Tag Archives: housing

Coalition Work, Economy, Housing

Area Officials Focus on Housing, Employment Challenges for Lower Income Residents

Despite being one of the most prosperous regions in the nation, major economic disparities can be found throughout metropolitan Washington. For example, finding affordable housing or quality-work are significant challenges for lower income residents. To learn more about these issues and ensure all residents are included in the region’s prosperity, the Region Forward Coalition gathered […]


Securing Long Term Affordable Homeownership Opportunities with Shared Equity

As 1.5 million people are set to move into the Washington region by 2040, affordable housing will become critical for maintaining an educated, middle class workforce. Shared equity homeownership is a tool that local governments can use that  allows homes to remain affordable to middle and lower income households on a long-term basis. It does […]

Economy, Housing

New Growth Forecast Approved

Last month, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments approved an update to the Cooperative Forecast of employment, households, and population. The forecast is primarily used for transportation modeling where it determines how many people are likely to live in each part of the region and where they are likely to travel. This tool also lends […]

Economy, Housing, Transportation

Region Sees Changes in Share of People Living and Working in the Same Jurisdiction

A little over half of the region’s working population commutes to jobs in their county of residence, according to a recent Transportation Planning Board analysis of commuting data from 2000 and 2011. Although that share hasn’t changed much in the last decade or so — nudging downward from 51.7% of workers in 2000 to 51.6% […]


Homelessness Drops 4 Percent in Metropolitan Washington since 2009, but Challenges Remain

A new report shows that although homelessness is continuing to decline in the region, it remains a major problem and two key obstacles – sequestration and a lack of affordable housing – could impede local jurisdictions’ goals to end homelessness within a decade. The report, Homelessness in Metropolitan Washington, which was released by the Council […]


FBI Competition Might Make Headlines, but Area Leaders are Committed to Cooperation on Many Economic Issues

At a forum today organized by the DC Chamber of Commerce and Washington Business Journal, several top elected officials discussed regional cooperation, specifically in regards to economic development. Not surprisingly, the panel of D.C. Mayor Vince Gray, U.S. Congressman Gerry Connolly, Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille, Montgomery County Executive Isiah (Ike) Leggett, and Prince George’s County […]


Studies Focus on Making Areas Near Transit Safer, Easier to Use, and More Affordable

In 2012, the Transportation Planning Board funded three planning studies to look at ways to make commercial and residential areas near transit stations in the Washington region safer and easier to use, or to make those areas more affordable places to live. The TPB funded the studies under its Transportation/Land-Use Connections Program, or TLC, which, […]

Land Use

Activity Centers: Where Metropolitan Washington is Growing

Regional leaders voted today to approve an updated set of Activity Centers for metropolitan Washington.* These 139 Centers include existing urban centers, traditional towns, transit hubs, as well as areas expecting future growth.

Scroll below the text to see an ABC 7 video clip and additional media coverage of the decision.

For example, Georgetown is a vibrant, walkable place already built-out with a strong mix of housing and businesses. Activity Centers also include locations as diverse as NoMa, Clarendon, downtown Frederick, and Silver Spring where major growth is expected to occur over the next several decades and where investments should be prioritized.

While the Centers vary in scale and type, the basic concept behind them is the same: concentrate development in areas that will have the planning and infrastructure in place to support it. By focusing growth in Activity Centers, the region will improve connections between housing and jobs, reduce environmental impact, and make a better use of limited funds.

The Centers will also promote development around area transit such as Silver Line Metro stations in Northern Virginia and Green Line Metro stations in Prince George’s County, Maryland. About two-thirds of Centers are or will be served by the region’s existing or future rail transit network.

The goal for this latest update was to make the Centers more broadly useful. To do so, more targeted and specific criteria were used to designate than in 2007, the last time the Council of Governments approved a set of Activity Centers. The criteria are primarily based on Region Forward, COG’s vision for a more accessible, sustainable, livable, and prosperous metropolitan Washington.

The Council of Governments views Activity Centers as the next generation of metropolitan Washington’s growth and development. The office park model of development, based on low-density sprawl, is obsolete. That is why leaders in the region are working to focus future growth – which is estimated to bring over a million more people to the region in the next few decades – in mixed-use Activity Centers.

The Activity Centers map update is a necessary step in the development of an upcoming Strategic Investment Plan currently underway by COG’s Region Forward Coalition. By pointing out the specific elements (i.e., sidewalks, ground-level retail, fresh food, parks) that each Center is lacking or could improve upon, the Investment Plan will help local governments determine how best to use limited resources.

