Greater Greater Washington

It's not the "end" of the suburbs, but a transition

A new book by Leigh Gallagher heralds "the end of the suburbs," but it may just be a change in how people want to live and get around in suburban communities. Judging from new suburban developments happening in the DC area, that shift is already underway.


New townhomes with roofdecks at Crown in Gaithersburg. All photos by the author unless noted.

In recent years, there's been a lot of research about how many people, whether young Millennials or retiring Baby Boomers, want to live in places where they don't have to drive everywhere. That's part of the reason why center cities, like DC, have experienced a resurgence in recent decades.

But it leads some commentators to assume that everyone's going to move to the city now, and that's simply not true. Even if we raised the height limit, cities like DC can only hold so many new people. And the false binary between "city" and "suburb" ignores the actual diversity of places on either side of the city line, along with the possibility that people can have the urban, walkable experience they want in a "suburban" place, especially one where they may have grown up and feel connected to.


Site plan of Crown's first phase. (Note the cool street names: Strummer, Hendrix, etc.) Image from the developer.

Take Crown, a New Urbanist development being built in Gaithersburg that I visited last weekend. It was originally an 180-acre farm dating to the early 1800's, but today it's surrounded by office parks, cul-de-sacs and the Washingtonian Center, an early lifestyle center that I call "Green Day urbanism" because it's a sort-of walkable, urban environment.

Urban design firm Perkins Eastman/EE&K laid Crown out as a series of compact, walkable neighborhoods around the future Corridor Cities Transitway bus rapid transit line, which just got design funding from the state of Maryland.

While construction is only beginning, it's clear that projects like Crown represent a very different approach to suburban development. The developer has purposely marketed Crown as an urban place, even naming its website SmartUrbanLiving.com. Most of the over 2,000 homes being built here will be townhouses or apartments. Instead of big backyards, the homes have roof decks, but there will be several public parks.


The Corridor Cities Transitway will have a stop right here.

This project's biggest amenity isn't privacy or quiet, but being close to "Downtown Crown," a 260,000-square foot complex of shops and restaurants surrounding a plaza, the Washingtonian Center, or all of the jobs at the Shady Grove Life Sciences Center. One of the first things you see upon entering is a sign saying "Future Right-of-Way of the Corridor City [sp] Transitway." Unlike nearby King Farm in Rockville, whose residents have protested the CCT in a neighborhood built around it, Crown residents will buy homes there expecting transit to come.

These amenities might explain why neighborhoods around Crown have some of Montgomery County's highest concentrations of young families. A generation ago, these buyers might have moved to Gaithersburg because it was cheap and they could buy a big house there, even if it was far from everything.

Today, many young families are moving to neighborhoods in the District because they offer a sense of community, easy access to shopping and jobs, and don't require a car. But they're also choosing places like Gaithersburg that are willing to evolve and adjust to meet their needs.

At Crown last weekend, I toured the model houses alongside many young couples with kids. Some of the townhouses here sell for over $700,000, which is certainly out of reach for many families. But it's also a testament to how desirable places like this are, even in a community 20 miles from downtown DC next to a transit line that hasn't even been built.


Media, the kind of suburb Leigh Gallagher says people want more of.

In an interview with the Washington Post's Jonathan O'Connell, Gallagher admits that many affluent car-oriented suburbs, particularly those with good public services like schools, will probably remain sought-after. And she notes that people may be drawn to suburbs like Media, the historic, walkable, trolley-served town near Philadelphia where she grew up.

There aren't a lot of Medias in the DC area, but there's no reason why we can't try to create more places like it. Crown is just one of several transit-oriented developments being built along the CCT in Gaithersburg. And from the Mosaic District in Fairfax County to Maple Lawn in Howard County, the DC area has become a national leader in showing how suburban communities will evolve in the coming decades.

While "The End of Some Places with Suburban Land Use Characteristics and/or Bad Schools" isn't as catchy or provocative a title, it's more accurate description of what's actually happening. People will still be able to live in a big house on a cul-de-sac, if that's what they want. But we'll also see new kinds of suburbs for those who want something else.

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Dan Reed is an urban planner at Nelson\Nygaard. He writes his own blog, Just Up the Pike, and serves as the Land Use Chair for the Action Committee for Transit. He lives in downtown Silver Spring. All opinions are his own. 

