Our testimony to County Council on Thrive Montgomery 2050

Good evening. I’m Amy Ginsburg, Executive Director of Friends of White Flint, a nonprofit devoted to transforming the Pike District/North Bethesda area into a walkable, transit-oriented, thriving community.

If you think that sounds like the goal of the Thrive Montgomery 2050 Plan, you’re right. Much of the Thrive Montgomery plan matches the goals of the two White Flint Sector plans, and we applaud its focus on sustainable growth, development, and urbanism.

We agree wholeheartedly that the major objective of this plan is to ensure a vibrant, strong and competitive economy by attracting and maintaining major employers, enhancing our federal campuses, supporting small businesses and innovation, and attracting and retaining a high-quality, diverse workforce.  It is essential to recognize that attracting high-quality jobs to areas like the Pike District is the key to transforming North Bethesda and other areas of the county.

We also support its emphasis on achieving vision zero, developing a robust network for walking and biking, and utilizing parks as gathering spaces for social connection. As Thrive Montgomery proposes, planning for people, not cars, is the key to redeveloping the Pike District. Being able to easily walk or bike to meet most daily needs creates dynamic centers that contain many different types of housing and high-quality jobs as well as the shops, restaurants, parks, and other amenities that are vital to a community like the Pike District.

We support the Thrive Montgomery 2050 plan because it matches the goals of the White Flint sector plans – creating diverse living spaces, enhancing social interaction, and attracting the high-quality jobs which are the foundation of a thriving community.

Want to learn more about Thrive Montgomery 2050?

The next meeting of the Coalition for Smarter Growth Montgomery for All will be Thursday, June 24th from 7:00-8:00pm. They’ll be joined by District 1 Councilmember Andrew Friedson, who will be talking about Thrive Montgomery 2050. He’s a member of the Planning, Housing, and Economic Development Committee, which will be leading the council’s review of Thrive. This is a chance to hear this thoughts and ask him questions! Register here to receive the Zoom information.

Thrive Explained: How Design Can Add Value and Build Community

From Montgomery Planning’s The Third Place

Design of the built environment strongly influences our quality of life. The pattern of development across a city, county, and region; the configuration of neighborhoods and districts; and the architecture of individual buildings collectively shape our perception of places and influence how we choose to travel, recreate, and socialize.

The Wedges and Corridors plan envisioned a variety of living environments and encouraged “imaginative urban design” to avoid sterile suburban sprawl. Unfortunately, design approaches intended to serve many functional objectives and aesthetic aspirations soon succumbed to an emphasis on the convenience of driving and the assumption that different land uses, building types, and even lot sizes should be separated. Over time, these priorities produced design approaches that failed to create quality places with lasting value.

Automobile-oriented design meant that thoughtful site arrangement was subverted by an insistence on providing abundant (and visually prominent) surface parking, with buildings placed in the middle of large asphalt lots or entrances and front doors obscured by driveways and garages. Buildings were disconnected from public spaces. Streets were widened, pushing buildings farther apart and preventing a sense of enclosure, which discouraged walking by making it less convenient and comfortable. Space for sidewalks, seating and greenery was sacrificed to make more space for parking and roads, shrinking the size and utility of public spaces and degrading the quality of the public realm.

Buildings designed to accommodate single uses, while less expensive when considered in isolation, created an inventory of structures that are inflexible and costly to reuse. Malls, office parks, and other large, single-use buildings are difficult to repurpose and the high cost of adapting their layouts to meet new spatial needs due to technological shifts, demographic changes, and market preferences shortens their useful lives and makes them less sustainable.

Dispersed buildings and sprawling parking lots lead to underbuilt sites that are poorly suited to repositioning, infill, and redevelopment and reduce the utility of investment in parks, transit, and other public amenities and infrastructure. The consequences of the limited adaptability of our building stock are evident in persistently elevated office vacancy rates accompanied by an acute shortage of housing.

