Posts about Suburban Sensibility
Instead of condominiums, Fairfax City is poised to move forward with a suburban townhouse development in Old Town. Residential development on the lot formerly occupied by the city library has long been part of Fairfax's plans for a lively downtown with more feet on the street outside lunch hour. Walnut Street Development had received approval to build 80 condominium units, but then backed out as the condo market soured. In April 2009 the city issued a new Request for Proposals for the site. RFP guidelines included a minimum size of 2,500 square feet per residential unit and minimum parking of 2-2.33 spaces per unit.
Downtown Fairfax doesn't need more of this.
The winning development proposal did a good job of fitting within the framework of the RFP. "Madison Mews" will put 26 homes and 64 parking spaces on the lot, a major downscaling of the original plan. Instead of connecting pedestrians and bicyclists to downtown Fairfax, the development will dead-end and have only one entry and exit point on the opposite end. It's designed to make it easy for residents to drive out of downtown and get on I-66. It doesn't encourage residents to walk or bicycle to Old Town destinations, even though they will be a five-minute walk away.
Several people at the Tuesday meeting expressed dismay with the plan. "If you want to keep downtown sick, this is the way to kill it," one resident remarked. To survive and thrive, local businesses need more residents who are looking for a more urban environment, one local landowner observed. "The density is grossly inadequate to revitalize downtown."
Unfortunately, the proposal fits within current zoning. The next step is a site plan. The city could at least incrementally improve the project by requiring the developer to provide pedestrian and bicycle access on the southern edge of the development facing downtown.
During the 1960s and '70s, eastern Montgomery County experienced a high-rise building boom, with apartment towers sprouting up as far north as Burtonsville. A rough count shows there are over forty apartment buildings with more than eight stories in East County outside of Downtown Silver Spring, many of which are clustered in White Oak, Leisure World and along University Boulevard.
Today, these buildings designed for young professionals and small families fleeing the city are showing their age at a time when everyone's moving back downtown. Not only that, but forty-year-old high-rises aren't very energy-efficient. In Toronto, Canada, which has over a thousand such buildings, Mayor David Miller has launched a project to bring them into the twenty-first century.
Dense but often surrounded by generous lawns, these "towers in the park" can be isolating for their residents. Entire neighborhoods filled with these buildings and lower-density garden-style apartments are too diffuse (and often too poorly connected) to provide easy access to shopping and transit.
The Mayor's Tower Renewal initiative has two goals. First, make the buildings "green" with extra insulation and replacing obsolete materials. And second, to find new uses for the land around the buildings, whether it's as public parkland, vegetable gardens, or for amenities like rec centers, shops and restaurants, or even offices. This is how architect Graeme Stewart, who began developing this concept as a grad student at the University of Toronto, describes it:
Right now neighborhoods offer residential density, but they're employment and service deserts. The idea that to solve it, you would add more density seems sort of strangeThis seems like a proposal ready-made for East County's apartment towers. "Filling in the gaps" between high-rises would provide extra income for landlords and developers; reduce car trips by locating amenities where people already live; offer places for kids to hang out; and provide space for small businesses to locate (not unlike my "shop-house" proposal last year), generating jobs in a community that definitely needs them.
— and I think that's going to be the biggest point of contention to the neighboring areas — but at the same time, during early engagement with the communities, people are saying, "I'd like a grocery store," "I'd like to be able to open up a small business." It almost seems like a no-brainer. The fact that these neighborhoods have been ignored and stayed the same for so long is actually what's weird about them.
The above Census map depicts the average household income in White Oak by color, with darker green representing wealthier areas. It shows that residents of the Enclave and White Oak Towers, two 1960's-era high-rise buildings, are poorer than their counterparts in surrounding single-family neighborhoods. They are wealthier than people living in White Oak's more affordable garden-style buildings, but this may be because high-rise apartments are more expensive to maintain and thus charge higher rents.
Places like White Oak and Briggs Chaney have been maligned for creating congestion and "demographic shifts" in East County, while their residents are isolated from the larger community and even from people living in the next apartment complex. Tower Renewal, or whatever you'd like to call it, could transform areas like White Oak and Briggs Chaney into vibrant neighborhoods and "town centers."
We're already seeing elements of Tower Renewal in this area. Lofts 590, a new building in Crystal City, returned low-rise scale to a '60s-era complex of apartment towers in a park. And in Briggs Chaney, townhouses were built around the Waterford Tower on Castle Boulevard, giving existing residents an opportunity to "move up" into larger housing without leaving the neighborhood.
