Tag Civic Green

FoWF Advocacy

Friends of White Flint is the only independent organization that represents the entire range of stakeholders impacted by the redevelopment of White Flint. When we create a position, we tap into the residents, businesses and landowners in and around our area in order to build consensus. Our advocacy often occurs in person and over the telephone but, last week, we had the opportunity to send letters on three topics at issue within county government.  The first is regarding the renovations being contemplated for Nebel Street, the second is asking for Hoya Street to be completed and the last is advocating for additional funds in the Parks Department budget for urban park elements.

Check out the text below :

To MCDOT regarding the redesign of Nebel Street (and see the update at the bottom):

We are very grateful that traffic engineer Kyle Liang took the time to share MCDOT’s plans for Nebel Street with the White Flint Downtown Advisory Board last month.  Friends of White Flint was present at the meeting and would like to share some thoughts and recommendations based on the concepts provided.  Friends of White Flint is a community advocacy group which represents the entire range of stakeholder groups impacted by the redevelopment of the White Flint Sector.  Our members include not only hundreds of individual residents but also most of the condominium and civic associations in and abutting the sector, businesses, and property owners/developers.

Nebel Street is a unique and well-traveled border of the White Flint sector and, though it is mostly industrial at present, it is projected for growth in the near future.  We are grateful for MCDOT’s attention to the road, and the fiscally-prudent strategy to assess how best we can be using the existing pavement.  We agree that re-striping the road and incorporating bicycle infrastructure are excellent improvements.  There are three major concerns, however, which we’d like to share.

While we appreciate the dedicated bicycle lane, and are willing to trade that facility’s optimum width for the streamlining of the project, we are concerned with its abrupt end before Randolph Road.  Bicycle trips will not end mid-block and it is unfair and unsafe to terminate a bike lane suddenly, depositing bicycles in the lane with unsuspecting drivers.  We do, however, understand that the pavement narrows at this point, impacting the options.  If a solution which continues the bike lane until the intersection is impossible, then we ask for every effort to be made in ensuring the safe transition of bikes into traffic.  Specifically, we ask that MCDOT install highly visible signage at the curbs and sharrows in the lane.  The suggestion that paint in the travel lane, in the form of a sharrow, is economically prohibitive is unacceptable.

Second, we ask that MCDOT take a more comprehensive look at the intersection of Marinelli Road and Nebel Street.  The subject of lengthy discourse over two WFDAC meetings, this intersection poses a significant visibility risk for drivers turning left onto Nebel from Marinelli.  A curve, a hill and parked cars make it very difficult to see and we ask that additional traffic calming measures be considered, just as they were at the intersection with Old Georgetown Road.  While a three-way stop has been discussed most widely, our members have also asked that you consider roundabouts at both the interesection with Marinelli and Old Georgetown.  We offer this suggestion with the understanding that it might broach farther into the realm of a capital improvement but ask that you explore all options to improve safety at these intersections.

Finally, we ask that you take a look at improving conditions at the intersection of Nebel Street and Nicholson Lane.  This intersection is presently treacherous for drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians.  A hedge at the southeast corner obstructs visibility for all travelers.  Also, the travel lanes on Nebel approaching the intersection are not clearly marked.  Drivers often mistake which lanes are for turning and which are for through-traffic.  And, large tractor trailers are often parked on the west side of Nebel Street, approaching Nicholson Lane obstructing visibility and stretching into travel lanes. There must be better solutions, for the sake of both visibility and safety.

We understand that these improvements to Nebel Street are still in the conceptual phase but we applaud your forethought in tackling them.  It’s our hope that a portion of the traffic calming budget will be used toward these needed changes and that they could be installed this year.  But, in the interest of using our county funds most effectively, we hope that our comments will be considered so that the improvements will be comprehensive and long-lasting.

** Update on Nebel Street – we learned from Dee Metz, the county’s White Flint Implementation Coordinator that MCDOT is now planning a 3-way stop at the intersection with Nebel Street.

To the County Council on completing Hoya Street as part of their Capital Improvements Projects Budget:

Friends of White Flint is ecstatic about the proposed acceleration of funding to complete Hoya Street in the White Flint sector and we ask that you and your colleagues maintain it within the budget.  Friends of White Flint is a community advocacy group which represents the entire range of stakeholder groups impacted by the redevelopment of the White Flint Sector.  Our members include not only hundreds of individual residents but also most of the condominium and civic associations in and abutting the sector, businesses, and property owners/developers.

