Thrive Explained: Transportation Networks for Livable, Accessible Communities

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Even the most forward-thinking land use policies will fail if they are not supported by transportation infrastructure and services that reinforce – or at least don’t undermine – their objectives. As the Wedges and Corridors plan recognized more than half a century ago:

“An efficient system of transportation must include rapid transit designed to meet a major part of the critical rush-hour need. Without rapid transit, highways and parking garages will consume the downtown areas; the advantages of central locations will decrease, the city will become fragmented and unworkable. The mental frustrations of congested highway travel will take its toll, not to mention the extra costs of second cars and soaring insurance rate. In Los Angeles where an … Continue reading

Thrive Explained: Complete Communities and 15-Minute Living

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Written by Casey Anderson and Jessica McVary

A compact form of development – discussed in this post on corridor-focused growth – is necessary but not sufficient to ensure the emergence of great places, because a tight development footprint is only the first step. The combination of uses and activities in each of these communities must add up to a cohesive whole, allowing people who live and work there to meet as many of their needs as possible without the need to drive long distances. This combination, which Thrive Montgomery calls, “complete communities,” not only helps to reduce the need for driving but makes these centers of activity more diverse, interesting, and appealing.

Wedges and Corridors and the separation … Continue reading

Compact Growth: Corridor-Focused Development and “The Map”

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As I explained in the previous post, a compact form of development is a pillar of urbanism and Thrive Montgomery’s approach to land use. Now I want to show how Thrive Montgomery applies this idea and how this aspect of urbanist thinking represents continuity with – not a departure from – the Wedges and Corridors plan and the map that gave that plan its name.

Polycentric urbanism and the original Wedges and Corridors map

The Wedges and Corridors map specifies where growth should be focused and what kinds of development should be allowed in different places. It has gone through a series of “refinements” – I’ll discuss some of these changes and why they matter – but here’s the … Continue reading

Public Engagement During a Pandemic

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I’m interrupting our regularly-scheduled programming (explaining Thrive Montgomery 2050) to share some fresh data on public engagement with our agency during COVID-19 along with some thoughts about the use of technology as a tool for participation in government.

Thanks to our crack IT staff, we have continued holding hearings on development applications throughout the pandemic – in fact, we have not cancelled a single Planning Board meeting, delayed any master plans, or stopped any other project.

This chart shows the number of people who participated in Planning Board meetings remotely over the course of the year when COVID-19 restrictions on in-person public gatherings have been in effect and the number who participated in person over the previous twelve months:

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Thrive Explained: Urbanism Without Apologies

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Thrive Montgomery includes dozens of recommendations touching on land use, transportation and many more topics. In the following posts I will describe what I see as the most interesting and important concepts in the plan, but first I want to outline the general approach that informs this plan’s specific proposals – an approach that can be summarized as “urbanism.”

The plan applies the principles of urbanism – a term used as shorthand for a set of ideas about what makes human settlements successful – to frame recommendations about the location, form, and design of development; policies on transportation and housing; and the kinds of parks, recreational facilities, and public spaces we need in the future.

What we mean … Continue reading

Thrive Explained: What’s the Problem?

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Montgomery County’s first General Plan, the “Wedges and Corridors” plan, helped make this one of the most desirable places to live and work in the United States. We built excellent parks and schools, preserved land for farming, facilitated the growth of urban centers and construction of mass transit, and shaped the development of attractive suburban subdivisions.

Today, however, our residents are older, more diverse, and less likely to live in traditional family arrangements. We have evolved from a bedroom community to a complex jurisdiction with urban hubs, mature residential neighborhoods, and rural landscapes. Competition for talent, jobs, and economic opportunities is much more intense. Technology is changing how we work, shop, and live, influencing planning and real estate … Continue reading

Thrive Explained: What it is and why you should care

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Today the Planning Board finalized its draft of “Thrive Montgomery 2050,” a proposed framework for the physical development of the county over the next three decades. Thrive Montgomery is the first complete overhaul of our community’s comprehensive plan since 1964, so it represents a chance to reconsider fundamental assumptions not simply about the regulation of development but about the nature of planning and what its objectives should be.

This series of posts will outline Thrive Montgomery’s recommendations for the future of land use, transportation and public amenities such as parks, but first I will explain what our proposal is trying – and not trying – to do. Thrive Montgomery is about how ideas that have proven successful in building … Continue reading

Moratorium Damages County’s Competitiveness and Affordability, Fails to Fix School Capacity Shortfalls

Posted by & filed under Design, Research.

The Montgomery County Council has the chance to better the County’s future by voting to approve the County Growth Policy

We’ve grown accustomed to the idea that developers are expected to pay a large part of the cost of building schools, based on the eminently reasonable theory that the construction of new housing generates demand for classroom space as families move into the housing, have children, and send them to local schools. If the schools get too crowded, county rules impose a moratorium on the development of new housing until classroom space is made available to “catch up.”

The logic behind this approach appears unassailable. If new housing produces a need for more seats in schools, it follows … Continue reading

Over-housed: Number-Crunching Montgomery’s Housing Crunch

Posted by & filed under Research.

By now I think –or hope, anyway – that just about everyone who has spent any time studying the region’s housing realizes that we are not building enough of it. One part of the housing supply problem that has not received as much attention is the mismatch between the types of housing already built (and being built) and the kind needed for a changing population who are adopting different living arrangements.

The proportion of householders living alone has increased significantly while the proportion of households consisting of an adult couple with young children has decreased. In 1960, single-member households made up 7 percent of all households in the county. By 2018, that proportion had reached 25 percent, or about three-and-a-half … Continue reading

Montgomery County Is (Literally) Well-Positioned for the Future – But Will We Take Advantage of the Opportunity?

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Land use and transportation planning are the responsibility of local government, but economic changes at the regional, national and even global levels are forcing us to adapt to forces outside of our control – including automation, international trade, and even competition for natural resources as basic as the sand used to mix the concrete in large apartment and office buildings.

Among the biggest changes is what some economists have called the trend toward a “winner-take-all-economy.” This is the idea that wealth, talent and innovation are increasingly being concentrated in a small number of places, typically large metro areas anchored by cities capable of attracting people and capital from around the world. Nationally we can see this trend in the … Continue reading