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, itâs 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.
On a recent trip to Savannah, we not only had a wonderful time – we learned a few unexpected things. There’s more to the city than the beautiful downtown (with omnipresent SCAD buildings), there’s the economy built on an infrastructure that allows Savannah to be the fourth busiest port in the country (according to our boat tour guide) linked to an extensive heavy rail system. And evidence was obvious on the river – even from the window of the restaurant where we had lunch one day. Transit, however, is generally absent; the free Downtown Transportation (DOT) bus is fine, but it covers an area that’s easy enough to walk.
MoCo’s economy seems more diverse than Savannah’s, but is becoming focused on the life sciences, especially in the fields of health and biotech research. Our own Life Sciences Triangle is beginning to take form – between Bethesda, the Great Seneca Science Corridor, and the White Oak Science Gateway. Two keys ensuring the success of this vision will be linking these areas together and ensuring that there is a robust, mixed use, 24/7 economy around these key nodes. Generally, the latter is a matter of zoning and these areas are developing (or have the potential to develop) with housing, retail service, and employment opportunities. The former, however, is more difficult. Luckily, the early stages of creating transit links are completed and schedules are moving forward.
In the recently published ULI report, Infrastructure 2012, Montgomery County’s Intercounty Connector (ICC) is highlighted as an example of link connecting parts of our suburbs. Unfortunately, the examples of transit systems implementing visions similar to our Life Sciences Triangle are New England’s Knowledge Corridor and North Carolina’s Research Triangle.
But there is hope. The general alignment for the Purple Line transit link between the Bethesda and New Carollton Metro stations has been set since 2009 and several planning studies are being done for areas around key nodes along the line: Takoma Langley Crossroads, Chevy Chase Lake, Long Branch, and Lyttonsville-Rosemary Hills. Another study is ongoing: the Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan, which will be followed up by a BRT – Land Use Plan. Of course, the Zoning Ordinance Rewrite is also ongoing and being coordinated so that we will have the zoning implementation tools necessary to help these new opportunities succeed.
And now, the Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT) locally preferred alternative was announced by the Governor’s office on May 11th (press release not online yet) and the schedule has been laid out to implement phase 1 – from Shady Grove Metro station to the Metropolitan Grove MARC station, with service to begin in 2020.
Funding is, of course, a huge issue. But, as Infrastructure 2012 points out, that there are numerous options as budgets and federal funding become constricted, such as:
- Fuel taxes
- Vehicle taxes and fees
- Sales and use taxes
- Public/private partnerships
- Vehicle mileage fees; and
- Tax Increment Financing/Special Assessment Districts
There also will remain some Transportation Infrastructure Finance & Innovation Act funds designed to leverage these more local alternatives, and a combination of various sources is likely.
Each of these funding sources have been used by various municipalities and the pros/cons and a few examples are laid out well in the report. It’s time to look carefully at the next steps to implement these links and build on the vision that is just beginning to take shape around our evolving, focused economy.
American Century types like to complain that this country doesn’t make anything anymore or if we do it’s artisanal cheese and not steel. But asÂ this article points out, that cheese or other basement productionÂ is often where the big stuff starts. How can we forget Apple’s garage beginnings.
So if economies areÂ shifting, at least in some small way, to local production and services, are our communities able to accomodate new jobs?
According to Mike Pyatok, interviewed in Better Cities and Towns, “Most planning regulations are based on the Euclidean model that separates cities into zones accommodatingÂ a single use, which true live-work is decidedly not.”
While Pyatok is pointing out that the rules of subsidized housing preclude small scale economic ventures, the article’s author, Thomas Dolan, describes a white collar version of live-work. Rather than colonizing a Starbucks, office freelancers could work in the ground floor of a live-work building where they can share services and ideas.
With economies shifting, our notion of what a good commuity is may shift as well. Will it continue to be the suburban ideal of green separation or will connections be more important?
