As office-centric downtowns struggle, suburbs cater to the laptop crowd

From The Washington Post

In North Bethesda, Zoom breaks take place at a dog park “social club” steps from trendy eateries and shops. Elsewhere, suburban shopping centers are adding WiFi to new outdoor plazas and, in at least one case, a bocce ball court.

While central business districts like downtown Washington continue to struggle as more than half of office workers stay away, many suburbs have rebounded by courting suburbanites who have settled in after more than two years of mostly working from home.

The pandemic also accelerated long-standing pre-pandemic trends toward walkable suburban developments and the “third place” — public gathering spots like coffee shops and bookstores, where people can connect beyond home and work.

The less frequent commute also prompted some city dwellers, particularly younger people and young families, to move farther out for more space and outdoor living during the pandemic, bringing new customers to the suburbs.

Stuart Biel and Mike Ennes of North Bethesda-based Federal Realty, said suburban developments also benefit from Americans reconsidering during the pandemic how to better control their time,including by commuting less and making shorter trips to shop and socialize.

Weekday foot traffic this year has been up about 10 percent over pre-pandemic levels at two of Federal Realty’s major developments in Montgomery County: Pike & Rose in North Bethesda and Wildwood Shopping Center in Bethesda, Ennes said. Customers also are spending 6 percent more time during visits, and tenants’ sales are up in the “high single-digit range” over 2019, he said.

Read the entire article here.

Analyzing the future of mixed-use development in Montgomery County

Montgomery County has allowed mixed-use development in buildings around activity centers for many years with the goal of creating interactive streets, providing meaningful public spaces, and creating communities where people can live, work, shop, and play within a given neighborhood. Numerous studies show that mixed-use districts generate higher real estate value, reduced vehicle miles traveled, and higher transit ridership.

new study by Montgomery Planning’s Research and Strategic Projects (RSP) Division has found that mixed-use development projects are likely to become even more common than single-use projects both locally and nationally. Considering there is only about 15 percent of “unconstrained” land available for development or re-development in the county, mixed-use properties are needed to support our future economic and population growth. Learn more through an interview with the project manager of the Montgomery County Mixed-use Development Study, Research Planner Nicholas Holdzkom, in the latest Third Place blog post.

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.

Washington ranks #2 in walkable urbanism; Maryland and Virginia outshine other cities’ suburbs

From Greater Greater Washington

The Washington region is second in the nation in having housing and jobs in walkable places, a new report says. A real stand-out for our region, compared to other similar cities, are the walkable places even outside the center city like Silver Spring and Reston.

The report, by Christopher Leinberger and Michael Rodriguez from the George Washington University School of Business, ranks the US’s 30 largest metropolitan areas based on their “WalkUPs,” or “walkable urban places.”

Friends of White Flint looks forward to the day when the Pike District makes the list of walkable places.

Defining the 15-minute city

Can the Pike District be a 15-minute city? Should the Pike District be a 15-minute city?

From CNU

The 15-minute city is defined by its ability to provide access to all human needs by walking or bicycling for a quarter hour or less. Transit should be provided within the 15-minute city, but cannot accurately define its scale.

When an urban area achieves the 15-minute city goal, several positive implications follow:

  • It is socioeconomically equitable—those without a car could easily access all their needs.
  • The area is small enough that measuring diversity, in balance, produces a useful indicator. In larger geographic areas, diversity has less meaning because many human needs could be too distant to be easily accessible anyway.
  • The need for transportation is minimized—and therefore the reduction in fuel mitigates global warming.
  • Human-powered transportation, which improves health and well-being, is promoted.
  • The convenient location of services, accessible by multiple modes, saves time and improves quality of life.

The 15-minute city implies three levels of sheds:

  1. The 5-minute walk shed, a quarter-mile from center to edge, indicating the individual neighborhood. Each quarter-mile shed must have ordinary daily needs, a range of housing types, and a center (generally a public square or main street with minimal mixed use). Small businesses, at least, are located in the neighborhood.
  2. A 15-minute walk shed, three-quarters of a mile from center to edge, is the maximum distance that most people are going to walk. Within this shed should be located a full mix of uses, including a grocery store, pharmacy, general merchandise, and public schools. Larger parks that serve multiple neighborhoods will be found here, in addition to larger employers—but not necessarily the region’s biggest. The 15-minute walk shed provides access to regional transit—at least one station. This shed is similar in size to a 5-minute bicycle shed, and the bicycle can be used to transport purchased goods. The shed provides for weekly and daily needs. .
  3. The 15-minute bicycle shed would give access to major cultural, medical, and higher education facilities. Regional parks and major employers can be found here. Access to intercity transit may be available. This shed provides access to special needs. The total extent of the 15-minute city is therefore defined by the three-mile radius of the 15-minute bike ride.

Read the rest of the article here and learn more about the 15-minute city.

The 15-Minute City—No Cars Required—Is Urban Planning’s New Utopia

From Bloomberg News

This article explores the concept of the 15-minute city, which pretty much means most everything you need in life — friends, work, stores, recreation, restaurants, etc. — is just 15 minutes away, preferably by walking, biking, or public transit. It’s quite an interesting article. I encourage you to give it a quick peruse, but if you’re short of time, here are a few highlights.

From Paris to Portland, cities are attempting to give residents
everything they need within a few minutes of their front doors.

Taken together, the new trees and cycleways, community
facilities and social housing, homes and workplaces all reflect a
potentially transformative vision for urban planners: the 15-minute
city. “The 15-minute city represents the possibility of a
decentralized city,” says Carlos Moreno, a scientific director and
professor specializing in complex systems and innovation at

At its heart is the concept of mixing urban social functions to create a vibrant vicinity”—replicated, like fractals, across an entire urban expanse.

As workplaces, stores, and homes are brought into closer proximity, street space previously dedicated to cars is freed up, eliminating pollution and making way for gardens, bike lanes, and sports and leisure facilities. All of this allows residents to bring their daily activities out of their homes (which in Paris tend to be small) and into welcoming, safe streets and squares.

Adie Tomer, a fellow at Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program and co-author of the report, says the 15-minute concept falls flat in America because “people in the U.S. already live in a 15-minute city, it’s just that they’re covering vast distances in a car.” Planners concerned with urban livability and rising carbon emissions might do well to focus on distance rather than time, he says. He suggests that the “3-mile city” might resonate better.

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.”