Tuesday, May 2, 2017

it's true, I am applying for the montgomery county planning board

Awesome photo of me by Aimee Custis.
Some of you may already know this, but last month I applied for a position on the Montgomery County Planning Board. This June, there will be an open seat when current member Marye Wells-Harley must step down due to term limits.

I've spent a long time thinking about this. Over the past few months, I've traveled across the county, hearing from residents, community advocates, and business owners about the issues and challenges facing our county. If you've been reading this blog since the start (11 years next month!) you know that this county, and East County, is constantly evolving, and we have an awesome opportunity to make it a more inclusive and sustainable place. I hope to help our county leaders do that.

Next week, the County Council will interview me and three other applicants, all on live television. And sometime in May or June, the council will vote to appoint the new Planning Board member. If you'd like to write them a letter on my behalf, I'd be honored to have your support. You can send an email to county.council@montgomerycountymd.gov.

As part of my application to the County Council, I included this letter:

We are at a crossroads in Montgomery County. For decades, Montgomery County was a prosperous and largely homogeneous bedroom community for the nation’s capital. In recent years, that has changed. We are still prosperous, though many parts of the county struggle with poverty; we’re far more diverse, having become majority-minority in the 2010 Census; and we’re no longer a bedroom community, as according to the Census, 60% of employed Montgomery County residents work in the county.

Yet ahead lie big changes in how we live, work, and get around. The county is largely built up and there may not be opportunities to accommodate new growth simply by sprawling further out. There’s a growing demand for walkable communities with at least some urban features, not only from young adults but also from retiring adults, and from the county’s growing minority and immigrant communities.

Big employers seek smaller office spaces and are leaving office parks for Metro-accessible locations, while major chain retailers shrink or close altogether, leaving gaps in our malls and shopping districts. New technologies like bikesharing and ride-hailing are creating new ways to get around, but the looming threat of autonomous vehicles could totally disrupt the way we inhabit our communities altogether.

For the past eleven years, I have watched those trends as a community member and an urban planner, and I’ve seen how they’re already starting to transform Montgomery County. I have the experience needed to help this county meet these challenges head on. As a younger person who grew up in East County, I have the perspective to speak to the vast array of experiences Montgomery County residents have, especially those who do not always participate in local affairs.

I’ve spoken with so many people in this county who struggle to find housing they can afford with easy access to jobs, education, or loved ones. Aging Baby Boomers say they’re ready to downsize from their big single-family home, and unable to find an apartment or condominium nearby that meets their needs. Others say their kids moved to Frederick County or out of the region because they simply can’t afford it here. Many of my own friends, who grew up here and are now settling down and starting families, tell me that they can’t find the kind of housing they want.

This county has a responsibility to protect and preserve our neighborhoods, as well as our environment, our economy, and social opportunities. I learned from last year’s election that people in Montgomery County are excited to be engaged in their community, and I want to use this position to engage them.

We have the opportunity to create a stronger, more equitable, more vibrant county, and one that can be an example for communities around the nation. I would like to work with the Planning Board and the County Council to help accomplish that.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

montgomery county bucks trends to become one of the dc area's fastest growing counties

After years of booming growth, cities around the United States appear to be slowing down. But that's not quite the case in the Washington region. Here, new residents are simultaneously moving back to the city and also further out into suburban areas.
Downtown Silver Spring at Night
Still very much a thing. All photos and images by the author.
Last week, the Census Bureau released population estimates for counties and metropolitan areas in the US for 2016. That includes counts for the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria Metropolitan Area, which includes the District of Columbia and 27 surrounding counties and cities in Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Between 2010 and 2016, the DC metropolitan area gained over 495,000 residents, bringing it up to a population of 6.1 million people last year. The region is growing slower than it has in the past. It added just 53,508 people last year, compared to 89,000 people in 2011.

But it's still enough to make the DC metropolitan area the 10th-fastest growing region in the nation, and that's what makes it an anomaly. As Yonah Freemark of the Transport Politic noted on Twitter, the nation's fastest growing areas are southern and sprawly, like Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, and Atlanta. Meanwhile, older northeastern and Midwestern cities are once again losing population. Baltimore was the third fastest-shrinking county in the nation, behind the counties that contain Chicago and Detroit.

This shift is enough for researcher Jed Kolko (and others) to declare that the "back to the city" trend over the past few years may have passed, and that Americans are moving back to the suburbs as they did before the Great Recession.

The ten largest cities and counties in Greater Washington last year.

That's sort of the case here. The region's four biggest jurisdictions remain the three inner-ring suburban counties (Fairfax, Montgomery, and Prince George's) and the District of Columbia. But over the past six years, growth has shifted towards closer in towards DC, and farther out into the outer-ring suburbs.

Friday, February 24, 2017

route 198 could be safer, but only if the community asks for it

This is a guest post from our friend Sebastian Smoot, who's president of the Good Hope Estates Civic Association and has an awesome new blog called Growing East County about (you know) East County.

A debate over how to fix a dangerous road in Burtonsville has been going on for nearly 20 years. But the state of Maryland is ready to move a plan forward, and if residents seize the moment, they can push for sidewalks, traffic lights, turn lanes, crosswalks, bike trails, and a grid of local streets.

Image by Maryland SHA.

An unincorporated town with approximately 13,000 people, Burtonsville is the easternmost town in Montgomery County. Over the past few decades, Burtonsville has been and continues to be developed as an auto-centric town. It lacks walkability and suffers from a lack of public gathering spaces or a defined community center.

Despite these challenges, Burtonsville has an opportunity to re-define itself as a thriving village with regional appeal. Three years ago, GGWash senior editor Dan Reed suggested Burtonsville could become the "next Mosaic District".

For many locals, the key to Burtonsville's revitalization is making it's roads safer for drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians. One idea is to transform MD 198 from a dangerous, chaotic, and high-speed thoroughfare into an attractive and walkable "Main Street.”

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

"be in the right place at the right time" is not a strategy for buying a house

How can you afford to buy a house in sought-after parts of DC or other close-in areas? By moving there twenty years ago. But that's no help to people navigating the housing market today.

Fun with color and repetition: I'm really enjoying these rowhouses in Trinidad. (Another DC neighborhood I was taught to fear as a kid, now I can't afford to live there.)
Photo by the author.
One out of every ten houses currently for sale in DC is listed for over a million dollars. Curious to find out who's living in them, former GGWash contributor Rob Pitingolo at the Urban Institute found that million-dollar home owners in DC are generally not wealthy, nor do they work in high-paying fields. Many of them have just lived here for a while and bought their houses before 2000, when house prices were much lower. WAMU talked to Cleveland Park resident Robert Edmonds, who said he was simply in the right place at the right time:
“I think it would have been a lot more challenging to try to buy now,” Edmonds said. “We purchased about 15 to 18 years ago, when the market was just starting to really skyrocket. … I wanted to start a family, and we wanted to buy, get some equity, and I think we just happened to do it at the right time. If we did it 8 or 10 years later, I think we really might have regretted it for a while, at least.”