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Design is the crucial thing that planners/municipalities need to get right. Design including the street network and focus on all modes of transportation. Most people don't care or notice these details but that doesn't mean we shouldn't get them right. Right or wrong the people will be moving in.

by drumz on Aug 7, 2013 11:18 am • linkreport

Fly west, where theres plenty of space....the same exurban patterns of auto-dominated sprawl continue to be built at a rapid pace.

Developers tell you that they build what the market wants. I think its the opposite. What they build is what we're stuck with, weather we like it or not

by JJJJJJ on Aug 7, 2013 11:24 am • linkreport

Silver Spring, Takoma Park, Chevy Chase (both DC and MD) Hyattsville, College Park, and Capital Heights are our Medias. All were originally streetcar suburbs. All have a walkable skeleton. Some use that skeleton better than others in modern times but all have the potential.

Socioeconomically, Bethesda is the closest analogue to Media and other Main Line suburbs even though it was only built up to its current form within the past 30 years. Notice that real estate in Bethesda is in comparable high demand as the Main Line in the Philadelphia area.

by Cavan on Aug 7, 2013 11:26 am • linkreport

I don't know the Main Line that well, but I know in parts of greater NY - Nassau, Bergen, Westchester, etc - you have village centers like that, one after another, for miles and miles. Even Maryland has far fewer. And NoVa has fewer than Maryland.

by AWalkerIntheCity on Aug 7, 2013 11:29 am • linkreport

Damn. I have the same basic post, but only half written. Cities have the same issues, just a little different.

But I tend to agree with AWITC (and Cavan) that extant towns, incorporated or not, have a lot better shot at revivification over places constructed from the ground up.

What's interesting in both cities and suburbs is the resistance to compact development by elected officials especially.

by Richard Layman on Aug 7, 2013 11:37 am • linkreport

I can't be bothered to read this book because of its title, which just seems like blatant trolling.

by renegade09 on Aug 7, 2013 11:43 am • linkreport

I have the same basic post, but only half written.
So only four times as long? I kid . . .
What's interesting in both cities and suburbs is the resistance to compact development by elected officials especially.
I wonder about this. I've seen more of a resistance to any development in the inner suburbs I've lived in around here (Takoma DC and SS). My neighbors seem generally afraid of change, so even just replacing a strip of crappy old stores with a strip of different stores is so scary that they'll start campaigns to save the gun shop and coin dealer, as if they represent necessary services that need to be provided in high-demand locations. Same thing with mostly-abandoned larger buildings.

Now, it's the case that most proposed development is more compact, but I don't get the impression that the opposition actually has much to do with any particular aspect of the change, just that it represents change at all. Which makes it much harder to enter into a serious discussion about, I would think.

by Gray on Aug 7, 2013 11:46 am • linkreport

Gaithersburg has the bones for a wonderful Media-like space: Old Town. But in all my years of living in this area, they've never gotten a handle on it, to truly embrace it, and now it's somewhat shabby and rundown and largely avoided by those not part of the local Hispanic community. Such a great amenity that is too often neglected. Bad land use choices, too. There's very little housing nearby.

by Birdie on Aug 7, 2013 11:59 am • linkreport

I would say in NoVa the local govts are more supportive of more compact walkable development, but the issue is they tend to be ahead of the citizenry (at least the vocal part of the citizenry) The ArlCo BOS has been very committed, and to a slightly less degree the City of Alexandria, and the City of Falls Church. Yet in Arlco and Alex (Im not sure about falls church) there has been significant loud resistance to change. In fairfax, where the county is sort of half committed to urbanism, there is I think even greater reluctance, and less of a YIMBYIST position as a counter than in ArlCo and Alexandria.

by AWalkerIntheCity on Aug 7, 2013 12:04 pm • linkreport

(Gray, you should be my editor... I prefer to say "more complete.")

by Richard Layman on Aug 7, 2013 12:34 pm • linkreport

Big yards do not always equal suburb and the same can be said for town-homes so that thought needs to end. You have a variety of buildings types in suburbs as well as the city. You notice this everywhere more so in other places outside of the USA.

