Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Impact of the closure of Walter Reed Hospital on Silver Spring, Maryland

One of the downsides of lack of density in the more eastern side of upper upper Northwest DC, is that we don't have enough population to support the provision of decent set of commercial services (retail) in one place that is relatively efficient to get to. I know I maybe over-extend the idea of the Reilly Law of Retail Gravitation somewhat, which was originally developed to explain why some (market) towns developed over others. But the general point is still relevant--population, transportation efficiency, civic attractions (i.e., Courthouse) are contributors to the development of market centers, and the places with more and better retail and attractions are the places that are preferred.

This is a long way of getting to the point that it is more "efficient" on many things for us to go to Silver Spring (in Maryland) than it is to go south into DC, such as to Columbia Heights--which is mostly a convenience goods destination anyway, and harder to get to by transit (no direct bus, subway requires transferring between lines, whereas we can walk to Silver Spring or take the subway one stop, or even walk a really long way up to Georgia Avenue to take the bus).

So we do. And it is the source of my criticism (I would call it critical analysis) that the retail program developed for Columbia Heights never had a second act. They attracted Target, built a new Giant, and have Bed Bath and Beyond, Best Buy, and Staples, but the lack much in the way of specialty retail and apparel (bookstore, some clothing stores) and entertainment options, thereby limiting the ability of this shopping district to further develop and capture more District of Columbia residents as recurring customers.

(Yes, it's convenient to go to Target on my bike. But there isn't a decent hardware store west of Wisconsin Avenue to the DC-MoCo/PG border north of Harewood Road. Hence, trips to Silver Spring for Strosniders, or now to Takoma Park for Takoma Park Hardware.)

Community (and bicycle) activist Casey Anderson of Silver Spring has an interesting post on the impact on the retail, restaurant, and accommodations business sectors of the moving of the Walter Reed Hospital from upper northwest DC (about 1.5 miles from the heart of Silver Spring) to Bethesda.

- "Walter Reed, Silver Spring, and the Future of Georgia Avenue" from the Citizens League of Montgomery County board blog

From the standpoint of jurisdiction-specific retail development and revitalization it's very important to be direct and analytical about your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

Georgia Avenue needs better transit to become a premier retail and entertainment destination. Even so, the area lacks the right population density and demographics (the residents tend to be older, and as we get older we go out less and buy less) to support those kinds of establishments in a long term way.

I was originally skeptical of Dave Murphy's idea for a separated yellow line subway going up Georgia Avenue in part, because the area _right now_ doesn't have the density to support it. See "Imagine a separate Yellow Line" from Greater Greater Washington.

But long term, selective redevelopment could make such a proposal more viable. Especially of the Walter Reed Hospital site, and some of the blocks along Georgia Avenue. It would be very controversial though--not unlike how single family neighborhoods in Arlington County were eradicated to become "Virginia Square." And it's easy for me to say because redevelopment wouldn't trickle down to my part of the neighborhood any time soon.

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