Archives April 2013

Ten ways to transform cities

In their draft handbook Placemaking and the Future of Cities, Project for Public Spaces and the UN’s UN-HABITAT revealed 10 ways to improve cities through public spaces and placemaking. While the handbook has an international orientation, many of the suggestions apply to what’s happening, or what’s going to happen, in White Flint. The 10 ways to improve your city (with short explanations from Mackenzie Keast at Urban Times) are:

1. Improve Streets as Public Spaces

Streets are the most common public spaces, but they are often hostile to pedestrians and cyclists, and end up congested with vehicular traffic. This simple principle is about planning streets for people and places, with the deliberate decision to design streets around all users with a range of street types to help strike the right balance. Creating good public space where it is most prevalent and most accessible adds to the social cohesion of the city – the street.

2. Create Squares and Parks as Multi-Use Destinations

Parks and squares are important places in cities when planned right – building economies, civic pride, social connection and happiness. The great public parks and squares of the world, just like other great places in cities, are multi-use destinations. By collectively deciding on what will make the park or square desirable to come to, they will attract a range of people for a multitude of reasons, coming together for a shared public experience.

3. Build Local Economies Through Markets

Cities originated because of the market – the crossroads for the exchange of goods and knowledge. This principle embraces that history and recognizes that that essential function has not changed. Like parks and squares, they bring together all types of people to share in the space including low income groups who are given an entrepreneurial opportunity with little capital investment. While they declined in the North American context with the rise of the supermarket, urban markets are reemerging across the developed world as viable alternatives that help preserve surrounding farmland, stimulate the local economy, and invigorate surrounding neighbourhoods.

4. Design Buildings to Support Places

Rapid urbanization around the world is leading to unprecedented building construction. Buildings play an important role in the shaping of the public realm through their visibility and the way they interact at street level. They should be built to be permeable and respond to the block and building fabric around them, built at a human scale, function as multi-use destinations, and enhance the liveliness of the neighbourhoods they are in. These tenants hold true especially for public buildings, as they are the anchors of civic life for the entire community.

5. Link a Public Health Agenda to a Public Space Agenda

Public spaces need to be recognized for their contributions to public health: markets can provide fresh and affordable food, good streets with efficient transit can encourage walking or cycling, and good public parks and squares can relieve stress and reduce the amount of crime through the amount of people out on the street. Equally, public health institutions can serve the public spaces by acting as community centres and providing health and education services.

6. Reinvent Community Planning

This principle is about tapping into the collective wisdom of those that know the community best – its citizens. By engaging those with a historical perspective, insights into how the area functions, and an understanding of what is meaningful for locals, it will help to create a sense of ownership and better ensure the success of public space projects. Institutions and key community stakeholders should be brought in as partners to work with locals, and together guide professionals to act as facilitators and resources to help implement their vision. Public space must also be given the ability to evolve and change over time along with the community to ensure it continues to function as a great destination.

7. Power of 10

The Power of 10 aims to develop a critical mass of public space elements that comprise a larger whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.  10 is not a strict number, but is intended to serve as a foundation. The idea is that if you can provide 10 things to do that attract people to one spot, you’ve started to create a great place. Building on that, aim for a neighbourhood to provide 10 of these great places. Further, a city with 10 of these neighbourhoods has now given residents access to quality public spaces within walking distance of their homes. It’s the sort of comprehensive goal that municipal decision makers can strive for while giving citizens something tangible to create at the local level.

8. Create a Comprehensive Public Space Agenda

Comprehensive strategies are required for the development, enhancement, and management public space. An assessment is needed to create a city-side inventory of the performance of existing public spaces across the city. Using this inventory, public space goals can be created for the community that strengthen existing successes and improve areas that are underperforming. This agenda should be linked to new development projects to preserve and enhance public environments and use the economic activity of development to help fund other civic public space improvements.

9. Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper: Start Small, Experiment

Great spaces are the products of an evolution which have increased in complexity over time, beginning with small, inexpensive improvements. Capitalize on the creativity of citizens who can continuously try new things. Municipal leaders can get the ball rolling by creating demonstration projects of light, quick, and cheap improvements that the public can add to and expand upon to suit their needs. Where there are successes, build upon them. Light, quick, and cheap improvements are low risk and low cost, but with time, money and effort, successes will lead to more successes, and great public spaces will emerge.

