Tag “suburban retrofit”

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.



What Do Americans Want Out of Their Neighborhoods?

The latest poll from the National Association of Realtors (NAR), released in late October, focused on Americans’ housing and community preferences.  It seems that Americans prefer mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods over subdivisions that require driving as the main source of transportation when they have a choice.

Robert Steuteville points out in his Better! Cities and Towns article that Americans choose their housing based on “trade-offs on many factors, many of them conflicting.” These factors include short commutes, easy access to goods and services, public transportation close to their home, and access to arts and recreational facilities.

According to Kaid Benfield from The Atlantic Cities,a majority of respondents to the survey would most like to live in suburban neighborhoods. In addition, a majority of those who choose suburban living prefer to have “a mix of houses, shops and businesses” in the suburban community. However, Americans still choose to live in a single-family, detached home with a large yard. This is why coming up with one consistent message from this research is impossible. There is evidence that Americans prefer accessibility, walkability, large yards, and even the ability to travel by car but as Benfield states, “is it possible to have all that in the same community?” Perhaps by creating a community that offers many different lifestyle choices for residents is crucial to be a successful and sustainable community.

For the White Flint area, the Sector Plan is designed around the preferences of local residents and community development practitioners, similar to those expressed in the NAR survey. This is why mixed-use developments and a walkable street design are major components of the White Flint Sector Plan. The Plan will allow for residents to have more choice in the lives they live, since it seems this is the only way for White Flint to be a sustainable community.

Check out Steuteville’s full article and Benfield’s full article.

Five ways to design for safer streets

Earlier this month, NYC’s Department of Transportation released a major report, “Making Safer Streets” which outlines the various ways the department has re-imagined and redesigned their streets. The results include:

  • 30% decline in fatalities since 2001
  • 29% decline in people killed or severely injured since 2001
  • 1,000 NYC lives have been saved by the decrease in traffic fatalities since 2001—including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists, drivers, and passengers

The overarching aspect of safer streets is “[creating] the opportunity for drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists to move through the street network simply and easily, minimizing the unexpected, the confusing, and the potential for surprises.” More specifically, here are the five basic principles highlighted in the report:

  1. Make the street easy to use by accommodating desire lines and minimizing the complexity of driving, walking, and biking, thus reducing crash risk by providing a direct, simple way to move through the street network.
  2. Create safety in numbers, which makes vulnerable street users such as pedestrians and cyclists more visible. The same design principle, applied to arterial streets when traffic is light, reduces the opportunity for excessive speeds.
  3. Make the invisible visible by putting users where they can see each other.
  4. Choose quality over quantity so that roadway and intersection geometries serve the first three design principles.
  5. Look beyond the (immediate) problem by expanding the focus area if solutions at a particular location can’t be addressed in isolation.

White Flint may not be New York, but it certainly has its share of dangerous traffic. Safer streets are a must in order to realize the vision of a sustainable and walkable community! Check out StreetsBlog’s post on the report for another perspective.

Bellevue shows way for White Flint

One of the challenges in transforming White Flint into an urban place is that it largely developed after World War II, when car culture really took hold. Not only are there lots of big, fast roads and strip malls that are hard to navigate without a car, but there are fewer examples of how to redesign it. This was less of an issue in the revitalization of places like Bethesda or Silver Spring, which were originally built around walking and transit.

Bellevue’s Downtown Park and skyline. Photo by mariusstrom on Flickr.

But last month, I got to visit one place that’s dealing with many of the same problems we are: Bellevue, a community just east of Seattle, where I went for the annual Rail~Volution conference. While Bellevue still struggles to make room for people in a place built for cars, it holds a lot of interesting lessons for White Flint as it matures.

Like White Flint, Bellevue was a rural area until after World War II, when the growing demand for housing and a new bridge connecting it to Seattle made it a fast-growing suburb. During the 1970’s, it also became a magnet for commercial development, sprouting a commanding skyline as companies moved to the city.