The Activity Centers Strategic Investment Plan will be released later this year and is a key component of Economy Forward, COG’s plan to prepare metropolitan Washington for a future with reduced federal spending and employment.

*Post updated to reflect the Council’s vote to approve the Activity Centers and to include additional information.

ABC 7: ‘NOMA,’ Clarendon, Silver Spring to see huge growth, study says

DCist: Regional Group Outlines 139 Activity Centers Where Growth is Expected in Future

WTOP: Planners ID neighborhoods for targeted development

WAMU: Planners: Regional Job Growth Should Focus on Activity Centers

Adapting Inclusionary Zoning to a Changing Housing Market

Cheryl Cort, Policy Director, Coalition for Smarter Growth

Inclusionary Zoning is a flexible and effective tool to provide affordable housing in the expensive metro Washington market, according to speakers at a recent workshop at the Council of Governments (COG). On October 15, experts and advocates from area governments, non-profits, and the private sector convened to discuss area inclusionary zoning housing programs.

Inclusionary zoning, or IZ, requires that a certain percentage of units in a new residential development be set aside as affordable in exchange for a density bonus and/or zoning flexibility (for example, giving developers the right to build more units or build taller buildings than normal zoning rules permit). The workshop was organized by COG, the Coalition for Smarter Growth and the Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance. The goal was to convene government practitioners and affordable housing supporters to discuss current challenges, share best practices and identify issues for follow up work.

Fairfax, Montgomery and Loudoun Counties have had IZ programs in place for three decades and collectively produced over 17,000 units. Montgomery County alone has produced over 13,000 MPDUs since 1976. However, since the County’s program initially required the units to remain affordable for only a short amount of time, just over 30 percent of these units are still affordable. Fairfax County has produced over 3,400 units, has a pipeline of nearly 1,000 more, and has retained all units in the program until now, although some are due to expire soon. The District of Columbia has only recently started to see IZ units produced from its new program.

Participants tackled tough questions about how IZ programs are responding to a changing housing market, and how they are coping with new constraints from the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and commercial mortgage lenders. The workshop also discussed some of the key challenges in retaining units for long-term affordability while providing shared appreciation to homeowners. The difficulties of rising condo fees and high rise construction costs were also identified as major issues that IZ programs in the region are grappling with. D.C.’s approach of rolling the condo fee into the sales price is a newer model that will be tested as IZ units come online in the city.

Speakers noted that IZ programs continue to adapt and respond to challenges. One of the major conflicts in recent years involves the FHA not accepting certain provisions in IZ covenants on for-sale units, such as allowing affordability requirements to survive foreclosure. The District will be proposing a more comprehensive approach to ensuring that their covenants conform with FHA requirements while using alternative ways of retaining affordability of the unit or recapturing the subsidy in the event of a foreclosure.

Dave Wilkinson of CityFirst Homes, the District’s manager of a housing land trust, noted that the FHA rules are difficult or impossible to change, and working to avoid foreclosure through effective stewardship is a better approach to retaining units. He noted that foreclosure rates among housing trusts with stewardship programs are close to zero, compared to 22 percent and 14 percent for programs with no stewardship. Other struggles with FHA financing were encountered and resolved by Montgomery County, which worked for a year to obtain FHA’s agreement that its approaches to resale formulas, capital improvement credits, and enforcement actions conform to FHA standards. The county does not use a covenant that allows affordability of the unit to survive foreclosure but it retains a first right of refusal and could use its housing trust fund to purchase units.

Deborah Watson, representing Bank of America, explained that lenders can work smoothly with IZ programs by reviewing the provisions of the program as a whole, and ensuring conformity with secondary mortgage institutions like Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. Bank of America currently has a database of 400 approved IZ programs.

COG, the Coalition for Smarter Growth, and the Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance will work with participants to convene a series of follow up meetings on specific topics identified during the event for further discussion and development of solutions. Topping the list is examining how construction costs, IZ unit pricing, and income targeting affect programs.

Integrating Transportation & Land Use at the Local Level

Nine studies aimed at promoting the integration of transportation and land-use planning at the local level will kick off around the Washington region in the coming weeks.

The projects will be funded under the Transportation/Land-Use Connections Program, which was created by the Transportation Planning Board in 2006 to help local jurisdictions identify key improvements to help make the transportation system and development patterns support one another more effectively.