10. Restructure Government to Support Public Spaces

The principles listed above are about catalyzing local leaders, funding, and strengthening local resources for the goal of creating great public spaces. However, government is not usually set up to support this. The achievement of this goal requires the development of consensus building, city consultation processes, and institutional reform in order to enhance inclusion and build citizen engagement. Government needs to develop and implement bottom-up policies for this purpose, strengthening inclusion in the process. Removing bureaucratic obstacles helps to make participation monetarily feasible for all and quickly implementable.  Empowering citizens through institutional restructuring helps drive all the other principles necessary to create a positive public realm with health, attractive and well-used public spaces that are a true reflection of the needs and values of the community they are in.

Read more about the 10 ways to improve cities at ArchDaily and Urban Times.

Be the First to See Saul Centers’ Plan for their White Flint Properties

Saul Centers Inc. owns some pretty prominent land in White Flint and, on Tuesday evening April 30th, we’ll get our first peek at their plans for it.   Saul owns three properties along Rockville Pike, between Nicholson Lane and Marinelli Road.

The first is Metro-Pike Center on the west side of the Pike.


Across the Pike, Saul holds the land that now houses Staples and Casual Male XL …


As well as the corner parcel at Nicholson Lane and the Pike, all the way back to and including the former Fortune Star Buffet restaurant.


The public is invited to a plan Pre-Submission Community Meeting on Tuesday evening at 7:30pm at the Bethesda North Conference Center, 5701 Marinelli Road.  They will be meeting in the White Oak Conference Room.  Don’t worry if you can’t make it — stay tuned to for all the latest!

Search online for residential development coming to White Flint

Interested in learning more about apartments and condos coming to our neighborhoods? Now you can search for a variety of residential projects coming to the entire DC area using the UrbanTurf Pipeline. You can utilize a variety of search options including location, number of units, stage of development and housing type. Just be careful if you use the “City” search – projects within the White Flint Sector Plan, such as the Aurora and Mid-Pike Plaza, come up under Rockville, not North Bethesda (further emphasizing the fact that we need to find a name for ourselves!).

Washington Gas Plans Communications Tower on Nebel Street Property

As Bethesda Now reported last week, Washington Gas is planning a 145-foot communications tower in the center of their property on Nebel Street, at the edge of the White Flint sector.  The primary purpose of the tower is to improve Washington Gas’ communications, particularly in times of emergency.  They are also open to leasing space on the tower to at least two cell providers.

When this project was announced at this month’s White Flint Implementation Committee Meeting, a ripple of concern moved through the attendees so I spoke with Antonio Ancona, the engineering consultant designing the plan, to gather more information.  As noted at the meeting, Washington Gas’ land is zoned as Industrial, so they can build this kind of tower as a matter of right after an abbreviated approvals process.  The tower will be a free-standing monopole and is not expected to have any illumination, either from the ground or at the top.  The final say on lighting, however, comes from the FAA.  Mr. Ancona is not familiar with the redevelopment of the White Flint Sector, and has not visited the site itself, but feels strongly that, unless the tower is in your backyard, you won’t notice it.  And, once you’re 1,000 feet away, it becomes part of the background.

I asked Mr. Ancona whether radiation from the pole is a concern and he confidently said, “no.”  The poles emit very little radiation, not much more than we experience in daily life, and the majority of it comes from a directional dish at the top of the pole.  Though Mr. Ancona was not aware of the mixed-use plans for the surrounding properties, and accompanying high-rise buildings, he assured me that the negligible radiation emitted from the tower will not penetrate building walls and reminded me that these towers are part of our lives now.  Cell service is crucial to everyday life and having reliable service requires saturation of these towers.

 The approvals process may take anywhere from a few months to a year.  At this time, the FCC and FAA are looking at the plan.  The FCC is looking at the surrounding network for conflicts; the FAA is looking at how a tower of this height might impact flight paths (none expected).  The plan will then come to the County for approval.  We will keep you posted as we learn more.


Check Out What’s Coming to White Flint!