By 2000, Bellevue had more jobs than residents, making it the downtown for Seattle’s Eastside region. And its perception has changed as well. At the conference, I spoke to an official from the Seattle Department of Transportation who has observed Bellevue from across Lake Washington for years. “Bellevue used to be a suburb,” he said. “But in recent years it’s grown a lot, and now it’s a city in its own right.”

Bellevue gets taller, younger, and more educated

Bellevue has been trying to remake its downtown since the 1970’s. In recent years, downtown Bellevue has exploded with high-end shopping centers, luxury apartments, and 400-foot-tall skyscrapers housing major tech companies like Microsoft, the city’s largest employer. There are also a number of impressive public buildings, including a library, a convention center, Bellevue’s city hall, and a gorgeous downtown park.

Plaza at the Bravern, a new mixed-use complex in Bellevue. All photos by the author unless noted.

Today, there are over 43,000 workers and 10,000 residents in downtown Bellevue, with forecasts predicting 70,000 workers and 19,000 residents by 2030. By comparison, White Flint had about 22,800 workers and about 5,000 residents in 2010, which could grow to about 48,000 workers and 30,000 residents in a few decades under the Sector Plan.

As downtown grew, the city’s mix of urban and suburban amenities drew young, educated professionals from around the world who came to work at nearby tech firms. The median age of downtown residents fell from 57 in 2000 to 34 in 2010, while the percentage of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree increased from 45% to 63%. Both downtown and the city as a whole were at least 80% white in 2000, but are on target to become majority-minority within a few years.

New focus on little details, not just big buildings

Walking around downtown Bellevue, it’s clear that it’s still in transition. Past planning efforts, most recently a 2003 update of the city’s Downtown Plan talked about pedestrian and transit improvements, but were hesitant to recommend anything that would impede car traffic.

There are a lot of wide roads and big intersections that make walking hard, or at least unpleasant.

The skyscrapers look cool, but they don’t really address the street, creating big blank walls. The streets are massive and spaced far apart, creating large “superblocks” that encourage speeding. They also make it hard, or at least unpleasant, to walk, meaning the sidewalks tend to be empty. And every building still seems to have its own parking lot garage, creating even more incentives to drive.

But the pieces of an urban place are coming together. Turn off of the main streets and you’re on quieter, more intimate streets with small shops and apartment buildings with “real doors.” In the Bravern, a new complex with shops, offices and apartments, there’s a series of nice plazas where people congregate even in the typical overcast Seattle weather.

A quiet side street with “real doors” makes downtown Bellevue feel a little more human-scaled.

With that in mind, city and regional leaders are planning for a future built around people, not cars. Bellevue already has good local bus service and one of six Seattle-area “bus rapid transit-lite” corridors. In 10 years, it’ll have light rail as well.

But there’s also a renewed focus on the smaller details that make an urban place interesting and enjoyable. The city’s ongoing Downtown Livability Initiative will look at how to create a sense of place, ranging from promoting better urban design to encouraging food trucks. And a Downtown Transportation Plan in progress will look at ways to break up the superblocks to improve pedestrian and cyclist connections.

Bellevue shows the power of creating suburban downtowns

Walking around Bellevue today, you can see what happens when you try to plan for an urban place while assuming that everyone’s going to drive. You get the worst of both urban and suburban places: lots of traffic and none of the vitality.

Commuters board a bus at the Bellevue Transit Center.

People already drive to White Flint today, and will continue to do so in the future. But as White Flint grows and matures, we’ll have to shift our focus from moving lots of cars really quickly to moving people in lots of different ways, and creating places worth lingering in.

The success of Bellevue so far shows the power of creating a downtown in a suburban community that previously lacked one. Downtown Bellevue has not only been an economic boon, but a tool for attracting new residents and creating a more diverse, inclusive community. It may not be finished yet, but Bellevue is a promising sign of where White Flint could go.

New report highlights the hidden costs of suburban sprawl

Source: Sustainable Prosperity, thecostofsprawl.com, November 5 2013

Source: Sustainable Prosperity, thecostofsprawl.com, November 5 2013.