All nine projects funded under the program, often referred to as TLC, will be completed by June 2013, which is the end of the TPB’s fiscal year.

Of the nine projects funded this year, six will take place in Maryland, in part because the Maryland Department of Transportation commits extra funding each year to support additional TLC projects in Maryland jurisdictions.

Transportation/Land Use Connections Program

In the City of College Park, a consultant team selected by the TPB will complete a market analysis for potential mixed-use, transit-oriented development on an 18.2-acre site immediately adjacent to the College Park Metrorail station, the College Park MARC commuter rail station, and a planned Purple Line light rail stop.

Also in Prince George’s County, another consultant team will assist the City of Greenbelt in carrying out safety and accessibility evaluations of its 136 bus stops and drafting a multi-year strategic plan for making it easier and safer for local residents to access bus transit.

In Montgomery County, consultants will assist county planners in determining the extent to which it’s possible to ease minimum parking requirements for developers in areas served by bikesharing systems. The team will use the experiences of other metropolitan areas to determine how much parking demand is reduced by having access to such alternatives.

In the City of Rockville, planners will receive help in evaluating development-related traffic impacts that cross jurisdictional boundaries and in identifying appropriate capacity improvements or transportation alternatives to mitigate such impacts.

And in the City of Takoma Park, consultants will assess the feasibility of transforming New Hampshire Avenue from a six-lane suburban arterial into a multi-way boulevard, with center travel lanes for faster-moving auto and bus traffic separated by tree-lined medians from side lanes designated for slower-moving traffic, on-street parking, and bicycle facilities. The study will complement a TLC project completed last year that developed streetscape standards for the corridor.

The sixth project in Maryland falls under TLC’s new Design Pilot Program, which for the first time makes funds available to help jurisdictions complete conceptual design and preliminary engineering for a key project with the goal of moving it closer to full implementation.

The City of Frederick will receive assistance under the Design Pilot Program to design a new trail — including bike lanes, sidewalk upgrades, and a shared-use path — linking the existing MARC commuter rail station with a newly-installed bike lane that connects residential areas and major job centers in the City.

Across the Potomac River, in Virginia, two TLC projects will soon kick off, too.

One will be in the City of Falls Church, where planners want to increase the use of alternative modes of transportation along the Washington Street corridor, which connects the East Falls Church Metrorail station with the city’s southern gateway. The study will develop recommendations to promote transit-oriented design principles outside the quarter-mile radius of transit stations or stops that is the traditional focus of planners.

In the Town of Middleburg, in Loudoun County, a consultant team will help develop plans — including cost estimates and an implementation timeline — for carrying out a streetscape improvement project on Washington Street, the town’s historic main street. The study will focus especially on how to preserve the street’s historic character, address aging street lights, and develop a succession plan for overgrown trees.

Finally, the ninth project to be funded under the TLC Program this year will take place in the District of Columbia. Consultants will help planners there carry out an extensive survey of residents and managers of residential properties to try to quantify the benefits of being able to access jobs via walking, bicycling, bus, or rail, rather than by car.

In all, twelve county or municipal governments applied for funding for 16 projects under the program this year. In June, a panel of transportation and land-use experts assembled by the TPB chose nine of the projects to receive funding.

Now in its seventh year, the TPB’s TLC program has funded more than 50 technical assistance projects to help local jurisdictions better integrate transportation and land-use planning, and to identify key improvements to help make the transportation system and development patterns support one another more effectively.

The TPB Weekly Report is a regular feature on The Yardstick and is designed to provide brief, timely summaries of recent research, analysis, outreach, and planning by the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB). Follow the TPB on Facebook and Twitter.

RF Round-up: Sprawl Out, Urbanism In / Pedestrian Safety / BRT in Metro DC / Economic Growth / Reducing Child Poverty

The Yardstick has covered a very diverse range of topics over the past few weeks, from bringing BRT to metro Washington to reducing child poverty to making the region’s economy more competitive and resilient. In case you’ve missed any of them, here’s your chance to get caught up:

The next gener
ation of metro Washington’s growth and development: The office park model of development, based on low-density sprawl, is obsolete. That’s why leaders in the region are working to focus future growth – which is estimated to bring 1.6 million more people to the region in the next few decades – in urban, mixed-use Activity Centers. The evolution of Crystal City from a primarily industrial landscape in the 1960s into a major commercial center today is an illustrative example of the process of building successful urban centers.