Neither of these projects go quite far as what's being proposed in Toronto. They're still isolated from the community and do nothing to address the issues of accessibility and energy use. Still, they show that developers and neighborhoods alike are open to the possibilities of recycling the "tower in the park."
The draft for the new Wheaton Sector Plan currently includes provisions to build a new library in downtown Wheaton. The new library would replace the current Wheaton library which, oddly, is not in downtown Wheaton.
Rather, it is north of downtown Wheaton, on the corner of Arcola Avenue and Georgia Avenue. Though the current library is a fifteen minute walk north of the Wheaton Metro, its pedestrian-hostile configuration and pedestrian-hostile place discourage walking.
Moving the library to a more transit-rich, centrally located site in downtown Wheaton would both improve the accessibility of the library and the social and economic vitality of the existing walkable urban downtown. The other walkable urban downtowns in Montgomery County such as Bethesda, Silver Spring, Rockville, and Takoma Park have libraries at their walkable centers.
Nevertheless, a number of "don't move the library" signs have started appearing in Wheaton. Why would they want to save it?
The current Wheaton library is very suburban and hostile to pedestrians. It's not in downtown Wheaton. It's past where the walkable urban town ends and becomes car-dependent suburbia. The cars travel faster on Georgia Avenue there than in Wheaton proper. It's really hard to cross Georgia Avenue at Arcola Avenue.
The main entrance opens up to the parking lot, which is behind the building, away from the sidewalk. The secondary entrance does not open up to the narrow sidewalk on Georgia Avenue. Rather, it is behind some bushes and a drop-off and pick-up driveway for cars. It was constructed in 1962, remodeled in 1985, and designed to be by the car, of the car, and for the car, like most buildings built during those time periods.
The "Save Wheaton Library" website says:
The Library as currently situated is easily, safely, and pleasantly accessible by foot and public transportation to thousands of residents in its surrounding neighborhoods.However, before making this assertion, it points out another feature of the current library:
Parking at the Wheaton Library's present site is ample, free, and there are no complications about misuse (as is the case in other CBDs).This argument reveals why the authors of this website like the current library. It has ample, free parking. Lots of it. Too much of it. So much that it makes it hostile to pedestrians, like many other car-dependent places. (Plus, the current library is not actually in the CBD.)
Just like most other anti-campaigns, this one is merely about preserving the status quo. Somehow, I doubt that the small handful of my neighbors with signs on their front lawns have ever walked to the library. I live on the northern side of downtown Wheaton, really close to the library. I don't ever use it because I hate walking there. In fact, I've only used it in the past six months to pick up tax forms. That's because it's so much safer and more interesting to walk in a town environment with where I can run multiple errands, the blocks are short, and the cars drive at 25 miles per hour.
In order for Wheaton to live up to its potential as a vibrant economic and cultural center, it needs a mix of uses. Its current zoning allows single story, single-use retail, without parking minimums. Earlier this decade, new townhouses were built on the periphery of the downtown. More recently, new apartments opened up on top of the Metro. But downtown Wheaton still lacks a center of public life. A library would create that activity center, increasing foot traffic, the customer base for the small businesses in the downtown, and safety by putting more eyes on the street.
The opponents also list safety as one of their reasons to oppose a downtown library:
Security [would be a perceived] big issue. Many felt they would not feel comfortable leaving their children at the downtown location. Many feel the open parking lot at the present library is safer than a covered structure that would be downtown (especially for women). Also, school buses use the present library to drop children off from school. Many parents expressed concern about dropping their children off at a downtown library.A downtown library would improve safety in its area, not reduce it. Yet this argument seems to stem from a classic suburban perception of safety: walkable is unsafe while car-dependent is safe. The truth is, of course, far more nuanced. In our region, there are a whole range of crime rates in both walkable urban and car-dependent places. You can't simply tie a land-use arrangement to a 50-year-old perception of safety.
Wheaton is very fortunate to have a Metro station directly underneath it. With great privilege comes great responsibility. An important civic place like a library should be situated in a place where the community can use and celebrate it as much as possible. When the very location of the public structure will also breathe more vitality into an already functioning walkable urban place, it is the responsibility of the community to embrace change for the common good. It is silly that the current Wheaton library serves a certain constituency, motorists, at the expense of everyone else. A library located in downtown Wheaton, rather than in its car-dependent fringes, would better serve all constituencies, including motorists.
