Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Planning

Parenting


If you want a place to welcome kids, make it urban

A child's surroundings can make all the difference in what and how they learn, and urban places can offer what kids need for healthy development. Here are some ways we can make places kid-friendly.


Image courtesy of WABA.

While zoning meetings aren't exactly a hot topic on parenting blogs, perhaps they should be. Our neighborhoods' physical structure strongly influences how residents can raise children. Within the cultural conversation around the Meitiv's, the Montgomery County couple who Child Protective Services investigated for allowing their children walk home from a park, little of it has been on how communities could make themselves better places for children.

With increasing proof that children need to be granted more independence and time outside, urban planning in the DC region and elsewhere needs to consider a key group of stakeholders: kids. Parenting and good community planning can go hand-in-hand for making our communities safer and better places for everyone to live.

Vibrant urban and semi-urban communities can offer families more options and flexibility. There are a number of smart planning strategies that can increase children's safety and independence:

1. Make it easy to walk and bike

Parents won't allow children to walk or bike if they feel the streets aren't safe. Making real efforts to build wide sidewalks, maintain high-quality multi-use paths, and build protected bike lanes can provide assurance. In Austin, Texas, for example, a protected bike lane near an elementary school has helped bring the number of kids biking to class up from two to more than 40.

But ensuring kids are safe isn't limited to just controlling traffic. In some neighborhoods, parents must also consider street crime when deciding whether or not to allow their children to play outside or walk by themselves to destinations.

Making streets safe and accommodating all types of transportation in every neighborhood should be a priority for children's advocates and city planners.

2. Promote biking and walking through places kids and parents know, like schools

Installing bike racks, starting walking school buses, and celebrating Bike/Walk to School Days can help parents see that active transportation can be a great option. 2013's National Bike to School Day actually kicked off with 12 Capitol Hills schools and the Department of Transportation representative at Lincoln Park.

Other helpful institutions can include libraries and Boy and Girl Scout troops, which can run bike rodeos or other outreach activities. The City of Rockville's TERRIFIC Kids Program even distributes bikes for free to kids who complete community service activities.

3. Create shared public spaces where people of all ages can congregate

Whether parks or easy-to-walk-around town squares, shared public spaces build a sense of community. When they come together for events both formal and informal, people start to trust each other, which leads them to invest time in their neighborhoods. In addition, spaces like this are often well-traveled enough that children are unlikely to be alone.

A few good spaces in the Washington region include Veterans Plaza in downtown Silver Spring, the Plaza in Columbia Heights, and Yards Park.


Fountains in Downtown Silver Spring. Photo by Paul on Flickr.

4. Encourage smart growth

In many suburban neighborhoods, there are few amenities within walking or biking distance. Having a mix of residential buildings, community centers and commercial businesses allows children somewhere safe and fun to go by themselves.

5. Support good transit systems, especially buses

Public transit gives an extra layer of freedom beyond biking and prepares kids for learning about wayfinding and trip-planning. While my mom told me stories about taking the bus to the next town over when she was a kid, I never had the opportunity because my hometown didn't have a transit system.

Fortunately, the DC region already has solid bus systems. Continuing to make our buses more reliable, safer, and affordable is essential to helping kids use them on a regular basis. The RideOn Youth Cruiser card in Montgomery County, which is $18 for unlimited rides all summer, is a great example for other systems to follow. Students can even purchase them at a number of schools. Thankfully, my two-year-old doesn't have the limits that I did: he already asks "bus ride home?" all the time.

Places that aren't urban can be isolating

While nostalgia-tinged memories often hold less urban places up as idyllic locations, they can actually limit children's opportunities. The lack of other transportation options makes driving a requirement for independence.

Car-centric locations limit children's mobility to where their parents are willing and able to drive them. Often these activities, such as extracurricular classes and team sports, are adult-directed. In contrast to free play, too much participation in structured activities may limit the development of executive function, which relates to self-control, decision-making and attention span.

Car culture and lack of public space also limits kids' active transportation and outdoor play. Lack of exercise and time spent outdoors can contribute to a variety of risks, from diabetes to ADHD. The lack of opportunities for children to play and move outside is so severe that it's actually a major issue covered by the World Health Organization.

Making our cities and suburbs better for children and parents can offer rewards both for citizens now and generations to come.