Making the region’s roadways and walkways safe for all users: While motorist fatalities in the region declined by nearly 30 percent from 2006-2010, pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities remained essentially flat. The result is that pedestrians and bicyclists now account for 30 percent of the region’s traffic fatalities. That’s unacceptable, especially as the region aims to increase its share of walking and biking. Jeff Dunckel, Pedestrian Safety Coordinator for Montgomery County and George Branyan, Pedestrian Program Coordinator for D.C. site down for a video chat to discuss pedestrian safety issues.

Bringing Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) to metro Washington:
The region’s first BRT line could be operating in Northern Virginia by early 2014 thanks in part to a federal TIGER grant received by the TPB two years ago. The line will run approximately five miles along the Route 1 corridor between the Pentagon City and Braddock Road Metro stations, connecting growing housing and job centers to the existing transit system. Several bus routes serve the corridor already, but local planners say significant high-density development that is either underway or expected in the next few years will increase the demand for new and better service.

Moving the region’s Economy Forward:
The idea that metro Washington should diversify its economy is not new, though the urgency behind the notion is at an all time high. Nearly half a million jobs are threatened by sequestration, while a combination of the country’s “fiscal cliff” and ongoing political gridlock jeopardize future growth. Metro Washington ranked 13th out of 15 major metro areas last year in terms of job growth.

And even if Congress does manage to prevent sequestration, the current economic and political environment means that federal spending and employment is not likely to reach its recent levels in the near future. That’s why COG decided to make improving regional economic growth and competitiveness its key focus for 2012. Economy Forward, COG’s plan to prepare for reduced federal spending will develop sustainable transportation funding solutions, prioritize growth in Activity Centers, re-brand the region, improve workforce development, and establish a regional liaison with the White House.

Even in wealthy metro Washington, child poverty is on the rise and it’s an obstacle to progress:
This region is one of the most affluent communities in the world, yet, families and children are living in poverty as profound as in some developing countries. And despite the best efforts of many people over the years, things aren’t getting better, they are getting worse. A new report, Capital Kids: Shared Responsibility, Shared Future, paints a statistical portrait of our children and youth – including how their opportunities differ by where they live. There is a large and growing gap in this region between those who have the opportunities and resources to live a productive life and those who don’t.

Telework continues to gain popularity in metro Washington as technology advances and employers grant more flexibility:
More than 600,000 people in the region telework “at least occasionally” and another 500,000 say they “could and would” work remotely if given the opportunity, according to the results of a TPB survey of commuters’ travel patterns. That’s nearly half of the region’s 2010 workforce of around 2.4 million people.


Economy Forward: Metropolitan Washington’s Five-Point Plan to Prepare for Sequestration and Reduced Federal Spending

Frank Principi, Chairman, COG Board of Directors

The idea that metropolitan Washington should diversify its economy is not new, though the urgency behind the notion is at an all time high. Nearly half a million jobs are threatened by sequestration, while a combination of the country’s “fiscal cliff” and ongoing political gridlock jeopardize future growth.

Though the presence of the federal government shielded this region from the worst effects of the recession, many areas are now catching up and even surpassing us in performance. Figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that metro Washington ranked 13th out of 15 major metro areas last year in terms of job growth.

And even if Congress does manage to prevent sequestration from cutting up to 450,000 jobs from metro Washington’s employment rolls, the current economic and political environment means that federal spending and employment is not likely to reach its recent levels in the near future.

Knowing all this, the COG Board of Directors decided to make improving regional economic growth and competitiveness our key focus for 2012. We spent months talking with experts, community and business leaders, local officials, and others to find out what we do well, what holds back our growth, and how metro Washington can become more competitive relative to our national and international rival regions.

Through this process, we learned that the region must:

- Increase investment in our transportation infrastructure: By identifying sustainable funding sources, we can pursue increased investment in the transportation priorities necessary for continued economic growth and competitiveness. Already overcrowded Metrorail cars and packed highways won’t stand up to the challenge presented by the additional 1.6 million residents projected to move to metro Washington by 2040.

- Create more strong centers: The office park appears increasingly obsolete, while mixed-use Activity Centers are becoming more attractive for employers and employees alike. Vibrant centers where people can live, work and play are already a competitive advantage of our region. While other regions are scrambling to replicate our success, we need to build on this important strength.