In my last post, I began reviewing two of my favorite books from Witold Rybczynski, someone I consider one of the best authors in architecture and urban studies. The first post covered Last Harvest (2007) . Contrast that to City Life (1995), where Rybczynski theorizes:
ââŚthe American city has been a stage for the ideas of ordinary people: the small business man on Main Street, the franchisee along the commercial strip, the family in the suburbs. It all adds up to a disparate vision of the city. Perhaps the American urban stage is best described as cinematic rather than theatrical. A jumbled back lot with cheek-by-jowl assortment of different sets for different productionsâŚ.â
Like Last Harvest, there are many digressions along the way. In this case into:
- Overviews of works by Lynch, Mumford, Sitte, and others
- Design impacts of Burnham and Olmsted
- Paradigmatic urban forms
- Expansion of Fernand Braudelâs theory of stages in city development to include industrial, post-industrial, and information-age cities
- The Laws of the Indies
- De Tocquevilleâs visit to the States
- The Land Ordinance of 1785
- Real estate speculation
- The Columbian Exposition and the Civic Art (City Beautiful) movement
The interesting contrasts Rybczynski describes between North American and European cities have a lot to do with the fact that the New World was basically (to the colonists) a blank slate. But there were important differences between Hispanic, French, and English colonial urbanization that resulted in patterns that last into the 21st century.
Wonderful brief histories and analysis are provided on cities as diverse as Saint Augustine, Quebec, Montreal, New Orleans, New York, Boston, New Haven, Charleston, Annapolis (a high-point in early planning thanks to our early governor, Francis Nicholson), Williamsburg, Philadelphia, Savannah, Woodstock, and Chicago. From these precedents, Rybczynski draws several generalities that distinguish North American cities dating back to their roots. Because land was cheap, âemptyâ and populations were sparse, people spread out. Open space was treasured, resulting in broad streets and public squares â the desire for spaciousness was built into our psyche in the infancy of our republic. Also, grids established an easy form of real estate development and the commodification of land. The imprint of religious tolerance and democratic governance can be found in the patterns of open spaces, relationships of civic and institutional buildings, and the focus on individual lots for houses.
A large impact on the form of our cities is, of course, functional zoning that separates uses and robs places of variety and vitality. Thus, a good many pages are devoted to early zoning ordinances (Los Angeles â 1907 and New York â 1916), building heights, and uses. In large part, as a reaction to the Civic Art ideals, the First National Conference on City Planning in 1909 deemed attempts to beautify cities âas exercises in âcivic vanityâ and âexternal adornment.â The bureaucrats and engineers felt that city planning should be concerned with engineering, economic efficiency, and social reform, not aesthetics. They asserted that whatever functioned well would automatically produce a beautiful, or at least acceptable, urban environment.â Sigh, we still suffer from the results of such thinking.
A large portion of the second half of the book details the tensions between competing theories, governmental policies, and the flight of the population to the suburbs. All of these intertwined ideas are told, of course, through a wandering history with anecdotes, observations, and citations from numerous practitioners, government acts, and examples. These ideas are fleshed out in more detail in Rybczynskiâs latest book, Makeshift Metropolis.
The final two chapters address the revitalization of downtowns and an approach Rybczynski calls âThe Best of Both Worlds.â His paradigm is his home in Chestnut Hill in northwest Philadelphia. Chestnut Hill has several attributes:
- A diverse housing stock including multi-family, townhouse, and detached houses
- A population of about 10,000 people within less than 3 square miles (about 5 people per acre)
- A commercial main street
- Strong connections to Philadelphiaâs cultural and business core and the greater metropolitan area
These attributes point to a networked system of mid-size centers within greater regions, but will require connections â electronic and physical â to each other with multi-modal transit, smart power grids, and numerous other more sustainable infrastructure upgrades that we need to begin planning for now.
To keep up with emerging ideas, highlight especially important works, and provide diverse views on issues in planning and design, I will be highlighting some of my past and current readings over the next year.
To begin, Iâd like to feature a pair of books from one of the best authors in architecture and urban studies: Witold Rybczynski. Two of his books contrast the extremes of development: Last Harvest (2007) and City Life (1995). (For now, I will forgo his wonderful biography of Frederick Law Olmsted, A Clearing in the Distance, and his latest, Makeshift Metropolis.)
