The Politics of Redevelopment Planning in Tysons and Outcomes 10 Years Later

From the Mercatus Center at George Mason University

Policymakers in Fairfax County, Virginia, passed an ambitious redevelopment plan for the Tysons area in 2010, in anticipation of a new Metrorail line, hoping to transform a suburban, car-oriented area into a walkable, transit-oriented downtown. Notably, the plan reformed zoning rules to allow for much more development, especially the construction of high-rise multifamily housing, in this wealthy suburban community on the outskirts of Washing­ton, DC.

In “The Politics of Redevelopment Planning in Tysons and Outcomes 10 Years Later,” Emily Hamilton finds that the Tysons area has been more successful in its progress toward the goal of housing construction than the goal of walkability.

Good Progress Toward the Residential Construction Objectives in Tysons

The shortage of housing in the places where people want to live is a challenge across the country. The shortage is greatest in high-income suburban jurisdictions such as Fairfax County. Many current reform efforts to allow more housing construction focus on single-family zoning. In 2019, for example, Oregon rolled back existing single-family zoning for much of the state, and in 2020 legislators in five other US states introduced similar bills.

Fairfax County policymakers took a different approach to the problem. The Tysons redevelopment plan permits construction of multifamily buildings on land that had been previously zoned for commercial use, leaving single-family neighborhoods untouched. The 2010 redevelopment plan for Tysons is currently on track to meet its target of adding 80,000 more residents by the middle of this century. Thousands of new arrivals have already been able to move into this part of a wealthy suburban county.

Less Progress Toward Walkability Goals

The redevelopment plan sought to turn Tysons into a walkable downtown with a mix of office, residential, and retail spaces near the Metro stations. The Tysons plan framed the permitting of more multifamily housing as a means to achieve greater walkability, attract a residential population that would support local businesses, and cre­ate livelier sidewalks and public spaces. So far, however, car-oriented infrastructure remains an important obstacle to walkability.

Rather than going underground, the new Metro line was built above ground in the center of major, pedestrian-hostile arterials. The stations are elevated, too, and have to be reached by long pedestrian bridges. The station place­ment has resulted in the development of little more than “islands” of walkability in Tysons.

Key Takeaway

The redevelopment plan for Tysons was framed as a bold effort to transform a suburban, highway-oriented place dominated by office parks and shopping malls into walkable neighborhoods. Little progress has been made in this regard to date. However, the plan has been more successful in its efforts to promote new housing. Tysons thus serves as one example of overcoming regulatory barriers to new housing that have been politically difficult to over­come in other high-demand locations that are demographically similar to Fairfax County.

Pike District Provides Pop-Up Picnic Parks

Grab a seat, bring your lawn chair or lay down your picnic blanket, the Pike District launched a pop-up picnic park initiative aimed at giving local restaurants additional outdoor seating options for their customers.

As Montgomery County moves through its COVID-19 reopening phasing, the Pike District continues to support local restaurants and food vendors whose seating capacity has been limited by local regulations. Through the help of the Montgomery County Parks and Recreation, WMATA and the North Bethesda Marriott and Conference Center, the Pike District is now offering four temporary picnic parks in the area.

The four park locations are:

  • Market Street Park: At the corner of Market Street and Executive Boulevard (next to the Conference Center parking garage)
  • The Hill: at the corner of Rockville Pike and Old Georgetown Road
  • Wall Park: at the corner of Executive Boulevard and Nicholson Lane
  • The Patio: at the corner of Rockville Pike and Marinelli Road near the west side entrance to the White Flint Metro Station

Blanketed under a canopy of lights and flanked with colorful banners, the largest of the picnic parks is Market Street offering fourteen picnic tables and additional marked seating areas for a bring-your-own seated picnic. Areas are all positioned to be eight feet in diameter and six feet apart. A hand sanitizing station and cleaning supplies are available on site to provide additional safety measures. The three other parks also offer responsibly distanced picnic tables and additional space.

