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.
Over the past few decades, Montgomery County has seen a steady rise in the number of public art pieces, bringing artistry and creativity to spaces large and small. We see sculptures, art-enhanced plazas, benches and more in schools, libraries, parks, retail centers and office buildings. The collection provides a set of assets that contribute an extra appeal to the look and feel of our communities.
The Planning Department helps build the collection by encouraging developers to contribute public art in exchange for density.
Thus, we have an outdoor pool with real waves correlated to the tides outside the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration building in Silver Spring.
An outstretched palm with birds at a busy Silver Spring intersection.
And a set of three oversized granite block chairs that are both eye-catching and a respite for pedestrians on a well-traveled avenue in Bethesda.
Just how art commissioned through private development should work, and how it fits in with the broader public art agenda will be the subject of Planning Board review next week of a public arts policy drafted by The Montgomery County Arts and Humanities Council.
The public arts policy aims to manage, maintain and add value to the full collection. Council members say a more systematic approach to managing and maintaining the artworks will add value to the collection as a whole.
Planners work with professional artists on a review panel that looks for pieces that help build a sense of place. They analyze art and placement with an eye toward access, lighting, durability and other factors. Where pieces are located and how they connect to their surroundings and engage viewers, they say, can be as important as the design of the artwork itself.
The policy has several goals, among them:
- Promoting culture, community identity and civic pride
- Celebrating Montgomery County heritage and ethnicity
- Integrating art into architecture and the landscape
- Enhancing the image of the county locally as well as nationally
- Encouraging federal, state and private support for public art
Above all, itâ€™s intended to help place art where it will be enjoyed by many rather than just a few by placing art throughout the county. A consistent approach would help develop art as a true county asset, rather than a sporadic set of pieces.
The Board will review and adopt the document as the standard for managing public art pieces for private development. Other county agencies and organizations, such as Montgomery College and the Countyâ€™s Executive Branch, also will weigh in.
It is no accident that the developer-placed art appears mainly in down-County locations like Silver Spring and Bethesda. Since 1974, when the optional method of development was created, property owners in high-density zones have been able to apply for additional density if they create more attractive urban environments. Among their options is installing art.
Last year, the County Council approved the Commercial Residential Zone, which provides a list of public amenities for developers opting to earn bonus density. Among the amenities is supplying public art or pay a fee in lieu of providing a new piece.
Also on tap is creation of a Public Art Road Map, intended to provide a big picture look at existing art in the county and point out gaps.
Art has more of an economic impact than most people realize. Statewide, the nonprofit arts sector has a $1 billion impact on the economy, supporting more than 11,000 jobs, according to a just-released report by the Maryland State Arts Council. The report analyzed the impact of performing arts, visual arts, and multidisciplinary arts by region and found that the Capital Region, which includes Frederick, Montgomery and Prince Georgeâ€™s counties, was second to the Central Region (Baltimore, Anne Arundel and surrounding counties) in contributing revenue ($431.2 million) and arts-related jobs (4,865) compared to $495 million and 5,745 jobs.
One might conclude that Montgomery County could do a better job in supporting the arts. Art makes communities distinct, but needs curation and care. The public art policy is one step toward making that happen.
Since 2008, when Washington, D.C. rolled out bicycles for short-term, commuter-oriented trips, it has grown to one of the largest systems in the U.S. With more than 175 stations and 1,700 bicycles, bikesharing has changed the way people get around in the city and inner suburbs.
The growth in bikesharing reflects a wave of interest in cycling â€“ for commuting, weekend sight-seeing and even running errands. Its business model focused on convenience â€“ inexpensive rentals, hassle-free memberships, flexible pick-up and return locations â€“ taps into a need to get around quickly in traffic. It also provides a green option for environmentally conscious urbanites.
The bright red cruisers and rows of bike docks provided by Capital Bikeshare are now ubiquitous throughout the District as well as parts of Arlington and Alexandria.