The subtitle of Last Harvest is a summary of its theme: âHow a Cornfield Became New Daleville: Real Estate Development in America from George Washington to the Builders of the Twenty-first Century, and Why We Live in Houses Anywayâ. It covers a lot of ground in 300 pages, but, itâs a fast, pleasant, informative read. My only real gripe is the lack of illustrations and maps.
The narrative of Last Harvest is not linear â it weaves history into a story about the development of New Daleville in Londonderry Township in Chester County, PA. While focusing on creating a ânew urbanistâ suburb from a cornfield and the various decisions and perspectives of the developer, the municipal representative, citizens, and designers, Rybczynski provides an overview of several precedents and important general factors of such development. These include a brief history of:
- Unwinâs seminal work, Town Planning in Practice;
- Zoning history;
- Real estate transactions by the first settlers;
- Kentlands (here in Montgomery County);
- Sprawl and suburbanization, which Rybczynski describes under the heading of âscatterationâ;
- Housing patterns and typologies; and
- Consumer preferences and lifestyles.
The bulk of the book, believe it or not, focuses on the minutiae of the meetings, proposals, redesigns, meetings, pricing and marketing concerns, compromises, and more meetings required to obtain the support and, ultimately, the approvals to create New Daleville. Itâs a fascinating â really, I promise â description that will sound familiar to those who are active in zoning and planning discussions in Montgomery County, but it provides a view into many aspects of the process that arenât typically seen. This is an important contribution to the understanding of the whole picture of land development, zoning decisions, and planning that should allow us all to come to the table with a wider perspective.
New Daleville was ultimately built out by Ryan Homes with homes ranging from the low to high $200,000s. Alas, if you really like this style of home (and lifestyle), it is sold out â models such as the Savoy, the Melville, and the Austin (most named after authors âŚ not sure where the Savoy came from) apparently lived up to the developerâs description, âReminiscent of old-time neighborhoods, this lovely neo-traditional community has a central boulevard lined with picket fences leading you into tree-lined streets and alley ways. The lush landscape is laced with bench-lined paths and winding walkways to pocket parks and recreation areas where neighbors and friends can gather and have fun.â Of course, there is not a store or office within walking distanceâŚ.
A complete contrast to this history is provided in City Life. Here, Rybczynski sets out to analyze why our cities developed into the form(s) they did. Specifically, why arenât our cities like European cities?
More, next post.
On a busman’s holiday, I had a chance to bicyle around Palm BeachÂ and noticed that, not surprisingly, the one percent get some pretty nice urban design.
But what is surprising is that whether you’re in the one percent or the 99 percent, the bones are the same.Â Palm Beach’s Worth Avenue was created very much the way Federal Realty does a Bethesda Avenue or Foulger Pratt does an Ellsworth Avenue.
Worth Avenue, Bethesda Avenue, and Ellsworth Avenue are all parallel or perpendicular to the main traffic artery. You get onto Palm Beach island via Royal Palm Way, a spectacularly landscaped boulevard with green median and four travel lanes. But make no mistake, shopping and strolling are a few blocks to the south on the much more intimately scaled Worth Avenue. The same bones areÂ in Bethesda and Silver Spring; the car traffic is out on Wisconsin and on Georgia.
And it points out a lost opportunity in Friendship Heights (which has the bones and the money).Â Friendship Boulevard and Jennifer Avenue run parallel to busy Wisconsin Avenue, but are lined with parking lots and loading docks instead of using them to create a retail enclave conducive to strolling and cafe lingering.Â Â
Furthermore, Worth Avenue’s little piazzas and mid-block connections seem to be the accreted decisions of varied builders over time.
It is, in fact, a real estate development created out of assembled properties, just the way our CBD zoning encourages assembly by offering optional method density increases for sites over 20,000 square feet.
It’s what you do with your superblock that makes the difference. Worth Avenue and much of Palm Beach’sÂ (and South Florida’s) Spanish-Mediterranean architecturalÂ characterÂ was created by Addison Mizner. He didn’t go to architecture school, but did attend university in Salamanca, Spain and apprenticed with a Beaux Arts practice.
In the Beaux Arts, God truly is in the details. From “An American Country House,” a 1925 monograph on the work of Mellor, Meigs, and Howe, this column capital is carefully drawn, scaled, and constructed.