A report from a University of Ottawa research and policy network released last month reveals that suburban sprawl comes with a bigger price tag than many might expect. While (understandably) the report largely focuses on development in Canada, the big picture holds true for the U.S. as well. Author David Thompson notes in an interview that transportation is a major hidden cost; long commutes and needing more cars per household (and subsequently, the taxes to create the infrastructure to support these cars) is a huge expense. “Free” parking, which as the report notes, isn’t really free since it is instead built into prices at stores, is another hidden cost.

Thompson has said:

“We’ve known about the environmental effects for decades, we’ve known about the health impacts for 10, 20 years…Now we’re learning that the financial costs of sprawl are going to be staggering and we’re leaving a major deficit to our children and grandchildren.”

Concerned that Thompson is suggesting we all pack up and move to the city? Don’t be. As one Canadian newspaper explains, “Thompson stressed that curbing sprawl doesn’t mean everyone must live or work in a skyscraper. His report advocates infill development and suburban retrofits. The latter phenomenon is more common in the U.S. where older malls, industrial and commercial properties are being redeveloped into suburban hubs.” Sound familiar?

You can read the full report here. Want just the highlights of the report? Check out its informative and easy-to-use website at http://thecostofsprawl.com/.

Pike + Rose moves closer to completion

Grand Park Avenue, one of several new streets in Pike + Rose. All photos by the author.

Today, the Montgomery County Planning Board reviews plans for a second phase of Pike + Rose. Meanwhile, the first phase of the new urban neighborhood at Rockville Pike and Montrose Road inches closer to completion.

When finished, Pike + Rose will have housing, offices, shops and restaurants, a high-end movie theatre, and a hotel, along with several public open spaces. A redevelopment of a 1960’s-era strip mall, it’ll be multiple times the size of developer Federal Realty’s other projects in the area, Bethesda Row and Rockville Town Square.

According to Evan Goldman, Federal Realty’s vice president of development, the first phase will start opening next year. In the meantime, let’s visit the construction site.

Bricks going in at PerSei.

Back in July, the first of three buildings in the first phase, a 174-unit, five-story apartment building called PerSei, topped out. Units here will start renting late next spring, Goldman says. You can see cream-colored brick going in on one side.

Like many new apartment buildings, PerSei has been designed to look like a block of smaller buildings. The windows on Old Georgetown Road and Grand Park Avenue, one of several new streets, are more modern, with large panes and less ornamentation. But around the corner, the windows have smaller panes and more detail, almost like those on a warehouse.

11800 Grand Park Avenue. The movie theatre and music venue will be on the right-hand side.

Across the street, 11800 Grand Park Avenue, an office building, has topped out as well. It’ll open in fall 2014, along with 150,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space in both buildings. 75% of the retail is already leased and will include a high-end iPic movie theatre, a music venue operated by Strathmore, several restaurants, and a Sport & Health Club.

Pallas (left) and 11800 Grand Park Avenue seen from Old Georgetown Road.

Next door, an 18-story apartment tower called Pallas has just reached four stories. Not surprisingly, it won’t open until the winter of 2015. I’m guessing that gray box in the middle has something to do with parking, but I’m not sure.

PerSei with the strip mall in the foreground.

The new buildings form a striking contrast against the remaining strip mall buildings. While the main building will be completely torn down in Pike + Rose’s second phase, this smaller building closer to the intersection of Rockville Pike and Old Georgetown Road could stick around for between 7 and 10 years, Goldman says.

Located on a prominent corner and closest to the White Flint Metro station, this is arguably the most valuable portion of the Pike + Rose site, which is why Federal Realty may want to hold out on developing it. In the meantime, the developer will give this building a new façade and landscaping to help it blend in with the new construction.

If the Planning Board approves the second phase today, what’s called Phase 2A could start construction next year and portions could open within another two years.

Today it’s a parking lot, but it will be Pike + Rose’s future second phase.

With a new street grid and an urban park open, “You’ll have a neighborhood by 2016,” says Goldman. “We’ll have created the sense of place.” The rest of the second phase, along with a future third phase, don’t have a completion date and will be built out as the market demands.

Crossposted at Greater Greater Washington.

What will Millennials do for our cities and suburbs? White Flint may be the place to find out.

