltimore and it's culturally in the Baltimore region so it would make more sense to have a light rail connection. I hope they can do it. If they get it done there, they could show Anne Arundel how to get it done. Anne Arundel is obviously farther behind Howard and Baltimore County.

by Cavan on Jun 25, 2013 4:16 pm • linkreport

@ ArlingtonTown,

Arlington is a suburb through and through. It was almost all farmland before the Pentagon was built. Rosslyn was a small streetcar suburb.

Alexandria is neither part of the urban core nor a suburb. It's a satellite city. Before the war, it was very much its own city. After the war and the explosion of car-dependent suburbia, it was caught into orbit. Rockville is also a satellite city. Same with Bladensburg. Georgetown was a satellite city before 1870.

In contrast, Adams Morgan, Anacostia, and Silver Spring are pre-war suburbs. Silver Spring would now be thought of as in the city like Petworth if the state line wasn't there.

Don't look at location to determine core city/suburb/satellite city. Look at the development history. If the area developed as an addition the the core metro region after the metro was already established, it's a suburb. If the area developed before/simultaneously but was then brought into orbit by the growth of the larger metro, it's a satellite city.

Keep that in mind next time someone in Columbia Heights or Adams Morgan brags about how cool they are since they live in the city. They actually live in a suburb. We just regard it as city in our time because people built suburbs back then by extending the street grid of the existing city or by building a street grid around a rail station.

by Cavan on Jun 25, 2013 4:29 pm • linkreport

Fischy,

I think it's an important distinction to note that nobody*, not even in Bethesda, Silver Spring, or Arlington, is tearing down single family detached houses. The suburban areas that are getting redeveloped are the commercial nodes. The choice isn't between leafy residential areas and downtowns, it's between strip malls and downtowns.

Also, we do have conclusive proof that redeveloping strip mall areas into downtowns does indeed take cars off the road. The arterial roads in Arlington's Rosslyn-Ballston corridor have fewer car trips now than they did 15-30 years ago, despite all the massive high-rise development. It turns out a 500-unit apartment building in Ballston produces fewer car trips per day than a drive-through McDonalds does in Fairfax.

* The notable exception, where houses are giving way to a town center, is Vienna MetroWest. But it's a rare exception and not at all the rule.

by BeyondDC on Jun 25, 2013 4:32 pm • linkreport

@Cavan
"Columbia is more ambitious. It's closer to downtown Baltimore"

Towson is closer to the Baltimore line and closer to Downtown(Charles Center)

by Richard Bourne on Jun 25, 2013 4:39 pm • linkreport

Also, we do have conclusive proof that redeveloping strip mall areas into downtowns does indeed take cars off the road. The arterial roads in Arlington's Rosslyn-Ballston corridor have fewer car trips now than they did 15-30 years ago, despite all the massive high-rise development.

How much is the inherent walkability of the design and how much is the fact that you have metro right underneath? I think the dramatic-ness of R-B is a mix of both. Though I'd also reccomend that a lot of these places do what R-B did from a transit perspective as well.

Not disagreeing just giving a caveat (and likely objection for someone more skeptical).

by drumz on Jun 25, 2013 4:44 pm • linkreport

It's a shame that the original 1960s "BRRTS" plan that included a Baltimore Metro line running out Greenmount Avenue/York Road to Towson and Lutherville never came to pass. The proximity of several colleges to that corridor (JHU, Loyola, Notre Dame of Maryland, Towson, Goucher) alone probably would have given it plenty of ridership, and it would have stopped in key shopping districts like Waverly, Govans, and Anneslie along the way. Plus Memorial Stadium right nearby! Oh well.

by iaom on Jun 25, 2013 4:50 pm • linkreport

@ BeyondDC "I think it's an important distinction to note that nobody*, not even in Bethesda, Silver Spring, or Arlington, is tearing down single family detached houses. The suburban areas that are getting redeveloped are the commercial nodes. The choice isn't between leafy residential areas and downtowns, it's between strip malls and downtowns."

Well, that isn't quite true. You already mentioned Vienna, and in Bethesda at least 3-4 blocks of SFHs near the Metro station have been nearly or completely demolished in favor of condos/office buildings. And there's another 2-3 blocks of SFHs nearby that developers are reportedly very keen to get their hands on.

by Chris S. on Jun 25, 2013 5:20 pm • linkreport

I think that one of the problems is that a lot of people move to places like Columbia to escape the city, right? Especially in previous generations. Most of us here represent a certain ethos, but enough locals have to want a town center type of development for it to be successful. I do think shifting demographics are in their favor in the long term.

by Alan B. on Jun 25, 2013 5:22 pm • linkreport

This contributes to the Baltimore region's not understanding what factors are "essential" to what Leinberger calls WalkUPS. (Not unlike the push for TOD in PG County. Just having some stations and some proximate development doesn't make it TOD necessarily, at least in terms of the multiplicative effect on quality of life and property value that is needed to drive residential choice and vertical mixed use property development.)