Presently, Hoya Street ends abruptly just north of Old Georgetown Road.  In fact, when a driver begins their southbound journey from Rockville Pike, it actually appears that Hoya is a throughstreet that connects with the improving White Flint street grid.  It’s not until a driver is right upon it that they realize their mistake and need to turn around.  An improved street grid is crucial to a successfully redeveloped White Flint, and for addressing the ever-worsening traffic running through it.  A connected Hoya Street is at the heart of this.  Please get this project back on track by funding it as recommended by the T&E committee.

Thank you for considering this issue as you address the budget.

And, to augment the funding of the Parks’ department to allow them flexibility when addressing urban parks (like those planned for Wall Park and the White Flint Civic Green).  It’s our hope that the department will use some of these extra funds to make easy and relatively inexpensive improvements to Wall Park now, so we can increase our enjoyment of the space while we wait for the full improvement.  This is from our letter to the County Council on this budgetary item:

Green space is crucially important to the success of White Flint and we need the county to do its part to ensure our parks reach their potential. Therefore, we urge that the county fund Urban Parks Elements independently of other existing park needs so that these important areas can receive the attention they require.  It is our hope that some of this funding will be used toward improving Wall Park so that, even before its full transformation is complete, it can become an area of respite for residents of our growing White Flint area.

Advocacy is crucial to the success of the White Flint Sector!  Join us!

What’s Important to our Members?

In our last weekly email, we asked members to share what’s important to them in the redevelopment of White Flint and, therefore, where FoWF should aim its focus.  We were thrilled by the response!  Here are some of the points raised:

  • We should keep bicycle access and safety at front of mind.  All areas should be accessible for cyclists.  And, there should be secure bike parking at all residential units and bike parking readily available at commercial establishments.
  • Baby Boomers want to ensure that they aren’t being forgotten when the county works to draw the young professional demographic.  Prioritizing accessibility and well-integrated residential and commercial areas that balance all users will make this the most friendly place for all.
  • Focusing on and advocating for as much green space as possible remains a priority.  At the moment, White Flint neighborhood park is a real gem but we need to ensure that we build out spaces like Wall Park and the Civic Green, and support developers who are integrating green space into their redevelopment plans.
  • One member suggested making as much of the White Flint district as smoke-free as possible, including sidewalks, parks, parking lots, grassy areas, bus stops, bus shelters, etc.  The many benefits would include putting White Flint on the map as a healthy place to live/visit/work, widespread free publicity, a market niche, reduced litter, better aesthetics, etc.
  • Keeping small and local businesses remain a priority for our community!
  • Shading our sidewalks and installing benches to make them more friendly to those with limited mobility.

Many of these points are already part of the plan for a redeveloped White Flint, but it will take advocacy and attention to ensure that they’re executed timely and to their full potential.  We’ll keep you posted as we learn of ways where your voice will make a difference!

Also, do you get our weekly updates?  We send an email out every Thursday morning that recaps anything you might have missed during the previous week and highlights other important points!  Either sign up on our homepage at www.WhiteFlint.org or, better yet, join!  Just visit www.WhiteFlint.org/membership and have your voice heard!

The timeline: Big moves, little moves

Part of an occasional series looking at how the new White Flint will come together.

The White Flint Sector Plan is made up of lots of “big moves,” like a new Rockville Pike, that will take a long time to complete. But there are also lots of smaller projects that will play a big role in the area’s evolution. Thankfully, they’ll happen much sooner.

Rockville Pike: A long time away

The most important part of the new White Flint may be a new Rockville Pike, reimagined as an urban boulevard. While the county has set aside money to redesign Rockville Pike in the CIP, work may get delayed if the County Council approves the Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan, which proposes a Bus Rapid Transit line down the median.

BF Saul proposes a pedestrian plaza along the west side of Rockville Pike.

The new Rockville Pike, as seen from BF Saul’s proposed Metro Pike Center project.

The plan will specify where stations should go and how wide the road will need to be, allowing planners and engineers to do more detailed design work. It’s possible that property owners along Rockville Pike will have to dedicate some land to accommodate BRT, meaning work can’t really start until the master plan is approved.

Dee Metz, the County Executive’s White Flint Implementation Coordinator, notes that White Flint is “ahead of the game” because the county is already asking landowners to dedicate land for the new Rockville Pike when they apply to build new developments. But there’s still no construction funding lined up for Rockville Pike, meaning it’ll be a while until anything happens.

