Speakers’ Series: June 2, Rollin Stanley on Public Private Spaces

Speakers’ Series: June 2, Rollin Stanley on Public Private Spaces

Everybody wants more open space in urban design. But how to provide enough open public space in a renovation where land is really expensive?

Governments just don’t have enough money to provide the level of green and open spaces most people have come to expect, particularly in an area moving from a suburban to an urban level of development, like White Flint. In White Flint, for example, one proposal (now designated as a “backup”) for a small school site would have cost $60 million for land acquisition alone; instead the Montgomery County Council decided on a lower-cost proposed site on a parking lot on the edge of the Sector as its principal choice for the school.

The solution often proposed is to require or accept open spaces which are paid for and controlled by private interests. The fountain at the Barnes & Noble store in Bethesda may be the most well-known local example, but White Flint proposals also include those spaces. The renovation of White Flint Mall, for example, may include a “festival” area that would be part of the Mall’s regular access roads off of Rockville Pike, something like what is done in the front parking lot now for the annual Pike’s Peak road race.

But some people are concerned that these “private public spaces” will be inadequate or inappropriate. For example, LCOR’s North Bethesda Center’s special “tree save” area, designed to protect stands of existing trees, was criticized for not providing unfettered public access, even though LCOR was relying on good forest husbandry practices in its design. “It just blew my mind,” LCOR’s Mike Smith told me. “We were blamed for trying to save trees.”

It turns out that size isn’t the critical factor. It’s design, FoWF Board member David Freishtat (representing the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce) reminded me. The Bethesda fountain is tiny, but it’s become a community focal point. “Meet me at the fountain.”  

Friends of White Flint has been researching this question for more than a year, and Freishtat led an investigation to New York City last year to examine private public spaces there. That research led to a collaboration with the MNCPPC (Park and Planning) staff on their own research and visions for such spaces.

The public presentation of that research, however, has been delayed repeatedly by the on-going development of the White Flint Sector Plan.  Everyone was just too busy to do the work the justice it deserved. Now the discussion of “private public spaces” in White Flint will begin.

The next White Flint Speakers’ Series event will be held on Wednesday, June 2, and will feature Park and Planning Director Rollin Stanley discussing “The Best Public Spaces, Are Public Places.” This session, presented by the White Flint Partnership, and co-sponsored by FoWF and the B-CC Chamber, will be held, as have all the Speakers’ Series sessions, at Dave & Busters in White Flint Mall.

Unlike prior sessions, and in an effort to increase the accessibility of these discussions to residents (who may have to work during the day), this event will be held in the early evening, from 5:00 to 7:00PM. The event is free, and light refreshments will be served.

Because space is limited (and prior sessions have been full), you MUST RSVP to Gail Calhoun, 301-692-2377, gcalhoun@lerner.com.

This should be a good session. I’ve seen Rollin make similar presentations and he is lively and informative. Hope to see you there!

Barnaby Zall

Barnaby Zall


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