Sure it’s easy if you’re doing a luxurious countryÂ house, but these details come from the Bush Terminal Building on 42nd Street and Broadway in New York City as recorded in the 1925 Â ”Architectural Construction, An Analysis of the Design and Construction of American Buildings.”
And one more thing. At the time, Palm Beachers used to clapboard cottages objected to Mizner’s “ugly, foreign-looking buildings.”
The ongoing Lego (R) exhibit, Towering Ambition, at the National Building Museum has some very cool models of famous buildings, but also provides a play area for kids and families.
Rather than focus on cool buildings, like the exhibit, these prompts ask budding designers to think about places beyond the bounds of an individual building, to think like a town planner (and a rather progressive one at that).
I think their next exhibit should be reproductions of great plazas, parks, and streets!
Parking is one of the single-most controversial aspects of development splitting generally along the lines of “we don’t require enough” versus “we require too much”. Parking management is an issue that affects congestion, pollution, pedestrian comfort & safety, potential for open space and green areas, business revitalization feasibility, and many other topics.Â With so many factors being effected, it’s probable that no model we develop will make everyone (or maybe anyone) completely happy.Â But it is our task to try.
As many know, the parking ratios we apply to commercial uses have not been updated for decades. And our shared-use model is still based on maximum demand. With this in mind, the County’s DOT and MNCPPC were directed to work with a consultant to examine our existing practices and develop new ideas for establishing parking ratios in our mixed-use/commercial zones. Their report was developed over several months and presented to the Planning Board, County Council committees, the Zoning Advisory Panel (which advises the Planning Department on the ongoing zoning ordinance rewrite), and numerous stakeholder groups of citizens, property owners, developers, bike/transit advocates, and agencies.
The study was focused on Division 59-E (parking requirements) and Chapter 60 (parking lot district [PLD] regulations) of the County Code and our consultant, Nelson/Nygaard, was tasked with several objectives including to:
- Update the PLD program;
- Assess current PLD performance;
- Identify opportunities for PLD improvement;
- Assess interaction between 59-E and 60;
- Update current 59-E requirements;
- Promote shared parking;
- Support local business;
- Increase flexibility; and
- Make standards clearer and more predictable.
A large amount of the initial phase of the study was focused on analysis of our code, best practices in other jurisdictions, and professional models. Some of the more innovative practices included:
- No minimum parking requirements such as Ann Arbor, MI (Public Parking & TDM Strategies Plan);
- Flexible parking pricing such as in San Francisco (SF Park);
- Broad use of employee transit benefits and assurance that parking revenues target local transportation-related investments such as Boulder, CO (Parking Best Practices Review);
- Targeting parking revenues to streetscape improvements to increase pedestrian comfort and safety such as Pasadena, CA (summary at walkablestreets.com); and
- Obtaining shared parking in private development such as Arlington, VA (Columbia Pike Parking Strategy).
Also, the latest industry models from the Urban Land Institute and Institute of Transportation Engineers were studied and compared side-by-side with the benchmark peers, best practice codes, policy-based models, and density-based models.Â (See the Appendices of the Report for more details.)
After a thorough analysis of the existing code, data on local usage and revenue, and the practices outlined above, a model was drafted.Â Part 2 will lay out the basics of this model.
Post Script: My vote is for public art integrated into every garage….
This Utne Reader article describes what may be a subdivision trend–designing residential neighborhods integral to farms.
New developments in Chicago, Atlanta, and Colorado are moving beyond community gardens and contracting with farmers to run and manage the farm next door. And as the article points out, there is the potential for conflict, “pesticide drift,” etc.Â This is why we zoned in the first place, to separate percieved noxious uses, and even though these residents will be a self-selected group ready to get their hands dirty,Â fresh tomatos areÂ one thing,Â manure is quite another. When you look at the websites, there is a definite “people like us” vibe that makes you wonder if agriburbia is the green equivalent of a gated community.
But in Montgomery County, 1/3 of our land is reserved for agircultural uses and lots of people live out there. The question is are they there for the view or for the vegetables?