During the now-defunct credit bubble, legacy walkable urban places in Montgomery County enjoyed renovation and investment unparalleled in decades. Silver Spring received a brand new commercial development that catalyzed a better reputation and increased foot traffic. Investment in Bethesda accelerated beyond its already fast pace. Wheaton got a renovated mall and new residential development for the first time in decades. Takoma Park saw an increase in property values and commercial vitality.
Most dramatically, downtown Rockville recognized that its experiment with 20th century-style "urban renewal" was a miserable failure and restored a human-scale street grid while providing incentives for walkable urban development in its Metro-adjacent location. The only legacy downtown that didn't get in on the action was Gaithersburg, whose historic downtown is known as Olde Towne Gaithersburg. According to the Gazette, Gaithersburg is now seeking advice from developers how to revitalize their downtown.
Most of the land within the corporate limits of Gaithersburg currently sits underneath car-dependent suburban sprawl built between the 1970s and the 1990s. However, Gaithersburg was once a major agricultural stop on the B&O Railroad, whose tracks share a right-of-way with the Metro Red Line between Silver Spring and Union Station. Consequently, Gaithersburg possesses a walkable, urban historic downtown with a human-scale street grid. However, preexisting suburban sensibilities blocked new investment during the development boom years of the middle of this decade:
"We didn't build anything," said Councilman Henry F. Marraffa Jr., pointing to meticulous planning rules, political intractability and overconfidence among city leaders who he says "placed too many conditions" on projects. The city now has more than 4,000 apartments, condos, townhouses and single-family homes approved to be built, but many are years from development, he said.Parking minimums are another specific example of suburban sensibilities that are currently stifling growth:
Marraffa sat on a previous council that in 2001 passed a first-ever moratorium on residential development, designed to last one year, citing a need to review the city's master plan. Developers and schools added capacity elsewhere. Now the city is looking to developers to learn how to lure builders during the recession and lending crisis.
Malcolm Van De Reit, a former developer with JPI and now president of White Oak Properties in McLean, Va., cited three other obstacles to Olde Towne development. He said parking ratios tied to new projects should be reduced; land assemblage for large projects is challenging in part because of landowners' expectations on pricing; and city leaders must be sensitive to the changing economy and developers' need to be cost-conscious.As Mr. Van De Reit said, parking minimums provide a sizable disincentive to a developer who wishes to invest in an urban-friendly project. Without new investment, a city or town stagnates and declines. That is exactly what happened in our major cities, including Washington, DC, from World War II to the end of the century. Hindsight has taught us that preventing all development is just as destructive in the long term as promoting poorly planned development.
"Most developers right now are going back to basics, so they're not going to be moving too far out of their comfort zones as far as spending a lot of money on ... bells and whistles," Van De Reit said.
An existing parking ordinance does not reflect an urban model or the way apartment communities operate. It asks developers to build parking and has caused some projects to crumble under their own weight or lose financing through delays in planning processes, he said.
Olde Towne Gaithersburg, like every walkable urban place in the region and the United States, needs to adopt a zoning and planning framework that makes sense in a human-scale environment. Gaithersburg already has neighboring communities in its own county to learn from. Neighboring Rockville would be an excellent place to start due to proximity, similar demographics, and similar infrastructure, though without a Red Line Station. Like Rockville, as an incorporated town, Gaithersburg has more control over land use planning. Unincorporated Wheaton, Silver Spring, and Bethesda are all governed and planned at the county level.
It's one thing for a dedicated livable/walkable communities and mass transit activist to suggest such a course of action. The point is driven home even more acutely when members of the business community say the same thing:
Developers have suggested a more flexible ordinance in Olde Towne, "an urban model," used in downtown Rockville or Bethesda, Van De Reit said. The current requirement forces structured or partially below-grade parking at costs not justified by Gaithersburg rents.While seeking feedback from developers can be a positive part of the process, as Richard Layman says, a request for proposals isn't a plan. There's no subsitute for a carefully crafted plan that combines ideas from planners, developers and residents. Gaithersburg should bear that in mind as it moves forward with much-needed planning to leverage its most valuable asset.
The March edition of GQ features a 12-year-old budding food critic, David Fishman of New York, NY. One of Fishman's favorite activities is to visit local restaurants and write critiques. Due to his age, his parents limit him to restaurants within walking distance in his Upper West Side neighborhood. While such parental ground rules would amount to house arrest for children in car-dependent subdivisions, it provides David with a balance between safety and freedom while leaving plenty of restaurant options.