- Break the worker-skills imbalance: By preparing our region’s workers for current and future jobs, employers will know they’ll have a skilled workforce in metro Washington. We’ve got the most educated population in the nation – report after report confirms that. However, experts and employers cite a mismatch between workers’ skills and those needed, meaning they often have to look outside the region to fill positions.

- Update its image: By highlighting the region’s wealth of innovation, research, and small businesses, metro Washington can move beyond its image as simply a “government town” and adopt a brand that more accurately reflects our economic diversity.

- Improve its relationship with its federal partners: Yes, we need to diversify our economy (and highlight that diversity through a new brand), but the federal government remains our “anchor tenant.” They have a vested interest in improving the region’s transportation system and increasing the supply of affordable housing.

The region needs to update its image. Too many people still think of metro Washington as a government town. A new brand should highlight the region’s wealth of entrepreneurialism and innovation.

We aren’t calling for the creation of a new regional entity or initiative to address these urgent economic needs. Instead, we believe COG has the capacity and relationships to lead this effort. COG will advance Economy Forward, a five-point plan, to:

- Implement a transportation priorities plan to garner broad-based public support and produce sustainable funding strategies: The Transportation Planning Board at COG will develop, with strong input from stakeholders and the public, a list of 10-15 top priority strategies and identify specific funding sources to make the strategies a reality.

- Implement a plan that will guide more efficient investments in the region’s Activity Centers so that more of them have the right mix of housing, jobs and access to transit: COG’s Region Forward Coalition will develop an investment plan for use by local governments, developers, transit agencies, philanthropists, and other groups to guide their planning and investment decisions in the region’s Activity Centers.

- Undertake an industry and labor market analysis to ensure that workforce development programs are training people for current and future growth sectors. The Region Forward Coalition will lead this data collection with the goal of better aligning workforce and economic development efforts.

- Develop a new regional brand based on what we learn during the industry and labor market analysis. The brand will promote metro Washington’s economic diversity and tell our story to the outside world.

- Work with senior Administration officials to identify an official to serve as a federal-regional liaison to improve partnership: While the region benefits from a close relationship with its Congressional delegation, we also need to build a strong and ongoing relationship with presidential Administrations. Such a partnership would help regional leaders better understand and mitigate the impact of federal cuts and plan future federal investments when opportunities arise. The COG Board and leadership will lead this part of the effort.

While these actions cover a wide range of subjects, they are interrelated and must be addressed as a whole. Failure in any one area is not an option and will hold the region back from its full economic potential.

In the face of sequestration, reduced federal spending, and gridlock on Capitol Hill, there is plenty that our region can do—and must do—to ensure our future competitiveness and prosperity. With the recent adoption of Economy Forward, an offshoot of Region Forward, COG and its partners at the Region Forward Coalition and the Transportation Planning Board are pledging to refocus our current and upcoming projects to move our economy forward.

Crystal City: An Activity Center in transformation

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been discussing the role of updated Activity Centers in metro Washington. Now we’re going to take a look at some specific Centers, starting with Crystal City.

Located in Arlington County between Route 1 and the RF&P railroad, Crystal City provides an interesting example of how key investments can shape Activity Centers into more dynamic and successful communities.

Major redevelopment in the 1960s transformed Crystal City’s industrial landscape into a major commercial center that was marked by large office buildings, superblocks, and pedestrian tunnels.

Crystal City’s central location and connections to Downtown DC, the Pentagon, and National Airport made it an ideal location for its federal and defense contractor tenants. More recently, challenges such as the 2005 BRAC recommendations relocating 13,000 jobs out of Crystal City, the departure of large employers, and aging building stock have prompted Arlington County government and business leaders to reposition Crystal City.

To this end, the Crystal City Sector Plan, adopted in 2010, provides a framework to guide future development, addressing the area’s transportation, land use, density, urban design, and public space and parks.

The Crystal City Business Improvement District (BID) is spearheading a number of efforts to create a vibrant mixed-use community, engaging the area’s businesses, residents, workers, and visitors. Today, Angela Fox, President and CEO of the Crystal City BID, writes about some of these changes.

Almost a decade ago, Crystal City stakeholders began a systematic process to reinvent the area. Those seemingly simple yet deliberate steps forward began a movement that no one could have expected – and, to this day, the results continue to reap major benefits.

With the formal approval of the Crystal City Sector plan two years ago this month, the Arlington County government and area developers have committed to continue this reinvention. Today, the progress is palpable as the County begins public infrastructure investments on the two-way conversion of Crystal Drive and new transit services and as private development has already begun at 1900 Crystal Drive, 1400 Crystal Drive, and Boeing’s new regional headquarters.

