Posts tagged ‘growth’
Wedges and Corridors is the name of our governing master plan. While it was updated in 1992, the basic framework is the same. Revered by many, forgotten by few who were active during that time, the General Plan, as it is also known, has stood the test of time.
It is important to put this landmark Wedges & Corridors Plan in context. It was developed in the post World War II period — in the late ’50s and early ’60s. That was two generations ago, and a lot, of course, has changed.
Wedges and Corridors was a simple, yet pioneering concept. Truly a great plan in the history of planned growth in this and any other country. The planners and others who worked on it should have a place in the urban history books. The plan covers both Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, both of which make up the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission.
While the majority of the folks in the county have no knowledge of the General Plan, it defines what the county is today and still shapes the future.
The big ideas from the plan revolve around the concepts of cities laid out along corridors and wedges of different land uses between those corridors. Note that the “corridors” is plural, referring to the single one the plan identified in Montgomery County and the others in Prince George’s County. So as it applies to MoCo, there is one corridor identified, and that is I-270.
It is interesting to consider where the plan predicted we would be today, and to consider the next 40 to 50 years of the plan.
The General Plan was surprisingly accurate in predicting job and population growth in MoCo. (It was less accurate for Prince George’s, where the population there was anticipated to be larger than MoCo’s.) The MoCo population was forecast to be 995,000 in the year 2000. The actual population that year was 873,346, about 122,000 fewer, or 14 percent less than predicted. By 2010, the Census puts us at 971,777 residents.
The plan predicted there would be 301,515 households by the year 2000, while in actuality we had 323,400, a difference of seven percent, again pretty accurate for a 40+ year projection. By 2010 that number grew to 360,500, an 11.5-percent increase over the 2000 number.
The job count is the reverse. The plan projected we would have 335,000 jobs in the county in 2000.Our actual job count then stood at 474,300, about 41 percent more than the predicted total. By 2010, the job total reached about 506,000.
So, if the plan was close on predicting the population and number of households, how did it miss the mark on the number of jobs in the county? This is an easy answer. Keep in mind the era in which plan authors made these predictions – within 15 years of the end of the World War II.
Couples married and had kids. Women stayed home while their husbands went to work. The plan’s founders could never have imagined the boom in the number of women in the workplace and the advent of the DINK household (double income no kids). In fact, today we see only 20+ percent of households forming the “traditional” family of two parents with kids, and we have about an equal percentage of households where one of the parents is staying at home. Add to this the explosion of single-parent households, and it is easy to understand the inaccuracy in the job predictions.
If the demographers of the late ’50s and early ’60s had factored in the two-working-parent trend starting in the late ’70s and beyond, they would have been almost dead accurate on the job count.
Pattern of Growth
The plan called for a series of cities along the corridor. The idea was to centralize the bulk of the growth in smaller urban places, connected by roads and transit, preserving land for agriculture and open space. Clearly, strategic places of higher density were viewed as the way to preserve large parts of the county and, in fact, MoCo was planned to have urban places. The plan authors did not envision that MoCo would be a wholly suburban place.
Overlaying the 2010 population distribution over that 1960s plan map shows we pretty much grew as the plan called for. But while we grew as the plan authors had envisioned, we lag behind on the connections. Today, there are few options for moving north to south or east to west, hence the daily traffic congestion we have just measured in our latest biennial mobility assessment. (And why I choose to live a four-minute bike ride from work.)
Germantown is a corridor city with a population of just over 86,000.This is the largest defined place in the county, 25,000 greater than Silver Spring at 71,500 and Bethesda at 69,000.Yet, where is the downtown in Germantown? Compare the block or two around the Black Rock Center to downtowns in Silver Spring and Bethesda. Clearly, the density of that corridor city is different than the other two. Perhaps centralizing more of the density could have created a walkable pedestrian-oriented downtown for Germantown.
MoCo has plenty of roads. However, we have too many cul-de-sacs or roads that just end. We lack a larger grid pattern that might mimic an urban setting, but at a much larger scale. And this will not change, meaning big challenges in trying to create an effective transit system that serves a low density, unconnected string of corridor cities, centered on one corridor: I-270.