Montrose Parkway: No word yet

Montgomery County has been talking about Montrose Parkway for decades, and a few years ago, the portion west of Rockville Pike actually got built. Not surprisingly, progress on the eastern part has been slow.

Montrose Parkway East

Map of the proposed route of Montrose Parkway from SHA. The section in yellow has been built and the section in purple has funding, but the portion in blue is still in design.

To save money, the county split Montrose Parkway East into two segments. Officials have already set aside $55 million to build the 1-mile section between Parklawn Drive and Veirs Mill Road, which will start construction in 2018 and finish in 2020.

Meanwhile, the State Highway Administration will spend $64 million to build the .62-mile portion between Rockville Pike and Parklawn Drive, including a new interchange at Parklawn. This section has been more controversial because of the interchange and a proposal to close Randolph Road at the train tracks, effectively cutting off White Flint from neighborhoods to the east.

The Planning Board voted to build this section while keeping Randolph open in March, but there isn’t much else happening. As of September, state highway planners were finishing design work on the parkway, but there’s no timeline for construction yet.

“I don’t see that starting anytime soon,” says Metz.

Maple Avenue: Could open by 2015

However, work could start soon on rebuilding and extending Maple Avenue, currently a dead-end street south of Randolph Road, to connect to Chapman Avenue. This is an important part of White Flint’s future street grid, creating a new connection between Marinelli Road, Randolph Road and the Montrose Crossing shopping center.

The $21 million street will include 5-foot-wide sidewalks on both sides, landscaping and street trees, streetlights, and stormwater management. In addition, the county will move utilities underground. Construction will start next summer and end by the summer of 2015.

New fire station and senior housing: In planning

As White Flint’s population grows, the area will need a new fire station. Meanwhile, an aging population will create a need for more senior housing, especially for individuals with limited incomes. Montgomery County plans to address both needs by building a  fire station with senior housing above at the southeast corner of Rockville Pike and Montrose Parkway, next to the new Maple Avenue.

That may seem like an unusual combination, but fire stations and housing have been built together before, including the Station at Potomac Yard, an affordable housing complex atop a fire station in Alexandria.  To build the two, Montgomery County will purchase land that the state of Maryland acquired to build the interchange at Rockville Pike and Montrose Parkway, but no longer needs.

Conference Center: New parking garage could open in 18 months, mixed-use development to follow

Within 18 months, Montgomery County will begin work on a parking garage behind the Bethesda North Conference Center on Marinelli Road. The garage will replace the current surface parking lot, freeing up room for buildings, since this site is not only adjacent to the Metro station, but behind the future White Flint Civic Green. County officials would like to see a mix of retail space and housing there, 30% of which would be set aside as affordable housing.

Right now, the county’s doing a feasibility study to figure out how to fit a parking garage and housing and retail space on the parking lot, part of which will get shaved off as part of the realignment of Executive Boulevard. With most of the funding already in place, Metz says construction on the parking garage could begin within the next 18 months.

New entrance at White Flint Metro: No funding

Likewise, residents will be waiting a while for a new northern entrance to the White Flint Metro station at Rockville Pike and Old Georgetown Road. The project, which is under WMATA’s jurisdiction, currently has no funding and no timeline for construction. Like the proposed south entrance at the Bethesda Metro station, money would probably come from Montgomery County and the state of Maryland, but it’s up to WMATA to ask for it.

Updates from the Implementation Advisory Committee, Oct. 21 2013

The Implementation Advisory Committee met again this Monday to discuss updates on what’s happening in the area. About half of the meeting was focused on an amendment to the Pike and Rose phase I plan – we’ll have more on that soon. For now, here are general updates from the meeting:

Nkosi Yearwood from the Planning Department updated the group on the Marinelli bike lanes.  Some of these improvements come from the recommendations from MoBike.

Chad Salganik, a resident member of the IAC, sent a letter in favor of the abandonment of Executive Boulevard, which is a crucial part of the western workaround. Dee Metz, White Flint Coordinator from the County Executive’s Office, explained that the next step in the process is to get technical comments from the Planning department as it relates to Gables Residential’s project. She added that the new Executive Boulevard is already in the county’s Capital Improvements Program (CIP) process, but assured that abandonment won’t take place until the new road is open to traffic.

Rachel Newhouse from the Parks department updated the group about the community meeting regarding Wall Park held last month.  One member of the IAC raised a concern that programming for the civic green, a different park in the sector plan, was being left behind with all of the current focus on Wall Park. Another topic of concern was having an easy way for people to get back and forth between the two parks, especially when different events are happening in both spaces. Rachel explained that Parks has not forgotten about the civic green, but the site of the future civic green is currently on privately owned land, and negotiations with that property owner have been ongoing. She indicated that the Parks department  will need to think about ways the two parks will be different; another meeting to discuss this topic may be scheduled in the future.

