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White Flint can retain Baby Boomers and attract new ones

With the kids gone, many Baby Boomers face one of two choices: age in place, or move downtown. Real estate analysts say which one they pick will have a big impact on the local housing market, but communities that can accommodate both choices can benefit either way.

Photo by velvettangerine on Flickr.

Born between 1946 and 1964, Baby Boomers are the largest generation in American history after their kids, the Millennials. More older adults are moving to urban neighborhoods, trading the large houses they raised families in for smaller, more manageable homes in places where they don't have to drive.

Meanwhile, other retirees are staying put to be closer to friends and family, but modifying their homes so they can live there as their mobility and health decline. But is there a middle ground? By creating a new urban center within an established suburban community, places like White Flint offer Boomers the lifestyle they want while remaining close to friends and family.

While Montgomery County talks a lot about attracting younger residents, White Flint is a naturally desirable place for older residents as well.

For starters, their ranks are growing. There are almost 225,000 adults between the ages of 50 and 70 living in Montgomery County, making up 23.4% of its population, compared to 18.8% in 2000. In North Bethesda (which the Census defines as the area roughly bounded by I-270, the Beltway, Rock Creek Park, Montrose Road and Twinbrook Parkway), there are 9,753 Boomers living here today, making up 23.8% of the population, compared to 20.1% in 2000.

Boomers might be drawn to urban-style amenities in White Flint, like this farmers' market. Photo by the author.

The county's vision for a new downtown along Rockville Pike resembles many of the urban places that retirees are currently moving to, like Arlington or Bethesda: a mix of homes, offices and shops, walkable streets, new transit options and a variety of public spaces. Being able to meet all of your daily needs within a short walk is a compelling alternative to big retirement communities that may have a lot of amenities on-site, but are practically impossible to leave without a car.

In a few years, White Flint will have many of the cultural amenities Boomers want, like a growing variety of restaurants, high-end movie theatres, and Strathmore's live music venue at Pike + Rose. And, of course, it's next to the Red Line and a future BRT line along Rockville Pike, allowing Boomers to travel to Rockville, Bethesda, or DC for activities there.

With some exceptions, most of the new apartments and condominiums that will be built in White Flint will be expensive, placing them out of reach for cash-strapped Millennials. But Boomers often have the savings and the income to actually afford them.

New towers rise behind 1950's-era homes in White Flint, allowing some residents to "age in place." Photo by the author.

Many Boomers won't have to move anywhere to enjoy the new White Flint, because they already moved to one of the area's surrounding suburban neighborhoods decades ago to raise a family. If they choose to "age in place," they'll find that their neighborhood has also evolved to meet their needs.

Much as older residents might add a first-floor bedroom for when they can't climb the stairs, White Flint will become a place where they can walk to the store when they can't drive anymore. Meanwhile, they'll still be close to familiar faces: friends, family, clubs or groups, medical practitioners, or faith communities.

As Baby Boomers enter the next phase of their lives, they'll have to make decisions about how and where they'd like to live. Some communities with the right amenities may see an influx of Boomers, while others may be stuck with a glut of houses that neither Boomers nor younger generations want.

The challenge for many communities is whether they can provide the right mix of new experiences and familiar faces to attract all types of Boomers. So far, it looks like White Flint is up to the task.

Crossposted on the Friends of White Flint.

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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I'm going to take a controversial position and ask whether having baby boomers "age in place" in a 3 or 4 bedroom home is desirable. It's hard enough finding housing for a family with children. Do we really want to encourage people to live by themselves or with one other person in a large home?

The community I live in is all 3 bedroom homes, and almost half of them are occupied by a retired person or couple.

This seems inefficient. If you're having trouble climbing the stairs, maybe move to a condo rather than just pretending you don't have an upstairs floor anymore.

I know it's their property and they can do with it how they see fit.

by Anonymous Coward on Aug 22, 2013 11:16 am • linkreport


I think Dan Reed is simply pointing out that such an aging in place couple also benefits from the transformation of White Flint (perhaps more than a family with kids for whom urban style amenities are less important) I don't think many more will choose to stay in their homes because of those improvements though.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Aug 22, 2013 11:21 am • linkreport

@Anonymous Coward

I think there is a limit to what communities can do to encourage people to age in place. It's the basics that upset these decisions; difficult health issues, declining incomes against rising costs, and, perhaps most important, absent or limited family help. Whatever White Flint does to encourage older folks to stay in place is far down the lists of issues that determine what people do.

by kob on Aug 22, 2013 11:34 am • linkreport

Anonymous, while it is inefficient, our society allows property owners to make those choices for themselves.

