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

Urbanism Themes for 2017 and Beyond

Forbes Magazine projected what urban areas can expect in the near future, and many apply to the Pike District.  You can read the full article here but here are the highlights that relate most to the White Flint area:

The expectation of urban revitalization.  2016 may be the year we recognize that urban revitalization is no longer the exception, but the rule.

The merging of technology and urbanism. The improvement of urban systems, such as water and road infrastructure; the improvement of public transit; and the improvement of parks and recreational facilities are ripe for technology’s impact.

The rise of YIMBYism. (Yes In My Back Yard) Market urbanists bring a libertarian bent to solving urban problems, with an emphasis on relaxing regulations that impact use like zoning and parking standards, identifying market approaches to improving urban services like public transit, and utilizing technology to make governance more efficient.

Fascinating article about why places like the Pike District are where people want to live over the next ten years

According to a new ULI report, Demographic Strategies for Real Estate, “surban” communities—suburban neighborhoods offering the most desired features of urban and suburban living—will attract the most households in the United States over the next ten years. (In case you missed the obvious conclusion because you haven’t had your morning coffee, the Pike District is a classic example of a “surban” community.)

“Surban” developments will replace shopping centers – More retail stores will be transformed into places that sell experiences, rather than goods, and more development will combine housing and retail to satisfy consumer demand for places that offer convenient, car-free shopping. An 86-percent surge in household formations in the coming decade will drive retail activity, particularly purchases by renters, who will comprise 58 percent of the net new number of households.

Suburban office demand will return – As more people born in the 1980s move into more senior management roles and start families, many will move from urban cores to the suburbs to live in areas with good schools, but which are also near employment hubs and entertainment and recreational amenities. They will be willing to share space and work remotely.

Housing rental rates will surge over the long term – The sharing economy’s de-emphasis on ownership will be reflected in soaring demand for rental units. Well over half of the 12.5 million net new households created over the next decade will rent, including those who have never owned, and those making the switch from owning to renting as they age. Homeownership will decline, with the national rate anticipated to be 60.8 percent by 2025, the lowest point since the 1950s.

Municipalities will take a stronger role in encouraging successful growth – Local government redevelopment investments have revitalized urban and suburban areas, and the most astute suburban – or surban — municipal leaders will continue changing zoning regulations to encourage mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly development that accommodates the preferences and needs of new households.

The report groups the U.S. population by decade born, rather than by generation, to draw conclusions about behaviors shaping trends, with the most influential (and largest) groups being the following:

Innovators, born 1950–1959, who led a technology revolution;

Equalers, born 1960–1969, who achieved more equality between women and men in the workplace;

Balancers, born 1970–1979, who led a shift toward a better work/life balance;

Sharers, born 1980–1989, who led the transition to the sharing economy;

Connectors, born 1990–1999, who led 24/7 wireless connectivity; and

Globals, born 2000–2009, who effortlessly think and interact globally.


Rising numbers of female executives, affluent immigrants, younger and older workers, and retirees will have a profound influence on community building over the next ten years, according to the ULI Report.

New Urbanism — Do You Really Understand It?

We talk all the time about new urbanism since that is one of the bedrock principles of the Pike District. But how much do you really understand new urbanism? So grab your tablet or phone, sit outside on this lovely warm Monday, and take a quick New Urbanism 101 course with material from www.newurbanism.org.



1. Walkability

-Most things within a 10-minute walk of home and work
-Pedestrian friendly street design (buildings close to street; porches, windows & doors; tree-lined streets; on street parking; hidden parking lots; garages in rear lane; narrow, slow speed streets)
-Pedestrian streets free of cars in special cases

2. Connectivity

-Interconnected street grid network disperses traffic & eases walking
-A hierarchy of narrow streets, boulevards, and alleys
-High quality pedestrian network and public realm makes walking pleasurable

3. Mixed-Use & Diversity

-A mix of shops, offices, apartments, and homes on site. Mixed-use within neighborhoods, within blocks, and within buildings
-Diversity of people – of ages, income levels, cultures, and races

