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

Setting the standard for Montgomery County’s sustainable development with the new M-NCPPC Wheaton Headquarters

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On February 17, 2021, Maryland National Capital Parks and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) received word that the new 14-story Wheaton Headquarters building at 2425 Reedie Drive had officially obtained a LEED Platinum certification, the highest environmental status available from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). It is the first LEED Platinum government office building in the state of Maryland and will set a very high bar for sustainable development and stewardship throughout Montgomery County.

This building is a manifestation of Montgomery Planning’s goal of promoting design excellence and transit-oriented development with the most efficient and well-designed mixed-use buildings. We did not want “just a glass office building” but one reflective of our goals of inclusive public planning, nature, and parks … Continue reading

The history of land use and planning in Montgomery County

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Montgomery County is one of the most desirable places to live and work in the United States. However, like many other places in the country, we are facing new and different issues and trends. This includes weak wage and job growth, persistent racial and economic inequities, demographic and cultural shifts, technological innovation, and climate change. Some of these issues have been reinforced, or even created, by our past public and private plans and actions.

As we finalize the update to the county’s General Plan, Thrive Montgomery 2050, it is important that we reexamine the county’s planning history to become a more equitable, sustainable, and resilient community. Let’s take a walk through the county’s past 245 years:

Montgomery County was … Continue reading

The Future of the Montgomery County Office Market, Part 3: Attracting Office Users Post COVID

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The first and second entries of this series on the future of Montgomery County’s office market examined how widespread telework will change the value of office space and explored various scenarios for future office demand. In this third and final part of the series, let’s dive further into what will be needed to convince office users to continue to rent physical space in Montgomery County as we enter an era in which employers can more readily work from home at substantially lower cost. The competitiveness of our more than 74 million square feet of office space is a significant factor contributing to the $1.8 billion in property taxes Montgomery County collects (from both commercial and residential properties), the largest … Continue reading

Montgomery Planning’s year in review: Our work continues

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Here at the Montgomery County Planning Department and the Montgomery Planning Board, we all share a very strong commitment to continuing our important work of enhancing and building great communities in Montgomery County. Even in the middle of all the struggle of COVID-19, I was touched and inspired to see so many of our staff, both those who serve as essential employees and come into the office as well as the large group we have working from home, rise to the challenge and demonstrate heroic commitment to continuing their important work. Looking back at this very tough year as director of the Montgomery County Planning Department, I have witnessed so much dedication amongst our staff and I want to … Continue reading

Future of the office market, Part 2: Which of Montgomery County’s office districts are best positioned to win the region’s post-COVID office space race?

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In part 1 of our Future of the Office Market series, we explored how the advent of widespread teleworking in response to COVID-19 may change the value companies place on having centralized office spaces. The reduced need to work from the office will change the amount of office space we need and the types of offices and office districts in which we work. To compound the problem, office vacancy was high in Montgomery County’s 72.5 million square feet of leasable office space and much of this space was poorly suited to modern needs. Media coverage of our 2015 Office Market Assessment prominently highlighted the challenge we face with ‘dying’ office parks. Media continues to focus on economic development challenges … Continue reading

Future of the office market, Part 1: What will the post-pandemic office market mean to the growth and redevelopment of Montgomery County?

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Written by Todd Fawley-King & Atul Sharma

The sudden experiment in widespread telework for office workers as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has pundits appropriately questioning the future of the office. Much of this discussion focuses on using technology to make buildings safer, but there are more fundamental questions about the need for and relevance of office space itself. The sector is at risk of disruption: an estimated 40% to 50% of the 472,126 jobs in Montgomery County could be performed at home by telecommuting.[i] That in turn has significant implications for real estate in Montgomery County, which has 1,533 office buildings offering 73.3 million leasable square feet, approximately 12% of which was vacant in Q4 2019 before … Continue reading

Thrive Montgomery 2050: How does the COVID-19 pandemic shape our plans for the future?

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For more than a year, we have been working on Thrive Montgomery 2050, an update to the General Plan directing the long-term vision and direction for land use and growth in the county. While public attention is understandably more focused on short-term issues, long-term thinking remains critical to guide how we respond to changes in the future.

From the beginning of the Thrive 2050 planning process, we have emphasized that the plan needs to be flexible and adaptable to a future in which change seems to happen more rapidly than in the past.  Where to do we want to be as a county in five, 10, 30 years? The framework for the plan identifies three key themes as core … Continue reading