Thrive Montgomery proposes three main strategies to address these issues:

  1. An emphasis on the role of design in creating attractive places with lasting value that encourage social interaction and reinforce a sense of place. This requires design guidelines and regulatory tools that focus on the physical form of buildings, streets, and spaces. It replaces vague concepts such as “compatibility” with clear standards for form, site layout, setbacks, architecture, and the location of parking, and removes regulatory barriers and facilitates development of “missing middle” housing types while adopting context-sensitive design guidance for all master planning efforts. This means that land use regulation should become somewhat more prescriptive but also more predictable.
  2. Promotion of retrofits and repositioning to make new and existing buildings more sustainable and resilient to disruption and change. Thrive Montgomery recommends encouraging sustainability features in both new public buildings and large private development projects to help mitigate the effects of climate change and promoting cost-effective infill and adaptive reuse strategies to retrofit single-use commercial sites such as retail strips, malls, and office parks into mixed-use developments. It also recommends incentivizes forthe reuse of historic buildings and existing structures to accommodate the evolution of communities, maintain building diversity, and preserve affordable space.
  3. Support for arts and cultural institutions and programming to celebrate our diversity, strengthen pride of place and to make the county more attractive and interesting. This involves promoting public art, cultural spaces, and cultural hubs as elements of complete communities. Thrive Montgomery 2050 also calls for eliminating regulatory barriers to arts and culture with a focus on economic, geographic, and cultural equity. It encourages property owners, non-profit organizations, and government agencies to maximize use of public spaces for artistic and cultural programming, activation, and placemaking. Finally, it argues that public art should be incorporated into the design of buildings, streets, infrastructure, and public spaces so that residents can experience it in their daily lives.

Learn more about the Design, Arts and Culture chapter in Thrive Montgomery 2050.

Thrive Explained: Complete Communities and 15-Minute Living

From The Third Place

A compact form of development – discussed in this post on corridor-focused growth – is necessary but not sufficient to ensure the emergence of great places, because a tight development footprint is only the first step. The combination of uses and activities in each of these communities must add up to a cohesive whole, allowing people who live and work there to meet as many of their needs as possible without the need to drive long distances. This combination, which Thrive Montgomery calls, “complete communities,” not only helps to reduce the need for driving but makes these centers of activity more diverse, interesting, and appealing.

What makes a community complete? Or to put it another way, what combination of infrastructure, services, amenities, and land uses makes a community the kind of place where people want to live and work?  Planners around the world have embraced the concept of “15-minute living,” the idea that most if not all basic needs should be within a 15-minute walk, as a guidepost for creating this kind of place. This concept is a way of thinking about how existing communities can be reimagined and adapted to respond to current and future challenges while also making them more competitive, equitable, and resilient.

But how does 15-minute living apply in a place with the geographic diversity of Montgomery County and its mix of urban, suburban, and rural places? The basic idea is that housing should be planned within a comfortable walking distance of schools, childcare, neighborhood-serving stores or restaurants, parks, transit – or similar daily needs. The concept acknowledges that people may travel more than 15 minutes for work, entertainment, or specialty services and that not everything will be within walking distance but strives to accommodate as many daily needs as possible within a short walk to maximize livability, convenience, and efficiency.

Read the rest of the post here.

Why Thrive Montgomery?

Thrive Montgomery addresses the role of planning in encouraging healthy lifestyles; supporting arts and culture; and building a sense of community, but its overarching goals relate to economic performance, racial equity, and environmental sustainability. You can read about Thrive Montgomery, the first complete overhaul of our community’s comprehensive plan since 1964, here. Also on The Third Place blog, Planning Chair Casey Anderson gives an excellent summary of where we are right now in Montgomery County.

Here are a few tidbits from his recent blogpost:

Our quality of life depends on attracting and retaining employers and, in turn, the employees they need. Montgomery is in the 99th percentile of counties in household income and educational attainment but our economic performance has been slipping since the Great Recession of 2008. The number of jobs in the county grew by 5% from 2004 to 2019 while 20 similarly sized counties across the country grew employment by an average of 21%. Montgomery County experienced the slowest rate of business formation in the DC region from 2010 to 2019.