4. Mixed Housing

A range of types, sizes and prices in closer proximity

5. Quality Architecture & Urban Design

Emphasis on beauty, aesthetics, human comfort, and creating a sense of place; Special placement of civic uses and sites within community. Human scale architecture & beautiful surroundings nourish the human spirit

6. Traditional Neighborhood Structure

-Discernable center and edge
-Public space at center
-Importance of quality public realm; public open space designed as civic art
-Contains a range of uses and densities within 10-minute walk
-Transect planning: Highest densities at town center; progressively less dense towards the edge. The transect is an analytical system that conceptualizes mutually reinforcing elements, creating a series of specific natural habitats and/or urban lifestyle settings. The Transect integrates environmental methodology for habitat assessment with zoning methodology for community design. The professional boundary between the natural and man-made disappears, enabling environmentalists to assess the design of the human habitat and the urbanists to support the viability of nature. This urban-to-rural transect hierarchy has appropriate building and street types for each area along the continuum.


What makes a community vibrant?

Vibrant — it’s such an appealing word. We all want to live in neighborhoods that are vibrant — lively, stimulating, and friendly.

Vibrant centers attract educated millennials and empty nesters—as well as the economic activity they support. Office tenants prefer vibrant suburban centers to typical suburban office parks, and vibrant suburban centers command higher rents, lower vacancy rates, and greater absorption.

The Urban Land Institute recommended eight ways for a community “to find its own path to greater vibrancy”. The White Flint sector plan has embraced these eight suggestions, and it appears that the White Flint 2 sector plan may also embrace them.

Courtesy of Urban Land Institute

1. Encourage higher-density housing of all types. Successful, urban and suburban vibrant centers become expensive because they are desirable places in which to work, live, and play. Higher rents, rising property values, and deeper tax bases should be celebrated instead of vilified as the path to gentrification. However, vibrancy cannot be sustained without social and economic diversity.

Vibrant centers need housing for middle- to lower-income people who work in the retail, personal services, and entertainment sectors, as well as empty nesters, students, and young people with entrepreneurial ambitions. The market will provide all the higher-income housing needed. Lower-income households should be retained through use of inclusionary zoning, density bonuses, and the array of state and federal affordable housing programs.

2. Remember the rule of pi. A hypothetical circular urban area that is 20 miles (32 km) across has an area of 314.16 square miles (814 sq km). If its downtown has a radius of one mile (1.6 km), its area is 3.14 square miles (8.1 sq km)—pi, or 1 percent of the urban area—and many downtown areas in the United States are smaller than pi. Downtowns are truly special places because they have so much development in such a small area. Keep it tight.

3. Take full advantage of policies and regulations that treat downtowns as special places. CBDs are usually zoned with high floor/area ratios. Often, mixed use is allowed or even encouraged; parking requirements are minimal. CBDs may contain unique historic properties or historic districts. These special conditions enable real estate developers to create financially feasible projects in spite of longer entitlement periods, more difficult construction staging, higher land prices, and other constraints.

4. Reject suburban development proto­types at all costs. Suburban prototypes imposed on urban centers reduce density, compactness, connectivity, and walkability and often destroy urban fabric. Features such as adjacent surface parking, drive-through lanes, lack of sidewalks, front entrances from parking areas, and the like have no place in centers that want to become more walkable.

5. Provide public space and multimodal infrastructure to support downtown redevelopment. Vibrant urban centers need transit of all kinds to reduce auto use and encourage walking. Transit includes car sharing, taxis, bike lanes, bike sharing, trolleys, buses, and, when feasible, rail. The public realm is enhanced by small public parks and hardscape areas where people can gather to celebrate, engage with one another, or rest.

6. Consider housing for downtown workers as necessary infrastructure. Most jurisdictions recognize that structured parking is infrastructure necessary to achieve vibrancy. Workforce housing should be put in the same category. Public/private partnerships may be needed to serve this market segment. One approach to provide small apartments and micro units is to attach liner buildings to parking decks above the ground floor and on all sides that have street frontage.

7. Seek ideas about redevelopment selectively. In many automobile-oriented, highway-dominated areas, the vast majority of households live, work, and play in three separate suburban locations and devote considerable time each day to driving from one activity to another. Central city workers rarely live or play there. Suburbia is the only environment many Americans know. Therefore, it is better to gather ideas on downtown redevelopment by convening small focus groups of people with high “urban IQs” than by holding large meetings open to the general public.