Dee Metz also updated the group, and explained that she has been spending much of her time on budget issues. While the county has agreed to forward fund some of the infrastructure improvements in the area, the improvements needed are going to cost more than what was expected. Needing to buy more property throughout the area that was originally programmed for land swaps and other deals will be an another additional expense. She said that we won’t know the County Executive’s budget until the end of the year.

Stay tuned for updates on Pike and Rose, coming next week!

Another Step Forward for the Western Workaround

In addition to new buildings and developments, the White Flint Sector Plan also lays out a new road pattern for parts of our area.  This is important for several reasons – it will break up the existing superblocks and give us more options for traveling without using Rockville Pike and, also, it creates new possibilities for properties like Wall Park.  The latter is specifically related to the road network we call the western workaround.  Part of what’s contemplated in that project is shifting Executive Boulevard so it crosses Old Georgetown Road farther east and then stretches north into Pike & Rose.  By straightening Executive, a rectangular parcel of property is created at the southwest intersection with Old Georgetown Road.  This is where Gables Residential will construct their project, which includes a parking garage they will share with Wall Park & the Shriver Aquatic Center, which will allow the county to replace the existing surface parking at Wall Park with the green space we’re so excited about.  See how they’re all linked?



As you can see in the image above, the plan involves “abandoning” the stretch of Executive Boulevard highlighted in orange while replacing it with the stretch in gray so the road is straighter.  In anticipation of this first step of the process, the Montgomery County Department of Transportation is hosting a public hearing at 7:30pm on Wednesday, September 18th in the Executive Office Building Lobby Auditorium, 101 Monroe Street, 1st Floor, in Rockville.  The meeting notice states that “the subject portion of Executive Boulevard will not be needed for public use when road improvements and realignments associated with the White Flint West Project are completed.  The road [will] remain open to public traffic until the new alignment is ready for use.”

Comments are being accepted by letter, fax and email – so, please take a moment to show your support for this important first step.  Many projects — Wall Park, Shriver Aquatic Center, the Gables, the Civic Green — hinge on this.  It’s time to get it moving!

Send your support to Michael Cassedy at the Department of Transportation by email at michael.cassedy@montgomerycountymd.gov, by fax at 240-777-7254 or by mail at 100 Edison Park Drive, 4th Floor, Gaithersburg MD 20878.

And – stay tuned!  Next week, we’ll tell you about a public meeting coming in September where you can tell the Parks Department what you’d like to see at the new Wall Park!

Advocate for a Great White Flint

Looking for Ways to Get Involved and Ensure White Flint Reaches its Potential?

Then, we have two great opportunities for you – and you don’t even need to leave the keyboard.

First, having a post office located in the White Flint sector is not only an important amenity, it’s also key to building our identity.  The US Postal Service presently holds a lease at White Flint Mall that’s set to expire in less than a year and they have begun a public vetting process for choosing their new site.  Community input is critical to ensuring that we keep this important service nearby.  So, by August 9th, please send an email to Richard Hancock at Richard.A.Hancock@usps.gov.  Let him know that you want to keep a post office in the White Flint Sector in Montgomery County, MD!

Second, Friends of White Flint is dedicated to ensuring that the promises made during the White Flint planning process are kept during the implementation and build-out. We hold property owners and developers to these expectations and we hold our public entities to them, as well.  At this point, infrastructure is key and the funding for these projects – like the roads that will diffuse traffic from Rockville Pike and the beautiful green spaces – has not been designated.

At this time of year, the County Executive is creating his Capital Improvement Projects budget and we need him to know that White Flint projects cannot be delayed any longer.  The projects added to this budget are placed in a six-year cycle, so we need to get them on the list NOW.  So, please email Ike Leggett at ocemail@montgomerycountymd.gov, and include the County Council at county.council@montgomerycountymd.gov, to tell them that infrastructure must keep up with development.  Ask them to fund the Western WorkaroundWall Park, the Civic Green and the new Eastern Workaround (where Executive Boulevard will cross over Rockville Pike, just north of White Flint Mall).

You can also tell Mr. Leggett yourself.  He’s hosting a public budget forum on Tuesday July 30th from 7pm-8pm at the Bethesda/Chevy-Chase Regional Services Center (4805 Edgemoor Lane in Bethesda).

