Current Zoning in Montgomery County

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Pop quiz: match the zone categories with the acreage for Montgomery County (this excludes municipalities with their own zoning authority). Click to enlarge: The answers, which may surprise you, are on the next page along with graphic representations.  

Garden Wars

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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-yard  vegetable gardens. In fact, some communities, like Santa Monica, encourage digging up the lawn for a more food-… Read more »

Connecting our “Life Sciences Triangle”

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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… Read more »

Urban Economics and Where We Live

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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 as this article points out, that cheese or other basement production is often where the big stuff starts. How can we forget Apple’s garage beginnings. So if economies are 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 accommodating 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… Read more »

Book(s) of the Month: City Life

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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: “…the 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 productions….” Like Last Harvest, there are many digressions… Read more »

Book(s) of the Month: Last Harvest

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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, I’d 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: “How a Cornfield Became New Daleville: Real Estate Development in America from George… Read more »

Superblocks in Palm Beach

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On a busman’s holiday, I had a chance to bicyle around Palm Beach 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. 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… Read more »

learning with legos at NBM

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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. More interesting than the models, however, are the prompts about land use and community planning hanging around and adorning the space where kids (and adults) can play with the Legos. 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). Unfortunately the prompts still relegate land uses to separate building forms, but do suggest locating them near one another. I think their… Read more »

A New Model for Mixed-Use Parking (Part 1 of 2: Goals and Precedents)

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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.  With so many factors being effected, it’s probable that no model we develop will make everyone (or maybe anyone) completely happy.  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… Read more »

Agriburbia–are we already there?

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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. 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, fresh tomatos are one thing, 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… Read more »