The pop-up picnic areas are expected to remain available through the fall. The number of persons in any one group may not exceed the Montgomery County COVID-19 regulations.

Picnickers are encouraged to order at local Pike District restaurants and bring their meals to the pop-up park to enjoy. Share your photos of your pop-up picnic in the Pike District using hashtag: #pikedistrictpicnic for a chance to win a $50 gift card to a local Pike District restaurant.

About Pike District
Pike District is North Bethesda’s urban core, bustling with dynamic shopping, dining and living experiences with access to world-class entertainment, arts, culture and recreation. For more information, please visit

You Can Request a ‘Slow Street’ In Your Neighborhood During the Pandemic

What streets should become slow shared streets in your neighborhood?

From WAMU 88.5 Radio

During the early stages of reopening, Maryland’s largest county quickly turned downtown streets into open-air dining. Officials closed roads near trails to create temporary greenways, making more space for overcrowded trail users.  

Now, residents can request that their neighborhood streets get the “shared streets” treatment of barricades and signs at the end of a block indicating local traffic only. The idea is to open them up for safer walking, biking and play.

As people have been stuck at home, traffic has dipped way down. Some people are reluctant to get into shared, enclosed spaces like buses and ride-hailing vehicles. So cities across the world are developing new strategies: adding hundreds of miles of new bike lanes, creating “streateries” and repurposing streets for recreation.

Streets along trails in Aspen Hill and Silver Spring have been closed to thru traffic to allow more space for trail users. Greenways may also soon come to areas like Wheaton, Glenmont, Silver Spring, Takoma Park and Forest Glen.

These smaller closures on neighborhood streets are a one-time request that can be made by any resident.

MCDOT will come set up signs block off half of the road with a “road closed to thru traffic” sign at the ends of the area to help cut down on traffic and alert drivers that the block is being used for walking and cycling. Drivers can still use the streets but they must slow down and share the street with people. The one-time request can be for a Monday through Thursday closure or a Friday through Sunday closure.

Reinventing ‘the burbs’ with an urban twist

The Washington Post could have been writing about the Pike District instead of Atlanta suburbs in this recent article. (In fact, the question does occur to me: why didn’t they mention the White Flint/Pike District area’s burgeoning transformation to a walkable, urban lite community?)

“Looking at the history of human settlement, it was one of mixed-use and walkable environments,” said Hull. “Why did people live that way? Because travel was arduous either by foot, riding in a buggy or on horseback. . . . The automobile enabled the suburbs. Now things have devolved and travel has once again become arduous. We’ve come full circle in a way.”

Thank you Councilmembers Friedson and Glass for touring the Pike District

On a blustery Saturday, resident, business, and property owner board members from Friends of White Flint took Councilmember Andrew Friedson and Councilmember Evan Glass on a tour of the Pike District/White Flint. It was wonderful talking about ways to make our community safer for pedestrians and cyclists, more activated, and more vibrant. We discussed the importance of all sides … government, business, residents, and property owners … doing their part to create a more wonderful Pike District.

L to 5: Board members Michael Krauthamer, Sarah Crisafulli, Sheila Barton, Federal Realty Development Director Jay Brinson, Councilmember Andrew Friedson, FOWF Executive Director Amy Ginsburg, Councilmember Evan Glass, and Board member Bill Carey
From Councilmember Friedson’s Facebook Page

We’re excited to work with the County Council, County Executive’s Office, MCDOT, and SHA to move forward projects that make the Pike District the best it can be.

Learn about Energized Public Spaces Design Guidelines

The purpose of Montgomery Parks’ Energized Public Spaces (EPS) Design Guidelines is to create energized, inviting, easily accessible, attractive, comfortable, and safe public spaces.

The EPS Design Guidelines will provide overall direction for major features of parks and public spaces design including the recommended size, type of experiences and amenities that each park type should provide. You can read a draft of the EPS Design Guidelines here.

