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ULI recently announced the finalists in its Urban Open Space Award competition and a local site is in the mix. I really love the Yards Park, for its re-use and upgrade of an abandoned resource–the Anancostia Rvierfront and for its design details.

Yards Park along the Anacostia River--from concept to detail--is an utrban park

Yards Park along the Anacostia River–from concept to detail–is an utrban park

You can read more of our observations and see pictures here, but these finalists all embody  features of good urban spaces. ULI is looking for spaces that “encouraged economic and social rejuvination in their neighborhoods” and these projects in Nashville, Vancouver, California, as well as DC incorporate urbansim into park design.

They are places to watch other people–strolling. splashing, or sitting. People in cities take their energy from other people–whether it’s on sidewalks or in parks.

These parks also mix environments–small and private spaces, spaces that are grand and public–just as a city ranges from bustling avenues to quiet side streets.

Another urban  feature are their references to the past. Many of these parks were former industrial sites reclaimed for mixed-uses. But incorporating that past into park design layers information, just as the faded painted wall sign or old firebox recalls a past city.

I’m sure there are many other particular urban features these parks share–from the smallest design elements to the largest concept. Take a look and see what strikes you.


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public space-22


Casey Trees, a D.C.-based nonprofit, committed to restoring, enhancing and protecting the tree canopy of the nation’s capital, is sponsoring a “Conversation on Tree Risk” at their headquarters at 3030 12th Street NE. The conversation will be led by Keith Cline of the USDA Forest Service and will run from 6:30 to 9:00 pm.

The event is free and you can get there via the Brookland-CUA Metro. Pick up a ticket here.







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For the first time, Smart Growth America has gathered enough comparable development data to determine a national average of what communities can expect to save by using smart growth strategies.

Smart growth, most genreally described as an efficient use of land by building mixed uses near each other in a well-connected pattern of walking, biking, and transportation options. Kind of makes quick back of the envelope sense. If communities don’t have to spend to extend roads or water and sewer pipes, or if an ambulance doesn’t have to drive as far, or if residents can use a renovated and expanded existing library, communities eat up fewer tax dollars. More efficient use of new and existing infrastructure has long term budget benefits as well–there’s simply less to maintain.

mix it up and walk aorund. The ice cream cone is right downstairs!

mix it up and walk aorund. The ice cream cone is right downstairs!

And it can be potentially less expensive for individual households as well, who can opt to use transit, even living without a car (or two). You can see the executive summary here, but the full report has some interesting findings worth digging into.

The report finds that in Maryland, the State Department of Planning compared two growth scenarioes–conventional suburban and smarth growth–and found that smart growth could reduce local roads costs by 60 percent and state road costs by 20 percent. The next step would be smart budgeting re-allocates that money to transit, bike, and pedestrian transportation options.


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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!

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Sligo Adventist Elementary School (1963), Ronald Senseman, architect

Sligo Adventist Elementary School (1963), Ronald Senseman, architect

Montgomery Modern

Montgomery County in the mid-century era experienced great change. Montgomery was the fourth fastest growing county in the nation. The population grew from less than 90,000 in 1946 to nearly 580,000 by 1974. Change also came in the pace of life, as cars and new highways enabled ever increasing speeds, but also in the scale of the perceived environment, as space exploration made the universe seem to be the limit. A new era called for new building forms, made possible with innovative technologies. By the early 1960s, architects were experimenting with a variety of roof forms.

The zigzag roof of the Sligo Adventist Elementary School must have been a striking contrast to the traditional flat roof schools that had been built for decades in the county up to this time. Architect Ronald Senseman, a Silver Spring resident, designed Sligo Adventist Elementary School. Flanking the entry’s geometric roofline is warm-toned, stone facing. This sets a contrast between manmade shapes and materials and the organic shapes and materials of nature—a dichotomy found on many modernist projects of this era. Senseman continued the stone in a series of column-like piers found on each side elevation.

PHOTO 2 Sligo Adv ES CLKelly 4-2013 (22)

Ronald Senseman designed many modernist projects in the region, including schools, churches, and motels. For more information on Senseman, see a recent Montgomery Modern post.

The zigzag roof was fairly popular in the early 1960s, yet most original examples have been demolished or remodeled. Another example, also designed by Senseman, was the Park University Motel (1962), 7200 Baltimore Road, in Prince George’s County. Here’s a photo from a c1963 ad for Ruberoid roofing.

PHOTO 3 Park University Motel c1963

The dramatic roofline today is obscured through remodeling for the facility, now Quality Inn & Suites.
Incidentally, according to the ad, the Park University Motel project used Ruberoid T/NA 200, which the company marketed as “the industry’s first prefabricated, prefinished, built-up roofing system”. The lightweight, pliable product was composed of polyvinyl fluoride film and a durable asbestos felt.

The same c1963 Ruberoid Company ad enticed architects to stretch their imagination in roof design.

PHOTO 4 roof shapes c19630001

Many examples of such modernist geometry are still found in our area, if we look closely.