Note: We've updated this post from its original version to clarify that the National Bike to School Day event on Capitol Hill was first of 2013 rather than the first ever. Also, the original caption for the image of the fountain in Silver Spring said that it was Veterans Plaza. It's actually in Downtown Silver Spring.

Did you enjoy this article? Greater Greater Washington is running a reader drive to raise funds so we can keep editing and publishing great articles every day. Please help us be sustainable by making a monthly, yearly, or one-time contribution today!

Support us: Monthly   Yearly   One time
Greatest supporter—$250/year
Greater supporter—$100/year
Great supporter—$50/year
Or pick your own amount: $/year
Greatest supporter—$250
Greater supporter—$100
Great supporter—$50
Supporter—$20
Or pick your own amount: $
Want to contribute by mail or another way? Instructions are here.
Contributions to Greater Greater Washington are not tax deductible.

Development


When dreaming of Olympics or anything else, beware of "planning down"

A team of architects and business leaders met in secret for many months to devise a big proposal for the Olympics in DC. Some parts of it have merit (and some don't), and ideas should always be welcome. But some things about the way they talk about the need to "transform" DC feel wrong.


Hand drawing city photo from Shutterstock.

It's terrific that some wealthy business leaders want to help the District. A generation ago, people in the suburbs were turning their backs on DC. Even now, as Jonathan O'Connell notes in his article on the Olympic bid, too often DC, Maryland, and Virginia compete to out-subsidize large businesses just so they'll move a few miles across a border.

The Olympic bid group didn't have that attitude. Russ Ramsey, who led the effort, lives in Great Falls, Virginia, but he wanted the Olympics to revive the area around the Anacostia River. The Anacostia can certainly benefit from having more friends, and areas around it more investment.

However, there's something a little disquieting about a group of business leaders and architects formulating this plan in secret, drawing pictures of stadiums on all manner of public land and arguing it would have lasting benefits for the city without really speaking to the public about what they'd like to be left with after an Olympics.

Let's call this "planning down"

There was a lot of discussion recently about "punching down" as a concept in comedy (see: criticisms of Trevor Noah, or criticisms by Garry Trudeau). Basically, it's when comedians make fun of groups of people who are less powerful in society than themselves. This secret planning feels like something similar; let's call it, "planning down."

"Planning down" would be what happens when one group of people decide they know what's best for another area whose populace is less powerful. Many residents felt this way when they heard about the machinations for the Olympics. Those of us who did should hold on to the feeling, as residents in poorer neighborhoods feel the same far more often.

John Muller, for example, has often written about communities in Historic Anacostia, Barry Farm, and elsewhere where residents feel government officials come in for "public meetings" seemingly already having decided what they want. (The same thing often happens in more politically powerful neighborhoods, but residents have more success forcing their views into the debate.)

We need to have discussions about the futures of such communities that truly engage residents in thinking about what they want for their communities. (Some government agencies have indeed done this.) There are certainly constraints—there are specific economic criteria a neighborhood needs to support a grocery store, for instance. But I think people can understand these constraints and work with them if given the chance.

The planning profession, in fact, enshrined principles around public participation in its ethical codes after the era of urban renewal which demolished many working-class neighborhoods to build "towers in the park," like in DC's Southwest Waterfront and parts of many other US cities. (You're more likely to encounter dismissive non-listening from certain transportation engineers.)

However, public engagement isn't the same as "letting the neighborhood decide." Sometimes, deferring to neighbors means letting a more-powerful group use zoning, preservation, or other tools to exclude others. For a non-Washington example, look at Toronto's "density creep" controversy, where a group of people in million-dollar homes worried about new half-million-dollar homes hurting their property values. You could say those doing the excluding are "zoning down"; it's not planning down to criticize the practice.

Some decision-makers fear taking any action unless every community stakeholder is in agreement. That's not the way to avoid planning down. It's possible to involve people in a conversation, then move ahead with some decision recognizing that no choice, whether to act or not act, will be universally popular. The key is to listen first (and hopefully make the right choice).


Superhero businessman photo from Shutterstock.