Towson has a bunch of buildings and housing, the government center and is a conurbation, but at the street level is very incongenial and the mobility pattern is car-dependent. And for the most part the elected officials completely do not get this (and that extends to the people they hire to be the directors of the major govt. agencies that deal with land use and mobility).

In short, Towson has most of the problems of Greater White Flint, without a plan to change them.

County officials mostly define themselves as not being Baltimore City, which is perceived to be unsuccessful, so the wherewithal to change isn't there. Because by comparing themselves only to Baltimore City, for the most part they will always come out on top.

FWIW, when I worked there I did a write up on how to change the transit environment. It was a memo submitted to the Master Plan Committee, so it's Baltimore County-focused, and some other items that "should" be in it weren't included.

http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2012/05/from-files-transit-planning-in.html

Note also that Greg Slater of SHA made a very good point in conversation a few months ago that to maximize the value of the light rail line in North Baltimore County, it should be extended at least 0.5 mile from its current terminus, to serve the major office districts located in Hunt Valley. That point should be added to the above-cited memo.

And for political reasons the memo didn't discuss how TOD intensity planning at Owings Mills was misguided, and wrt similar planning for Greater White Marsh, instead of the downzoning they did a few years before, they'd have to upzone.

... irrespective of the issue that there isn't demand for all the proposed growth (Bradley Heard made a similar argument with regard to Prince George's County in a recent GGW entry), which I couldn't openly discuss either.

... wrt iaom's point, the 8 and 48 buslines on York Road are some of the system's busiest. (And one of those maps of those proposed lines routing for Baltimore County is on the wall of the planning office. It's probably from the 1970s.)

... wrt drumz' point, R-B corridor was more like Rosslyn in terms of functionality originally. (That's a stretch, I know.) It's now in its second iteration, and the street level functionality is a lot different and way better.

And wrt Dan's point: we do have conclusive proof that redeveloping strip mall areas into downtowns does indeed take cars off the road.

That's a stretch. It does take cars off the road where you have transit alternatives. It's not clear that it will in places where you don't (which is the big problem in the Baltimore region).

Gull is right that focusing transit in Columbia on reaching Baltimore and DC is somewhat wrongheaded. If you want walkability there, well, then you need transit there first. OTOH, how many people who live in Columbia work there too? Probably not many.

by Richard Layman on Jun 25, 2013 5:40 pm • linkreport

Both Towson and Columbia (like Greenbelt, National Harbor, etc.) suffer from the fact that Baltimore's LRT and commuter rail lines only run along existing rail ROWs and thus miss them entirely. Rail around Baltimore isn't that important in terms of providing TODs with access to valuable consumers and employees, and that's a chicken-egg problem. However, that leaves new development at these centers with much less transportation capacity than D.C.-area TODs.

@Fischy: "Developing suburbs into ring cities won't take cars off the road" - actually, it will. Transportation planners call it "internal trip capture"; depending on the development components, many of the new trips can either be handled within the development (presumably by walking/cycling), and many other trips from outside will be shorter thanks to the introduction of new uses inside the development.

by Payton on Jun 25, 2013 5:44 pm • linkreport

@Chris S.
It's worth noting that 'single-family' buildings in the Bethesda urban district are not, generally, used as residences-- tearing them down is basically just increasing density near the Metro station. I think, in fact, that there is exactly one SFH in the urban district that is actually used as a residence.

by MattF on Jun 26, 2013 7:43 am • linkreport

> In Bethesda at least 3-4 blocks of SFHs near the Metro station have been nearly or completely demolished in favor of condos/office buildings. And there's another 2-3 blocks of SFHs nearby that developers are reportedly very keen to get their hands on.

OK, fair enough, but that's a sum total of 5-7 blocks in all of Montgomery County, out of how many overall? Hardly enough to constitute a trend.

SFHs are safe from urbanization in Montgomery County, save for an extremely tiny handful of exceptions directly adjacent to major urban areas.

by BeyondDC on Jun 26, 2013 10:18 am • linkreport

I'm not a fan of malls, but they serve a very large demand. and they are a lot more busy than downtown silver spring or bethesda etc, especially on really hot and cold days when people very logically like to shop indoors.

by polo on Jun 26, 2013 12:36 pm • linkreport

The real issue isn't mall versus town center, its single use versus multiuse.

