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: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/why-developers-are-offering-experiences-to-attract-suburbanites/2019/01/03/02f7f490-031f-11e9-b6a9-0aa5c2fcc9e4_story.html?utm_term=.9363eac1b482&wpisrc=nl_buzz&wpmm=1

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.”



Enjoy these pics from a fun, successful White Flint Placemaking Event

This past weekend’s White Flint Placemaking Event, led by Montgomery Planning, Randolph Civic Association, and Better Block, was a grand slam home run. We loved seeing so many people of all ages — from little ones in strollers to senior citizens — celebrating community with live music, food, art, games, playing, and giant swings.  Enjoy these pics from this successful, heartwarming event.

More on Housing as Infrastructure

Casey Anderson, the Chairman of the Planning Board, is writing a enlightening series of posts on the economics and trends that affect Montgomery County on The Third Place. Two recent ones are important enough that I want to repost them on the Friends of White Flint blog. We posted the first one titled,  Real Estate Development *Is* Infrastructure, yesterday.

Today, we discuss More on Housing as Infrastructure. Highlights of this interesting post are below, but it’s worth your time to read the entire article.

If we don’t have enough housing, workers will continue bidding up the cost of existing residences until only the very affluent will be able to afford decent housing in convenient locations. Lower-income residents will either be priced out entirely or face crowded, substandard housing conditions in remote locations with long and difficult commutes.

The problem is that restrictive land use policies tend to hurt the poor and middle class while discouraging businesses from locating and expanding here, because their workers are squeezed by the high cost of housing. This might drive some people away and discourage others from coming in the first place, but it would do so only by raising the cost of living and degrading the quality of life of all but the wealthiest residents – not to mention weakening our tax base by reducing our economic competitiveness.

Along with roads, transit, schools and parks, the provision of housing sufficient to support a high quality of life at affordable prices is a fundamental building block of an equitable and sustainable economy. It might seem counterintuitive, but in addition to exacerbating inequality by keeping out the poor or forcing them into substandard housing far from employment opportunities, high housing costs are also bad for the economy because they drive out younger workers who are priced out of the market and then move to lower-cost areas, leaving behind older residents and a shrinking tax base.

The DC region now has the highest cost of living in the entire US, and Richard Florida has made the point that housing costs are the main driver in cost of living differences. In the above chart, for example, you can see that the main difference in cost of living between Montgomery County and several other jurisdictions comparable in population is represented by housing – food and transportation costs don’t vary all that much. In other words, our high cost of living is almost entirely attributable to housing.

Read the rest of this post here.

Real Estate Development is Infrastructure

Casey Anderson, the Chairman of the Planning Board, is writing a enlightening series of posts on the economics and trends that affect Montgomery County on The Third Place. Two recent ones are important enough that I want to repost them on the Friends of White Flint blog today and tomorrow.

This first one is titled,  Real Estate Development *Is* Infrastructure.  You can read some of its more salient points below, but it is worth grabbing your favorite snack and reading the entire post.

If the supply of housing does not keep up with even modest growth in jobs and population, residents who don’t have much choice about where to live and work will get squeezed hardest while residents who have skills that are most in demand elsewhere (who also tend to get paid more and therefore pay more in taxes) may consider taking a job in a place where they can get more and better housing for their money.

The people whose choices of work location are constrained tend to have fewer skills that command a premium in wages, but this is not uniformly true – for example, people who work for trade associations, think tanks, law and lobbying firms, and other employers oriented around the nation’s capital might not find jobs that suit their skills in Pittsburgh, Austin or Raleigh. On the other hand, if we want to diversify away from reliance on government as the foundation of our job base we need to draw and retain people (and employers) who aren’t tied to the government, such as computer scientists or biologists. In this instance, the relative cost of living (driven largely by housing) is highly relevant to our competitiveness.

That’s why real estate development is essential to what most people think of as economic development, i.e., the ability to encourage employers to bring high quality jobs to Montgomery County. The point is that real estate development is infrastructure. Whether it involves construction of housing, office buildings, or for that matter retail space, real estate development supports economic activity directly and indirectly by serving basic human needs, i.e., creating places for people to live and work (not to mention to get a haircut, visit a doctor, have their clothes dry cleaned or put their kids in day care).

Read Casey Anderson’s entire blog post here.

Urban Parks and Public Spaces Design Guidelines

The Montgomery Planning Department is working on The Urban Parks and Public Spaces (UPPS) Design Guidelines to create inviting, easily accessible, attractive, comfortable, and safe public spaces. When complete, the Urban Parks and Public Spaces Design Guidelines will be a companion document to the Energized Public Spaces Functional Master Plan (EPS) Plan.

The UPPS Design Guidelines will provide overall direction for major features of parks and public spaces design including the recommended size, type of experiences and amenities for each park type should provide.

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 parks and public spaces where we have the most people.

The guidelines will:

Develop flexible guidelines for urban parks and public spaces

Create a common language for planners, developers and citizens

Integrate lessons learned from case studies.

The public comment period will take place this fall.

Learn more by visiting https://www.montgomeryparks.org/projects/directory/urban-parks-guidelines/.

Are we building enough homes?

In a recent post on Greater Greater Washington, Dan Reed for Just Up the Pike shows that White Flint is second in Montgomery County for the number of residential units in the pipeline with 3,827 homes waiting  to be built.

If you add all of the county’s master plan or sector plan areas up, there were about 47,000 homes that have been approved to be built as of May 2018. This is what county officials call “the pipeline.” Of those 47,000 homes in the pipeline, 15,000 of those homes have building permits and are in some stage of construction. That leaves about 32,000 homes that are waiting to be built.  Nearly all of these homes are located in  urban areas with access to transit.

The pipeline may not be enough to meet current and future population growth. Montgomery County grew by 70,000 people since 2010, or about 25,000 households. But the county only added about 21,000 homes, leaving a deficit of 4,000.

On top of that, according to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG), we expect about 208,000 new people to move here in the next 20 years, and we’ll need about 87,000 new homes for those people. So we need about 91,000 homes, and we’ve approved 48,000. That’s 43,000 houses that we need to build.

And the homes we’ve already approved to build may not be where we need them to be. It can take decades to build all the homes in the pipeline — there are homes that were approved in the 1980s and 1990s still waiting to be built — and, as a result, the pipeline doesn’t always match current trends.

Twenty years ago, most of the county’s growth and investment was happening on the suburban fringe, while closer-in urban areas were declining. Today, that trend has basically reversed, and it’s in those closer-in areas where home prices are rising the fastest due to demand.

You can read the rest of the article, including a more detailed analysis of what’s preventing homes from being built in certain areas of the county as well as the consequences of this housing shortage at https://ggwash.org/view/68435/heres-where-montgomery-county-is-and-isnt-growing

Take the survey – tell the Planning Department what you think Randolph Hills placemaking should include

Better Block will be on the ground in Randolph Hills through October 2018 as part of an engagement and master planning effort with Montgomery County Planning Department. We’re working to bring your ideas to life and make a more walkable, vibrant place to live and work. Please fill out the survey below and share with anyone else you think may be interested!

Take the survey

Belated (but still great) pics from the recent walking tour of White Flint

Yeah, the tour was two weeks ago, but there’s been so much news we haven’t had a chance to post the photos from the Coalition for Smarter Growth’s walking tour of White Flint.  We loved listening to Chris Conklin from MCDOT, Councilmember Roger Berliner, Ken Hartman from the Bethesda Regional Services Center, and Mickey Papilon from Pike and Rose teach a large crowd of walkers about the ever-changing, wonderful Pike District/White Flint area. Friends of White Flint was excited to be a part of this successful event.