When complete, the EPS Design Guidelines will be a companion document to the Energized Public Spaces (EPS) Functional Master Plan.

The Vision & Goals

These guidelines will aim to create places within a short walk where people of all ages and incomes can meet, play, relax, exercise, enjoy nature and more in a range of public spaces where we have the most people.

The guidelines will develop flexible guidelines for public spaces, create a common language for planners, developers, and citizens, and examples that illustrate the guidelines intent.

Public Input

Ideas and comments from the public are welcome throughout the planning process. The public is welcome to submit comments our Open Town Hall Webpage  or Contact the Project Coordinator for additional information. There will be a public hearing on February 28th.

Public transportation fights obesity — one more benefit!

From Science Daily

Public transportation systems provide numerous economic benefits for a community. An added public health bonus provided by such systems may be lower obesity rates.

A new study by researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Georgia Tech compared and analyzed county data from 2001 and 2009. They found that a single percentage-point increase in mass transit ridership is associated with a 0.473 percentage-point lower obesity rate in counties across the United States.

“Opting for mass transit over driving creates opportunities for exercise that may otherwise not exist,” said?Sheldon H. Jacobson, a co-author of the study and a Founder Professor of Computer Science at Illinois. “Instead of just stepping out of the house and into his car, riders need to walk from their home to a bus stop and from their stop to their destination.”

The results of the study, published in the journal Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, details a computational analysis of publicly available health, transportation, and census data across 227 counties from 45 states in 2001 and 2009. Differences in economic and lifestyle factors including leisure-time exercise, household income, health care coverage, and public transit funding were included in the analysis.

The new analysis is consistent with previous work by the researchers — which found that each percentage-point increase in a county’s public transit ridership was associated with a 0.221 percentage-point lower obesity rate.

“The new work takes a longitudinal approach, meaning that we examined differences between 2001 and 2009, allowing us to better control for factors that could otherwise influence the analysis,” said co-author Douglas M. King, a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Industrial and Enterprise Systems Engineering at Illinois. “For example, factors like weather or physical geography that can influence the obesity rate of a county in both 2001 and 2009 are controlled since their impact is present in both time periods.”

While the calculated estimates from the two studies differ in magnitude, they do not differ in a statistically significant way, the researchers note. However, both studies suggest that increasing public transit usage is associated with a reduction in a county’s obesity rate.

“Because this analysis is at the county level,, the implications for an average person are not clear,” Jacobson said. “The results indicate that when more people opt to use public transit, the county-level obesity rate tends to drop, though it does not necessarily imply that any one particular person is less likely to be obese if they ride transit frequently.”

This study focuses on data collected in 2001 and 2009, when rail and bus were the primary modes of public transportation in the U.S.

“It will be interesting to see how Uber and Lyft, as well as bike-share programs will influence this type of analysis in the future,” Jacobson said. “Our research suggests that investing in public transit can provide more efficient transportation options that not only help the environment but may also offer public health benefits.”

Why developers are offering ‘experiences’ to attract suburbanites

Katherine Shaver of The Washington Post just wrote about the Pike District, suburban urbanism, and mixed-use developments in a must-read article. The first part is below.  Visit The Washington Post to read the entire article.

The new Strathmore Square being planned for Montgomery County will have all the markings of an urban-suburban development: upscale apartments in mid- and high-rise buildings and perhaps office space or a hotel — all at a Metro Red Line station.

More striking is what it won’t have: The usual slew of well-known chain stores and restaurants. No Gap or Anthropologie. Not even a Starbucks.

Instead, the ground floor of the new buildings in North Bethesda will have performance space and classrooms for lectures or music and dance classes. At the center will be a 1.2-acre “civic green” with an amphitheater.

Any stores or restaurants will be small and locally owned. The emphasis, the developers say, will be on helping residents and visitors connect over the arts and nature, not shopping and eating.