In conventional suburban neighborhoods, meanwhile, there is simply nowhere for a preteen or teenager can explore within walking distance. Fishman would While proponents of a car-dependent lifestyle often argue that the subdivision is a better environment for raising children, they forget that children's needs change when they become pre-teens and need to socialize and explore their surroundings. Quite simply, David would not be able to explore his passion for critiquing restaurants if he did not live in a vibrant walkable urban place.
David's story, while unique in its national magazine coverage, is not unique to the Upper West Side of Manhattan. In downtown Wheaton, pre-teens and teenagers walk around, go to and from the Metro, eat at cafes, shop at the Westfield Wheaton mall, the local comic book store, or the grocery store. In neighboring Silver Spring or Bethesda, many pre-teens and carless teenagers shop at the stores and eat at the numerous restaurants. The same scene repeats itself in Tenleytown, Friendship Heights, Georgetown, and Ballston. In these walkable places, teens can learn valuable social skills and enjoy a measure of freedom.
I spent last Thanksgiving at a friend of a friend's house. The host's parents and their friends grew up in a walkable neighborhood in Norfolk. The boys could walk to the local ball field and see who was around for a pickup game. (At that time, I guess, girls weren't welcome in the boys' pickup games). If any of the kids made a misguided, immature decision, their neighbors would walk over and tell their parents. As much as they hated it then, they now wish they had raised their children in such an environment. Their raves about the old neighborhood sounded just like my dad and my aunts describing their old neighborhood on the South Side of Pittsburgh.
Now, the host's parents own their "dream house" in a subdivision in Upper Marlboro. They can't walk over to a local field for a pick-up game. It's much harder to get to know your neighbors without a sidewalk leading to a local park or other destination where you might run into each other. If they ever saw a neighbor's child doing something they shouldn't, would they even know whom to call? It takes a village to raise a child. What happens when there is no village?
The subdivision I grew up in had a couple other kids that were in my age range. I was lucky. Outside of the subdivision, there was nothing else in walking distance. The roads to get there had no shoulder, either. As much as I liked the other guys in the subdivision, they weren't my best friends. If I wanted to see friends from school, my parents had to drive. Once again, I was lucky that my parents had time for frequent trips to friends' houses, as long as I gave them ample notice and they talked to my friends' parents. However, that's a lot of big "ifs." It's silly that a parent must devote time, energy, and money from gasoline, insurance and car depreciation every time two kids want to play video games or kick a soccer ball together.
A pick-up soccer, football, or basketball game was even more complicated. We couldn't just go down to the local field and play with whatever kids were hanging around looking for a game. Instead, we had to call guys who lived in distant subdivisions and talk to their parents about car transportation. If anyone's parents weren't around, or were too busy to take an hour out of their day to drive their child to a pick-up football game, we couldn't play. Since organizing required effort, we'd only call our friends. This deprived us and other adolescents of a major social lesson: getting along with people other than your friends.
Between college and graduate school, I taught ninth grade math. Many of my students would go home after school, fire up the video game console, eat dinner, and then play more video games until they went to bed. Would I have been any different if there weren't other kids in the subdivision, I wasn't into playing sports, or my parents couldn't drive me to the games? Obviously, there are plenty of couch potatoes around the world who do live in walkable urban places. However, without other options, children have few alternatives to a sedentary lifestyle.
Car-dependent places design each area for one single land use. They also seem to design for single life stages, too. A large yard may make sense when a child is just learning to walk. However, what happens when children outgrow the yard and want to interact with their peers and explore the world around them? While it is clearly possible to raise children who become successful adults in car-dependent places, it clearly has its shortcomings for pre-teens and carless teenagers. Why does so much "conventional wisdom" claim that suburbia is inherently a better place to raise children? Suburbia has its advantages, but also more than its fair share of shortcomings.
I'm probably going to get a lot of negative feedback in the comments for this, but I suggest that the myth about suburbia being a better environment for children arose from a combination of suburban marketing and our collective attempt to rationalize the divestment and abandonment of our cities and towns. Amazingly, our society continues to collectively embrace the idea of car-dependent suburbia being best for children while, simultaneously, the baby boomer generation pines for the walkable towns and neighborhoods of their youth.