Dan is spot on that White Flint will be good for rising retirees as well as the younger generations. I know a recent retiree who's itching to move to a condo in a walkable urban place in Montgomery with his wife. Problem is that the supply of three bedroom condos is too low for him to find anything. His wife insists on a three bedroom unit and they have the means to afford it.

The larger story that we have to remember is that we collectively as a society spent 60 years building all the wrong housing. Yes, there was an apartment boom in the 1970's but it was mostly car-oriented garden-style apartments. The key is that we have only been adding to the walkable urban housing stock for 10 years. Aside from the new supply in the past decade, the walkable urban housing stock is the same as it's been since about 1929. Add on that families are much smaller and boarding houses for singles are very uncommon now and you have a lot of demand for very little supply.

At the end of the day, Dan hits the nail on the head that any increase in supply is good, regardless of which segment of the market it eventually ends up serving.

by Cavan on Aug 22, 2013 11:36 am • linkreport

"Anonymous, while it is inefficient, our society allows property owners to make those choices for themselves. "

Just to be technical, it may not be inefficient. Switching residences involves financial costs (realtor commisions, admin fees, moving costs) for moving, as well as hassles, time, energy, etc. That, on top of the preference for space (empty nesters/retirees may not have kids at home, but they often have accumulated decades of possessions and memorabilia, which they either do not want to part with, or do not want to invest the time in sorting through) So it may be a rational decision to stay, and the costs of moving may be real.

Are there things we can do to address this?

1. Reduce where possible the admin and other costs of moving - are loan origination fees, title search costs, etc fair? Does realtor licensing protect overly generous commissions? Can online tools make sale by owner more feasible?

2. Can we provide training to older people in how to transfer their music (often on LPs) their personal records and papers, etc to electronic media, the Cloud, etc?

But probably more important is good mixed use development. So people can move to condos in the same neighborhood - and not face the trauma of moving to a very different community. To change the cultural attitude toward condo living for folks who have long been in a SFH - they can get familiar with the benefits by seeing it in places they go to frequently. Also beneficial are hotels in the mixed use - so there is a place for visiting kids to stay, and that extra bedroom seems less important.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Aug 22, 2013 11:47 am • linkreport


The larger story that we have to remember is that we collectively as a society spent 60 years building all the wrong housing. Yes, there was an apartment boom in the 1970's but it was mostly car-oriented garden-style apartments. The key is that we have only been adding to the walkable urban housing stock for 10 years. Aside from the new supply in the past decade, the walkable urban housing stock is the same as it's been since about 1929. Add on that families are much smaller and boarding houses for singles are very uncommon now and you have a lot of demand for very little supply.

This is an important point to keep in mind when people raise the relative increases in population in the urban versus suburban environments as proof of folks' preference for suburban living.

by oboe on Aug 22, 2013 12:02 pm • linkreport

I drove around that area the other day and was pleasantly surprised at how "town centerish" it has already become. Across 355 from the mall is a cluster of new buildings with apartments above and commercial on the ground level.

by Dan Gamber on Aug 22, 2013 12:34 pm • linkreport

Compared with classic aging place areas like Van Ness and other spots in the Connecticut corridor, WF is pretty deficient. Things tend to be a long walk. HT and WF have some accessibility, but not a whole lot else around them. And the Metro stop is surrounded by commercial/office uses. The rest of the Pike would need to have better mass transit. The seemingly nearby residential areas aren't that close and often aren't as close to transit as in a city.

Perhaps the high rises near the Metro can serve the classic "Connecticut Avenue" function, but the single family house areas not so much. The best aging in place in the area was planned--the senior complex around the JCC which has Congressional Plaza nearby. the close-by apartment complexes seem to complement this.