For good reason.Â Bikesharing makes bike commuting easy. It takes a practice that involves a bit of planning â€“ what clothes to wear for cycling and the office? where to park a bike safely for the day? â€“ and removes the guesswork with outfit-friendly frames and easy drop-offs.
Bikesharing, adopted in droves by 20- and 30-something urban dwellers, is expanding throughout the continent, from Montreal to San Diego.
In a word, itâ€™s hip.
Montgomery County wants to be hip, too. As well as forward-thinking when it comes to transportation options.
Earlier this month, the County Council approved a Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) that makes it easier for developers to build bikeshare stations. Previously, a developer who wanted to add a bikeshare station would need to file a site plan amendment, a process that requires review by planners and related agencies, then Planning Board approval. Typically, it takes months.
Since the ZTA was approved on November 13, developers wanting bikeshare at their projects may apply for building permits from the county, provide a copy of the permit to the planning director, and ride away. The Planning Board recommended approval of the ZTA in October, saying streamlining the building permit process for a bikeshare facility for approved site plans would speed along possibilities for Montgomery County to join the bikeshare system.
The Council also encouraged bikesharing by approving a bill allowing transportation impact taxes to go toward funding new bike stations. Transportation impact fees are paid by builders as part of the development review process.
Bikesharing requires strategic planning. Transportation planners have been working with the county Department of Transportation to map bikeshare locations mainly in down county and mid-county communities, where they would attract customers in central business districts, those using Metro and others trying to connect to DC bikeshare stations. As part of the mapping, they are acquiring easements on parcels that reserves space for future bikeshare stations. Their ambitious plan calls for rolling out bikeshare to Bethesda, Silver Spring, Takoma Park, Friendship Heights, Rockville and Shady Grove starting in the spring, adding 50 stations and 400 bicycles.
Bikeshare got more visible here when planners included it as an option in a list of public amenities in the new Commercial Residential Zone. Developers who want to build at higher densities in the CR Zone choose from a menu of public amenities, such as structured parking, public art, small business opportunities, vegetated roofs and other measures, like bikesharing.
guest post by Larry Cole
Transportation planners often say we cannot build enough roads to fix congestion. In fact, building new roads or expanding existing roads accommodates growth but can also encourage people to move farther out. The result is more people driving longer distances, more carbon emissions, more wasted time in traffic. This effect can be amplified when increased traffic on widened roads lessens the desirability of established neighborhoods.
We believe that there is a better way. This week, we will present the Planning Board with preliminary recommendations for a countywide transit network. Our goal is to increase the appeal of transit serving our activity centers, such as Silver Spring, Bethesda, White Flint, and Germantown, and to move people faster.
The recommended transit corridors would accommodate all-day service with 10- or 15-minute wait times, stations or stops every half-mile or mile, and high-quality vehicles that resemble streetcars rather than traditional buses.
As always when considering public transportation, we estimated the number of potential riders. Sparsely populated areas donâ€™t warrant frequent transit service, but densely populated activity and employment centers generate a greater number of transit riders in a smaller space and warrant more frequent service by high-quality transit. Pairing high-quality transit with growing mixed-use centers brings truly sustainable development, by making the best use of available road space. Itâ€™s also more sustainable from the standpoint of County finances since these high-density mixed-use centers also generate the highest tax returns per square foot, lessening the need for subsidies for transit service.
Where Should We Place Transit?
While it makes sense to put transit where people are and want to be, fitting it into existing roads will be a challenge. Our recommendations identify roads within first-ring communities inside and near the Beltway, as well as along the I-270 Corridor, where we could convert travel lanes to bus service.
As we considered where to place BRT service, we concluded that it made most sense to work within our existing master plan rights-of-way by repurposing existing lanes to serve transit, which will minimize impacts to property owners. By working within our existing roadway pavement wherever possible, we can avoid large capital costs, environmental impacts, and the problem of induced traffic. Where we can move more people in a travel lane via transit than private automobiles, we believe that repurposing lanes is a more sustainable solution than obtaining more land and constructing new lanes.