The best city areas are ones where people live, work, and shop (not neccessarily all the same people).

Obviously a mall surrounded by parking does not do well in that regard.

Just compare Columbia to Towson - both have large malls. But the Towson mall has only a parking deck, not a surrounding moat or parking (and then a circulatory road), like Columbia. So its much more likely to be a center for socialization. If you could put some storefronts on the outside (like White Marsh Town Center) it would be even better.

Similar to any downtown really - its basically what makes a downtown a downtown.

by TomA on Jun 26, 2013 1:52 pm • linkreport

Matt and Beyond

Im not familiar with the bethesda situation, but I know in NoVa, its quite common for SFHs to be rezoned commercial due to hardship caused by location on a "traffic sewer" road. If and when they are torn down for high density, it is as matt says, just higher density, NOT a shift from SFH use. Some people meld those two changes in their rhetoric - some out of error, but some, I think, deliberately.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 26, 2013 2:02 pm • linkreport

It shouldn't be an issue that a couple of blocks off of an older commercial artery you would find the houses give way to townhouses & garden apartments. The question is how well can it be done, and on that count things seem to be improving as this plan shows. Government's ought to expidite this kind of sustainable development not only for the long term economic benefits but for the short term stimulus.

by Thayer-D on Jun 26, 2013 3:27 pm • linkreport

TomA -- I worked about 4 blocks from the Towson mall and it was at least 6 weeks before I figured out the mall was there. I knew about (and patronized) Trader Joes, but it wasn't til I was walking a certain way on York Road that I noticed the Macy's sign on the side of one of the buildings.

You have the building blocks there in Towson, but everything about the street is disjoint. Without the adjacency of Towson State University there would be little if any pedestrian activity in the area at all.

Of course, that's as of three years ago. Although I doubt things have changed much. FWIW, the circle there at York Road and the cross streets by the Mall has lots of ped-car accidents.

And I am not sure you get urban design (this isn't a cut). The outside "pad-based" retail buildings at White Marsh do not promote walkability and placemaking.

I think your point about stores connecting to the street--if that part of the mall was located in a central place--is a good one, but it's counter to what malls do. They are like casinos, they want to keep people inside.

Note that the mall is pretty successful financially. But it does have some issues with Baltimore youths coming up to the mall and doing mischief.

by Richard Layman on Jun 26, 2013 4:27 pm • linkreport

@Richard Layman
Youths coming up to the mall, making mischief is the problem all malls have. It's a place to hang out and the stores have no doors.

by Richard Bourne on Jun 27, 2013 1:44 pm • linkreport

Richard - sure - Towson isn't great - but compared to Columbia, its at least conceivable that it could be a decent pedestrian oriented suburb if they wanted to do so at some point (adding a light rail connection would be key.)

My wife works there (on York Rd), and several of her coworkers bought houses in the area nad walk to work or bike. I just can't imagine that happens in Columbia all that often - just walking across the parking lot and mall to your store might be as long as their entire walk from their house.

As for people buying house sin Columbia to escape the city - kind of - they are buying them to escape crime and poor schools. But they end up living often in garden apartments or townhouses. Its not the urbanity they object to its the rest.

by TomA on Jun 27, 2013 2:45 pm • linkreport

TomA -- no question that Towson has incredible potential (which is why the various govt. stuff is so frustrating). And nearby neighborhoods like Stoneleigh/Annesleigh and Rodgers Forge would be great places to live in easy biking or transit distance to Towson (walking would be a bit long, but do-able).

Towson wasn't part of my bike and walking study area, and sadly the earlier plan didn't make enough recommendations (e.g., I wanted to extend the Baltimore Collegetown Biking network from Loyola-Morgan State to TU and Goucher, etc.), but the District 5 Biking and Pedestrian Committee convened by Councilmember Marks is filling in the gap. (I recommended the creation of such a committee to CM Marks; unfortunately no other Councilmember has created an equivalent committee for their district although I have prodded a couple of them.)

by Richard Layman on Jul 1, 2013 4:26 pm • linkreport

I have lived in Towson my entire life and it has really grown as Towson University has tripled in size over the past 15 years. Towson is in dire need of incorporation. It needs its own mayor, city council, local zoning,local transportation strategy, etc.

by David on Feb 1, 2014 11:08 am • linkreport

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