If we don’t ask for these things, we may not get them.  Your engagement is key!  Thank you for taking the time!

“Always on the defensive”: A cyclist on biking in White Flint

Will people bike or walk in White Flint if they have to use streets like this? All photos by the author unless noted.

For White Flint to become a great urban place, it needs a great pedestrian and bicycle network. But today, it’s not always an easy place to get around by foot or bike. Recently, I had an e-mail interview with Mary Ward, a White Flint resident and cyclist who has become an advocate for better pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. Some answers have been edited for clarity and conciseness.

How do you get around in White Flint currently?

I live just south of the White Flint Sector Plan boundary on Rockville Pike. Until just recently, I worked just west of White Flint, about a mile from my home. I would often bike to work using part of the Bethesda Trolley Trail and Executive Boulevard to get there.

When weather wasn’t conducive to biking or I needed to do shopping, I would drive and do my grocery shopping and other errands, hooking together several stops and avoiding Rockville Pike whenever possible. I sometimes walk to White Flint Mall, Whole Foods, and Strathmore since those are less than a half-mile away, but all of these destinations involve walking at least part of the way along Rockville Pike, which is not pleasant.

In bad weather and heavy traffic times of day, I drive.

What impediments do you face getting around on foot or bike today?

I would say the biggest impediment is the issue of “you can’t get there from here,” without spending some of the journey a foot or two away from a busy road, breathing traffic exhaust. Drivers are not looking out for bikers or pedestrians, so as a pedestrian or cyclist, I am always on the defensive.

For biking, the biggest impediment is the lack of off-road bike paths and separate bike lanes that connect to shopping and other destinations in the area, like Strathmore. For walking, too many of the sidewalks in and around White Flint are close to busy roads, like on Rockville Pike, Old Georgetown and Nicholson Lane.

My husband is less risk-averse than I am and he bikes almost everywhere. He challenged Councilmember Berliner, and any other councilmembers who would like to participate, to bike with him on three of his typical rides:  To his dentist in the heart of White Flint, to the grocery store, and on a recreational ride down the Trolley Trail to Bethesda. We are still waiting for a reply.

Do you feel like the Sector Plan will address those concerns?

Certainly, wider sidewalks and some additional bike lanes and off-road shared use paths will be a welcome improvement over current conditions. However, I have three concerns.

New sidewalks like this one on Rockville Pike will help, but will they be enough?

Will the sidewalks and bike paths be adequate for the expected increase in population? 9,500 new housing units will surely translate to more than 15,000 new residents. Montgomery County has a “complete streets” policy on the books, but I don’t see that all of the streets in the White Flint Sector Plan will be required to meet the “complete streets” goal of accessibility to all cyclists and pedestrians, regardless of age or skill level.

One example is Nicholson Lane, which is slated to have an on-road bike lane, but the same narrow sidewalk. Unless there’s a true physical separation from traffic, I would not feel comfortable biking on such a busy road. I am also concerned that the recreational loop will not adequately accommodate cyclists, especially with the future bikeshare program, and walkers.

How will people in adjacent neighborhoods get here? The promise of the White Flint development is that it will be a walkable and bikeable destination for members of surrounding communities who already do most of their shopping in White Flint. But the Sector Plan doesn’t address completing bike paths and improving sidewalks to that those areas have a pleasant and safe way to get here. The “complete streets” policy must also be extended to neighboring communities.

Montrose Parkway East

The current plan for Montrose Parkway. Image from the Maryland State Highway Administration.

How will people get to recreational destinations? The new population of White Flint is not going to just shop and go to movies here. There need to be easy ways to get to nearby parks, especially Rock Creek Park, which is a great resource and national treasure, but there are few ways to get there except by car.

White Flint will eventually have a civic green and Wall Park will offer some amenities, but we have thousands of acres of green space within a short distance of the area, yet it’s not connected.

Instead, the Planning Board approved an extension of the Montrose Parkway that will require cutting down hundreds of trees and destroy part of Rock Creek Park. The right-of-way, which is owned by the county, could instead help connect White Flint to the park with a hiker-biker path extension.

What do you think the county should focus on to make White Flint a better place to walk or bike?

I believe it takes political will and leadership to make a “complete streets” policy happen. And money, of course. Currently the bike infrastructure budget for our large, wealthy county is a paltry amount.

Communities that have really become pedestrian and bike friendly have had a leader like Michael Bloomberg in New York City or Adrian Fenty in DC. We need that kind of leadership in Montgomery County.

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?