In our analysis, the threshold for dedicated lanes was 1,000 passengers per hour in the peak direction in the peak period. In areas with lower levels of forecast transit demand, we recommend that buses generally operate in mixed traffic but prioritized at traffic lights.
Our studies showed:
- Highest forecast ridership (49,000 riders a day) along MD355 between Friendship Heights and White Flint. Dedicated lanes or a dedicated busway would provide frequent all-day service in this corridor.
- To accommodate high ridership on more commuter-focused corridors we recommend a mix of options. For example, along US29, with 17,000 forecast daily riders we recommend a mix of dedicated lanes (south of Lockwood Drive), mixed traffic (on Lockwood Drive and Stewart Lane in the area of the White Oak Transit Center), and a median busway north of Stewart Lane.
We ran our transportation model both with and without a test of lane-repurposing on segments of four corridors: MD355/Rockville Pike, MD97/Georgia Avenue, US29/Colesville Road, and MD650/New Hampshire Avenue to determine the relative impacts on transit ridership, vehicle miles traveled (VMT), and vehicle hours traveled (VHT) in the year 2040. Our results varied by area but were generally favorable, and the benefits were greatest in the down-County area; in Silver Spring alone, VMT would be reduced by six percent.
Sufficient forecast ridership is needed to justify transit, but we need a pedestrian-friendly environment to succeed in attracting that ridership. Safe, handicapped-accessible pedestrian facilities are needed at a minimum, but so are attractive shelters and landscaping, and sufficient bike access to the stations. Refining the standards for these items is one of our tasks for the next phase of our work.
The master plans in some of our activity centers set an ambitious goal of up to half of all travelers using alternative transportation modes â€“ transit, walking, cycling, carpooling â€“ rather than driving alone in a vehicle. Half of all travelers is a large share, but this goal is grounded in our desire for long-term sustainability. BRT is perhaps the best option to get us there and we recommend moving quickly to implement transit improvements on the corridors where we currently have the highest demand.
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.
This sleek blue building, constructed in 1963, is another mid-century modern gem in downtown Silver Spring. Built three years after the American National Bank Building, the Operations Research Institute building was designed by prolific local architect Ted Englehardt. Previously we blogged about Englehardtâ€™s Wellerâ€™s Dry Cleaning. For the Operations Research Institute, Englehardt designed an International Style office building with beautiful turquoise spandrel panels made of porcelain enamel.
Developer Carl M. Freeman moved his offices here in 1964. The firm occupied the first and part of the second floors. Freeman, who pioneered the modernist garden apartment in the DC area, was at this time one of the top 12 builders in the country.
Some part of the ground floor was originally open, as seen in this historic photo. Today, the west section retains a ground floor drive-through to connect the parking area with Spring Street entrance.
Some window units are hinged on top and can be opened with a special tool. Our historic preservation unit of the Planning Department had offices on the top floor of this building in 2011-2012. The space was well-lit and open (and the building is very well maintained). It has held up well over the years!
Who doesnâ€™t love trees? As weâ€™ve learned, shoppers perusing downtown shops for the latest bargains are among the tree lovers. Thatâ€™s why property owners in the Silver Spring and Wheaton Central Business Districts should take advantage of the Planning Departmentâ€™s new program offering free trees.
Last month, the Department unveiled Shades of Green, a pilot program that provides trees of choice to qualifying property owners, plants them, and ensures care and maintenance for two years. Thatâ€™s quite a deal.
Download our online maps for details on who qualifies â€“ CBD property owners and property owners in Montgomery Hills â€“ as well as tree species on offer.
Learn more about how the Shades of Green program works and why we are doing it in this video.