Are you curious what’s coming to our redeveloped White Flint?  Hoping for a one-stop opportunity to see some of the latest plans?  Then join Friends of White Flint on Tuesday morning, April 30th, from 9:30-10:30am for a Showcase of Upcoming Projects.  

We’re taking over the Whole Foods cafe and giving you an opportunity to take a look at a handful of projects planned in and around the new White Flint and meet the folks behind the ideas.  This casual event will have no structured program, just come and take a look at your leisure!

Many thanks to our great friends at:



How does White Flint’s Civic Green compare to other public spaces?

Studies of White Flint Civic Green from MoCo planners.

Design studies of White Flint Civic Green by Montgomery County planners. Click to enlarge.

A few weeks ago, we looked at the White Flint Civic Green, a two-acre public square proposed near the intersection of Old Georgetown Road and Executive Boulevard, and how to make it a great space. The Civic Green is one of several new or renovated public spaces proposed for White Flint, including Wall Park, which I wrote about last week.

However, it might be hard to envision what the Civic Green might look like or how it big it would be. To that end, I created this diagram showing how big the Civic Green would be in comparison to other public spaces in Greater Washington and around the country. Since the shape, design and location haven’t been finalized, I drew the green as a perfect square, then laid it on top of aerial photos of other public spaces from Google Earth. All images are the same scale to allow one-to-one comparisons.

The future White Flint Civic Green compared to other public spaces around the country. All images are the same scale.

The future White Flint Civic Green compared to other public spaces around the country. All images are the same scale.

As you can see, the Civic Green is over twice as big as other public spaces in Montgomery County, including Rockville Town Square and Veterans Plaza in downtown Silver Spring. It’s a little smaller than Market Square in Old Town Alexandria, but only half as big as Dupont Circle in the District.

The space most comparable in size and likely programming to the Civic Green is Copley Square in Boston. Located in the bustling Back Bay neighborhood, Copley Square is one of the city’s most beloved gathering spaces, with a big lawn for picnics and recreation and a fountain that sometimes doubles as a skate park.

Like the Civic Green, which may have a community center built next to it, Copley Square is anchored by two major public institutions and architectural landmarks, the Boston Public Library and Trinity Church. It’s also lined on one side by Boylston Street, a major destination for food and shopping. This role could be filled by Pike + Rose or other developments occurring around the Civic Green, but since it’s the main square of White Flint, street-level retail or other activities be a basic requirement for any building facing it.

Are there any other good examples for the Civic Green? What is a space that you think it should emulate?

New urbanism should be part of a new ‘grand strategy’ for US

Patrick Doherty, director of the Smart Strategy Initiative at the New America Foundation explains in a Foreign Policy Magazine article that our country’s economic engine is “misaligned to the threats and opportunities of the 21st century,” arguing that many of our current policies outlived their usefulness after the Cold War. Transforming our housing and transportation policies are one piece of Doherty’s “grand strategy” for our country. The author goes on to explain:

“American tastes have changed from the splendid isolation of the suburbs to what advocates are calling the “five-minute lifestyle” — work, school, transit, doctors, dining, playgrounds, entertainment all within a five-minute walk of the front door. From 2014 to 2029, baby boomers and their children, the millennial generation, will converge in the housing marketplace — seeking smaller homes in walkable, service-rich, transit-oriented communities. Already, 56 percent of Americans seek this lifestyle in their next housing purchase. That’s roughly three times the demand for such housing after World War II.”

“The motivations are common across the country. Boomers are downsizing and working longer, and they fear losing their keys in the car-dependent suburbs. Millennials were raised in the isolated suburbs of the 1980s and 1990s, and 77 percent never want to go back. Prices have already flipped, with exurban property values dropping while those in walkable neighborhoods are spiking. Yet legacy federal policies — from transportation funding to housing subsidies — remain geared toward the Cold War imperative of population dispersion and exploitation of the housing shortage, and they are stifling that demand.”

Read Doherty’s entire article in Foreign Policy Magazine here, and learn more about his grand strategy here. You can also check out Better! Cities & Towns’ piece on Doherty’s article here.