New York announced an innovative solution: close Broadway to traffic in these areas. Pedestrians may finally have enough room, and it'll actually reduce car delays. (Tips: Greater Greater Dad, Robert H.-D., Andrew K., and others.)
Go blogs! Yesterday's Broadway announcement is also a huge win for Streetsblog, the New York City Streets Renaissance Campaign, Transportation Alternatives, and other advocates who have persuaded the NYC government to completely transform its approach to transportation. A Wednesday segment about the future of news on NPR's Marketplace mentioned the rapid rise of small, online-only news operations focused on city government, local politics, and development.
T4A launches platform: The national Transportation For America coalition officially launched their platform on Capitol Hill today. It calls for this fall's transportation bill (TEA) to fund a 21st-century network that allocates transportation dollars based on objectives, like lowering carbon emissions and ensuring economic access, rather than set amounts for highways and (much smaller amounts) for transit.
PG neighbors debate highway widening, light rail: Residents of Temple Hills, Clinton and Brandywide debated widening Route 5 south of the Beltway. Some residents are eager for the widening, while others don't want the sprawl it will bring to southern Prince George's and counties to the south; some are pleased about the county's proposed light rail corridor, while others worry about the development that could result. (Gazette)
Reject a bungalow, get a skinny box: A developer built a 12-foot-wide modernist house on a lot in Arlington after neighbors rejected a zoning variance to put two bungalows in the place of one.
Up in Montgomery-land: The new Paint Branch High School in Burtonsville will be much worse for walkers (JUTP) ... The debate over Falkland Chase continues (Gazette) ... JUTP's Dan Reed and some friends encountered a Rockville leasing agent who said they "don't look like [they] could afford to live here" (Diamondback Online)
And: The Historic Preservation Review Board approved the revised design for the Whitman-Walker redevelopment project at 14th and S (CSNA) ... Metro has started layoffs (Examiner) ... the Senate passed the voting rights bill, with an amendment repealing DC's gun laws, but which will probably come out in conference. (Post, City Paper) ... The Virginia House rejected a bill to give residents the right to dry clothes on clotheslines.
In a suburban context, developers tend to propose suburban designs for new development. Those designs separate buildings with large amounts of space, fill that space with empty lawns and plazas, and channel traffic to wide boulevards around the periphery of a site. These designs don't lend themselves to walkable environments with lively ground level activity.
If Northern Virginia wants its growing areas, like those along the Silver Line, to become walkable neighborhoods like Arlington, Bethesda and Silver Spring, we need to ensure that new development builds the connected street grid with small blocks common to all of those places, and even more common in older cities like DC and Old Town Alexandria. Unfortunately, many of the developments currently proposed or under construction miss this opportunity.
Last week, DCmud discussed the Towers Crescent development just south of the Tysons Corner Center mall. They have already built several office buildings on the site, and are interested in adding several residential buildings on the west edge. Residential buildings are a good idea, but unfortunately, they've designed them, along with the already-completed buildings, in a very un-urban form.
No streets stretch all the way across the site. There are pedestrian paths from one side to the other, but require people to take a circuitous route around the various and motley buildings, plazas and gardens. Nothing lines up. The mall and Marriott on either side are just as bad, but planners are trying hard to evolve Tysons into more of a walkable place. This design will hinder that evolution.
The plan reflects a "suburban sensibility", a term I first saw used in the context of the Newport development in Jersey City, right across the Hudson from Manhattan. Suburban office park developers design something for a denser, more urban place that looks like a suburban office park, but with all the buildings a little taller and a tad closer together.
Some projects are trying harder. The Connection recently profiled the Dulles World Center, a proposed "town center" style project adjacent to the Dulles Access Road at Route 28, just outside the airport property. The property is very close to the future Route 28 Silver Line station.
The developer is excited about creating a "mixed-use transit-oriented development" including residential, office, and hotels. Of course, some people don't like that idea, including Loudoun Supervisor Andrea McGimsey, who isn't pleased that the project could devote 25% of its space to residential units.
According to the Connection, the project includes "a pedestrian-friendly grid network of streets, a large central park, public plaza and ... LEED certification." The grid is more pedestrian-friendly than most, though the blocks still lean to the large side. Based on this site plan, there appear to be eleven internal intersections, or 89 per square mile. LEED-ND calls for 150 per square mile.
The project still follows the suburban "towers in the park" design, with tall buildings surrounded by a lot of open space. That's far more open space than people could actually use, meaning most of the lawns will function more as voids than parks. On the other hand, by putting the buildings along streets and more of the space in the center, they maximize the opportunities to activate the street with cafes, retail and more.