DC doesn't need to be "saved"

O'Connell concludes his article on the Olympic bid by asking, "The question is, who will be the private-sector leader for the future of Washington?" It would be most welcome to have private-sector individuals wanting to do more for DC, or the region, or their specific communities. We just need them to lead more from behind, facilitating conversations rather than deciding unilaterally what the future should be.

Many of us in the Greater Greater Washington community are somewhat more privileged than many DC residents as well. We should keep these same lessons in mind just as much when we talk about neighborhoods east of the Anacostia or elsewhere, especially if we don't know many people in those areas.

We can't just say we know what's right for other, less privileged areas; we need to understand the circumstances and hopes of the people who live there. We can't do that entirely on a blog that's easiest to read if you work in an office with a computer, either.

We can all do more to strengthen the public dialogue around planning, to encourage planning up instead of planning down. And we should. Greater Greater Washington is going to be working on building these bridges and elevating voices from diverse communities much more in the future. Stay tuned.

Did you enjoy this article? Greater Greater Washington is running a reader drive to raise funds so we can keep editing and publishing great articles every day. Please help us be sustainable by making a monthly, yearly, or one-time contribution today!

Support us: Monthly   Yearly   One time
Greatest supporter—$250/year
Greater supporter—$100/year
Great supporter—$50/year
Or pick your own amount: $/year
Greatest supporter—$250
Greater supporter—$100
Great supporter—$50
Supporter—$20
Or pick your own amount: $
Want to contribute by mail or another way? Instructions are here.
Contributions to Greater Greater Washington are not tax deductible.

Bicycling


Montgomery County aims to become a model cycling community

Bicycling in Montgomery County is growing, but without a sustained push for better infrastructure, we won't be able to make cycling feasible and safe for the majority of county residents.

Next month, planners will kick off a master plan to guide bicycle infrastructure. This weekend, the county is hosting a bike summit to help launch that effort.

Lots of changes are afoot in Montgomery County. Bikeshare is picking up speed and the red bikes symbolize a change in the approach to transportation within the county. Montgomery is now home to some of the region's best trails and most avid cyclists. The county has a new cycletrack in White Flint and similar bikeways are under consideration in other areas of the county. Yet, we are just getting started in creating a robust bicycle network.

Planning that focuses on data

What's different about the new Bicycle Master Plan being launched this summer is that it is based on more rigorous data collection and analyses than previous plans. Planners are reviewing every mile of road in the county to determine whether a segment generates a high, moderate, low, or very low stress level for bicyclists.

Within neighborhoods, there are many bike-friendly streets. But getting between neighborhoods and activity centers and basic services by bike often means crossing or riding on wide streets with high traffic speeds.

An initial analysis of Montgomery County's bike-friendliness found that while three-quarters of the roadway network qualifies as a low stress environment, these areas form "islands of connectivity" separated by major highways and other high speed roads.


Rockville Pike in White Flint. Image from Matt Johnson.

Most people are uncomfortable biking in such heavily trafficked environments. These low stress-tolerant groups, accounting for about 60 percent of the county's population, would be unlikely to bicycle to many of Montgomery's job centers and transit facilities without a network of separated bikeways and other enhancements.

Planners will estimate the percentage of trips that can be completed on the existing low-stress bicycling network and will propose new treatments that connect the "islands."

Analyzing traffic stress

The analysis of the stress that cyclists face includes a tool called "Level of Traffic Stress." The Level of Traffic Stress methodology was developed in a 2012 report from San Jose State University's Mineta Transportation Institute and examines the causes of stress to cyclists.

Stressors include higher volume and higher speed traffic, frequent parking turnover, and bicyclists' experiences in crossing major roads at intersections.

Lowering the stress that cyclists face will require a sustained commitment to next-generation bicycle facilities, such as separated bikeways, better signage and high-quality bike parking. The new countywide Bicycle Master Plan will reflect these practices in developing a high-quality, low-stress bicycle network and tailor new types of bikeways to specific locations.

As redevelopment occurs throughout the county, the opportunities to accommodate cyclists are immense as older areas are rebuilt and newer transit projects such as the Purple Line, Corridor Cities Transitway, and Rapid Transit System are implemented. The Montgomery County Department of Transportation has already expressed a willingness to consider adding bikeways in addition to what is required in our master plans.

