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.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A recommended new planning direction for Prince George's County

Having only intermittent access to a computer at home means that I am "crippled" in my ability to write an entry that I have been meaning to write about Prince George's County. I was waiting on this because I need to do a GIS mapping of the current subway stations plus the coming light rail stations for the Purple Line.

Washcycle reports, in "PG County wants to remove bike/ped planners from road review process," that PG County also has a poorly written political transition document, which states that the bicycle and pedestrian planning unit of the planning department shouldn't weigh in on road reconstruction programs. Wow! Pretty f***** up.

This is from a county that claims it wants to do transit oriented development. And that it has money to support business development. See "Rushern Baker eyes $50M development fund" from the Washington Business Journal. From Rushern Baker's inaugural speech:

We will work with the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority and the state to let them know we will be the region leader in transit oriented development and yes, we must find ways to be fair, but fast. The opportunity is now.

But it doesn't surprise me, because really TOD isn't about "transit oriented development" as much as it is about sustainable transportation and changing the way of planning towards compact development, which includes promoting walking and bicycling, not just transit.

About four years ago, I did a presentation to Montgomery County's Action Coalition on Transit that I called "Montgomery County Transit Planning Beyond the Purple Line."

(Embarassingly, I never put this document up on scribd. I thought I did. I will rectify this.)

Prince George's County needs to undertake the same kind of process.

It needs to focus not on "transit oriented development" per se--because most of their stations aren't located in areas with spatial patterns supportive of compact development--but on repositioning their development patterns of land use and transportation towards compact development.

PG County should use the coming of the Purple Line as a way to begin this process, which they should be starting now, just as Reston has created a new land use plan that is responding to the development of the Silver Line heavy rail line which will provide new transit access. See Reston Vision Committee Completes its Report: This arm of Special Study Master Plan Task Force sees "A Complete Community Along the Metro Silver Line."

Somewhere I saw a mention of how Upper Marlboro, the Prince George's County seat, is not well connected by transit.

One of the things I would recommend in a presentation that I might create called "Prince George's County: Transportation and Land Use Planning Beyond the Purple Line" would recommend relocating the County Seat to one of the transit station districts, maybe at a place like New Carrollton, which will have heavy rail, railroad (MARC and Amtrak), and light rail service.

This is not unlike what Gresham, Oregon did over time. My understanding is that they were originally skeptical about the location of a light rail station in their downtown as part of the Portland MAX service. But over time, the community changed its attitude and through the creation and execution of a neighborhood plan, they built a new city hall, conference center, and plaza adjacent to the transit station, which opened in 1996. From the website:

The 130-acre district arose from an ambitious plan to create a new model of an urban, civic neighborhood in the heart of the city. Built around the MAX light rail line, Gresham City Hall, trendy, high density housing and a contemporary shopping center, the neighborhood has flourished beyond expectations.

The neighborhood, which sprouted in 2000, is now home to hundreds of housing units — town homes, condominiums, high-end apartments — the Center for Advanced Learning, Mt. Hood Community College’s Bruning Center for Allied Health and the Gresham Station shopping center. The 300,000-square-foot Gresham Station is an open air shopping center that boasts more than 50 well-known shops and restaurants in a unique village setting complete with wide, tree-lined sidewalks, attractive buildings and characteristic accents.

A second phase of development, known as Gresham Station North, includes an 18,500 square-foot state-of-the-art surgery center, a 45,000 square-foot LA Fitness facility and 80,000 square feet of medical, commercial office and retail space.

MAX at the Gresham City Hall Station
MAX at the Gresham City Hall Station. Tri-Met image. Note that the development overall isn't perfect, and includes a car parking fronted shopping center.


Relocating the County Seat to a location with high quality transit service is only one of the steps they should undertake.

Reorganizing bus services to focus on transit stations, upon the opening of the Purple Line light rail system is another.

Acknowledging complete streets and sustainable transportation policies is essential.

Changing the land use spatial development paradigm towards compact development is another.


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