Check out this graphic showing all the roads in MoCo. Whenever I show this in a presentation, I get the same reaction, that people are not aware we have this many roads. I am looking into trying to graphically show how many miles of roads we have and what percentage of them actually carry the bulk of the traffic. The results may be interesting.
And what about that transit the plan called for? We got the Red Line. Takoma Park, Bethesda and Silver Spring realized the potential of the rail stops. But what about Forest Glen and the Grosvenor metro stops? Did we realize the vision of the Plan at major transportation infrastructure investments? There are townhomes being built within walking distance of the Grosvenor metro stop, yet the mid-rise, multi- unit buildings are farther away
Not all transit stops are equal in terms of the density around them and that is how it should be. Yet perhaps the investment could have been better utilized in a few locations.
It has taken 40 years and a zoning change to finally realize the potential of the White Flint metro stop. We are creating more density and housing at Twinbrook and it is something to consider as we move forward with White Flint II and Glenmont plans.
Next: What does Wedges & Corridors mean for the future? Given the projections, the resulting landscape of 45 years of Wedges and Corridors, and the fact we built what was planned for, what are the implications for the future of the County?
Each year, metro area planners prepare forecasts on how much growth is expected in the next few decades. In July, we presented a different take on these forecasts to the Planning Board, expanding beyond growth in jobs and housing needs to consider the land needed to accommodate that growth. The story is very interesting when we consider past county growth trends and whether MoCo has enough land to grow the same way.
This is a very big story for MoCo. Along with the changing demographics, where we grow is one of the major defining factors in the future sustainability of the County.
The big picture
Let’s consider job growth. Using the Council of Governments model, we project a 33-percent increase in jobs (167,000) over the next 20 years, a seven-percent decrease over what we saw between 1990 and today. We also project a 21.5% increase in the number of housing units (77,500), which mirrors what we saw for the past 20 years. These projections would mean a bigger gap in the jobs-to-housing ratio. Translation: more people commuting farther to work.
Not surprisingly, we predict the biggest job gains to be in Area 2 running up the I-270 corridor and east along the Beltway, including the FDA complex. With lots of surface parking lots ripe for redevelopment like White Flint, there is tremendous potential in this area of the county. Area 1, inside the Beltway, is expected to be the smallest job gainer — no surprise because this area is largely developed within the job centers. We are seeing infill on single lots in this area, but large redevelopment opportunities are few. However when considering the actual land used to accommodate the job growth, Area 3 is the biggest consumer of land. This is to be expected, given the suburban-style office development in the area.
The next part of the story is how much new office, retail and industrial floor space is needed to accommodate job growth? We determine these numbers by multiplying the projected jobs in each of office, retail and industrial sectors by the amount of floor space the market now builds per employee. (The average office employee uses about 225 square feet.) This math results in an estimate of:
• just over 26 million square feet of new office space
• 6 million square feet for retail
• 5.8 million square feet for industrial
To put those numbers in perspective, downtown Rockville and the surrounding area currently represents about seven million square feet of retail space.
What does 6 million ft2 look like?
At current land consumption rates, those new jobs would take 1,552 acres. This number factors in both the urban-style employment development that uses little land as well as the office park development built at much lower densities.
While the growth in the number of housing units compares to the past 20 years, there will be a major shift in the type of housing built. The demand for multi-family housing, particularly rental housing in the short term, will be the dominant new housing product. Now, single-family houses (singles, towns) make up 68 percent of all units in the county. Over the next 20 years, that share is expected to drop to 59 percent.
We predict just over 19 percent of the new housing will be single family, while the remaining 80 percent will be multi-family units. And this is a positive shift given a number of factors.