Hosting the second annual Bike Summit

To support this planning process, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA), Montgomery County Planning Department (MNCPPC), Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT), and County Councilmember Hans Riemer are collaborating to host the Second Great MoCo Bike Summit on June 6, 2015, following the inaugural summit last year.

This event will be a great opportunity for attendees to interact directly with county planners and leaders to help shape the future of bicycling in the county. The speaker sessions, held from 10 am to noon at the Silver Spring Civic Building, will include panel discussions about the Bicycle Master Plan and a variety of bike-related topics.

Last year's summit attracted nearly 100 attendees. Learn more and RSVP here.

Did you enjoy this article? Greater Greater Washington is running a reader drive to raise funds so we can keep editing and publishing great articles every day. Please help us be sustainable by making a monthly, yearly, or one-time contribution today!

Support us: Monthly   Yearly   One time
Greatest supporter—$250/year
Greater supporter—$100/year
Great supporter—$50/year
Or pick your own amount: $/year
Greatest supporter—$250
Greater supporter—$100
Great supporter—$50
Supporter—$20
Or pick your own amount: $
Want to contribute by mail or another way? Instructions are here.
Contributions to Greater Greater Washington are not tax deductible.

Public Safety


Wider lanes make city streets more dangerous

The "forgiving highway" approach to traffic engineering holds that wider is safer when it comes to street design. After decades of adherence to these standards, American cities are now criss-crossed by streets with 12-foot wide lanes. As Walkable City author Jeff Speck argued in CityLab last year, this is actually terrible for public safety and the pedestrian environment.


The rate of side impact crashes is lowest on urban streets with lanes about 10.5 feet wide—much narrower than the standard 12 feet. Graph by Dewan Karim via Streetsblog.

A new study reinforces the argument that cities need to reconsider lane widths and redesign streets accordingly. In a paper to be presented at the Canadian Institute of Traffic Engineers annual conference, author Dewan Masud Karim presents hard evidence that wider lanes increase risk on city streets.

Karim conducted a wide-ranging review of existing research as well as an examination of crash databases in two cities, taking into consideration 190 randomly selected intersections in Tokyo and 70 in Toronto.

Looking at the crash databases, Karim found that collision rates escalate as lane widths exceed about 10.5 feet.

Roads with the widest lanes—12 feet or wider—were associated with greater crash rates and higher impact speeds. Karim also found that crash rates rise as lanes become narrower than about 10 feet, though this does not take impact speeds and crash severity into account. He concluded that there is a sweet spot for lane widths on city streets, between about 10 and 10.5 feet.

In Toronto, where traffic lanes are typically wider than in Tokyo, the average crash impact speed is also 34 percent higher, Karim found, suggesting that wider lanes not only result in more crashes but in more severe crashes.

The "inevitable statistical outcome" of the "wider-is-safer approach is loss of precious life, particularly by vulnerable citizens," Karim concluded.

Did you enjoy this article? Greater Greater Washington is running a reader drive to raise funds so we can keep editing and publishing great articles every day. Please help us be sustainable by making a monthly, yearly, or one-time contribution today!

Support us: Monthly   Yearly   One time
Greatest supporter—$250/year
Greater supporter—$100/year
Great supporter—$50/year
Or pick your own amount: $/year
Greatest supporter—$250
Greater supporter—$100
Great supporter—$50
Supporter—$20
Or pick your own amount: $
Want to contribute by mail or another way? Instructions are here.
Contributions to Greater Greater Washington are not tax deductible.

Public Spaces


Palisades' humble rec center exemplifies great park planning

In the 1930s, architects carefully planned the Palisades Recreation Center to take advantage of its location overlooking the Potomac River. 80 years later, it's still an informative model for park planning.


The Palisades Recreation Center today, looking from the north. Photo by the author.

Designers carefully planned the rec center, at 5200 Sherrier Place NW, to be more than just a collection of ball fields and playgrounds. They oriented buildings to take advantage of natural vistas, located baseball diamonds so their outfields double as public greens, and used unpretentious but beautiful architecture to balance the need for man-made structures with the surrounding natural beauty.

The result is a 13-acre green space that's as much a small national park as it is community playground.

Unlike other DC playgrounds established in the 1920s and 1930s, the Palisades rec center was designed by the National Park Service (NPS) as part of the Public Works Administration. The rec center opened to the public on September 11th, 1936. As of a 2014 study, the field house is eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.

