Posts by claudia kousoulas
By the end of the summer, the first Capital bikeshare will be open in Montgomery County. In the meantime, here are some interesting statistics about bike riding and bike-friendly places.
Capital Bikeshare has released the second part of its user’s survey–who report spending less money on transportation, and being more physically fit.
But it takes some infrastrucutre investment to get those benefits. American Bicyclists have released some nice infographics on increasingly bike-friendly places–the DC metro region has increased by 315%.
Ding, ding–on your left!
Join us for the Coalition for Smarter Growth’s panel discussion on the need to “invest in transit to improve our quality of life, protect our open spaces, and do our part in stopping climate change,” on Wednesday. February 13th from 6-8 pm at the Silver Spring Civic Building.
The Planning Department will be part of the panel, discussing the update to our Master Plan of Highways, which will move that functional plan beyond roadways to address bus rapid transit, bicycle-pedestrian priority areas, and MARC service.
The Coalition shares some interesting data about bus rapid transit:
and provides a good description of bus rapdi transit (it’s not what you might expect from buses!):
Tucked in among subdivisions and stream valleys, the Countyâ€™s historically black settlements reflect a history that traces back to the Countyâ€™s earliest days.
In 1790, local tobacco plantation were worked by slaves, who made up one third of the Countyâ€™s population. Josiah Henson, whose memoirs inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe to write Uncle Tomâ€™s Cabin,Â described the conditions.
â€śIn a single room were huddled, like cattle, ten or a dozen persons, men, women, and children. All ideas of refinement and decency were, of course, out of the question.â€ť
But alongside planatations, the Countyâ€™s Sandy Spring Quaker community freed its slaves in 1770, conveying to them land for a church and dwellings. Sandy Spring would also become a key stop on the Underground Railroad.
After the Civil War, in 1870, the black population was still about a third of the Countyâ€”36 percent. Freed slaves bought or were given land, sometimes by former ownersâ€”and transformed scrub fields into agricultural homesteads. Over 40 African-American communities have been identified, often anchored by churches that were used as schools and social centers, surrounded by log and later frame houses.Today, many of these communities retain their strong cultural identification, associated with generations of families. As the County developed, these agricultural communities were surrounded by new development, yet they live on, as tight-knit and distinct communities. Some like Lyttonsville, celebrate that history. Others, like Tobytown, struggle with it.
Visit here, for more Black History MonthÂ events in Maryland
How strongly do you feel about your front yard? Is it a reflection of you and your family; the landscape equivalent of putting on a clean shirt in the morning?
As we’ve said before, there are rules for life in suburbia, some written and many more unwritten. And lately, some of the more obscure written rules about front-yard vegetable gardens are being read and interpreted, not always in favor of cucumbers. As this New York Times article points out, one neighbor’s “suitable” groundcover is another’s eyesore.
And as we’ve pointed out before, there are plenty of personal and community benefits to front-yardÂ vegetable gardens. In fact, some communities, like Santa Monica, encourage digging up the lawn for a more food- and environment-friendly landscape.
In Montgomery County, they’reÂ legal by code. Typically, itâ€™s HOA covenants that restrict them.Â One of the progressive pushes we made in the Zoning Ordinance rewrite is for more forms of urban farming and local food production.
Community Gardens, Farming, Animal Husbandry, and Farm Markets are allowed in all zones â€“ albeit with some restrictions in the non-Agricultural/Rural zones.
At a panel discussion in late October, where architect David M. Childs of SOM received the George White Award for Excellence in Public Architecture from the American Architectural Foundation, the notion of joy in planning came up.
Amid discussions of floor area ratio, compatibility, function, and infrastructure, bringing up joy seems frivolousÂ in the least, perhaps even foolish.
Childs recalled that he and George White, the ninth Architect of the Capital between 1971 and 1996, proposed allowing ice skating on the reflecting pool, an idea that was quickly dismissed as not serious.
But imagine the feeling of gliding between Lincoln and Washington. That stretch of city would become a place for people as well as a place for history. I love pedaling in the bike lanes down the center of Pennsylvania Avenue; it is my opportunity to participate in the monumental avenue.
Architectural historian Vincent Scully wrote “Flags snap, high heels tap: a little sex and aggression, the city’s delights.” It is oneÂ of my favorite quotes about urban life and environment. It captures the anything-can-happen excitement of downtown.Â He takes delight in the urban physcial environment and the social environment that it provides a stage for.
So how do you incentivize joy in project review? I donâ€™t think it can be quantified or measured, but it is something that you know when you see.Â I hope there is room to create joy in between the regulations.
And consider as well how joy can contribute to sustainability, by using one place for many purposes. Layering uses is an efficient appraoch to resourcesâ€”good planning by any measure.
The District’s plan for eco-friendly redevelopmentÂ in Southwest Washington is a big one, but M-NCPPC environmental planner Tina Schneider points out that one of the plan’s small elementsÂ could apply in Montgomery County.
Alternating tree panels with stormwater panels is a way to slow and filter run-off while enhancing streetscape. The County requires stormwater management treatment, but it’s often easiest to use methods that have already recieved approval than to try something new. And, let’s admit it, there’s a lot of competition for the limited right-of way space. We want to make room for bicycles, streetscaped sidewalks, and–oh yeah–cars. It can also be a challenge to thread a new drainage path among existing underground infrastructure.
But other places have managed it–you can see lots of pictures of the Indianapolis Cutlural Trail here, happy bike riders, cars, and planted panels.
It really speaks to what a complex environment a street is, one made more complex by competing interests vieing for a limited resource–space.Â But that’s what planning is all about. And don’t forget that roads and streets are our most prevalent and visible public spaces; they deserve coordinated design attention.