• the housing market nationwide over the next five to 10 years will be in multi-unit housing with a focus on the rental market
• affordability improves with multi-family units in a range of both sizes and tenure
• the MoCo housing market needs diversification to provide products that are attractive to younger people, now priced out because of high costs, as well as multi-unit living popular with seniors looking to downsize
At our current housing densities, meaning the number of housing units per acre, we predict a need for just over 9,000 acres of new housing. Obviously, single-family housing consumes a much higher percentage of land than multi-unit housing. We predict that while only 19 percent of the new units will be for single-family housing, those units would consume around 70 percent of the land needed for the new residential units. Area 3 is the part of the county where most of this development would occur.
Current building projects in the county paint a picture of the future. Construction is just starting on two projects that reflect past and future trends in county housing. The Cabin Branch single-family site plan housing project in Clarksburg has over 2,000 housing units, while plans for mixed-use projects in White Flint will see the beginning of the 9,000 new multi-family units expected there in the next 15 to 20 years.
Where we can meet the demand for housing?
It’s easy to identify the options, harder to implement them. MoCo has only about 14,000 acres of vacant land zoned for greenfield development, meaning land where nothing has yet been built. Much of this land is scattered and in places where if it had been easy, people would have developed there by now.
Considering that we need around 9,000 acres for the new housing plus 2,000 acres for employment uses, we will have to consider infill development on a bigger scale than the past.
We project a need for 3,000 acres for new multi-family units. However, we have only 325 acres of land zoned for this use available as greenfield development. So where will the units go? There is only 2,900 acres of land zoned for commercial and mixed uses in the county and this is already built on. Even with considerable redevelopment of these lands, we cannot accommodate the expected need for land for new housing.
There is a large pipeline of approved yet unbuilt projects in the county. Can these projects make a dent in the needed capacity? Assuming everything in the pipeline gets built, and that is a big if, there is still a gap of over 18 million square feet for the commercial and office segment and a gap of around 60,000 units in the residential projections.
In sum, here’s where we stand.
• growth is expected to slow over the next 20 years but still be considerable
• we have very little new land left to develop
• we have very little land zoned for multi-unit housing and we have little commercially zoned land to accommodate the projected demand
• our processes for reviewing land use change are lengthy and cannot adapt to market changes in a timely manner
How can we prepare for the future demand given the above factors?
The first big step is to rationalize our zoning rules. That exercise is well underway. Considering where we can grow is a big step. We have done well planning our nodes like White Flint and Twinbrook. We are underway on the East County plan and Glenmont will begin shortly. Now we need to consider connecting these “nodes” by looking at our corridors, the subject of a previous blog post. These arterials don’t show the best side of MoCo, and given the emerging work on bus rapid transit, offer tremendous opportunities for growth connected to transit.
We need to look at what we have built and how we can make it better.
• Office parks – if we want to improve our jobs | housing balance what better place than to create new housing on some of the hundreds of acres of grass surrounding the lonely office park buildings?
• Parking lots – there are 160 acres of surface parking in White Flint and already it is being transformed into mixed uses. There are over 8,000 acres of surface parking in the county, a negative environmental condition we must improve upon. How many of these can be developed at varying scales into uses that bring people closer to their daily needs?
• Malls – this building form — as a strip mall or full-fledged mall — is struggling around the country. The White Flint model of phasing development by first building on the surface parking while the malls continue to operate is a fiscally sound way to approach redevelopment that benefits the owner and the existing community. How many of our 100+ strip malls could benefit from a remake into a neighborhood center that offers more services and options for people who live in the neighborhood?
• Process – Have our processes resulted in development that is better than what we see elsewhere with a fraction of the time needed to get through the approvals? The answer is no. Our arterial roads and shopping areas are the same as places that don’t have zoning. There is a pressing need to rethink how we approach land use approvals. Instead of being so focused on the steps of a process, we should start with what we want the outcome to be, then work backward.
MoCo will grow. MoCo needs to grow to support what we have built and the style of living people have become accustomed to. The future pattern of growth will be different and more sustainable, in the form of multi-unit living with mixed use on infill sites. This better matches the changing demographics of the county and fits our need to diversify our housing to make the county more affordable and attract new people.