But changes began to come in 2008 with DC's first artificial turf soccer field, and continued in 2013 with a new playground. Now, the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) and the Department of General Services are developing a plan to address the aging field house, as part of DPR's Play DC initiative.


A site plan for the Palisades rec center from late in 1935. Though this isn't the final plan, the building, the overlook, and the baseball field are all present. All images from the National Parks Service except where noted.

How it all happened

Thomas Chalmers Vint, an architect and landscape architect, supervised design and construction of the project between 1934 and 1936. Vint advocated the idea of having master plans for parks, to look at them comprehensively from planning through to construction. At many parks or monuments today, Vint's influence can still be seen in fine rustic buildings, bridges, and in how developed areas blend with the environment.

The NPS made park development plans mandatory in 1929. Under Vint's leadership, five-year plans became the standard for streamlining landscape preservation and park development.

At Palisades, Vint played an active role in the field house's design and setting. Plans for the site prior to Vint's involvement, from 1931, show a grouping of small buildings at the northern end of the property. That plan failed to materialize, and so community members pushed for a field house in early 1934. That coincided with Vint's move to Washington to become Chief Architect of NPS' Branch of Plans in Designs.

Planning for the new recreation center got underway in February 1935. Plans for both the playground and the building evolved, as designers tried to find a scheme that worked. They went through four different building proposals until settling on the eventual design, each plan being more informal and in harmony with nature than the one before.


An early Palisades rec center design from February 20, 1935.


A design from July 22, 1935.

The final design, dated October 1, 1935, is an asymmetrical three-part red-brick structure. The result is a building that looks informal and vernacular.


The final rec center design, approved October 4, 1935.

The grounds

Based on the building's asymmetry, its placement toward the southern end of the playground, and its orientation facing north-south, we know that every effort went into ensuring the field house did not overpower the natural beauty of the site. Instead, the building enhanced and was subservient to that beauty.

The building, along with its southern facing terrace, functions as a scenic overlook to the Potomac River. Palisades is the only Washington playground to have such a feature. This was, again, a result of Vint's oversight and experience.

While the overlook is the most notable feature of the site, others include a baseball diamond, tennis courts, a nature trail, and an outdoor picnic area. All are in places where they're unobtrusive and subordinate to nature. For example, the baseball infield and tennis courts are along the trolley right of way on the northeast border of the property, leaving less intense uses for the property interior.

It is particularly noteworthy that the baseball diamond's home plate is at the north end of the field, both giving residents fast access to home plate, and allowing the outfield to double as a meadow when people aren't playing baseball. We know that was intentional based on plans from 1935.


A partial site plan, dated July 17, 1935. It notes the meadow (which is the baseball field) and overlook.

Continue the legacy

The 1930s may be a long time ago, but we need good parks as much today as we did then. As DPR renovates Washington's aging parks, it will be important for today's generation of planners to think of these places in comprehensive terms, and not as only locations for active sports fields.

Washington needs strong long-term planning if it's going to manage its public resources efficiently and equitably. DPR's Play DC master plan is a good overall approach in concept. But it's still prone to piecemeal planning since DPR and DGS only plan for projects that have dedicated funding. This ad hoc approach makes it hard to create master plans, and hard to prioritize long term visions.

The Palisades Recreation Center's mid-1930s design is an example of how master planning can and should apply to Washington's recreation areas.

Did you enjoy this article? Greater Greater Washington is running a reader drive to raise funds so we can keep editing and publishing great articles every day. Please help us be sustainable by making a monthly, yearly, or one-time contribution today!

Support us: Monthly   Yearly   One time
Greatest supporter—$250/year
Greater supporter—$100/year
Great supporter—$50/year
Or pick your own amount: $/year
Greatest supporter—$250
Greater supporter—$100
Great supporter—$50
Supporter—$20
Or pick your own amount: $
Want to contribute by mail or another way? Instructions are here.
Contributions to Greater Greater Washington are not tax deductible.

Transit


Rural Montgomery residents write their own transportation proposal

Boyds, a rural town in Montgomery County's Agricultural Reserve with a MARC station, is a commuting destination for the residents of Clarksburg, a rapidly growing town just north. To handle increasing traffic and make transit more accessible, Boyds residents want to move both a central road and the MARC station.