“Our goal,” said Ron Kaplan, of Fivesquares Development, “is to capi­tal­ize on amenities to create experiences.”

It’s the latest buzzword among developers seeking to transform automobile-centric inner suburbs into walkable urban hubs. Increasingly, offerings of “experience” are replacing “vibrancy” as a way to appeal to suburbanites.

(L-R) Leona Parker, Jonathan (18 months) Parker, and his dad Jonathan Parker, who live in the Pike and Rose neighborhood, enjoy a brief “snowfall” during the “Let it Snow” event where snow was being made at the Pike and Rose neighborhood in Rockville, Md., Dec. 22, 2018. Developers say providing such “experiences” for residents make communities more attractive. (Photo by Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post)

The shift has occurred as the bricks-and-mortar stores intended to help provide that vibrancy and “sense of place” in compact, mixed-use developments — places where residents can easily walk between work, shopping and entertainment — continue to suffer from online shopping.

Developers say they’re also tapping into a market hungry for social connection, especially among suburbanites isolated in cars. They cite studies showing that people in general feel lonelier, particularly as social media and working from home have increasingly replaced personal interactions.

Read the rest of the article here:

Interesting, Educational Articles to Start the New Year

Transforming the White Flint area into a walkable, vibrant, smart growth area isn’t a mere whim. It’s based on solid research and thought-out policy. The following top ten blogs on Montgomery Planning’s The Third Place are interesting, educational articles that discuss the backbone principles of the burgeoning transformation of the Pike District.

Converting Office to Residential is Complicated: This blog examines the roles of economics, location, architectural design and zoning regulations in determining new uses for vacant office buildings.

Montgomery County’s Economy: The Good, the Bad and the Future: Written by Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson, this entry in a series of posts outlines the assets, including high paying jobs and a well educated workforce, that can continue to support the quality of life in the county.

New Suburbanism: Not Just for Millennials: Anderson reveals the broad appeal of compact, walkable neighborhoods near transit among various age groups. He urges investment in public transportation so more transit-oriented development is available to residents across the income spectrum.

Parking Lots: Before and After: Shopping centers and asphalt wastelands are being transformed into attractive, mixed-use developments, such as Pike & Rose off Rockville Pike. This blog points to the plans that set the stage for turning more parking lots into places where people want to be.

Real Estate Development Is Infrastructure: Using housing and job statistics, this post makes a case for private development as a necessity. Just as schools, roads and rail lines are needed for our communities to support economic activity, so, too, are housing, stores and offices required to serve basic human needs.

Wages, Inequality and the Aging of the Workforce: Challenges to the county’s future economic competitiveness, including flat median incomes and an aging population, are described in this blog.

Focusing Vision Zero in the Suburbs: Through recent planning efforts, Montgomery County is developing strategies to eliminate traffic fatalities and severe injuries by 2030. Vision Zero recommendations include reducing lane widths and speed limits and adding more crossing areas to improve safety for all road users.

Population, Job Growth and Housing Supply: Statistics show Montgomery County’s population will increase only less than 1 percent a year, but this blog reveals that the rate of new housing construction is still insufficient to keep up with even the slow growth of residents and jobs.

Placemaking in Action: This blog explains how Montgomery Planning put theories about public gathering places into practice by partnering with the Dallas-based Better Block Foundation to transform a shopping center parking lot into a pop-up park with the help of residents.

New Suburbanism: Walkability and Transit: Three key ingredients – pedestrian and bicycling access, mixed uses and compact neighborhood form – are essential to creating better suburban communities, this blog argues, even in areas without access to high-quality transit.

“The Third Place blog provides a great forum for community members to learn more about important planning topics and issues that affect Montgomery County,” says Planning Director Gwen Wright. “As planners, we work on these issues daily and the blog is a forum for sharing what we’ve learned and what we see in the future, beyond individual plans and development projects.”