Rethink Health: The Power of Play

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Last night, Joan Almon, Executive Director of the Alliance for Childhood, reminded us of the importance of mud puddles.

She began by outlining the importance of play (that is, undirected messing around, preferably outside). It helps children develop negotiation and social skills, and coordination between their brains and hands. They learn to wonder, concentrate, and overcome challenges.

But these days, children 6-8 years old spend only 12 percent of their time outdoors. Children 10-16 spend only 12 minutes a day in vigorous physical activity, but 10 hours a day in sedentary activities (is that an oxymoron?). You won’t be surprised to learn that they spend a whopping 53 hours a week (about 7 hours a day) with media–whether its … Continue reading

Rethink Energy

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Last night Michael Schaal, of the U.S. Energy Information Administration spoke about the outlook for future energy demand in the world and the United States.

Some of what he reported will not surprise you; we’ve heard a lot of this before.

Even with increased interest in renewable fuels, most of our energy needs will be met by fossil fuels. Demand increases with population and income, so demand is expected to increase in China, Russia, and India. Technology is helping us find new sources of fossil fuels. Technology is also helping us save energy; for example, the energy savings from more efficient appliances have helped keep US energy demand steady, even as we use more gadgets like cell phones and laptops.

Schaal pointed out … Continue reading

Town Design in Kensington

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Guest Blogger: Michael Brown, Urban Designer, Kensington Sector Plan

After nearly 30 years, the Town of Kensington is inching closer to an updated sector plan. Thumbing through the 1978 Plan, you quickly realize the need for the updated document. While the overall vision of maintaining Kensington’s single-family, historical character has not changed, the updated plan promotes a new vision for the center.

In the 1960s, Kensington was designated as a Central Business District, in anticipation of a Metro route along the existing rail line. When Metro decided instead to build the Red Line along a different route, the 1978 plan eliminated the CBD designation to preserve the low-intensity character. Conversely, the updated plan promotes a mixed-use center with connections … Continue reading

Montgomery’s zoning issues, part 1: Complicated zoning

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Recently, I discussed the effort underway in Montgomery County to rewrite an aging zoning code. Over three decades, the code has grown unwieldy and hard to use. Thirty-three years of additions and amendments has left the code with a mess of outdated provisions, orphaned words, and a baffling table of permitted uses.

Rethink Economy

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Continuing with the local theme of the Rethink Speakers Series, last night economist and author Michael Shuman spoke about opportunities to build Montgomery’s local economy by identifying “leakage.”

Leakage, in economic terms, are those goods and services that you are importing that you could provide for yourself, whether in your own household or community. The longer your money stays in the community, the more local jobs and wealth it can create.

For example, buy a local apple and the farmer takes your dollar and spends it with a local tax preparer, who uses it to buy daycare services for her kids, who may spend it at a local haridresser…  And the apple probably tastes better too.

Though he hasn’t … Continue reading

An Idea Whose Time Has Come

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Apparently, Park and Planning is keeping pace with Google, PepsiCo, and Best Buy. As this New York Times article recounts, corporate vegetable gardens are the thing. Whether they are a way to break down corporate hierarchies, provide an employee benefit, or build green credibility, velvety sod is giving way to staked tomatoes.

Our garden is also linked to another news story. Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity task force released its report yesterday and among its recommendations: access to healthy affordable food. If the sun cooperates, our vegetables will be right outside our front door, just a few steps past the vending machine.

We planted yesterday and will post pictures soon.

Rethink Culture

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Last night, a full and diverse audience enjoyed a panel discussion with Tebabu Assefa, Rassa Davoodpour, Megan Moriarty, and Reemberto Rodriguez about the County’s changing demographics.

And I’m talking to you about it on this blog. While technology can make it easy for us to reach out, Davoodpour wonders if we are really communicating. Moriarity and the other panelists agreed, the best way to use social media is to layer it with personal relationships.

Despite the fact that Montgomery is about to become a non-anglo majority County, we still have “a way” of doing things, sometimes, as Planning Board Chairman Royce Hanson pointed out, the same 200 people moving from room to room to make decisions.

So how do … Continue reading

In My Back Yard…and In Town!

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Last weekend we visited the Glover-Archbald Community Garden, near DC’s National Cathedral (and 2Amys Pizza!), to drop off some straw for a friend’s patch (Image above lifted from Prince of Petworth).  Nearly three acres, the community garden is one of several associated with the District’s Field to Fork Initiative.  Our Montgomery County Parks Department Community Gardens Program is a similar effort.  For folks without the proper room or aspect for gardens in their yards, community garden plots are an excellent opportunity to bring nature into more urbanized areas, connect people back to the soil, and produce some mighty fine fruit and veg in the process.

In addition to the programs mentioned above, urban agriculture is on the minds of … Continue reading

More on Maps

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One phrase in this Slate Magazine article about hand-drawn maps snagged on my brain–“ruthless editing.”

Sometimes planners love their stuff so much it’s hard to let it go. On a map about bike routes, do you need to show lot lines? Does the boundary line need to appear on every map?

We know we’ll hear what you think about our zoning recommendations, but check out our plans and tell us what you think about our maps.

energy and beauty in symmetry and repetition

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I think there is a particular kind of aesthetic beauty in the simple repetition of forms over large expanses of contrasting landscape. Even more so when those repeated forms provide sustainable energy.  The just-approved off-shore wind farm is one such example, solar “farms” are another.

Artists’ rendering of Cape Wind, via NY Times 

The well-heeled opposition to the mentioned wind farm has only posed the aesthetic argument that this visual intrusion into the seascape must by definition be negative.  I disagree.  I think it’s quite attractive, calming, and interesting.  I think the connotations only increase our appreciation of the natural environment that serves as the backdrop (or, more appropriately, the visual context/physical participant).  My interpretation is built on the … Continue reading