Boyds, Maryland today. Note that the MARC station's location is off; it's actually one block west of the Clarksburg/Clopper intersection. Base image from Google Maps.

Clarksburg is transit-oriented development without transit. 1994 plans included comprehensive regional and local bus and rail networks. Today, Clarksburg residents only have two weekday-only bus routes and a circuitous trial shuttle to the Germantown MARC station.

Increasing numbers of people are driving through Boyds from homes in Clarksburg and Frederick County to jobs in Germantown and the I-270 corridor. This leads to traffic back-ups at the bottleneck in Boyds where Clarksburg Road meets MD 117 (Barnesville and Clopper Roads) in a double intersection separated by an underpass.

Soon, Clarksburg's Cabin Branch section will have 2,386 housing units, an outlet mall, and an outdoor amphitheater. The adjacent Ten Mile Creek will have 500 houses. The Boyds MARC station would be reachable with a short trip south on Clarksburg Road.

But there are no buses to the Boyds MARC station, and its 15-space parking lot is often full.

The Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) is currently studying a bus turnaround and some 40 additional parking spaces for the Boyds MARC station. Their favored site for both may be the future Boyds Local Park, which sits south of the intersection of Clopper Road and Clarksburg Road and a block downhill from the train station. But would the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC), who owns the park, agree to that? The M-NCPPC wants to put cricket fields in the park.

Also, the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) is studying traffic signals and/or roundabouts to speed car travel through the intersection-underpass-intersection bottleneck in Boyds. The results of the study may be ready in late spring.

While the Boyds community has asked MCDOT for improvements to the MARC station for years, residents are wary of the suburbanizing effects of MCDOT's and SHA's ideas on an area whose master plans designate it as rural and historic.

Boyds residents propose their own possible solution

In an effort to participate in the planning process, the Boyds Civic Association has asked SHA, the Maryland Transit Administration, MCDOT, and M-NCPPC to study a two-part proposal.

The first part is to relocate part of Clopper Road either over or under the railroad tracks. This would form a single, modern, more efficient intersection between Clopper, Clarksburg Road, and Barnesville Road. It would also keep traffic away from the Boyds Historic District and out of Boyds Local Park.


The proposed new locations for the MARC station and Clopper Road. The intersection could have a roundabout or traffic signals. Image from the author.

The second part is to move the MARC station from its current location in the Boyds Historic District to a three-acre industrial storage lot just to the east on Clopper Road next to the proposed new bridge or underpass.

The new station would be much larger, with space for 300 cars and for buses that would run between Clarksburg, Boyds, and Germantown. The additional parking would also delay the need for a parking garage at Germantown, the next station to the east on the Brunswick Line.

SHA's traffic study and MCDOT's park-and-ride study are short-term plans. In contrast, the Boyds Civic Association's long-term, comprehensive idea, if feasible, would both remove the traffic bottleneck in Boyds and greatly expand car and bus access to the Boyds MARC train station. Boyds residents hope that their idea is a vision for the area that everyone can share.

Did you enjoy this article? Greater Greater Washington is running a reader drive to raise funds so we can keep editing and publishing great articles every day. Please help us be sustainable by making a monthly, yearly, or one-time contribution today!

Support us: Monthly   Yearly   One time
Greatest supporter—$250/year
Greater supporter—$100/year
Great supporter—$50/year
Or pick your own amount: $/year
Greatest supporter—$250
Greater supporter—$100
Great supporter—$50
Supporter—$20
Or pick your own amount: $
Want to contribute by mail or another way? Instructions are here.
Contributions to Greater Greater Washington are not tax deductible.

Architecture


What makes a city attractive? Here's how to know for sure

Six characteristics can make any city in the world beautiful, says pop philosophy group The School of Life. This video tells us what they are.

Alain de Botton, the author of The Architecture of Happiness, founded The School of Life as a kind of think tank for everyday life.

According to the video, whether a city is pretty or ugly hinges on its balance of variety and order, how much life is on its streets, whether it brings people close together while keeping them comfortable, how much mystery exists within it, the scale of its buildings, and whether or not it's unique.

The video says these factors come from fundamental human preferences. They make it obvious that a city that's close-knit and vibrant is better than one that's full of parking lots and "soulless" skyscrapers.