I've worked in the area for 7 years and despite the incremental changes, it's a pretty characterless place and an unpleasant pedestrian and transit environment, although it supports a surprising number of pedestrians. "Liveliness" is difficult to engineer--I've often noted how Bethesda lacked it despite having amenities for many years (and parts of Bethesda, like most of Wisconsin Ave remain dead even at the beginning/end of the workday). DTSS still lacks it and after seeing 20 years of it "turning the corner", i wonder if it will ever have it. What happens to White Flint is at best academic, but I remain a long run skeptic.

by Rich on Aug 22, 2013 1:42 pm • linkreport

Rich, please read the White Flint Sector Plan, passed all the way back in March 2010. You can find it here:

While you can be a skeptic all you want, you'll have to give some more time before your skepticism is validated. There were many similar skeptics about every neighborhood in D.C. east of Rock Creek Park as recently as two years ago. I'm sure many of those skeptics are still skeptics. Those same skeptics were skeptical about the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor and Bethesda.

While you can be skeptical all you want, you're simply denying the facts on the ground in Silver Spring. Have you ever seen Ellsworth Drive on a weeknight?!?!? How about on a weekend? Have you ever sat on the crowded outdoor patio at Pacci's Pizza? Have you experienced the crowded basement bar Quarry House Tavern while a rockabilly band plays? Have you had to wait in a crowd for a cocktail at the commercially successful and critically acclaimed Jackie's Sidebar? Have you ever tried to find a parking space in the Whole Foods Parking lot?

You're out of your mind if you say Silver Spring in 2013 lacks "liveliness." While it may lack "liveliness" according to whatever arbitrary definition you're using, it certainly doesn't lack amenities, foot traffic, night life, mixture of uses, access to durable good retail, a mixture of housing products, and good transit service.

While there can always be more of those things in an urban place as a successful urban place attracts more and more of what makes it successful, I'd say that Silver Spring in 2013 is already successful. I'd say the same about Bethesda but I don't live there so I'd have to think harder about specific examples like I did in my third paragraph.

White Flint will be successful on its own terms. In fact it will have an easier time than Bethesda and Silver Spring did. Bethesda was the first of its kind since the 1920's and the banks, developers, and marketplace didn't really know how it would work. The market of the early 1990's favored car-dependent real estate and didn't know how to handle new walkable urban real estate. Silver Spring is outside of the Favored Quarter and had been in decline for decades and had a reputation for it. It took both multiple efforts to see what works in a walkable urban place as no such expertise really existed in 2002ish as well as the market to begin to pay more for walkable urban real estate that car-oriented real estate for revitalization to occur.

White Flint is in the Favored Quarter and the market has already unequivocally stated that it prefers walkable urban places. It will be a success.

by Cavan on Aug 22, 2013 2:37 pm • linkreport

Depending on the vagaries of the real estate market, many of those boomers may not have much choice about "aging in place."

"if there’s 1.5 to 2 million homes coming on the market every year at the end of this decade from senior households selling off,” Nelson asks, “who’s behind them to buy? My guess is not enough.”

by Frednecker on Aug 22, 2013 3:03 pm • linkreport


Leigh Gallagher talks about that issue in her book The End of the Suburbs, which is an inaccurate title, considering that even she admits that suburbs with good schools and high-quality public services will probably do quite well in the future.

In other words, I think White Flint's single-family housing stock will do quite well, since it's on the affluent west side of Montgomery County and in the Walter Johnson cluster, home to some of the county's best schools. Homes on the east side of the MARC/CSX, like the ones pictured above, are served by Wheaton High School, which has a much worse reputation, but that doesn't seem to have hurt that area very much.

by dan reed! on Aug 22, 2013 3:21 pm • linkreport

My almost 70 year old dad lives alone and is basically stuck with the house which is a problem because he's increasingly wary of driving. I do kinda wonder what is going to happen if he has medical issues that make it impractical to live at home by himself. Paratransit goes part of the way to address this issue. The Naturally Occuring Retirement Community (NORC) modality is interesting for senior planning. Not sure if we will ever get to the tipping point where that becomes practical in suburbs as long as natural turnover continues though.

by BTA on Aug 22, 2013 4:10 pm • linkreport

Wait, so if I wait 5 years, I can buy an SFH in White Flint (or nearby) for a bargain price as all the seniors try to unload? That would be awesome.

by Chris S. on Aug 22, 2013 4:29 pm • linkreport

Has there been any surveys with statistics stating which boomers want this stuff. I really want to know if this is all boomers of boomers of certain income, where they grew up/lived most of their life, or racial/ethnic/cultural background.

