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For the past eight years, the median household income in Montgomery County has remained below the level during the Great Recession. Moreover, median household incomes have yet to recover to the 1999 benchmark of $101,824 after the precipitous drop in 2010 to $96,913 (illustrated in Figure 1). The median household income – the income at which half of the households are above and half are below – adjusted for inflation, dropped 5.8 percent (-$6,063) from its peak in 2007 to $98,917 in 2015.[1]  The latest estimate is 2.9 percent lower than the adjusted 1999 median household income of $101,824.   Figure 1.  Montgomery County Median Household Income 1999-2015 (constant 2015 dollars) Still considered one of the wealthiest counties in the… Read more »

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Will they make urban communities more livable or extinct? As you read this blog, a nondescript Toyota Prius is logging mile after mile on highways across California. And while it looks and travels like any other car, this vehicle is without a driver. The autonomous Prius represents the relentless pursuit by researchers and corporations to realize the dream of self-driving cars. Google has clocked upwards of 1.5 million self-driven car miles. The 2017 Detroit auto show focused on test drives of self-driven vehicles and introduced the VW autonomous minivan of the future. It is only a matter of time before driverless vehicles become ready for mass adoption. As is the case with most new technologies, various claims are being made… Read more »

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Initial findings show that Montgomery County’s housing market is unbalanced, particularly for low-income residents Low income residents in Montgomery County face a shortage of rental units matching their ability to pay, according to an ongoing study of rental housing. So far, the study has found that the existing rental housing market in the county is unbalanced at both the lowest and highest ends of the market. The market is short 20,000 units priced appropriately for households earning less than 30 percent of area median income (AMI) or $28,900. In addition, it is short 13,000 units priced to target households earning more than 120 percent of the area median income or $115,560.   Figure 1.) Supply/Demand Equilibrium for All Rental Units… Read more »

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New plans for suburban communities focus on health The suburbs have been blamed for a host of health problems, from depression to obesity. Certainly, the social isolation, dependence on the car and lack of exercise that are often a part of suburban living aren’t good for our mental and physical well-being. But today’s suburbs – particularly established communities in Montgomery County– are becoming healthier as we plan and build neighborhoods where exercise is part of people’s daily routine. Health is not just a byproduct of how we live. It’s also related to where we live. A healthy environment makes it easier for residents to adopt a healthy lifestyle, whether it is achieved by providing more public parks and bike paths… Read more »

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The Great Recession had a profound impact on industry and labor conditions throughout the United States. The ensuing recovery has been uneven – both geographically and across time – and today, many places have not recovered or have economies that differ from the pre-recessionary period. Montgomery County’s economy was also affected by the Great Recession, however, its employment shrank less than those of other jurisdictions during the height of the recession. Our research shows that employment in the county declined 1.8 percent between 2008 and 2011, compared to 3.9 percent nationwide. The reason for this tempered loss is the role played by the federal government in the county’s economy. Industries such as finance, construction, retail and others were supported by… Read more »

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Seattle-based consultant Paula Rees shares her experiences in enriching real estate developments with art and design “It’s all in the combination of great details,” said Paula Rees, principal of the Seattle-based firm Foreseer, while revealing her secrets to placemaking to a large audience at the Montgomery County Planning Department. Rees showed image after image of public artworks, quirky signage, “tattooed” facades and inviting storefronts to demonstrate her points. Her lively projects at Pike and Rose in North Bethesda, Santana Row in San Jose, Assembly Row in Boston and other locations were part of an inspiring presentation that drew a standing-room-only crowd to the Planning Department’s auditorium on December 2. Rees started her talk with a basic definition of place as… Read more »

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A new trend was the design of concrete buildings which expressed the natural character of this building material. Starting in the 1960s, Montgomery County business districts were punctuated by statement buildings that celebrate the raw nature of concrete.   The design of monumental buildings constructed with unfinished concrete cladding were influenced by the work of pioneering modernist Le Corbusier and his use of béton brut, or raw concrete.  The name was anglicized as Brutalism, a term which has acquired negative connotations.  More recently, the style has been dubbed Heroic architecture, as more people have come to appreciate these buildings for their honest expression and as a product of their time. An early local example of Brutalism was the award-winning National Sand… Read more »

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The Montgomery County Planning Department, in cooperation with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG), recently developed a new forecast of population, households and employment from 2010 to 2045.  These data-based forecasts are used by government entities and the private sector for various uses, including transportation, water and air quality modeling, and analyzing commercial and residential markets.  This latest forecast, known as Round 9.0, is a major reassessment of assumptions made about people, households and jobs in the county. The draft Round 9.0 forecast anticipates that Montgomery County households, defined as occupied housing units with related or unrelated persons, are expected to increase from about 374,800 in 2015 to 461,900 in 2045, an increase of 87,100 households or 23 percent. … Read more »

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Reimagining suburbs in the 21st century draws on the best of the past   The communities that started the trend of 20th-century suburbanism shared a number of common traits. Many of them were focused on rail or trolley lines. Most had some retail uses in close proximity – corner stores or small retail blocks. They connected to nature through tree-lined curvilinear streets and small neighborhood parks and open spaces. Montgomery County’s earliest suburbs – Chevy Chase, Kensington and Takoma Park — all exhibit these features. As suburbs grew and the areas between the rail and trolley lines filled in with auto-centric swaths of single-family homes, some of the essential traits of the older, original suburbs were lost. Now, in the… Read more »

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Winning county projects set high standards for developers to follow   The dynamic image of the Purple Line speeding through the Silver Spring Library site convinced an independent jury to choose that building for the Montgomery County Planning Department’s 2016 Design Excellence Award. “The design makes a statement about the importance of public transportation. It’s a great gift to the community,” said jury chair Yolanda Cole during the awards ceremony on October 20. This year’s Celebrate Design event, co-sponsored with the Potomac Valley AIA, was held at the Silver Spring Civic Building, just down the street from the new library with its ground-level space reserved for the future light rail station. The first part of the evening program showcased the… Read more »