Also the designation as urban by the website name FYI everything from Richmond to Boston is urban. People seem to forget the real definition of the word urban; the closest place you will find that is not urban would probably be Maine, Newfoundland or Idaho

by kk on Aug 7, 2013 12:36 pm • linkreport

There really are no Medias in DC, but that's ok. DC doesn't have a lot of historic susburban towns, becuase the region followed the sprawling development patterns of the Southern states. DC was surrounded by rural counties and a few port towns that preceded it. There was no sequence of towns or townships with discernable centers as is genrally the case north of the Mason Dixon line. Fairfax City for example was known simply as Fairfax Court House before a small town developed around the courthouse and church in the 20th century. The DC area trolley suburbs like Clarendon or Takoma Park were never as substatial as those of the Northern cities. More recently however the historic character of the modest trolley suburbs in DC has changed due to the rapid urbanization near Metro stations (with the exception of Takoma Park and Del Ray.

by JP on Aug 7, 2013 12:36 pm • linkreport

Gray -- your point about visceral opposition is basically the point of my own entry.

AWITC -- yes. I didn't write about it in this post, but I have really been struck by the change in the last couple years in ArCo amongst citizens, by the virulent opposition to the streetcar, as an element of the opposition. ArCo didn't used to be known for opposition to compact development progress.

In DC, elected officials haven't been all that supportive, when it comes down to individual projects, of better planning when it comes to citizen opposition.

And MoCo is having a really hard time figuring out that it needs to change, even though it already is changing and is becoming a best practice example (Bethesda Row, Rockville Town Center, White Flint, Silver Spring), and so the elected officials specifically are resistant to a lot of changes to zoning.

Fairfax has the Tysons issue, etc.

by Richard Layman on Aug 7, 2013 12:38 pm • linkreport

Great article. I might change your suggested title to "The End of Some Places with (Automibile oriented) Land Use Characteristics and/or Bad Schools". Suburban used to mean out of the city, not necessarily a sub-version of urbanism. All those older sreetcar suburbs where no different on either side of a city line.

The difference between a good (suburban) village and a city neighborhood center is negligable, simply a matter of location, but both are designed as if we didn't have large hunks of smog spewing metal to get around in.

As for the what comes first, the market or the developer, it's always a mixture of both, but when Toll brothers is building highrise apartments in NYC, the market is definatly calling.

by Thayer-D on Aug 7, 2013 12:39 pm • linkreport

sorry... I've also become really struck by how opposition to development and transportation is being couched in anti-capitalist terms, as being about profits and giveaways to developers and construction firms, not about improving communities.

I first noticed it truly with the "Save the Trail" folks in Montgomery County. But it is coming up more and more in DC too. And LA. Opposition to light rail has called attention to construction and engineering firms like Parsons Brinckerhoff.

see the first image here: https://www.google.com/search?q=Lisa+Korbatov,+right,+of+Beverly+Hills+joins+Rosa+Miranda+of+the+Bus+Riders+Union+holding+blank+checks+highlighting+Measure+J%27s+corporate+sponsors+and+beneficiaries&client=firefox-a&hs=9zS&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=DnkCUpLKD-yAygGin4D4BA&ved=0CAkQ_AUoAQ&biw=1024&bih=585

by Richard Layman on Aug 7, 2013 12:43 pm • linkreport

Maybe I'm biased because I just bought a house there, but I think Wheaton is one of the few places in the region that remains affordable for average people and still provides a (mostly) walkable environment with access to Metro, shops, and restaurants. I think Wheaton has a lot of potential to be a great "urban village," though there is a lot of work to be done in terms of improving the pedestrian experience. I'm hopeful that county officials and developers aren't so focused on making Wheaton the "next Bethesda" but rather just letting it be its own thing while implementing best practices in urban design.

FWIW, my husband and I were able to purchase a large townhome less than half a mile from the Wheaton metro station for the low 400's. When we compared this to what we were able to afford in the District and even in Silver Spring, the choice was easy.

by Rebecca on Aug 7, 2013 12:45 pm • linkreport

@Richard Layman: I guess my problem is that I can't think of a way to start a discussion with people who have that sort of visceral opposition to change.

I can provide reasons why dense, walkable development is better than other types. But I don't know what to say to someone who's so afraid of any change at all.

by Gray on Aug 7, 2013 12:48 pm • linkreport

richard

ArlCo has transformed very fast. That engenders backlash. and theres other aspects of local politics - the County BOS (in what was once a competitive county) has been solidly Dem for some time - so local repubs and conservatives resent it. There is some "left" opposition to growth, but I think not nearly as much as in DC, Alexandria, or even MoCo. That said, theres also a fair amount of YIMBYISM in ArlCo, and the BOS can count on support from many residents who are mostly indifferent to issues of density and design.

by AWalkerIntheCity on Aug 7, 2013 12:51 pm • linkreport

"But I don't know what to say to someone who's so afraid of any change at all."