8. Prequalify real estate developers who are interested in urban redevelopment. Many capable suburban developers have never built urban product and do not know how to create urban character. In order to provide good precedents for future development, developers that have this know-how should be recruited to initiate downtown redevelopment. Requests for qualifications (RFQs) can be used to identify developers who can deliver urban projects that will increase vibrancy.

Corporate America wants transit-friendly offices

The CEO of Marriott International said this week, ““I think it’s essential we be accessible to Metro and that limits the options. I think as with many other things our younger folks are more inclined to be Metro-accessible and more urban.”

This supports the recent data showing that new urbanism communities like the Pike District, where office workers have just a short walk from their cubicles to transit, housing, restaurants, and entertainment, are the most desirable locations for offices.

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Restaurants Draw Individuals to Urban Areas

What draws you to visit or live in urban areas? A recent study completed by Sasaki Associates found that “food is a major driver of the American urban experience.” Sasaki Associates, a planning and design firm hired a research firm to survey 1,000 people from six different cities across the U.S.: Austin, Boston, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.

Having places to eat and drink is what draws individuals to live and visit urban areas. There are many reasons why restaurants and other food infrastructures are so important to us. Restaurants are multifaceted; they can be used for meeting others, market/trading spaces or even just for plain eating.  This is why restaurants become staples in communities. The survey also found that individuals living in urban areas want local food and community-focused events around food. Components such as farmer’s markets and food trucks that bring in local-grown and sourced food to the urban area are extremely important to urbanites.

Restaurants are necessary elements of “mixed-use development and urban retail,” drawing individuals to live, work, and play all in the same area. Here in the White Flint sector, creating mixed-use developments are key to bring growth and change to the area. Restaurants and other food options will be necessary features in these developments in order to draw in residents and visitors to the White Flint sector.

What other components are important to your urban experience? Let us know!



South Miami Suburb Revitalization

South Miami, needed a change and a facelift. It is a suburb of Miami that was once a desirable place full of stores and busy streets. Now, these stores are empty and the streets look like parking lots with wide lanes.  The suburb has lost its appeal.  So, the firm Dover, Kohl & Partners decided to give South Miami its much needed makeover, creating the “Hometown” 20-year plan. The plan gave the suburb an extreme “diet,” making it a very desirable location for residents of the area to frequent once again.

In a video provided by the firm, we learn about the strategies they used to revitalize this suburb, which sound very similar to strategies included in our White Flint Sector Plan. These strategies are:

1) Build walkable streets
2) Require street-oriented architecture
3) Embrace a mix of uses
4) Share parking with garages
5) Embrace transit

This is a great example for White Flint as we can see that the changes have certainly paid off.  Check out the video and look for the similarities to the redeveloping happening here in the White Flint district.



Most Walkable Cities

Walkability is one of the driving forces for the changes coming to White Flint. Areas throughout the United States are already considering the need for a walkable design. In an article from Governing, Mike Maciag discusses the most walkable cities in the US and elements of these cities that make them so successful. Maciag takes his data from the most recent Census counts in the American Communities Survey (ACS) from 2012.

The figures show that cities across the US have varying commuting habits. Maciag cites that college towns and cities with high populations of residents younger than 25 “boast far greater numbers of walk commuters than other cities.” Our neighboring city, Washington D.C., is ranked number 7 with 11.9% of the population considered walk commuters. There is evidence that the millennial population in D.C. has risen in the past years. As we have mentioned before, Montgomery County is working to attract more millennials to the area. The amenities and the new transportation options coming to the White Flint area hope to capitalize on the needs and wants of the millennial generation.

Why are these cities are so walkable? Many of these cities are “reinventing their town centers and adding high-density housing developments,” allowing more residents to both live and work in close proximity to each other. Many of these cities have begun redevelopment projects that push for pedestrian and bicycle-friendly roads and sidewalks, which are evidence for the changes coming to White Flint. White Flint seeks to bring these elements to the area, and perhaps become a model walkable area one day.

Read Maciag’s full article here and the map of the most walkable cities to learn more.