The more mixed-use TOD we can get around the Silver Line, the more riders it will have and the more we can recoup our investment in this transit line. Still, all development isn't created equal. Entirely suburban designs like Towers Crescent will hinder Tysons' progress toward a walkable place. Dulles World Center, meanwhile, jumps ahead of most of its surroundings, but would look like horrible superblocks in Arlington or DC. We can and should do even better.
Tonight, the Cleveland Park ANC (3C) will debate the controversial Giant PUD at Idaho and Wisconsin. Both supporters and opponents of the PUD have been working to flood ANC Commissioners with letters. If you live in 3C, please email your Commissioner to ask him or her to support the Giant, and attend tonight's meeting at 7:30 at the
Second District Police Station on Idaho Avenue (at Newark St) McLean Gardens Ballroom, 3811 Porter St (near Wisconsin).
Residents have been hotly debating this project on the neighborhood email list. Unlike many past debates, numerous residents have written in support of the Giant. For example, one resident wrote,
There are truly hundreds of citizens and residents of our neighborhood who, though quiet, would like nothing more than to see the new Giant store and accompanying project started and completed at the earliest possible time. We are all disgusted with the present state of Wisconsin Avenue in our neighborhood. Most of us no longer walk or shop anywhere near the area and cannot understand why or how the authorities have allowed it to be like this now for over two years. Nor do we believe the continuing professional critics of the project should be allowed still once more to succeed in getting further delays.Another resident tried to put this debate in context:
No project of this magnitude will or can ever be perfect or acceptable to everyone. The critics are well aware of this, but nonetheless continue with their multipronged efforts, obviously hoping to still further delay if not thwart the project altogether. Please do not let them do so again. Nothing would more demoralize the neighborhood than to see the deplorable state of that area allowed to continue for any longer than it takes for Giant to carry out its current plans.
I have been in the CP neighborhood for some 42 years. During this time, I have witnessed numerous innovations that have generated great heat, some light, and usually an improved community. ...Jeff Davis, organizer of the pro-project organization Advocates of Wisconsin Avenue Renewal (AWARE), wrote,
Common to these innovations over the years were their very newness, the opposition of a small group in the community willing to turn out for meetings, the silence of the great majority in the community not attending meetings, concerns and reservations that usually have not come to fruition, and eventual acceptance resulting in community betterment.
I see the same situation with the proposed expansion of our Giant, now going into the ninth year of discussion. We hear constantly from a small group of dissidents: Cars will be speeding down my street, my basement will suffer structural damage, parking will be insufficient, it will be a destination Giant, even though there are several larger stores within two miles, and other issues you have heard and read on the ListServe.
It is time to move forward. I think the vast majority of our community wants us to move this project with all haste, even though they don't attend the meetings.
The difference this time is that the vast "silent majority" is no longer silent. A group of neighbors has joined together to stand up to the small group of naysayers and to speak up for the Giant PUD Application.
Others, of course, see the past fights that blocked development as successes. Exhibit A is Cleveland Park's Metro stop, where riders emerge from the escalator in the midst of a "historic" parking lot on an anemic commercial strip. Wrote one pleased resident,
Community activists got a provision in the Comprehensive Plan stating that Cleveland Park at Connecticut should not have the same high level of development as other metro stop neighborhoods. That provision was vital in blocking the high rises [proposed for this area] ... where the Park and Shop stands.That poster and others wrote about anti-development fights over the Wardman Houses, the Tregaron Estate, McLean Gardens and more. Some of these do represent historic resources worth saving, in whole or in part. But as in many neighborhoods, those who want to preserve the historically valuable often find common cause with those who simply wish to oppose everything. In Cleveland Park, both have grown strong. Another resident reacted with disgust to this sentiment:
I'm sorry folks, but I am really not interested in all these self-congratulatory e mails about Cleveland Park's successes in discouraging higher density developments in your neighborhood. ...The fireworks will start tonight at 7:30 at the
I also recall well the fight you all led against the Giant's last PUD proposal. ... That "victory" was what led to the design with a "blank wall" on Wisconsin. One of the people who had been most vociferous at ANC meetings ... was on television complaining about Giant's plans to do what she had been asking for all along.