"Care to have lunch with me on Tuesday at the Taylor Gourmet in Mosaic? "

by AWalkerIntheCity on Aug 7, 2013 12:52 pm • linkreport

@Richard Layman: Yeah, I posted in another thread the other day an e-mail to my neighborhood list from someone opposing the Purple Line because it's just "a rezoning scheme." Her argument seemed to be that if we focused on bus service instead of building a rail line, it wouldn't change development patterns and we'd all be much better off.

But she seemed to be starting from an assumption that any new development would necessarily be bad for everyone. Therefore all developers are evil and greedy, and we should all be fighting anything that they want.

by Gray on Aug 7, 2013 12:55 pm • linkreport

@ Rebecca

In a place like Wheaton, and in Silver Spring - Fenton Village, Bethesda - Woodmont Triangle - there are a lot of small unique stores, with individual owners, which add to the uniqueness of the area, and make it much more difficult to redevelop into a sea of large half block filling buildings. I kind of like keeping a mix of the old 2-3 story buildings and each block having one or two vertical elements popping through the monotony.

A Place like Downtown Crown or Washingtonian started with huge 'greenfield' parcels that let them lay out their community from the ground up. It makes things steril because it's all built in the same decade, but it *can* make the environment better long term if done right, because a full plan or vision can be achieved, and not pieced around properties that didn't sell and redevelop at the same time.

I saw something somewhere that said most people don't actually walk or transit to these walkable urban centers, even Bethesda and Silver Spring, they drive. The difference is they can park their car once, and be enticed to walk around, running multiple errands at once, enjoy the company of strangers in an urban public space setting, and then leave. These 'green day' developments as Dan noted, do just that (same with Kentlands, Kings Farm, Germantown Town Center).

@AWalkerIntheCity

I'm not sure NOVA communites embrace walkability any more than MD ones do, but there has been a lot more development and redevelopment in parts of NOVA as opposed to MD since walkability became important. I like to think of the suburban growth as starting in PG in the 1950's and 60's, it moved to Montgomery in the 70's and 80's, and then the energy went to NOVA in the 1990's through to today. Sure, growth has occured in all jurisdictions during all decades, but that 'prefered corridor' of the most, and highest income targeted growth, has pivoted. I also don't think it's fair to compare MD jurisdictions against Arlington and Alexandria. Yes, MD touches the District, but it has miles of inside the city Suburbs before you get to downtown. NOVA is directly across the river from downtown. As such, Rosslyn-Ballston and Pentagon/Crystal Cities are hotter office markets, being closer to the 'core'. There is a reason it's the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria Metro area, they function as core cities. Montgomery Co is about as far from the regional core as Fairfax, so the only comparisons to me that seem fair would be between those two Counties.

by Gull on Aug 7, 2013 1:00 pm • linkreport

@Gray,
I know who your refering to in Silver Spring as I live there also. I think it stems from a left over 1960's left wing idea that makeing money somehow sullies everything. I was the one who said that East Silver Spring was a planned development (rezoning scheme) based on the new trolley line out there, no different than what's being planned for the Purple line. Time tends to erase the Donald Trumps of time, which is why it's so important to get design right, who ever is building something and however much money they make from it, because when they are long gone, the place they build will become part of our children's communities.

by Thayer-D on Aug 7, 2013 1:01 pm • linkreport

Gray,

You should also point out that the county is growing. It's impossible to keep development as-is because people are moving in to MoCo from across the country.

by drumz on Aug 7, 2013 1:19 pm • linkreport

@Thayer-D: Oh, now I know what the D stands for!

She also seemed really afraid that the Purple Line is going to lead to upzoning in ESS, which seems pretty preposterous. Nobody wants to build in the SFH areas farther from the metro.

I agree with you completely (and have made the point on that list) that design is important, and this is the reason why it's so crucial not just to oppose all change. There is plenty of opportunity to work to make developers build better buildings, but not if we take the position that all development is inherently bad for the community.

