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, December 06, 2012

Hypothesis vs. theoretically-infused practice: where to locate a new FBI headquarters

Today's Post has a column, "Put the FBI headquarters in Prince George's," by Robert McCartney about how the proposed new FBI headquarters should be located in Prince George's County, specifically at the Greenbelt Metro.

Recently on GGW on a post on Greenbelt's sector plan ("Greenbelt sector plan defeats its own walkability goals") it happens that I made the point that Greenbelt has an opportunity to become a regional activity and office center because of its transit and highway connections, proximity to the University of Maryland, and other connections.

Greenbelt on the mapEven so, I'm not sure that Greenbelt would be the right place to locate the FBI, just because it is served by the subway and limited railroad commuter service and the Capital Beltway.

These discussions about where to locate federal agencies, especially with the example of BRAC, the military base relocation process, are mostly disconnected from serious consideration of transportation impact, glib pronouncements about Greenbelt notwithstanding.

It's true that most federal agencies in DC and certain locations in the nearby suburbs have a high rate of transit use, upwards of 80% in some cases.

Sure, part of the reason is because of the transit benefit for employees (all federal workers can get $125/mo. for transit.  If they live close in, getting to work by transit is free.

MARC train information, Camden LineBut the other is because the agencies tend to be located in transit rich locations (the FBI headquarters now is served by all 5 subway lines, while the Greenbelt site is served by one or two lines at the most, depending on the time of day), and these transit lines can be reached relatively efficiently from a large part of the metropolitan area, without having to make a large number of transfers.

As far as the highway location, again, Greenbelt might not be the best location on the Capital Beltway in terms of serving the FBI, depending on where a majority of the workers live.  If many of the workers live in Virginia, locations on the southern rather than the northern section of the Capital Beltway may make more sense.

The first step is a zip code analysis of the residential location of the workers. This should be used to determine which potential locations are the best fit between where the workers live and how well transit can serve them in getting to their workplace.

It could be that the Greenbelt Metro station is a great location in terms of yellow line service to Virginia. A "MARC station" as mentioned in the Post article is semi-meaningless, because the Camden line that serves this station is the least used of the lines, and unless many FBI workers live in Baltimore it wouldn't likely have a lot of inpact (although it would be interesting to connect VRE service to that line if Virginia is the predominate location for FBI employees).

But it might not.  We don't know, and until we do, these kinds of articles aren't very helpful.  (Although if the Post might have noticed that the BRAC movements post-2005 would have significant impact on the Fort Belvoir and Montgomery County Medical Center areas and that transit expansion to those areas as part of BRAC mitigation would have been very useful.)

(Greenbelt also isn't in the part of Prince George's County that McCartney says needs economic development because it is less affluent, but that's another issue.)

I'd love to see the Washington Post's intrepid computer-aided reporting operation do something as simple as a zip code analysis of the FBI's headquarter employees (employees assigned there now as well as those who would be located in an expanded headquarters) and use that kind of information in shaping the speculative environment on FBI's relocation.

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At 10:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the FBI needs to remain in the city- and there is plenty of underused land in Anacostia for a new facility. Besides- they need to be in proximity to the city for their functions. We cannot afford to be losing these federal jobs even if some people do not like the FBI for whatever reasons.

At 11:14 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

You make a good point about the agglomeration economies of a DC location. However, Anacostia has some of the same problems as Greenbelt does in terms of location. Frankly, while I wouldn't recommend it, maybe one of the best places + the separated blue line, would be the northern parking lots of the RFK Stadium. Alternatively, Res. 13.

Ideally, federal agencies exceeding a certain size should have to be located in places served by multiple subway lines, not just "a transit station."

But you raise another good point. Probably the functions at headquarters could be organized according to what needs to be in DC proper and what doesn't. (E.g., the Smithsonian has certain back office operations at Suitland and in Crystal City. Not everything is on or near the National Mall.)

By rightsizing the agency functions and location in this manner, the agency would probably be better served.

At 11:49 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

I think you aren't factoring agency ego into account, as well as the desire to be under one roof.

There is a larger point that if this trend continues, metro-rail is dead in 20 years as federal ridership collapses.

At 3:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Charlie makes a great point- metro was put in by the feds as an investment and now they are all but abandoning it for the Sprawl.
Again- has any study- a comprehensive study- been done measuring the impact and amount of jobs the city has lost to cherry-picking and sprawl-centric re-locations in the past 20-30 years? I bet that this is profound - and the DC government is incredibly lax and tolerant of these draconian and horrible problems that are going to basically DESTROY our city.

At 3:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Richard - your idea of utilizing the vast parking areas around RFK is absolutely brilliant- but I fear that losers like the CHRS will fight any kind of sustainable uses for this land- as they are REALLY the Capitol Hill Parking Preservation Society and have little to do with HP anymore. Your boy RG also understands this dilemma.

At 9:28 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Charlie makes an incredibly insightful point as always.

2. with regard to Anon's point about the impact on sprawl of movement of federal agencies, that would be an important study to do. A great masters thesis/dissertation.

Note that the federal policy in the late 1950s pushed some decentralization as a safety valve for congestion, civil defense anti-concentration, etc.

And MoCo's "wedges and corridors" plan is an extension of those concepts.

(I found an NCPC document from around 1962 about this. Going back through the NCPC archives would find more about it. I'm sure it's discussed in the Federal Elements of the DC Comp. Plan. + a law was passed requiring that 60% of agencies (I think that's the #) stay in DC.

3. Of course the legislators from VA, MD, and WV have been very diligent about attracting federal agencies.

And while Charlie disagrees, ArCo's attraction of NSF helped to spark (along with DARPA) Arlington's attraction of science-research related organizations to the Ballston area.

It becomes death by 1000 cuts, especially because DC isn't very good on its own in terms of retention. (E.g., just look at the recent press coverage of Intelsat's impending move.)

4. The CHRS/RG stuff is something else. I merely refer you to this past blog entry:

and this...


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