DC stacks up great in some ways, and could be better in others

DC is very compact, and it's built to a human scale. For example, the video talks about squares making people feel contained but not claustrophobic, and we have our own version of squares in circles and pocket parks.

On the other hand, while many of us love the L'Enfant City, it lends itself to planned districts where there isn't any mystique. And as the video's narrator tells us, "Excessive order can be... a problem. Too much regularity can be soul destroying. Too much order feels rigid and alien. It can be bleak, relentless and harsh."

How would you apply some of these attributes of attractive cities to improving the Washington region?

Did you enjoy this article? Greater Greater Washington is running a reader drive to raise funds so we can keep editing and publishing great articles every day. Please help us be sustainable by making a monthly, yearly, or one-time contribution today!

Support us: Monthly   Yearly   One time
Greatest supporter—$250/year
Greater supporter—$100/year
Great supporter—$50/year
Or pick your own amount: $/year
Greatest supporter—$250
Greater supporter—$100
Great supporter—$50
Supporter—$20
Or pick your own amount: $
Want to contribute by mail or another way? Instructions are here.
Contributions to Greater Greater Washington are not tax deductible.

Development


Ask GGW: What are the best urban planning and policy books?

A while back, we rounded up a list of urbanist books for kids. But what about grownups who want a bit more detail and background? We asked our contributors for their recommendations.


Photo by Chris Devers on Flickr.

Abigail Zenner's favorite is Happy City, by Charles Montgomery:

Montgomery talks about how the built environment and transportation choices affect on people's happiness. It's written in a way that's accessible, and it really provides good arguments for why these things matter to people.
One book in particular gave Canaan Merchant a better foundation for processing our subject matter.
Suburban Nation, by Jeff Speck, Andres Duany, and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk was my introduction to a lot of what we cover at Greater Greater Washington. Before I read it, I knew there were things that made neighborhoods work, but I couldn't articulate them. Suburgan Nation talks about why some designs that encourage walkability are either discouraged or outright banned today, which explains why some in some places make walking easy and pleasant while some only encourage driving.
Brian McEntee's recommendation is Downtown: Its Rise and Fall,1880-1950:
It's a fairly comprehensive history of the various factors (real estate, transportation, prevailing social attitudes) that shaped development and downfall during the a seminal period in American urbanism. It's a history book, not a policy book, but it does help provide a really useful "how we got here' perspective.
Kate Ascher's The Works is Kelli Raboy's manual for understanding the basics:
It's a fun look into the what/why/how of infrastructure operations in an urban environment, specifically using the backdrop of New York City.
Matt Johnson listed four:
  • The Death and Life of Great American Cities, by Jane Jacobs. This is a staple of planning. Written in 1961, it was one of the first attempts to criticize the planning decisions of the time, but Jacobs also predicted a great many things that wouldn't become "obvious" to mainstream planners and engineers until the 1990s.
  • Fighting Traffic, by Peter Norton. This book talks about how the automobile came to dominate our cities. While cars and traffic seems like a foregone conclusion today, it certainly wasn't in the 1910s and 1920s. When the car first came on the scene, there was a battle to save urban streets.
  • The High Cost of Free Parking, by Donald Shoup. A book about parking policy and how there really is no such thing as free parking. Another must-read.
  • Great Society Subway, by Zachary Schrag. A history of the Washington Metro. It's a real page-turner. Schrag talks about the history of building a Metro, DC's fight for enfranchisement, and many other related topics. It's a fascinating biography of the region, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
  • Ben Ross, himself the author of Dead End, said two in particular fly under the radar:
    Jason Henderson's Street Fight: The Politics of Mobility in San Francisco and Japonica Brown-Saracino's A Neighborhood that Never Changes: Gentrification, Social Preservation, and the Search for Authenticity are two books that aren't as well known as they should be, and both are particularly relevant to current issues in DC. (With A Neighborhood that Never Changes, you may want to skip the rather academic introduction and first chapter.)
    David Alpert's go-to is The Option of Urbanism, by Christopher Leinberger:
    It lays out very clearly the difference between walkable urbanism and what he calls "driveable sub-urbanism," why it's hard to switch a place from one to the other, why it's easier for people building cookie-cutter sprawl to get financing than people building urban mixed-use, and much more.
    Aimee Custis said,
    Human Transit, by Jarrett Walker "is a really terrific primer for non-planners on transit: why it's important, how it works, how it interacts with land use, why some systems succeed while others fail, and how to build a good transit system. And Walkable City, by Jeff Speck is a great 21st century complement to Jane Jacobs, which Matt recommended. Still read Jane, but if you get a little bogged down or want to understand exactly what's happening today, Jeff is a fantastic and engaging writer."
    Chris Slatt offered a book that's heavy on visuals:
    I'm partial to Victor Dover's Street Design. The text is a bit dense and heavy, but there is a ton of great knowledge in there about designing streets and the delicious creamy center is hundreds and hundreds of pictures showing actual examples of great streets all across the globe. His book is excellent for countering the inevitable "well that could never work" response that comes when redesigning for Complete Streets and shows just how far we have to go to catch up with the rest of the world.
    Tracey Johnstone's pick is useful for understanding how urbanism fits into today's politics:
    Moving Minds: Conservatives and Public Transportation, by William S. Lind and the late Paul Weyrich makes a politically conservative case for investing in mass transit. The reasons the authors have for supporting transit are a lot like those of any transit advocate: that people who don't ride transit still benefit from it, and that that mass transit contributes to energy conservation and independence, which in turn help with national security.
    Melissa Lindsjo added Zoned in the USA: The Origins and Implications of American Land-Use Regulation, by Sonja Hirt, and Jeff Lemieux recommended Retrofitting Suburbia, by Ellen Dunham-Jones and June Williamson.