Frankly, I am sick of having my neighborhood shopping area being the pathetic, woebegone collection of outdated buildings and empty shops that it is now. I'd even be happy to see more restaurants there. I want the wonderful, friendly staff at my neighborhood market to have a modern facility that will make their work easier and will give the many shoppers who live west and south of Newark & Wisconsin the kind of first-rate grocery store & shopping district that we deserve.
Reports of Planning Board staff endorsing a bus Purple Line have been greatly exaggerated. A staff report released yesterday endorses the surface light rail option, including the segment parallel to the Capital Crescent Trail. "We have to grow, and we have to do it in a way that is sustainable ... in a reasonable way that is less dependent on the auto," said the report's author, Tom Autrey, according to the Post.
Sign up to testify Jan. 8: The next step is the Planning Board hearing to review this recommendation on January 8th. You can now sign up to testify, or submit written testimony to MCP-Chairman@mncppc-mc.org until January 2nd.
Save some stimulus for transit: House Transportation Chair James Oberstar is trying to ensure transit isn't forgotten in the rush-to-pork stimulus Congress is working on. Transportation For America has a petition to ask Congress to include transit for a greener stimulus. Twin Cities Streets for People created a video envisioning a future for Minneapolis after building all the freeways Minnesota DOT wants to spend their stimulus on. Via Richard Layman.
Falls Church debating suburban setbacks: Suburban zoning codes typically require large setbacks for buildings facing main streets (often to accommodate parking in front), but we've now learned that building closer to the street creates a more walkable environment. One developer is planning rental apartments and townhouses, including some affordable housing, within walking distance of downtown Falls Church and the Metro. According to DCMud, some members of the Falls Church Planning Commission "remain concerned about the developer's push for a variance that would allow them to build up to five feet from the property line, instead of the normally regulated twenty."
Yup, ugly: BeyondDC reviews the Post's list of the area's six ugliest buildings. On Georgetown's Lauinger Library, he writes, "You know that really pretty spire that's the defining landmark of Georgetown University? You know that massive concrete bunker in front of it that blocks the view of the spire from the Potomac? Yeah, good call."
...when LEGO now sells sets to build mixed-use, street-facing model Victorian townhouses with apartments above retail.
I loved to build LEGO sets growing up, but back then, almost all LEGO sets fit into one of three lines: Castle, Space, or Town (suburban-style development). They later added Pirate. In Town, we had the gas station, airport, single-family houses, and more, all on large, green plates connected by road plates. There was a train station, of course, but the small-town commuter rail type. That was the way people saw the built environment in those days.
Today, LEGO makes a lot more (like Star Wars and SpongeBob SquarePants sets). But they've renamed Town to City. Today's City sets still mostly feature emergency response vehicles and infrastructure like ports and airports (the things kids like), but as Planetizen reports, they also now make some mixed-use urban buildings, including a green grocer with apartments above, and a corner cafe below a hotel.
Of course, LEGO is a European company, and Europe's cities have always looked like this. And they still sell the suburban gas station. Perhaps reflecting the actual value of urban buildings versus suburban, the gas station sells for $39.99 and the greengrocer for $149.99. Like real historic urban buildings compared to new suburban cookie-cutter development, the townhouse sets have much more detail. (They're also aimed at a much older audience.)
At yesterday's panel, Christopher Leinberger also talked about pop culture's reflection of urbanism versus suburbanism, using an anecdote that also appears in The Option of Urbanism. We know that our attitudes have changed, he said, because while baby boomers' TV shows depicted families in the suburbs (like The Brady Bunch and The Dick Van Dyke Show),
today's the next generation's hottest sitcoms take place in cities, such as Friends and Seinfeld and many since.
In January 1957, Leinberger explained, Lucy of I Love Lucy moved from Manhattan to a suburb in Connecticut. In a subsequent episode, she had Fred and Ethel visit "to see her new suburban splendor." Then they moved out there. "The Baby Boomers' image [of cities] was Hill Street Blues and Fort Apache in the Bronx," he said. In an episode of Sex and the City, one of the characters walks down a narrow Manhattan street at night. "The boomers think she's going to get mugged. The millenials think she's going to a glamorous art gallery," which is exactly where she's going, safely.
- Metro maps out loop line between DC and Arlington
- More roads won't solve traffic on I-95 in Northern Virginia
- The reason cyclists love green bike lanes
- Ask Congress to give DC self-rule on building heights
- Alexandria board rejects King Street bike lanes
- It's fine to not build parking at Tysons Metro stations
- DC sports spaces give short shrift to girls