@drumz: Exactly. Whether we fear change or not, it's going to happen. I certainly hope more people will work for better development, not just hoping for none of it. Since it's inevitable.

by Gray on Aug 7, 2013 1:24 pm • linkreport

I didnt mean to so much tout ArlCo as good vs MoCo. Clearly proximity in miles matters a lot. OTOH Arlco pre 1990 looked a lot like inner MoCo, and there's a strong sense of distance in the County - the river barrier matters too. Theres still "NIMBYISM" in the county, but its offset both by YIMBYISM, and by a base of County voters who like the incumbent BOS for reasons other than the Boards urbanist vision.

PikeRail has generated both traditional NoVa GOP opposition (why spend my hard earned tax $$ when ColPike will transform anyway) and the kind of opposition RL discusses (the streetcar is there to benefit developers, bring in yuppies, and drive out poor hispanics)

FFX vs MoCo on urbanism - Im not sure - we have had less visible opposition, but then the County (at least under Bulova) has been perhaps more cautious than MoCo on urbanism. OTOH from what one reads here (which often indicates the MoCo govt is soft on urbanism) that may not be the case. Maybe its just that FFX govt is a tad more united - the BOS (mostly) and the OP and FCDOT are pretty much in line, while in MoCo the OP has gotten out ahead of County elected officials from time to time?

by AWalkerIntheCity on Aug 7, 2013 1:29 pm • linkreport

There is a definite strain among some Arlington residents that the county board is just out to spend money (and make it) no matter what. So even the slightest expenditures somehoe "prove" that Arlington is spend-crazy even when people point out where costs come from (see: the million dollar bus stop). Never mind the facts that the county is in a good fiscal position and the slippery slope arguments have never panned out. The county board will always be reckless to them.

by drumz on Aug 7, 2013 1:32 pm • linkreport

"in MoCo the OP has gotten out ahead of County elected officials from time to time?" True, becasue of Moco's strong liberal tradition. On the one hand it was first in allwoing Kentlands and talking about the Purple line long ago, creating the agricultural preserve, and on and on. The flip side is they allow for extreme public participation which at times slows the process. I guess you take the good with the bad.

by Thayer-D on Aug 7, 2013 1:35 pm • linkreport

thayer

there is certainly a cultural trait of deference to authority that is at least slightly stronger in FFX than in MoCo I think - southern heritage, military influence, etc. So if the authorities say "Tysons must be enbiggened" then most folks won't rally in the streets can complain about developers. The rich folks in Mclean are more likely to pull strings quietly to cut a deal than to resort to 60s style slogans.

by AWalkerIntheCity on Aug 7, 2013 1:42 pm • linkreport

Interesting article and lots of interesting threads in the comments.

Redeveloping the former streetcar "suburbs" is of great interest to me since I sit on the Mount Rainier City Council, right on the Ward 5 border along Rhode Island Ave and Michigan Ave / Queens Chapel. We've had modest success with the Gateway Arts District that runs north from Mount Rainier through Brentwood, North Brentwood, and Hyattsville, and young families are moving here in droves to get charming older homes and proximity to the city for a fraction of DC housing prices.

Our streetcar core along Route 1 is a terrific asset that we are trying to build on, but it comes with as many negatives as positives. (A few: MD SHA controls Route 1, not the city; Prince George's County controls planning decisions, not the city; land assembly is difficult; historic commercial spaces often are not well suited to today's business needs. Conversely, we have tremendous bus service from our "downtown" traffic circle at Route 1, particularly the 3-5 minute headways for buses to Rhode Island Metro during rush hour and we've been building out our bike infrastructure.)

We have been lucky to assemble a large-ish parcel of land for a major redevelopment project at the corner of Eastern Ave and Rhode Island, and community response has been interesting. Generally, everyone supports the need to redevelop this area (currently two vacant properties and a truck rental lot) to both improve the tax base and provide badly needed retail options. There is however some wariness regarding the density the project will bring (190 units above 19,000 square feet of retail).

In my observation this wariness stems from two things: 1) people don't understand why density is important, and 2) people have a preconceived notion of what a community "is" and tend to oppose projects that don't meet their personal definition. As a very broad assessment, newer city residents, particularly those who moved out of DC neighborhoods, really want sexy retail and have a looser notion of what our community "is" and therefore seem more open to a big project being built. Longer term residents tend to view Mount Rainier as a sleepy small town and are afraid that getting on a slippery slope of development will somehow turn us into Ballston. (Again, this is a gross oversimplification.)