We’ve written before about how young families are increasingly seeking an urban lifestyle, though there are some challenges those parents may face (namely school choices). These preferences are particularly relevant to our region – while Montgomery County aims to attract more Millennials to this jurisdiction, a recent Streetsblog Capitol Hill article suggests that many of our neighbors in D.C. are worried about retaining them as they grow up and start having families.

Interestingly, both our article on young families and Streetsblog’s article end with the idea that where Millennials choose to live as parents will likely have a strong impact on how our communities are shaped – urban, suburban, and everything in between.

Streetsblog Capitol Hill author Tanya Snyder has this to say:

“When Millennials move to the suburbs — as undoubtedly some will — they’ll demand better suburbs than the ones they grew up in. They’ll want the urban amenities and transportation options they got used to in the cities [emphasis added]. That could put them on the front lines of retrofitting suburbia into a less car-dependent environment.”

With many urban amenities coming to the area and an already sought-after school system, White Flint is on the forefront of this movement.

Where do Montgomery’s car-free residents live?

Like many suburban communities built after World War II, Montgomery County developed based on the assumption that everyone would have a car. However, many households have just one, or none at all. While some are in the county’s urban centers, a surprising number are in very car-dependent places.

Where car-free residents live. All images by the author.

According to the 2007-2011 American Community Survey, a sort of annual census, there are over 374,000 households in Montgomery County, and 91.8% of them have cars. That’s not surprising for a largely affluent suburban county, where many people own cars simply because they can. Growing up, I had several friends whose parents raced sports cars, but never drove them on the street.

But car ownership countywide is slightly lower than in 2000, when 92.5% of all households had cars. Today, more than 2 out of 5 households have one car or no car. Like transit riders and young adults, those households are concentrated in certain areas, which can give us insight on where to make it easier to get around without driving.

Car-free households cluster around transit

Just 8.2% of the county’s households have no car, and you’ll find many of them near transit. 5 of the top 10 largest concentrations of car-free households are near Metro stations. Over 30% of all households in Silver Spring and 28% in Twinbrook are car-free. Some concentrations are in older, walkable areas with good bus service, like Long Branch, where over 1/3 of all households have no car. As a result, Long Branch has high transit ridership.

There are also many car-free households in newer suburban areas like Briggs Chaney, where they make up a quarter of the population, and even Germantown and Damascus, where 10% of all households are car-free. These communities have winding, disconnected streets, which can make walking very dangerous and good transit service nearly impossible.

Not surprisingly, retirement communities also have lots of car-free households. Over a quarter of all households in Leisure World and Old Town Gaithersburg, home to the Asbury Methodist Village retirement community, have no cars, while Riderwood Village in Calverton isn’t far behind.

These developments don’t have great transit or much within walking distance, but they do have a lot of on-site amenities. (But that still wasn’t enough to lure my retired aunt and uncle to Leisure World from Columbia Heights.)

Bethesda, Chevy Chase have lots of one-car households

One-third of all county households have one car, a slight decrease from 2000. Like those with no cars, these households are concentrated along major bus routes and in retirement communities. As before, Briggs Chaney and Leisure World top this list.

Where households with one car live.

But there’s also a lot of one-car households along near Red Line stations in Bethesda and Chevy Chase. Nearly 2/3 of downtown Bethesda households have one car, but relatively few have no cars at all. This suggests that many Bethesda residents move downtown to have amenities within walking distance, but bring a car anyway.

There are also large concentrations of one-car households along I-270 and Rockville Pike, which appear to coincide with activity centers like White Flint and Washingtonian Center in Gaithersburg. These are places that might support a “car-lite” lifestyle: they have some walkable areas, and in the case of White Flint, a Metro station. But for now at least, they’re not dense or pedestrian-friendly enough to leave the car at home all the time.

Households with many cars in suburban, rural areas

Almost 40% of Montgomery County households have two vehicles, and 19% have three or more. But where they live is almost the inverse of where no-car and single-car households are located. Two-car households seem to form rings around the county’s Metro stations and activity centers. Many of them are concentrated west of I-270 and in further-out communities like Olney and Clarksburg.

Where households with two cars live.