PS–one of my first questions was about mosquitos. Stormwater panels are designed to drain withinÂ 24 hours, less time than it takes mosquitos to get–ahem–comfortable.
And I hardly know what to make of this. Did someone redefine cool or cities orÂ Bethesda? And as one commenter on Bethesda Patch noted, Baltimore ranked 14, just beating Bethesda at 17.
Cool is subjective, and (she says snarkily) is the measure of cool the number ofÂ hipster pickle makers per loft? By the way, Brooklyn, which seems to be the epicenter of cool hipster pickle-makers, did not make the list. Though I suppose it was subsumed into the NYC-White Plains-Wayne (NJ) census mess.
And moving on from snark to bureaucratic nerdiness, Bethesda is not a city or even a town. It’s an unicorporated place that can leap perceptual boundaries whenever a realtor needs to gin up another suburban tract colonial. And that’s what it did here. The measure is of Bethesda-Gaithersburg-Frederick.
Ah well, nothing tremendously venal here, Forbes and other magazines love these types of articles–they get bloggers and everyone else typing and talking. Just another reason to take lists and rankings with a grain of salt. And to remember what’s really cool is not to care!
We grew up as planners learning that shopping malls sapped downtown of its energy–whether it was small town retailers wiped out by the mall just over the county line or urban retail boulevards gutted of life as suburbanites left the city to follow jobs and the shopping followed them.
Over time, downtowns began to reimage themselves as malls. Beginning in 1980, The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Main Street program was based on that very premise, organizing disparate retailers to work together on signage, opening hours, seasonal sales, and marketing.
Federal Realty took it one step further, simply buying up retail streets in places like Westport, Connecticut and Bethesda, Maryland to create a single, curated retail environment from brick pavers to street trees.
As main streets became newly invigorated environments drawing people to hang out, stroll, and by-the-way, spend money,Â shopping malls emptied out.Â Now, malls are again tracking downtown, as this New York Times article notes, by becoming more experiential places.
Though the article focuses on online competition for mall retail, one executive is quoted, â€śItâ€™s not just about shopping â€” itâ€™s multidimensional; itâ€™s a place you can just hang out and go for a stroll,â€ť he said. â€śYouâ€™re not doing that in a mall.â€ť
Sounds like main street to me!
The Yards Park has already won a list of awards, but I’ve just discovered it.
I can see why it’s won awards–there are so many things I love about it–the variety of spaces, the classic Holly Whyte bits of urbanism (movable chairs, touchable water, something to eat, people to watch), and its connections, running from Diamond Teague Park at National’s Stadium and through the Navy Yard, with a few bikeshare docks along the way.
Suburbs have always been an indicator of economic status. If you lived in them, you were wealthy enough to take on a mortgage, maintain a house and yard, and eventually own and maintain one or even two cars.
At some point, that shifted. Living in the city and maintaining a middle class lifestyle took an upper class income. Limited attractive neighborhoods and buildings cost a premium. And if local schools and servicesÂ were not up to par you needed to payÂ tuition and fees.
Now, according to Christopher Leinberger and Mariela AlfonzoÂ in the New York Times, a larger number of city neighborhoods are outstripping the suburbs in desirability and thus in per square foot value. Their recent report finds that walkable places have “become more gentrified over the past decade,” with wealthier and more educated residents. And from a list of the walkable communities examined, you won’t be surprised by that finding–Bethesda, Penn Quarter, Logan Circle, Chevy Chase Lake.
But what are the quantifaible elements of a walkable community? He and his co-author found that “the absence of a clear classification of the mix of residential, office, and retail elements that comprise walkable urban places…has been one of the most significant barriers to addressing their demand.” But demand is there–he found that in Atlanta only 35 percent of people who wanted to live in a walkable community actually did.
The characteristics the authorsÂ used to define a walkable place are somewhat Lynchian (with my comments in parens):
- aesthetics (some subjective judgement of decoration, but also views and outdoor dining)
- connectivity (in the sense of barriers)
- form (does the place feel like a place)
- pedestrian amenities (both practical and decorative)
- personal safety (judged by indicators like graffiti and litter)
- physical activity
- proximity of uses (mixed uses)
- public spaces and parks (a la Holly White–movable chairs, touchable water)
- traffic measures (not car throughput, but slowing measures–signals and calming)
(The not easily quanitifiable measure I use for a walkable place is the ice cream cone factor. Can I get a cone, and then have a nice and interesting walk while I eat it, and will there be a place to toss my napkin when I’m done. Extra points if I can ride my bike there and burn off some of those calories ! I wouldn’t last a day at Brookings.)
Once you can describe these places, their economic impact can be measured, and Leinberger finds that impact to be considerable. Even controlling for household incomes, walkable places show a higher economic performance, with premiums in office and residential rents as well as in retail sales and housing values.
From the report: “Federal, state, and local policy makers should conduct a systematic review of existing public policies that are biased against walkable development, and adopt new measures aimed at facilitating (or at least removing roadblocks to) this type of development.”
As a suburb within walking, biking, and transit distance of downtown, and one that has its own urban centers, Montgomery isÂ advantagously postioned to add value by creating car alternatives to getting downtown (I’m looking at you bikeshare) and by building up its own urban areas.
The White Flint Plan, the BRT study, the zoning rewrite, even theÂ Parks Department’s community garden programÂ are all moves that will redfineÂ how and were we live by adding more choices. With plenty of suburban single-family communitiesÂ and the preservation of the Agricultural Reserve,Â Montgomery will become a layered place, one with options and interest that all add value.