Change is never easy, and I think these kinds of growing pains are normal. I also think the history of a place really feeds into these dynamics in ways we don't often appreciate (what a community was versus what it is becoming, demographic change, etc.), but this is already the longest comment ever. Suffice it to say that there is no magic wand to make good redevelopment happen - it requires hard work and thoughtfulness.

by Brent Bolin on Aug 7, 2013 2:14 pm • linkreport

Those townhome prices seem high, especially for Gaithersburg.

by Fitz on Aug 7, 2013 2:20 pm • linkreport

@Fitz

The house I visited was more on the expensive side, but there were cheaper ones closer to $500,000, which is comparable to other developments around Gaithersburg and Rockville, along with the very similar MetroWest in Fairfax. But that's actually at a Metro station, whereas this is a few miles away from Shady Grove, even after the CCT is built.

by dan reed! on Aug 7, 2013 2:26 pm • linkreport

Looking at the website, it appears they begin at $544,990 for a Pulte model up to a starting price of $689,990 for a KB Home model, Fitz.

by selxic on Aug 7, 2013 2:29 pm • linkreport

The problem with these planned town centers is that they tend to be completely lacking in the kind of interesting local businesses one finds in a real city or town center. I doubt I'm the only person who doesn't consider being able to walk to the shopping and entertainment district much of an amenity if that shopping and entertainment district is made up of the exact same corporate, chain stores and restaurants as the average suburban mall.

by Jacob on Aug 7, 2013 2:37 pm • linkreport

Jacob,

I wouldn't worry about that too much. Eventually the buildings will age and businesses will cycle in and out and prices will come down to allow riskier (read: independent) businesses to come in and set up shop. This is important because the overall design will mean it stays a walkable place. Age is really the only thing for it.

Besides, people flock to those places anyway so evidently a lot of people enjoy it even if it is the same stuff. That's good because it shows that the design does matter.

by drumz on Aug 7, 2013 2:41 pm • linkreport

Dan,

The house I visited was more on the expensive side, but there were cheaper ones closer to $500,000, which is comparable to other developments around Gaithersburg and Rockville

Yeah after I posted my comment I went searching some more and found the prices on the Pulte website, which seem much more reasonable.

by Fitz on Aug 7, 2013 2:57 pm • linkreport

Jacob,

The problem with these planned town centers is that they tend to be completely lacking in the kind of interesting local businesses one finds in a real city or town center.

What would you propose as a solution?

I'm guessing that the main reason local business don't enter into these types of the developments at the onset is the high cost of rent. But that's just an (educated?) guess.

by Fitz on Aug 7, 2013 3:01 pm • linkreport

" I doubt I'm the only person who doesn't consider being able to walk to the shopping and entertainment district much of an amenity if that shopping and entertainment district is made up of the exact same corporate, chain stores and restaurants as the average suburban mall. "

Well I do consider it an amenity. I like to walk and to be outside. Even if the retail mix is 100% identical to whats found inside a climate controlled mall surrounded by a sea of parking (which it usually is not), its an improvement. Sheesh, why should we not get better design until we can get better retail mix?

by AWalkerIntheCity on Aug 7, 2013 3:01 pm • linkreport

Jacob,
Look at DTSS. Cake Love moved in along with Moby Dick's and Lebanese Taverna. When and how a business gets branded a dreaded "chain" is secondary to the fact it's there and I can be around many other people while I feed the beast.

Unless your from Takoma Park, which I totally love! It's just a little sleepy...Holding out for Mr. Right retail, I get it, ok, I'm a retail slut.

by Thayer-D on Aug 7, 2013 3:07 pm • linkreport

I think this blog paints MoCo as soft on urban issues less because it really is, and more because there is a level of expectation from MoCo and the state of MD to be the leaders. On paper, MoCo has for the longest time been the trend setter on urban issues, and on paper really wants to urbanize the old commercial corridors, but has not had quite the market interest needed to make things really work, and has not been forced on DOT as a priority. Similarly the State pushes all these state level 'smart, green and growing' plans from the state department of planning (virginia does not even have one of these, though it does have planning district commissions), but the MDP message is not translating into state highway admin.