Great parks + squares show way for White Flint Civic Green

Studies of White Flint Civic Green from MoCo planners.

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

Today, the south side of Old Georgetown Road between Rockville Pike and Executive Boulevard is home to car dealerships, a piano store, and huge parking lots. One day, it could be the Civic Green, a 2-acre square that the White Flint Sector Plan dubs “White Flint’s central public place.” To learn make this space successful, we should look at other great public spaces.

A “focal point of community life”

There are a number of new parks proposed by the White Flint Sector Plan, ranging from intimate neighborhood squares to a large recreational park. The Civic Green, however, will be different. While most Montgomery County parks are meant for soccer games and nature hikes, this one will become a “focal point of community life,” according to the plan.

It would accommodate both public events, like festivals and concerts, along with informal gatherings and recreation. County planners suggest that it might be “anchored” by a public building, like the library in Rockville Town Square or the Silver Spring Civic Building at Veterans Plaza.

The Civic Green is arguably one of the most important development sites in Montgomery County. It’s on top of the White Flint Metro Station and at the intersection of two major streets, giving it a lot of visibility. It’s next to the Bethesda North Conference Center, which hosts events that draw people from around the region. And it’s also sandwiched between the massive Pike + Rose and North Bethesda Center developments, meaning there will be lots of residents, shoppers and workers nearby.

On top of that, the Civic Green will be bigger than Rockville Town Square and Silver Spring’s Veterans Plaza combined. Thus, the Civic Green has to make a big statement to all of the people who will pass by and through it. For the Civic Green to be a real destination, it has to have a unique character, interesting programming, and enough of a critical mass of people and activity around to keep it lively. Three spaces around the United States that show how to do those things right.

Pioneer Courthouse Square shows importance of programming

Pioneer Courthouse Square at night. Photo by sfgamchick on Flickr.

Dubbed “Portland’s living room,” this former parking lot in downtown Portland is one of the city’s most-loved public spaces. Completed in 1984 and designed by architect Will Martin, Pioneer Courthouse Square consists of a giant curved amphitheatre, creating a nice, enclosed space that works equally well for big events or small gatherings. The square also contains fountains and public art for visual interest in addition to a coffee shop on an elevated terrace, which lets visitors survey the action from up high.

It’s also one of the first public spaces in the United States that was specifically designed for programming, with built-in infrastructure for concerts and other events. The square’s online calendar shows a wide variety of scheduled activities, ranging from political rallies to a festival of funny cat videos.

Grand Park illustrates benefits of flexibility

Los Angeles City Hall sits at the south end of Grand Park, which reopened last year. Photo by the author.

Until last year, this four-block park at the heart of downtown Los Angeles was a dead, lonely space. Today, the so-called “Park for Everyone” has helped revitalize the surrounding neighborhood while connecting the major institutions around it, including the Walt Disney Concert Hall and City Hall. The Los Angeles Music Center, which sits at the park’s north end, has taken an active role in organizing musical and cultural events in the space.

However, what really makes it exciting is the park’s flexibility. Landscape architects Rios Clementi Hale divided it into several smaller lawns, plazas and fountains, giving visitors space to do their own thing. When I visited last fall, I saw everything from picnics to yoga. The park is filled with bright pink chairs and tables, which are light enough to move around as you see fit but just heavy enough to discourage theft.

Check out this slideshow of Grand Park and other parks in downtown Los Angeles.

Rittenhouse Square demonstrates need for surrounding density

A busy summer day at Rittenhouse Square. Photo by Sylvia Rueda on Flickr.

However, programming and flexibility aren’t enough to make a successful space. You also need people, and lots of them.

One of my favorite parks ever is Rittenhouse Square, located in Center City Philadelphia, which I visited often when I used to live there. Unlike Pioneer Courthouse Square and Grand Park, Rittenhouse is over 300 years old, established as part of William Penn’s original city plan in the 17th century. The Project for Public Spaces named it one of the world’s best public squares.

Rittenhouse doesn’t have a lot of scheduled events, but it is surrounded by high-rise apartments, offices, hotels and shops. As a result, people have lots of different reasons to go there. My friend who lives four blocks away walks her dog there, but others might stop for a break from shopping, or to have a picnic, or to watch the street performers who often play there. Rittenhouse is a big green space, but the buildings that frame it create the feeling of a big outdoor room.

The Civic Green has the potential to become one of White Flint and Montgomery County’s beloved gathering places. It won’t be easy, but by learning from other great public spaces, we can create something that everyone will be proud of.