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In previous posts, I’ve discussed the economic challenges facing Montgomery County: stagnant wage growth, an aging workforce and increasing poverty. I’ve also highlighted our assets, including high incomes, low unemployment and a highly educated workforce. I’ve pointed out that high housing costs are the result of limited supply and that both businesses and residents of all ages prefer neighborhoods that look and feel “urban,” even if they aren’t located near transit or in major city centers. I hope that I have been successful in showing how and why real estate development is essential to economic development. In particular, the supply of housing (at every price point and including both subsidized/regulated projects and market-rate units) is crucial to attracting and retaining the mix of workers … Continue reading

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In October, I was fortunate to attend the 2018 ULI Fall Meeting in Boston as a recipient of a scholarship for local public officials from the Rose Center for Public Leadership in Land Use. The conference attracted over 6,000 industry leaders in real estate and land use and was a wonderful opportunity to get out of the day-to-day bubble of planning and land use in Montgomery County and learn about trends in other parts of the country to inform our work.

Particularly valuable were the site tours and sessions offered by the ULI Placemaking Council during the Council Day on Wednesday. The program comprised visits to the new Seaport District in South Boston adjacent to the Convention Center and … Continue reading

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Two-day festival in October 2018 brings community members together to design and build a pop-up public space in the Randolph Hills Shopping Center

Planners have all heard the word “placemaking.” This term is often used in presentations, master plans and marketing pitches for development projects. The Montgomery County Planning and Parks Departments have invited several experts over the past year to discuss the potential of placemaking as a tool to improve, transform and celebrate local communities and cultures. Everybody seems to be talking about it as a good thing for our county.

But what does true, community-led placemaking look like? And how can communities actually DO placemaking?

To find out the answer, the Planning and Parks Departments invited residents … Continue reading

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Investing in more transit and walkable, amenity-rich neighborhoods will attract more residents and employers to Montgomery County

Both businesses and residents in Montgomery County increasingly show a preference for walkable, compact neighborhoods with a mix of uses. This kind of development is commonly described as “urban” in form, but its underlying design principles can be applied at lower densities and at smaller scale in suburban settings.

In Montgomery County, we have been encouraging this kind of development near existing Metro stations and our future Purple Line light rail stations. But we’ve also scaled down and used the same concepts  – walkability, diversity of uses and compact design – where redevelopment offers an opportunity to add badly-needed housing and new … Continue reading

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In the previous post I made the case that we need private infrastructure in the form of housing and office buildings for the same reasons we need public infrastructure such as roads, transit, schools, and water and sewer pipes. In particular, if we don’t have enough housing, workers will continue bidding up the cost of existing residences until only the very affluent will be able to afford decent housing in convenient locations. Lower-income residents will either be priced out entirely or face crowded, substandard housing conditions in remote locations with long and difficult commutes.

It may be possible to limit population growth by throttling the construction of new housing through regulation and higher fees on development (I’ll have more … Continue reading

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I often hear people say things like:

“Real estate development just makes developers rich – it doesn’t do anything to help our economy,” or

“I understand why we need to bring more employers to Montgomery County, but building more housing just adds to the overcrowding of our schools – we should be pushing for more office projects,” or

“I’m not against growth but we shouldn’t allow more development until we have the infrastructure to support it.”

If you’ve read the previous posts in this series, you have some idea why I think these statements reflect mistaken premises about the relationship between real estate development and Montgomery County’s ability to attract high-quality jobs and the workers to fill them. The … Continue reading

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In a Los Angeles park, hot pink benches and chairs play a vital role of respite and identity, revealing the transformative power of color

Grand Park – known simply as the “pink park” – is a 12-acre urban oasis in the heart of downtown Los Angeles. The park reopened in 2012, transforming a dreary government plaza into a spectacular community centerpiece. In a bustling urban setting where the park offers much-needed relief, color plays a key role in defining its identity and providing lessons for planners and designers of public spaces in Montgomery County.

The designers of Grand Park, Rios Clementi Hale Studios, expressed the multiculturalism of Los Angeles though the colors and textures of flora and fauna drawn … Continue reading

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In the previous two posts, I argued that we have a serious shortfall in the supply of new housing at every price level and that this drives up housing costs. Now I’ll take a look at retail and office space to try to offer some perspective on what’s going on in the market for commercial real estate and what it says about consumer preferences, our economic well-being, and what we can do to adapt to attract and retain employers and their employees in the future.

Our Retail and Office Markets

Even as many other parts of the country – and the DC region – are dealing with a glut of retail space, Montgomery County’s retail supply is, overall, strong … Continue reading

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As I explained in my last post, Montgomery County’s continued population growth (even if this growth is slow in relative terms) coupled with constrained wages and housing supply, means that housing affordability becomes a bigger problem. This chart show the proportion of renters and homeowners with a mortgage who pay at least 35 percent of their income on housing costs:

The lack of affordable housing hurts the poor more than anyone else, but our high housing costs also hurt middle and even upper income residents. As for the impact on economic development and jobs, we risk driving away highly-skilled workers who have choices about where to live and work. Eventually, if we begin … Continue reading

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In earlier posts, I outlined where Montgomery County stands in terms of jobs and wages, discussed the related issue of income inequality and pointed out that the older segment of our population is going to grow disproportionately to other age groups over the next two decades.

Now let’s assess the past and future rate of population growth, job openings and housing construction, and the relationship of these factors to lagging wage growth in contributing to one of most significant economic challenges: a shortage of affordable housing.

Population and job growth

Before we can evaluate how much new housing and office space is needed in the future, we first have to understand how many people (and jobs) we might reasonably … Continue reading