New Suburbanism: Walkability & Transit

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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

Placemaking in Action

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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

Public Spaces in Living Color

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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

The Evolving Role of Public Artwork in Montgomery County

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As our county continues to become more diverse, public art can fill a uniting role in bringing communities together

The Wheaton, Silver Spring and Bethesda Metro stations have pieces of public art that are hard to miss. The installation of Penguin Rush Hour (pictured above), Tunnel Vision or Beacon I will likely stop you in your tracks while you wonder: “How did this artwork get here?”

Penguin Rush Hour by artist Sally Callmer was originally created as a temporary public art installation at the Silver Spring station in the 1990s. However, the community united to raise money to repair the artwork and make it permanent. The penguins were so much a part of the community’s identity that Silver Spring … Continue reading

Montgomery Planning on the National Stage

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Planners presented cutting-edge concepts and projects through record five presentations at the 2018 National American Planning Association Conference in New Orleans

Montgomery Planning hit it big in the Big Easy. We were thrilled to present five sessions at the national American Planning Association (APA) conference, held from April 21 through April 23, 2018 in New Orleans. These presentations represent the most participation ever from our agency at this annual forum and we received great audience feedback about our ideas.

This year’s APA conference attracted about 5,700 planners, elected officials and planning junkies from across the country to learn about the latest trends and solutions to the challenges of land use, economic development, community revitalization and more (see photos of … Continue reading

Eight Ways to Build a Better Urban Park

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New York City’s High Line park offers lessons for public space design in Montgomery County’s urban centers

More than half of the world’s population now lives in urban areas. Cities and urban-style environments will house two-thirds of humanity by 2050. Montgomery County is in sync with this trend as many of its communities, including Bethesda and Silver Spring, transform into urban places with higher densities.

As our planet urbanizes, interest in studying the effects of nature on the human mind and body is increasing. Growing evidence suggests that daily exposure to nature boosts our health, productivity and creativity. Children in particular benefit greatly from regular intervals of time spent in natural environments.

These positive results underscore the importance of … Continue reading

Montgomery County’s Think Tank

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The Planning Department’s Research and Special Projects Division undertakes cutting-edge studies to influence important decisions about the county

Our plans rely on accurate data about demographics, housing, commercial real estate and the economy to inform recommendations and decisions about land use. This information is carefully gathered by a dedicated group within the Planning Department – the eight staff members of our Research and Special Projects Division – who help us get ahead of the planning curve with their ongoing investigations.

We like to call this division “the think tank for the county” because it provides a wealth of intelligence for the County Council and various government agencies. Currently, the research staff is hard at work on several important studies … Continue reading

From Corporate Offices to Centers of Learning

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Changes in work patterns and population growth are leading to new types of schools

Walking past 8000 Jones Branch Drive in Tysons Corner, it is easy to assume that offices occupy this regular, three-story building. Entering its light filled atrium, however, does not reveal a corporate lobby or water cooler talk, but a gathering space where hundreds of chattering students dart between classes and engage in extracurricular activities. Welcome to Basis Independent School, a new type of center for learning.

Basis Independent is a private K-12 school that sits within the 120,000 square feet of this former Tysons Corner office building. This renovation project was designed by the DC architecture firm Perkins Eastman with Gilbane as the design-build partner. … Continue reading

Montgomery Modern Bus Tour 2017

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Montgomery Modern Tour Day 2017 featured modernist buildings designed by the Silver Spring architecture firm Cohen, Haft & Associates. This event, held on Sunday, October 8, was our fourth annual Montgomery Modern Tour and was co-sponsored by AIA Potomac Valley and Docomomo DC.

Tour leader Clare Lise Kelly (right) of the Montgomery County Planning Department greets Tina Patterson, the newest Planning Board member, who joined the group on the bus.

We boarded the bus at the Bender Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington in Rockville.

Our first stop was The Hilltop at Seven Hills Lane, a 10-acre woodland neighborhood of 32 modernist houses designed by Cohen, Haft & Associates. Developed by Albert Brodsky and Edith Matthews, The Hilltop … Continue reading

Converting Office to Residential Is Complicated

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Economics, location, architectural design and zoning regulations play important roles in determining new uses for vacant office buildings

In a previous blog post, we explored trends likely to impact the adaptive reuse of office buildings, as illustrated through the Octave 1320 office-to-residential conversion in downtown Silver Spring. With its final unit now sold, the successful project prompted us to think about the future of office conversions in Montgomery County.

As cited in the 2015 Office Market Assessment and noted in countless other reports and news articles, the Washington region’s office market currently faces stiff headwinds that are likely to continue in the foreseeable future.  Montgomery County is no exception. As of July 2017, the office vacancy rate in the … Continue reading