As Crystal City’s overarching physical transformation is underway, the Crystal City BID is working to enhance the present day experience through its active, artful, accessible, and green programs.

As an active place, the Crystal City BID hosts numerous bike races, from the Air Force Cycling Classic to the Diamond Derby (the region’s only indoor garage bike race). Crystal City also has free outdoor yoga and Zumba classes throughout the summer, hosts 5k races every Friday in April, and outdoor recreational volleyball and street hockey leagues.

Proposed tower in Crystal City (Credit: The Washington Post)

The Crystal City BID believes that an area must also be artful. The Crystal City BID has transformed stark walls into canvas through its Art Wall program. Works from local artists are reproduced and hung on buildings throughout the area. The area is filled with fun wine events in September, outdoor movies in the summer, and fashion shows in February.

Crystal City is one of the most accessible areas in the region. With Metro, VRE, easy access to the highways, connections to two regional bikeways and an airport that one can walk to, few areas can claim anything close to the location and access that has been the foundation of Crystal City’s long-term success. The Crystal City BID works to enhance these assets with creative extensions, such as Capital Bikeshare, redesigned gateways, better connectivity, and free nightly retail parking. They have also expanded information access with free Wi-Fi in all of its open spaces.

Crystal City is also the area’s emerald city, as green is a fundamental part of its fabric. All of the Crystal City BID’s events are low-to-no waste and 50 recycling cans line the streets to keep materials out of landfills. Every April, the yearly Power Purge & Shred safely and securely keeps tons of electronics and documents out of the trash stream. Starting in May and running through November, the weekly FRESHFARM Farmers Market gives area residents and workers access to local and fresh produce and other products, and includes free composting services. Pole banners are recycled into bags, landscaping features are redistributed in floral frenzy programs, and eco-friendly forms of transportation are actively supported.

Crystal City is in a state of dynamic transformation, which can be seen in the new art walls that have turned the area into a living gallery of color, heard in the sounds of jazz emanating from events in the area, and felt in the energy and spirit of racers, runners, walkers, and spectators at area cycling and running events. Parking lots have been turned into festivals and athletic fields, a food court into a fashion night club, and a courtyard into an outdoor movie theater for more than five years running. Old buildings are coming down, and bright new ones are going up. Crystal City is in flux, and the future looks brighter than ever.

Metro Washington investing in a vision for dozens of “downtowns”

Guest post by Tom Fairchild, the Director of Mobility Lab, which is working with COG and other partners to make the updated Activity Centers a tool for managing growth and development in metro Washington.

Read more about how the updated Activity Centers will be more effective than previous versions.

We all want to live in communities that offer us the chance to interact with other people and feel like we’re part of something vibrant. However, if one or two investments are off-base or not aligned with the vision of what the community wants, it can derail our hopes and dreams.

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) has a visionary plan, implemented in 2008, called Region Forward. Mobility Lab has recently signed on as a partner to help figure out how 136 communities being calling “activity centers” (see map) – or, essentially, mini-downtowns where the majority of the region’s future growth will occur over the next 30 years – can succeed and thrive, and continue to make the DC region the kind of place where the next generations of people want to call home.

NoMa Summer Screen (Photo Credit: NoMA DC BID)

The idea of activity centers is not really anything new. There are plenty of places in, for example, Arlington County, Virginia that nobody in the past would have thought of as activity centers. But because of deliberate planning, formerly parking lot-centric Ballston is no longer referred to “Parkington” and Pentagon City has transformed from a brownfield into a shopping district with some of the highest retail sales per-square-foot in America.

What is new is that Mobility Lab and others have joined COG to invigorate the intense academic work that has already gone into examining market strength and a massive list of place-based physical characteristics. The Center for Transit-Oriented Development, Reconnecting America, Urban Imprint & State of Place, the Urban Land Institute of Washington, and Robert Charles Lesser & Company will bring this work into practice – by helping make the case for the right kinds of investments – with a series of upcoming workshops, webinars, and trainings – and lots of media coverage.

Region Forward is all about vision and planning – and sticking with that plan, which is often really, really difficult to do. And it’s why this foundation for the activity centers – whether they are undeveloped and laying the foundation for future investments or already have high-density development and want to build upon their market strength – is so crucial to moving forward in visionary ways.