More than just creating a pretty aesthetic, trees have been linked to a more successful business environment. In a 1999 article presented at American Forestsâ€™ National Urban Forest Conference, the author found that tree-lined commercial streets encouraged more frequent shopping and longer shopping trips. More, the study cites shoppersâ€™ willingness to spend 12 percent more for goods. That would make any business owner perk up.
The U.S. Forest Service sponsored a series of shopper surveys earlier this decade to determine whether an appealing store or sidewalk frontage affects shopper patronage. The surveys showed images of streetscapes with trees and without. Across all studies, responses were positive about trees in the urban, retail landscape, particularly images with well-managed trees placed with care. The take-home message: shoppers spend more time in retail districts shaded with trees.
Some business owners balk at shade trees that might block their signs and public-facing windows. However, proper tree management with selective pruning can avert the problem. Anyone who has lived â€“ or shopped â€“ through a Washington, D.C. summer can attest that shady spot to park, walk or browse is an oasis.
Shades of Green evolved from tree canopy studies in Montgomery County that revealed the county lacks adequate cover in down-county urban areas. The program is funded through the Forest Conservation Fund, developer contributions paid during the application process as compensation for tree loss and when tree-planting on site is impractical.
About fifty people attended an open house at the Planning Department last weekend. Of all the intelligent questions and interesting conversations I had with people who stopped at the historic preservation station, my favorite was with an elementary school-aged girl who came in with her mom and younger brother. Our conversation went something like this.
I asked if the girl if knew what historic preservation was. She shrugged. I pointed to a display with photos of some old buildings, including a house in Takoma Park that had been abandoned and condemned but has recently been rehabilitated, sold, and is again lived in. She offered that preservation was about saving old buildings. Then I asked if she knew why historic preservation was important. A slight hesitation. A prompt from her mom about the three Rs. That was all it took. The girl took on an expression of understanding and confidence.
She told me that historic preservation is important because it was better to reuse buildings than to throw them in the trash.
Yes! This girl got it. OK, it took a slight prompt from her mom. But she got it. She was thinking differently. It is better to reuse buildings than to throw them in the trash.
I wonâ€™t claim that this girl will become a preservationist because of our brief conversation at the Planning Department open house (although I hope she does). But this young girl â€“ and her mom â€“ made my day. And they gave all of us something to think about. Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. This environmental credo is a big part of why I think historic preservation is not just important, but essential. Perhaps â€“ just perhaps â€“ as this girl and her little brother grow up there will come a time that more of us will apply the three Rs to our buildings, when it will be just as second nature to reuse a building as it is to refill a reusable water bottle.
This post is not specifically about Montgomery County, but itâ€™s about a great film I recently saw that really sets modernism in context. Itâ€™s Visual Acoustics, the documentary of a man helped bring modern American design into the forefront: architectural photographer Julius Shulman (1910-2009). Through his spectacular photos, it is said that Shulman defined the way we look at modernism. His photos of works of Richard Neutra, Frank Lloyd Wright, and other modernist designers great and small appeared in architectural journals and books throughout this era.
Shulmanâ€™s work was not always credited at the time. My copy of Leonardo Benevoloâ€™s History of Modern Architecture bears witness to this, with great photos of Neutra houses which are not credited (!) but are clearly Shulmanâ€™s iconic work, such as this view of the Kaufman House (1946) in California.
The documentary film of Shulmanâ€™s work is called Visual Acoustics (2009) and is narrated by Dustin Hoffman. Created before Shulmanâ€™s death in 2009, the film has fascinating interviews with Shulman who describes his philosophy for finding the essence of a building and technique of single point perspective.
Visual Acoustics, which was playing on PBS in recent months, is now available on Netflix. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in modern architecture, and itâ€™s been known to change the minds of those who are not yet admirers. Here is a trailer. Go see the film!
Shulmanâ€™s photographs and papers are at the Getty Museum which had an exhibit of his work a few years ago. Check out some highlights.
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.