PHOTO 5 Sligo Adv ES CLKelly 4-2013 (19)

Groundbreaking for Sligo Elementary School was September 22, 1963, and the school opened one year later. More information on its history may be found on the school website.

Montgomery Modern explores mid-century modern buildings and communities that reflect the optimistic spirit of the post-war era in Montgomery County, Maryland. From International Style office towers to Googie style stores and contemporary tract houses, Montgomery Modern celebrates the buildings, technology, and materials of the Atomic Age, from the late 1940s through the 1960s. A half century later, we now have perspective to appreciate these resources as a product of their time.

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The value of historic preservation is often expressed in terms that are difficult to quantify. We are preserving cultural patrimony, maintaining a sense of place, safeguarding our architectural heritage.

But what if we could hang a number on the value of historic preservation?  Actually, we can.

Look at tax credits issued for rehabbing historic properties. Montgomery County provides a 10-percent tax credit for qualified work on properties listed in the County’s Master Plan for Historic Preservation or located in County-designated historic districts. The State of Maryland and federal government also offer rehabilitation tax credits that some property owners may be able to receive on top of the county’s program.

In 2012, the historic preservation commission reviewed applications for the county’s preservation tax credit program, recommending approval of $74,000 of tax credits for 56 projects.

Long deteriorated, Baltzley Castle, a Montgomery County historic site, has been rehabbed.

Long deteriorated, Baltzley Castle, a Montgomery County historic site, has been rehabbed.

The projects totaled $740,000 in investments in historic properties in Montgomery County. More of these dollars — paid to roofers, carpenters, painters, masons, and other contractors — stay local than dollars invested in other construction sectors.  These dollars are cycled through our economy as these contractors purchase building materials, buy lunch or coffee, and pay their mortgage or rent.  In fact, a Rutgers study found that 75 percent of the economic impact of historic preservation investments stays in the community.

Federal and state studies across the county also point to the local economic benefit generated by historic preservation.  According to a Colorado study, every $1 million invested to rehabilitate historic buildings creates 32 new jobs (another way to think about this is one job is created for every $31,250  invested in a rehab project). In fact, historic preservation projects in Colorado, the study said, led to the creation of nearly 35,000 jobs and $2.5 billion – billion – in economic impacts since 1981.

Closer to home, Governor O’Malley reported in 2010 that Maryland’s tax credit program had generated $1.5 billion in direct rehabilitation investments and $8.50 in economic output for every $1 of tax credits.  O’Malley pointed to Abell Foundation research that found that this investment in historic preservation created 1,850 more jobs than would have been created by an equal investment in new construction. Furthering these findings, economist Donovan Rypkema determined that jobs created by historic preservation outpace jobs created through the federal stimulus program. Rypkema compared one federal historic preservation program to the federal stimulus program and found that the preservation program created one job for every $13,780 invested, while the stimulus program created one job for every $248,000. That’s a big difference.

By whatever metrics you want to use, it is clear that investment in historic resources creates jobs, circulates money in the local economy, and expands the county’s tax revenues.

So while part of the reason we do historic preservation is to retain the character of what makes Montgomery County a distinct and desirable place to live, work, and visit, we cannot overlook the numbers that demonstrate the significant contributions historic preservation makes to Montgomery County’s economy.

Postscript: If you own an individually designated historic site or property within a Montgomery County historic district and have completed any rehabilitation work in calendar year 2012, you can apply for county tax credits.  The application deadline has been extended to April 15, 2013.

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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:

zoning tableThe answers, which may surprise you, are on the next page along with graphic representations.


berstein panel 01

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As many of you know, two streetcar lines are proposed for Arlington County: one along Columbia Pike and one through Crystal City.

Many of the benefits of the transit system are laid out in the planning vision for Columbia Pike & Crystal City, including:

  • Encouraging smart development;
  • Providing attractive, comfortable, affordable transit,
  • Encouraging revitalization, preservation, and affordability, and
  • Spurring investment.

 Arlington Streetcar Map

Another aspect of the project, however, is a commitment to integrate public art.  In this case, Barbara Bernstein has been commissioned to create works for several bus shelters along the Crystal City line.  Prototypes, renderings, and sample designs were on view until recently at the Arlington Arts Center, but information can still be found on their website.

bernstein plan view

The proposed artworks are large glass panels that will provide windscreens in addition to enhancing the beauty and interest of each stop.  The designs themselves are swirling, waving, looping, interconnected lines meant to serve as a metaphor for the interconnected layout of the system and the lives of the passengers.  As the lines randomly intersect they create shapes – some of which are filled with color, while others create a background of negative space.  Each station will have a distinct color palette that will provide a visual means of identification for each stop.

berstein panel 01 berstein panel 02 berstein panel 03

The panels are pretty, well-composed, and eye-catching but also serve a functional purpose as wayfinding guides.  Like many transit-oriented artworks, the identification of a site with a motif or specific installation is an important piece of a well-integrated and designed transit system.

Of course, Montgomery County is in the midst of planning a wide-ranging rapid transit system.  We would be wise to encourage public art integration in our system for many reasons, some of which were discussed in a recent panel discussion at the National Building Museum on Cultural Investments: Economic Impact of the Arts.  This discussion was part of a three-part series, Culture as Catalyst: Past, Present, Future.  (The third program, Industry to Art: Revitalizing Cities through Culture will be held on April 10, 2013.)

