A Metropolitan Revolution

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Depending on your media preferences, you may have heard about a new book by the Brookings Institute, The Metropolitan Revolution.

In it, authors Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley postulate that with the Federal government in partisan gridlock and facing the costs of caring for an aging population, large infrastructure, education, and economic investments are taking place in America’s metropolitan areas through coalitions of local government, business, labor, philanthropic, and education leaders.

In an NPR interview, Katz makes the point that as the economy changes so does American geography. From the primacy of port cities to swaths of industrial acreage, each economy has its spatial geography. Katz says the new digital economy that seeks interaction to create innovation is locating … Continue reading

Summertime is Time for Parks Awards

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ULI recently announced the finalists in its Urban Open Space Award competition and a local site is in the mix. I really love the Yards Park, for its re-use and upgrade of an abandoned resource–the Anancostia Rvierfront and for its design details.

You can read more of our observations and see pictures here, but these finalists all embody  features of good urban spaces. ULI is looking for spaces that “encouraged economic and social rejuvination in their neighborhoods” and these projects in Nashville, Vancouver, California, as well as DC incorporate urbansim into park design.

They are places to watch other people–strolling. splashing, or sitting. People in cities take their energy from other people–whether it’s on sidewalks or in parks.

These … Continue reading

Putting a value on historic preservation

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The value of historic preservation is often expressed in terms that are difficult to quantify. We are preserving cultural patrimony, maintaining a sense of place, safeguarding our architectural heritage.

But what if we could hang a number on the value of historic preservation?  Actually, we can.

Look at tax credits issued for rehabbing historic properties. Montgomery County provides a 10-percent tax credit for qualified work on properties listed in the County’s Master Plan for Historic Preservation or located in County-designated historic districts. The State of Maryland and federal government also offer rehabilitation tax credits that some property owners may be able to receive on top of the county’s program.

In 2012, the historic preservation commission reviewed applications for the … Continue reading

New Transit & New Artwork Coming to Arlington

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As many of you know, two streetcar lines are proposed for Arlington County: one along Columbia Pike and one through Crystal City.

Many of the benefits of the transit system are laid out in the planning vision for Columbia Pike & Crystal City, including:

Encouraging smart development; Providing attractive, comfortable, affordable transit, Encouraging revitalization, preservation, and affordability, and Spurring investment.

 

Another aspect of the project, however, is a commitment to integrate public art.  In this case, Barbara Bernstein has been commissioned to create works for several bus shelters along the Crystal City line.  Prototypes, renderings, and sample designs were on view until recently at the Arlington Arts Center, but information can still be found on their … Continue reading

Montgomery’s Historically Black Communities

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Tucked in among subdivisions and stream valleys, the County’s historically black settlements reflect a history that traces back to the County’s earliest days.

In 1790, local tobacco plantation were worked by slaves, who made up one third of the County’s population. Josiah Henson, whose memoirs inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe to write Uncle Tom’s Cabin, described the conditions.

“In a single room were huddled, like cattle, ten or a dozen persons, men, women, and children. All ideas of refinement and decency were, of course, out of the question.”

But alongside planatations, the County’s Sandy Spring Quaker community freed its slaves in 1770, conveying to them land for a church and dwellings. Sandy Spring would also become a key stop on the … Continue reading

Garden Wars

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How strongly do you feel about your front yard? Is it a reflection of you and your family; the landscape equivalent of putting on a clean shirt in the morning?

As we’ve said before, there are rules for life in suburbia, some written and many more unwritten. And lately, some of the more obscure written rules about front-yard vegetable gardens are being read and interpreted, not always in favor of cucumbers. As this New York Times article points out, one neighbor’s “suitable” groundcover is another’s eyesore.

And as we’ve pointed out before, there are plenty of personal and community benefits to front-yard  vegetable gardens. In fact, some communities, like Santa Monica, encourage digging up the lawn for a more … Continue reading

Designing for Joy

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At a panel discussion in late October, where architect David M. Childs of SOM received the George White Award for Excellence in Public Architecture from the American Architectural Foundation, the notion of joy in planning came up.

Amid discussions of floor area ratio, compatibility, function, and infrastructure, bringing up joy seems frivolous in the least, perhaps even foolish.

Childs recalled that he and George White, the ninth Architect of the Capital between 1971 and 1996, proposed allowing ice skating on the reflecting pool, an idea that was quickly dismissed as not serious.

But imagine the feeling of gliding between Lincoln and Washington. That stretch of city would become a place for people as well as a place for history. I … Continue reading

A new preservation credo

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About fifty people attended an open house at the Planning Department last weekend. Of all the intelligent questions and interesting conversations I had with people who stopped at the historic preservation station, my favorite was with an elementary school-aged girl who came in with her mom and younger brother. Our conversation went something like this.

I asked if the girl if knew what historic preservation was. She shrugged. I pointed to a display with photos of some old buildings, including a house in Takoma Park that had been abandoned and condemned but has recently been rehabilitated, sold, and is again lived in. She offered that preservation was about saving old buildings. Then I asked if she knew why historic … Continue reading

Small Pieces of Big Streets

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The District’s plan for eco-friendly redevelopment in Southwest Washington is a big one, but M-NCPPC environmental planner Tina Schneider points out that one of the plan’s small elements could apply in Montgomery County.

Alternating tree panels with stormwater panels is a way to slow and filter run-off while enhancing streetscape. The County requires stormwater management treatment, but it’s often easiest to use methods that have already recieved approval than to try something new. And, let’s admit it, there’s a lot of competition for the limited right-of way space. We want to make room for bicycles, streetscaped sidewalks, and–oh yeah–cars. It can also be a challenge to thread a new drainage path among existing underground infrastructure.

But other places have managed it–you … Continue reading

A New Generation of Malls Track Downtown, Again

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We grew up as planners learning that shopping malls sapped downtown of its energy–whether it was small town retailers wiped out by the mall just over the county line or urban retail boulevards gutted of life as suburbanites left the city to follow jobs and the shopping followed them.

Over time, downtowns began to reimage themselves as malls. Beginning in 1980, The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Main Street program was based on that very premise, organizing disparate retailers to work together on signage, opening hours, seasonal sales, and marketing.

Federal Realty took it one step further, simply buying up retail streets in places like Westport, Connecticut and Bethesda, Maryland to create a single, curated retail environment from brick … Continue reading