This background and rhetoric makes me judge MoCo harder than FFX when it comes to public decisions made on urban issues, because I expect more out of MoCo. This discussion happened while I was in school in Richmond a few years back. On paper, Chesterfield Co was a more 'planned' county than Henrico, but Henrico just seemed more finished, seemed better planned and was the prefered corridor of growth. I think if the development pressures were higher in MoCo things would look better, but there are so many un and underdeveloped areas still in MoCo that need to fill in to make the visions work. Even at Washingtonian there are undeveloped office sites that never filled in. The Park Potomac Project at Montross and 270 has sat stagnant for years but could be another great mini-urban place. Parts of Germantown never built to their original expectations because developers insisted the market did not warrant the grand plans Planners and the County made, and now even Clarksburg town center is being watered down because private developers claim there is no money to be made in building the original plans with market trends. Instead the development pressure has been much higher going into Fairfax, building out more quickly the envisioned plans and providing a more finished feeling community (except Tysons, which never has and still does not feel like a sense of place, only time will tell if that can change).

I think the MoCo council also has had to divert more attention toward fixing public boondogles like the SS transit center, and working extra hard to keep their schools highly ranked during a time of slipping incomes and economic development. This all taking away from being able to address 'feel good' issues such as helping make for good urban places.

by Gull on Aug 7, 2013 3:08 pm • linkreport

Brent Bolin -- you may not know this, but MTA did a streetcar study as part of the creation of the Gateway Arts District planning efforts, sometime in the mid 1990s. You could get a copy from MTA or maybe ATHA (that's where I first saw it, in their office, around the mid part of the last decade).

There's no reason you couldn't step up and leverage streetcar planning in DC.

I have a blog entry proposing a couple routes into PG County, one on RI Ave. A then GCDC board member suggested that a Rhode Island streetcar line should go to Dupont Circle, and I agree. But a few years before I suggested during the DCAA process that a RI Ave. streetcar should be considered (although now I might argue for light rail).

http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2009/04/will-streetcars-really-return-to.html

by Richard Layman on Aug 7, 2013 3:17 pm • linkreport

And the false binary between "city" and "suburb" ignores the actual diversity of places on either side of the city line, along with the possibility that people can have the urban, walkable experience they want in a "suburban" place, especially one where they may have grown up and feel connected to.

This is a great point, especially in the DC area. There are parts of the District that are significantly more "suburban" than many parts of the suburbs. Areas like the Palisades and upper Northwest aren't likely to gain much density and will remain heavily single-family home, while places like Bethesda and Arlington are probably going to become more dense.

by Potowmack on Aug 7, 2013 4:07 pm • linkreport

There seems to be an affection for dichotomies that don't always exist and MoCo vs. NoVa is a good example. Clarendon, which is much loved by posters straddles ugly/lifeless Rosslyn which isn't going to be fixed by knocking down pedestrian bridges and intermitently lively but flawed Ballston. NoVa and the Maryland suburbs have leftover trolley villages and early post-WWII subdivisions that could be the core of better things: Four Corners, Kensington, Wheaton, much of Columbia Pike, the area N of Mt Vernon, etc. Some have links to rail or metro, some will in the future. Some would work as transit nodes as has been planned for Langley Park. All were built to make at least minimal accomodation for transit (if only to drop off a 50s husband on his way downtown) and the scale is different from later sprawlburgs.

Developers like density to the extent that its more profitable and limits risk--townhouse communities did this until they went bust. Ground up communities have mixed records, at best. Reston never achieved its original plan. Columbia was more actualized but embodies the strengths and weaknesses of planning ideas for its era. It should be a caution to anyone who thinks any era represents "the future" and that "rational planning" can engineer that. Some people like Kentlands although it failed to live up to its original plan and the trek to shopping seems dangerous for driver and pedestrian. The smaller town centers in MoCo seem too small to succeed.

I've read swatches from the book and the author is weak in terms of history. The fundamentals for many parts of suburbia were starting to crack as long ago as the 70s. The decline of the industrial economy (felt less here than in B'more) and the Black middle class flight following white flight changed much of the geography, well before the downturn and a variety of factors enabled dead malls and other suburban decay--some of those areas are ripe for more urban redevelopment and integration into regional transit systems, some aren't, at least right now.

by Rich on Aug 7, 2013 11:38 pm • linkreport

These are good points about making much more of the suburbs we already have. However, there is no end to the sprawl yet. While some developers get “smart” about growth and waste in cases like this one there are plenty of old line sprawlmongers still at work. We have to change our overall behavior. A few good citizens won’t fix this.

by AndrewJ on Aug 8, 2013 6:49 am • linkreport

Re: Crown's future phases. Developers' future plans always look rosy, we'll see what happens. The house I grew up in was built where the pool was supposed to be in our neighborhood, and I knew some people who hated their house's lot but picked it because it would be close to the pool (bummer). Also, see Clarksburg.

by Mike on Aug 8, 2013 7:39 am • linkreport

Montgomery Co has been trying this same tired game for 30 years and still can't attract young high earners. The growth you cite in young families is almost 100% low income, non-english speaking hispanic. While admirable, it's going to sink the finances of the county and eventually erode it's one great feature: schools.