Robert Lynch, President and CEO of Americans for the Arts, summarized the basic economic impact of the arts industry at the discussion and also in an article at Huffington Post last June:

“Of the $135.2 billion of economic activity generated by America’s arts industry, $61.1 billion comes from the nation’s nonprofit arts and culture organizations and $74.1 billion from event-related expenditures by their audiences. This economic activity supports 4.1 million full-time jobs and produces $22.3 billion in revenue to local, state, and federal governments every year — a yield well beyond their collective $4 billion in arts allocations.”

See the Arts and Economic Prosperity IV website for more information on national and specific local findings.

There are, however, numerous other reasons why the integration of public art is important to vital transit systems; for example:

  • Establishing “brand” and community identity;
  • Making use of and beautifying infrastructure;
  • Creating vibrancy and interest;
  • Provoking emotional investment;
  • Enhancing pedestrian and user comfort; and
  • Telling stories of culture, history, process, or environment.

If we ever get the Silver Spring Transit Station finished, maybe another icon of transit-related public art, “Penguin Rush Hour” by Sally Callmer, can be renovated and reinstalled.  Let’s start the fund-raising now!

penguins 01 penguins 02

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On March 7th the Planning Board began the final phase of its worksessions on the proposed zoning code: implementation and impacts of the new code. After more than 4 years of blood, sweat, and tears (mostly figuratively speaking), a Revised Preliminary Planning Board Draft has been released. After several final worksessions and concluding public hearing, a Planning Board Draft Zoning Ordinance will be sent to the County Council for introduction in early May.

During the past few years Planning Department Staff has followed an extensive outreach strategy that has included:

  • Over 80 public meetings,
  • Dozens of Planning Board worksessions,
  • Numerous Council presentations,
  • Regular email “blasts” to hundreds of parties following the project,
  • Press releases for project milestones,
  • Almost weekly web site and agenda updates, and
  • Direct mailings to over 9,000 property owners of commercial, industrial, and other properties.

This outreach has led to great input and a lot of good ideas have been incorporated into the zoning ordinance. But we would like to get even more input in order to produce the best document we can for the Council’s consideration. Please take the time to look through the draft ordinance, take a look at the material on our website, or give us a call or send us an email with any particular questions. We even have office hours set up for you to come in and discuss what implementation of the new ordinance may mean to you.

To encourage further discussion and to explain a few particularly complicated and misunderstood issues, I will be posting a series of blogs over the next couple months. I will at least cover the topics listed below, but am happy to post on other topics that folks have questions or concerns about.

Zoning Rewrite Blog Topics

  • How is the County Currently Zoned?
  • Zoning Text and Zoning Map Amendment Public Notice Requirements
  • The Difference between Building Types and Uses
  • The Difference between Permitted, Limited, and Conditional Uses
  • What Changes are Proposed to the Small-Lot Residential Zones?
  • Why do the Proposed Zones Have So Many Letters and Numbers?
  • Sustainability Initiatives in the Proposed Code
  • Agricultural Support in the Proposed Code

We look forward to continued dialog; schedules on worksessions, hearings, and comment periods will be posted as dates are set.

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Good things are happening in Twinbrook, the small community sandwiched between White Flint and the city of Rockville, and planners can take some credit. Three years after the Twinbrook Sector Plan was approved, the area has seen a number of positive changes:

  • More housing in an area that lacked housing
  • Service-oriented retail, also previously scarce
  • Green features, like a bike-share program
  • Office construction

The Twinbrook Metro Station makes the community a natural place for growth, particularly residential growth. The Sector Plan calls for more residential units, and they have come.

Residents of the new Twinbrook Commons, in the city of Rockville, are just steps from the Twinbrook Metro Station, making it a green development even without the bike share program and solar-powered trash compactor. Planners set the stage for Twinbrook Commons, a medium-density, mixed-use development, before Rockville annexed the area.

The Alaire is a swank new apartment building a block from the Twinbrook Metro Station.

The Alaire is a swank new apartment building a block from the Twinbrook Metro Station.

Beyond residential development, the 18-story landmark Parklawn Building has been a catalyst for spin-off office development. In 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services decided to relocate to the Parklawn Building. The HHS decision provided Twinbrook with a serious jobs boost. Across the street, a mixed office and retail building is under construction, and an agency within the National Institutes of Health is building on the large HHS surface parking lot.

Construction across from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services building

Construction across from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services building

Home to one of Montgomery County’s few light industrial areas, Twinbrook’s service industry includes a bevy of practical uses, from kitchen counter fabricators to automotive repair.

Twinbrook's light industrial area thrives

Twinbrook’s light industrial area thrives

We were out in Twinbrook recently to film a Montgomery Plans cable show walking tour. Take the tour, with details provided by planner Fred Boyd, to see Twinbrook’s progress.

MP39- Around Town:Twinbrook from M-NCPPC on Vimeo.