Is Wedges & Corridors the Country’s First Sustainable Growth Plan?
The biggest determinant for carrying the Wedges & Corridors vision into the future is land. We are not making any more of it and, in fact, we have restricted its availability by placing a growth boundary, the Ag Reserve, around the top third of the County.
This is a great thing, and it is unfortunate that surrounding counties did not do the same. The Ag Reserve, parkland and our established single-family residential areas comprise about 89 percent of the County, and these areas will remain largely the same as they are today.
But the plan compels us to look to the lands we have already serviced as the places to grow. Maybe this is the real vision of Wedges & Corridors: the first real Sustainable Growth Plan in America, 40 years before it was in vogue.
Did the plan authors realize there would be a time when we would be forced to look in a more limited fashion within Montgomery County to maximize the infrastructure to achieve their vision? They must have known we could not grow out forever. I like to think they thought about this and said to themselves, “We have created a framework that will challenge future community leaders to rethink our growth, leverage what we have built and at that point, become the one of the most sustainable suburbs in the country.”
Wedges and Corridors was — and still is — very forward thinking. The plan established the concept of strategic urbanization through “corridor cities.” The next stage in the evolution of the plan is to fill in the gaps.
Strategic growth on former strip malls will strengthen existing communities by creating new services and raising land values. We already know in Bethesda and Silver Spring that residential neighborhoods near mixed-use centers see higher home values because they are close to the amenities people want. Surrounding communities enjoy both convenient services and the preservations of their established neighborhoods.
Ask folks around Dale Avenue in Silver Spring or in the Luxmanor neighborhood of White Flint if they love their new grocery stores. Those stores are made possible through the kind of redevelopment that creates an incentive for property owners to create desirable new projects.
The large number of foreclosures over the past four years shows that neighborhoods isolated from services and jobs are susceptible to high rates of foreclosure, even in MoCo. These neighborhoods are sensitive to fluctuations in the cost of transportation, mainly gas. The average homeowner in MoCo spends over 18 percent of household costs on getting around.
Strategic infill near these neighborhoods, such as a small strip mall converted into a mix of housing and services, can help reduce transportation costs. Housing around office parks can bring people closer to work with the added increase in affordable housing.
To preserve the quality of life of our residential areas, we must generate new thinking for the areas we have left. The following maps show what little land we have left to effect change. Is this a function of Wedges and Corridors? I think it is more due to the zoning we created over the past 50 years. Clearly, we have not designated enough land in which to accommodate the growth that was expected to happen in Wedges and Corridors.
With 70,000 new households expected in the next 20 to 25 years, the need is pressing. Land for new single-family housing is almost gone, and we expect nearly 80 percent of the new housing to be in multi- unit buildings on smaller infill sites (about 5 percent of the County).
We expect 155,000 to 165,000 new jobs. Where we put those jobs and how people get to them is critical. We cannot price out our workforce from our jobs and force them to live outside the County.
This means attracting new services and housing to strategic areas. Our master planning efforts in White Flint, Kensington, Wheaton, Silver Spring, Takoma and Burtonsville all address the issues left to us by the founders of Wedges & Corridors.
While we have been handed a legacy, our thinkers of 50 years ago left us with new challenges. Limited resources, with the challenge to create a sustainable network of neighborhoods from what appears to be a network of suburban sprawl. It is up to our generation of thinkers and those who follow, to create a sustainable network of connections focused on mobility, design and the environment that will set the stage 50 years from now for the next evolution of the Wedges and Corridors.