But 3 of the county’s largest concentrations of two-car households are in close-in areas, like Four Corners in Silver Spring and Chevy Chase Village. Four Corners especially sticks out, as car ownership rates are generally lower in East County, and it’s a pretty walkable area served by two major Metrobus lines.

Where households with three cars live.

Meanwhile, three-vehicle households are largely confined to the county’s Agricultural Reserve and other rural areas. Those third vehicles probably aren’t being used for commuting, but for hauling supplies or produce.

Without transit, car-free residents are stranded

The concentrations of car-free or car-lite households in places like downtown Silver Spring or downtown Bethesda show that Montgomery County’s efforts to build around transit have encouraged people to drive less. But for the county’s growing number of low-income households, going car-free isn’t a choice. Places like Germantown and Briggs Chaney are more affordable, but without good transit or walkable neighborhoods, their residents are basically stranded far from shopping, social services, and most importantly jobs, which restricts their economic mobility as well.

Many Montgomery residents live without cars, but have to deal with places like this.

How can we fix this? Part of the answer will come in the redevelopment of places like White Flint, which will result in some affordable housing, giving low-income households a chance to live in a place redesigned for walking, biking and transit. But we’ll also have to figure out how to provide better transit and better walking conditions in the neighborhoods where people already live.

One solution could come from the county’s Bus Rapid Transit plan. While planners’ vision for a network of countywide BRT lines has serious flaws, it does propose improved transit service along corridors where car-free households already live, like Rockville Pike and Route 29.

Most Montgomery County households have cars, and will probably continue to for the foreseeable future. But we still have to make room on our streets for the growing number who don’t.

Crossposted on Greater Greater Washington.

The Today Show asks, “Is America seeing ‘The End of The Suburbs’?”

Last week the Today Show featured a book by Leigh Gallagher titled The End of the Suburbs: Where the American Dream Is Moving. In her book Gallagher points to a number of social and economic trends that contribute to the increasing preference for an urban lifestyle including the rise of energy prices, an increasing awareness of environmental issues, lengthy commutes, and a preference for a livelier neighborhood with a sense of community.

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Check out this short clip from the Today Show for an interesting look at various people choosing cities over suburbs, including a family with two children who chose to live in a two bedroom apartment in downtown Boston. Interestingly, the Today Show does not ignore the increasingly blurry lines between suburban and urban; the end of this clip features a Kentlands-esque “suburban-urban street development” outside of Chicago.

Despite her book’s title, Gallagher notes that the suburbs aren’t simply going to disappear: “when I talk about the ‘end of the suburbs,’ I do not mean to suggest that all suburban communities are going to vaporize. Plenty of older suburbs are going strong… and many newer suburbs are reinventing themselves to adapt to the times.”

The Washington Post also ran an interview with Gallagher this weekend offering more insight into her book.  When asked how a suburb could reinvent itself, she said it should strive to be “a place people want to walk around. Organic, village-type environments that are how the suburbs started to begin with. Public transit also. People want out of their cars, especially millennials.”

See Pike + Rose under construction

The future site of Pike + Rose.

When finished, Pike + Rose will be a new neighborhood 5 times the size of Bethesda Row. But for now, the 24-acre site at Rockville Pike and Montrose Parkway is doing double duty. On one side, it’s still Mid-Pike Plaza, a 1960’s-era strip mall that continues to do business. But at the end of the shopping center, where Toys ‘R’ Us used to be, it abruptly becomes a construction site.

Where Mid-Pike’s parking lot ends today, there will one day be a bustling urban street (or so we hope). The first phase of Pike + Rose, which will contain an office building, an apartment building, ground floor retail, and a movie theatre, should open next year. Eventually, the entire site will be demolished and rebuilt.

There’s nowhere in White Flint where the contrast between present and future is more pronounced. But for now, it’s just another afternoon of shopping and hanging out and Mid-Pike Plaza. Check out these photos of construction at Pike + Rose and click here to see a slideshow with more photos.

Looking into the Pike + Rose construction site. This will eventually be a new street called Grand Park Avenue.

Business as usual at Mid-Pike Plaza while its replacement rises in the background.