I worked with and know many boomers who did the exact opposite they moved from cities and suburbs to rural areas because they wanted quiet and slower pace.

by kk on Aug 23, 2013 1:03 am • linkreport

My husband & are in our 60's and have 3 beautiful dogs... 2 golden retrievers & 1 little maltipoo. The urban/walk to restaurants, shopping is very appealing, but we need a fenced in back yard. We don't want to have to walk the dogs in bad weather or at night. We are currently in the suburbs in a large colonial, would like to downsize a little, maybe to 3 bedrooms. We can't afford very expensive housing. Any suggestions?

by LS on Aug 23, 2013 1:48 am • linkreport

LS: I can tell you that three dogs is a large number of dogs in a condo unit, even for a relatively large unit. Also, three-bedroom condos are not common-- two bedrooms is a lot more common (and a lot more likely to be at a reasonable price).

And generally, there's trade-offs in moving from a single-family home into a multi-household residence in a more urban environment. It's just a fact that you can't have it all.

by MattF on Aug 23, 2013 9:08 am • linkreport

LS - this isnt really a RE suggestion site.

There are places where there are 3BR townhouses and 3 BR detached houses within walking distance of what you like - but they are often pricey. But you have a "large colonial" to sell. We don't know the exact size or quality of that colonial, or where its located. And I doubt most of us could estimate the price for it (I couldn't) I suggest consulting a realtor.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Aug 23, 2013 9:16 am • linkreport

I'm one of those Baby Boomers who lives in the vicinity of White Flint, and as far as I'm concerned, this plan can't be implemented fast enough! We live in a single family home, large yard, and my vision of retirement is to downsize to a condo or townhome within walking distance of Metro and shops. I want to get rid of our cars and rely on the occasional Zipcar use. Let's just hope we can afford it!

by Maryann on Aug 23, 2013 9:40 am • linkreport

My main question about White Flint is why the east side of 355 remains kind of rundown and neglected after all these years. What is preventing development there?

by Chris S. on Aug 23, 2013 10:01 am • linkreport


I'd say you're right. Homeowners in White Flint will do all right, it's the sort of urbanizing suburb that the trends are heading towards. It's the baby-boomers who bought the four-bedroom brick front (with "bump-outs" and a bonus room...) way out in places like Urbana, Berryville or Charles Town who may have a hard time cashing out their investment.

by Frednecker on Aug 24, 2013 11:00 am • linkreport

A few years ago, I moved to an apartment near Twinbrook in order to be able to walk to work. Area continues to develop new shopping and entertainment, has great parks and trails, Red Line gives ready access to Rockville, Bethesda and other locales. That future is already here, just not evenly distributed.

by JackE on Aug 25, 2013 1:54 pm • linkreport

My husband and I are Boomers and would probably be considered as ones who could afford to live here after retirement. However, we have already decided we're not going to stay here.

I don't want to sell my beautiful, quiet, and private house just to spend that amount on a small, noisy, in-town condo in or near Rockville Pike, with no land, no garden, no sounds of nature -- nothing except traffic and the neighbors we will hear through paper-thin walls.

No thanks! We'll sell our house and move to a smaller place out of MoCo. I'd rather retire and listen to the sounds I want to hear, not blaring horns and traffic.

by Dairy Maid on Aug 29, 2013 9:38 pm • linkreport

I lived around that area. My main problems with WF & Montgomery County are the very high taxes, the fact that they have added speed cameras everywhere (usually going downhill) to make sure they get you. You either pay the ticket or get rear ended and the noisy trains that blows their horns around Bethesda at 12 Am,. 1 AM, 3 AM and 4 AM in the morning every day. Plus now the tax for bags, very aggressive homeless and gipsies in the main corners who take the metro to MC

by Del on Sep 2, 2013 10:43 am • linkreport

Del, I agree with you that noise pollution is a huge issue, and one that is almost always ignored. My main reason for living well away from any city/town is the constant, never-ending, ubiquitous noise.

Some day someone will study this issue and figure out what I already know: noise pollution is not life-enhancing!

by Dairy Maid on Sep 2, 2013 11:13 am • linkreport

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