Further, no community-development plan is complete without some thought given to transportation options – which just happen to be the bread and butter of Mobility Lab. What is impressive – and revolutionary – about the Region Forward plan is that it aims to connect activity centers with dozens of other activity centers throughout DC.

The new metro stations and the enormous activity center coming to life in Tyson’s Corner will be really good for the rest of Arlington County. People there will be living a lifestyle on a daily basis in which there will be less need for a car. They will also be more likely to visit other activity centers with the knowledge that they don’t need to get there with a car but can instead use other options – like Metro buses and rail, biking, and even walking – that will improve the quality of their lives.

It will be really exciting to work with COG, local governments, investors, transit agencies, developers, state and federal agencies, and the public as these activity centers come alive and thrive.

Another exciting element is the feedback Region Forward is soliciting from the public. Through October 1, anyone can submit an idea to make help make sure DC has lots of activity centers that make us want to live, work, and play here for many more years.

Cross-posted at Mobility Lab.

New Activity Centers: smaller, more numerous, and more effective

Last week Sophie Mintier, a Housing Planner at MWCOG, provided an overview of the Activity Centers 2012 Update and asked readers to submit ideas for how these Centers can best be used to guide sustainable development in metro Washington. This week Sophie gives us more detail on how the new Centers differ from previous versions.

Throughout the process of updating the Activity Centers map, we’ve received surprised – and sometimes alarmed – reactions to the number of Activity Centers we’re proposing. For the 2012 update, the number of centers has more than doubled, from 59 Centers in 2007 to 136 Centers today. We expected these initial reactions; after all, Activity Centers are a growth management tool, so having fewer of these focus areas would seem to make sense.

To explain how we ended up with this larger set of Centers, it’s helpful to understand how they differ from their predecessors. In the past, Activity Centers were defined solely based on future employment forecasts, resulting in large Centers and a map that showed only the most regionally-significant places.

Many of these centers were between 3,000 and 5,000 acres – larger than the entire area of Falls Church, Manassas Park, or Fairfax City. In some cases these Centers were consistent with local plans, but in other cases there were disconnects.

For example, the Prince George’s County General Plan sought to focus new development around Metrorail stations, but these growth areas were largely absent from the old map because they weren’t major employment centers. Other local jurisdictions did not have any Activity Centers, and therefore their elected officials viewed any implementation policy focused on the Centers as a losing proposition for their constituents.

New Carrollton, MD (image credit: Ben Schumin)

As a result of these disconnects between local and regional planning, the Transportation Planning Board and MWCOG could not use the map for policy or implementation purposes. That’s why so far, Activity Centers have mostly been a tool for scenario studies and other analytical efforts.

We sought to address these shortcomings through the 2012 update. There were two goals for this process: first, to better align local and regional planning, and second, to create a policy and implementation tool for different planning purposes, such as transportation, land use, and economic development. We developed a new approach to identifying Activity Centers, resulting in key changes that increased the number of Centers, as described below.

Proposed 2012 Activity Centers Update. Click image for more detailed information.

Formerly large Centers have been broken into multiple smaller centers. This change accounts for much of the increase in the number of Centers. For example, Tyson’s Corner was previously one very large Center; now it’s four smaller Centers that are better aligned with Silver Line stations and the newly adopted comprehensive plan for Tyson’s. Most of the new Activity Centers fall within old Center boundaries, and together they account for less land area than the old Centers. Most importantly, smaller centers are a much better size for implementing the types of place-based improvements that will transform them into walkable, mixed-use Complete Communities with the right mix of jobs, housing, and transportation choices.

Due to the new selection criteria, Activity Centers now include more diverse types of places. The 2012 update still recognizes major employment centers, but also includes many mixed-use centers, whether they’re highly urbanized places, smaller traditional downtowns, or something in between.

On a related note, every MWCOG jurisdiction now has a least one place that qualifies as an Activity Center. This is important because Activity Centers provide a way for all jurisdictions to contribute to our shared regional goals and it reduces fears that member jurisdictions will miss out on development and growth opportunities.

Several additional transit stations are now included as Activity Centers. Many local governments are planning for major development and growth at their transit stations and the 2012 Centers update recognizes those places that are identified as local priorities. The region boats some of the nation’s best examples of transit-oriented development. To ensure our future competitiveness and quality of life, we need to greatly expand on this success.

The Region Forward team would like your input on how these Centers can best be used to guide sustainable development in metro Washington.