Household income growth in the county lagged the national average (14% vs. 25%) and was the slowest in the region during this period. Montgomery County added jobs, albeit slowly, but growth came largely in lower wage sectors of the economy.

Today communities with high concentrations of racial and ethnic minorities also show lagging median household incomes.  And even as the county becomes more racially and ethnically diverse, our neighborhoods are still largely separated along income and racial lines.

Unless we attract more young adults this aging of our workforce will put more pressure on the tax base as the proportion of retirees relative to residents in their peak earning years grows. This increase in the so-called elder-adult dependency ratio means that our economic performance will have to improve just to maintain current levels of tax revenue and the services it funds.

Read the entire blog post on The Third Place

Thrive Montgomery 2050

As we work on surviving 2020, the Planning Department is working on thriving in 2050 as it updates the Montgomery County general plan. Tomorrow, the Planning Board will meet to discuss the broad goals of the plan, which you can find in the Thrive Montgomery Issues Report. You can also read the Planning Department’s Staff Memo for tomorrow’s meeting.

Today, Friends of White Flint is sending its letter of support of these goals.

Dear Chairman Anderson:

Because the Friends of White Flint vision for the White Flint/Pike District area fits quite well with the broad initial vision for the Thrive Montgomery 2050 plan, Friends of White Flint agrees that the Montgomery County of 2050 should:

  • be more connected
  • focus on multi-modal transit
  • prioritize housing near transit
  • emphasize complete communities so that people can easily and safely walk to stores, offices, parks, and other amenities,
  • have sufficient affordable housing
  • prioritize a culture of sustainability
  • ensure a robust and resilient economy sustained by a diverse base of industries and workers 

The residents, businesses, and property owners of Friends of White Flint look forward to working with the Planning Board and Planning Staff to create a general plan that will move us toward achieving these goals.


Amy Ginsburg, Executive Director

Thrive Montgomery 2050 Issues Report Presented to the Planning Board

Thrive Montgomery 2050 is the County’s chance to figure out how Montgomery County can be a great community over the next 30 years.  But first, we need to determine what we want our community to be in the decades ahead so we can create the future we want.

Through Thrive Montgomery 2050, Montgomery County will identify and examine the changes occurring, consider what we want for tomorrow, then develop a shared vision that allows us to keep what we love about Montgomery County while taking the actions needed to thrive over the next 30+ years.

Montgomery Planning staff presented the Thrive Montgomery 2050 Issues Report to the Montgomery County Planning Board at their February 27 meeting. 

This Issues Report includes the major issue groups to be addressed in the new Thrive Montgomery 2050 Plan, the update to Montgomery County’s General Plan. This document organizes the issues identified by the community over the past year – through outreach with residents, businesses, topic experts and elected officials.

Read the report and its appendices:
Thrive Montgomery 2050 Issues Report
Attachment 1 – Final Issues Report 2-20-20
Attachment 2 – Community Comments
Attachment 3 – Engagement Update
Learn more about the Thrive Montgomery 2050 proposed issues.

Thrive Montgomery 2050: Planning for the Decades to Come

Did you know the last time we updated Montgomery County’s General Plan we were still trying to step foot on the moon? Technology has come a long way since then. How will technology continue to influence the way we work, commute and live? With this plan, Montgomery Planning is planning for the decades to come. 

Montgomery Planning staff are working to analyze data and trends along with your feedback to come up with recommendations on the future of the county. We wanted to share with you some facts we are looking at right now. 

Montgomery County is still growing

Demographics are changing

More residents are also working in Montgomery County

It’s getting hotter

Home ownership is declining

Number of trips made in the county is not decreasing

Take a deeper look at the subject areas that Thrive Montgomery 2050 is aiming to address.