MetroMinuto: A guide to where you can walk in minutes

Pontevedra, a city in northwest Spain, had a problem. As the capital of its province, county and municipality, Pontevedra was attracting a ton of automobile traffic. The solution? Eduardo Ares explains on the Polis blog that instead of constructing wider roads, “They widened sidewalks, established a free bike-lending service, installed speed bumps and set a speed limit of 30 kilometers per hour throughout the city,” adding that in some sections of the city any form of motor transport is prohibited. To further encourage walking, Pontevedra’s City Council created a map that visualizes the distance between key places in the city, complete with approximate travel times. Free parking areas are noted on the map, encouraging visitors to leave their cars away from the city center.


Source: Pontevedra City Council

Metrominuto and Pontevedra’s urban restructuring program have received a variety of accolades in Spain and Europe. Ares put it best: “Metrominuto reminds residents and visitors that many automobile trips can be made in a more convenient, environmentally friendly and healthy way by walking.”

Read more about Metrominuto here and here.

Mt. White Flint Rises

You might not know it now, but traffic-choked, overhead-wire-tangled Rockville Pike actually sits atop an ancient trail that follows the ridge of a local chain of hills. Who knows what tales the buried stones could tell, echoing the movement from white-tailed deer paths, to indigenous peoples’ footprints, to settlers’ wagon tracks, to the arrival of the first smoky, noisy automobile?

It’s one of the highest points around, which is why WSSC has placed a giant “standpipe” (water tank) at Executive Blvd. and Woodglen to keep pressure in the area’s water system (and why we’ll never see WSSC take that down, even though the Planning Board would like it as a park). It’s also why all the new developments have to take into account the changing elevation as the ground falls away from the Pike.

And now, soaring above the ridgeline, is a new peak at the corner of the Pike and Montrose Parkway. I don’t know that it’s been christened, but I call it “Mt. White Flint.”


As Kilimanjaro rises above the African plain, so too does the new mountain dominate the landscape. (Or, if you’d like, since it’s manmade, perhaps as Space Mountain rises above Disney World?)

So, why, you might ask, is there a huge mound of dirt cheek-by-jowl with the Pike, at the northern entrance to the new, revitalized White Flint?

Actually, says Tommy Mann of Federal Realty Investment Trust, which is building the new Pike and Rose development on that property, it’s a feature, not a bug.

They dug up all that dirt on their site, and rather than paying to have lots of dump trucks haul it off, then paying more trucks to bring it back for landscaping or fill, they’ll just keep it there for a while and use it. He didn’t use the term “locovore,” but it’s the same idea: save the fuel, keep the air clean, etc. by keeping things local. Sustainability, which they try to keep in mind.

So, not to make a Mt. White Flint out of a molehill (sorry), but how about using that big pile for recreation in the meantime? Perhaps supplement the climbing walls with something more earthy? Probably not a wise move, for insurance reasons. But maybe they could use some of the new, artiste-adorned fencing to screen it a little? Or color it, like Chicago does the Chicago River on St. Paddy’s Day? Hold a contest to decorate it? Plant something on it? Just sayin.’

Barnaby Zall


Who is Friends of White Flint? It Could Be YOU!

As you may know from visiting this blog, Friends of White Flint is a non-profit organization committed to ensuring that the redevelopment of White Flint reaches its exciting potential.  We formed in 2007 when the sector’s planning was just beginning and we did so with the vision of creating a cohesive, walkable, forward-thinking and engaging community. To be effective, we have invited all of the stakeholders to the table:  landowners, developers, businesses, community organizations and residents.  We all approach our work on equal footing to continue the constructive conversation on how to make White Flint great.

The Friends of White Flint represents a broad diversity of backgrounds and interests and we invite anyone who cares to engage in our positive, but sensitive, consensus-building approach to join us and have a voice!  Presently, our members include the largest landowners and neighborhood groups and several businesses in and around White Flint as well as many individual residents.  We value all of our members equally.

Membership is open to anyone interested in building the new White Flint and it’s free for residents and community organizations and on a sliding fee-scale for other organizations.  If you want to have a voice in what we do and influence FoWF’s positions on important developments, join us!  Learn more about FoWF by clicking on our About tab and join by completing the form on our Membership page.

If you’d like to speak with us in person, we’ll be at the Pike Central Farmers Market tomorrow, April 20th.  Come find us and we’ll tell you more!