Crown is not even an incremental shift in the right direction. The Top Down, Large Developer plan for building communities is a complete bamboozle. I'm not sure why MD persists in this mode, other than it pays dividends to reelection coffers for years waiting for the land to open up. When you look at the organic growth of cities, no one bought up 1000 acres and built 500 houses and large box commercial buildings and filled them overnight with a preplanned layout. They grew organically and with little or no formal control. Everyone wants neighborhod retail, but no one wants to see the rear of a Walmart, or a Giant, or a PetCo. It's a total turn off and only people who have no other options, choose to live that way.

People with education, intelligence and initiative don't invest in places where all the margin has been sucked out already. A place where you're only options for a house is in a HOA controlled, zero nightlife, 3 style house Truman show reject. The Texas model for community development only really works in Texas.

by name on Aug 8, 2013 8:57 am • linkreport

"There seems to be an affection for dichotomies that don't always exist and MoCo vs. NoVa is a good example. Clarendon, which is much loved by posters straddles ugly/lifeless Rosslyn which isn't going to be fixed by knocking down pedestrian bridges and intermitently lively but flawed Ballston."

A. I didnt mean to draw a dichotomy, but to at least explore some differences in the discources

B. Rosslyn is not in fact lifeless. Its got more street life than it did 20 years ago. It will be fixed by a better mix of residential, more integrated with other uses, and by better architecture and urban design as it continues to develop.

by AWalkerIntheCity on Aug 8, 2013 9:11 am • linkreport

" When you look at the organic growth of cities, no one bought up 1000 acres and built 500 houses "

I suppose not if you define that as inorganic. Certainly though by around 1900 - 1920 there were large land companies doing fairly large developments - Roland Park in Baltimore for example. Some well loved areas were built like that. And of course in urban areas there are big developments, though not on that acreage scale of course - rockefeller center for example. Its not all what jane jacobs liked, but it has provided some well functioning communities. And of course today, when labor is more costly than it was when the West Village was built, the economies of building lots of houses at once is important.

I dont know enough about Crown to comment. Ive been to Kentlands, and I like it, though it could have been improved in some ways I guess. RTC is doing quite well as is Mosaic here in NoVa. We dont really have the equivalent in of a Crown or Kentlands in NoVa (Reston was older and had a different model) Maybe South Riding? But SR is not transit focused.

by AWalkerIntheCity on Aug 8, 2013 9:17 am • linkreport

$700,000(!!!!!)

by William Nyikuli on Aug 8, 2013 12:07 pm • linkreport

Brambleton seems pretty close to Kentlands -- it's the closest (currently-existing) subdivision to the planned Metro.

I can see the differences in eras/fashions in the various building/land planning styles in Frederick and Loudoun Counties. OTOH, Leesburg is a little shorter on 1900-1950 neighborhoods than Frederick.

And -- not everyone needs a thriving nightlife.

by Shawn Pickrell on Aug 8, 2013 5:07 pm • linkreport

Chris Leinberger has spoken about how the DC region's leadership in building new WUPs from scratch is, to some extent, playing catch-up. Unlike our Northeastern competitors, our Sunbelt-like sprawl doesn't have that "string of pearls" setup of commuter rail towns that bring a touch of walkable urbanism to the suburbs.

Something that I appreciate that Gallagher has brought to light is the "Floridazation" of suburban school spending: as suburbs age*, their voters begin to turn against the high taxes that support those "better schools" that "everyone is chasing." At the same time, the relatively lower property values lead to more poor kids, and to poorer schools, further threatening the suburbs' value proposition.

* her data point about suburbs being mostly non-nuclear families has been true for a while, but I believe we can't reiterate household change often enough

by Payton on Aug 8, 2013 11:40 pm • linkreport

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