Will they make urban communities more livable or extinct?
As you read this blog, a nondescript Toyota Prius is logging mile after mile on highways across California. And while it looks and travels like any other car, this vehicle is without a driver.
The autonomous Prius represents the relentless pursuit by researchers and corporations to realize the dream of self-driving cars. Google has clocked upwards of 1.5 million self-driven car miles. The 2017 Detroit auto show focused on test drives of self-driven vehicles and introduced the VW autonomous minivan of the future. It is only a matter of time before driverless vehicles become ready for mass adoption.
As is the case with most new technologies, various claims are being … Continue reading
New plans for suburban communities focus on health
The suburbs have been blamed for a host of health problems, from depression to obesity. Certainly, the social isolation, dependence on the car and lack of exercise that are often a part of suburban living aren’t good for our mental and physical well-being.
But today’s suburbs – particularly established communities in Montgomery County– are becoming healthier as we plan and build neighborhoods where exercise is part of people’s daily routine. Health is not just a byproduct of how we live. It’s also related to where we live.
A healthy environment makes it easier for residents to adopt a healthy lifestyle, whether it is achieved by providing more public parks and bike … Continue reading
The Montgomery County Planning Department, in cooperation with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG), recently developed a new forecast of population, households and employment from 2010 to 2045. These data-based forecasts are used by government entities and the private sector for various uses, including transportation, water and air quality modeling, and analyzing commercial and residential markets. This latest forecast, known as Round 9.0, is a major reassessment of assumptions made about people, households and jobs in the county.
The draft Round 9.0 forecast anticipates that Montgomery County households, defined as occupied housing units with related or unrelated persons, are expected to increase from about 374,800 in 2015 to 461,900 in 2045, an increase of 87,100 households or 23 … Continue reading
Reimagining suburbs in the 21st century draws on the best of the past
The communities that started the trend of 20th-century suburbanism shared a number of common traits. Many of them were focused on rail or trolley lines. Most had some retail uses in close proximity – corner stores or small retail blocks. They connected to nature through tree-lined curvilinear streets and small neighborhood parks and open spaces. Montgomery County’s earliest suburbs – Chevy Chase, Kensington and Takoma Park — all exhibit these features.
As suburbs grew and the areas between the rail and trolley lines filled in with auto-centric swaths of single-family homes, some of the essential traits of the older, original suburbs were lost.
Now, in the … Continue reading
Winning county projects set high standards for developers to follow
The dynamic image of the Purple Line speeding through the Silver Spring Library site convinced an independent jury to choose that building for the Montgomery County Planning Department’s 2016 Design Excellence Award. “The design makes a statement about the importance of public transportation. It’s a great gift to the community,” said jury chair Yolanda Cole during the awards ceremony on October 20.
This year’s Celebrate Design event, co-sponsored with the Potomac Valley AIA, was held at the Silver Spring Civic Building, just down the street from the new library with its ground-level space reserved for the future light rail station. The first part of the evening program showcased … Continue reading
Zoning codes literally shape our communities, governing the spacing of driveways, the number of spaces in parking lots, the heights of buildings, the placements of sidewalks, and the size of blocks along with the activities (or “uses”) allowed in each neighborhood. These codes determine whether we will live in a compact, walkable community or in a place where an automobile is needed to get anywhere.
Some codes have been found that date back thousands of years. Many European cities have been continuously coded since the 11th or 12th century, contributing to the character that makes these cities appealing today. These rules were created to govern the relationship between what gets built on private property and the … Continue reading
Design Excellence is about urbanism! This does not mean turning Montgomery County into an expansion of Downtown Bethesda. It is more about raising the quality of life through the creation of better, more interconnected places to live.
Montgomery County has several great historic examples of urbanism, including Norfolk Avenue in Bethesda or East Diamond Avenue in Gaithersburg at the urban scale; Brookville Road and Taylor Street in Chevy Chase and Ridgewood Avenue in Bethesda at the suburban scale; and Grove Avenue in Washington Grove at the rural scale.
Peter Calthorpe, one of the founders of the Congress for New Urbanism and author of the book Urbanism in the Age of Climate Change describes urbanism as:
“I … Continue reading
Accomplished modernist architect Eason Cross died on January 28, 2016. A Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, Cross was a principal of Cross & Adreon, a firm known for modernist residential developments designed to harmonize with nature. Their projects received prestigious design awards when they were first built 50 years ago, and these communities have continued to receive recognition for being outstanding places in which to live. The work of Cross & Adreon was recently featured in David Frey’s “30 Great Neighborhoods” in the current issue of Bethesda Magazine (Mar/Apr 2016) (pdf).
Cross worked seven years in the offices of prominent local architect Charles Goodman, first as draftsman and later as associate architect. In this capacity, he designed houses … Continue reading
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
Roads, parking garages, even trails rarely have the urban glamour of Italian hill towns, grand plazas, or museums and symphony halls. For many planners and architects, they are the unfortunate necessities that make a place work and are often treated accordingly.
But as this article in Better Cities and Towns shows, infrastructure can add drama to the urban profile and fun to daily life. What particulalry got me interested in the topic was looking at how we talk about parking garages. The only solution appears to be hiding them, screening them, making them look like something else. While some of these examples in Miami are truly extraordinary, more of them are replicable and through their design, location, and tenanting, … Continue reading