    Finally, Brent Bolin asked a follow-up question:

    I am always looking for the go-to primer for elected officials (or community members) that don't understand urbanist issues. I've taken the time to read a lot of these, but when I am interacting with my fellow elected officials, I always wonder what I should be putting in their hands. Let's say that I'm not looking for Urbanism 101, but rather Urbanism 100 (for non-majors).
    Aimee Custis said Walkable City fits the bill, and Abigail Zenner followed up that Happy City "would be great for people who haven't thought about this stuff before."

    Do you have a question? Each week, we'll post a question to the Greater Greater Washington contributors and post appropriate parts of the discussion. You can suggest questions by emailing ask@ggwash.org. Questions about factual topics are most likely to be chosen. Thanks!

    Did you enjoy this article? Greater Greater Washington is running a reader drive to raise funds so we can keep editing and publishing great articles every day. Please help us be sustainable by making a monthly, yearly, or one-time contribution today!

    Support us: Monthly   Yearly   One time
    Greatest supporter—$250/year
    Greater supporter—$100/year
    Great supporter—$50/year
    Or pick your own amount: $/year
    Greatest supporter—$250
    Greater supporter—$100
    Great supporter—$50
    Supporter—$20
    Or pick your own amount: $
    Want to contribute by mail or another way? Instructions are here.
    Contributions to Greater Greater Washington are not tax deductible.

    Development


    Hired to redesign a street, children make magic

    This video shows the magic that happened when school children in Quebec got a chance to reimagine a street, as part of a school project. They cut space for cars and added land to play games and grow gardens, making the street a better public space.

    If you're like me and don't speak French (big thanks to contributor Agnes Artemel for her help!), here's a translation: The video is called "Student planners." In re-creating the street, the students made it amenable to more modes of transportation and narrowed the part for vehicles. They also brought the speed limit down to 12 km/hr and built space to play games and grow gardens.

    It's inspiring to see that intuitively, these kids designed a public space to accommodate all kinds of needs.

    Did you enjoy this article? Greater Greater Washington is running a reader drive to raise funds so we can keep editing and publishing great articles every day. Please help us be sustainable by making a monthly, yearly, or one-time contribution today!

    Support us: Monthly   Yearly   One time
    Greatest supporter—$250/year
    Greater supporter—$100/year
    Great supporter—$50/year
    Or pick your own amount: $/year
    Greatest supporter—$250
    Greater supporter—$100
    Great supporter—$50
    Supporter—$20
    Or pick your own amount: $
    Want to contribute by mail or another way? Instructions are here.
    Contributions to Greater Greater Washington are not tax deductible.

    Support Us