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.

Monday, June 12, 2017

PL #5: Creating a Silver Spring "Sustainable Mobility District" | Part 3: Program items 10-18

The discussion of the proposal to create a Silver Spring "Sustainable Mobility District" is very long.
So it's broken up into four sections, plus three related posts:

Part 1: Setting the stage
Part 2: Program items 1- 9
-  Part 3: Program items 10-18
-  Part 4: Conclusion
+ Map (to come)
+ "(Big Hairy) Projects Action Plan(s) as an element of Comprehensive/Master Plans"
+ "Creating the Silver Spring/Montgomery County Arena and Recreation Center" (to come)
=======
Program (continued)

10.  Create a digital community and transit information network for Silver Spring, employing kiosks and mobile applications.  For at least 15 years, I've been thinking about how to create and deliver a city- (county-) wide digital nonprofit and cultural communications feed, with sub-feeds for neighborhoods/districts.

Now, with real-time transit information feeds like TransitScreen, you can use them as the engine but add other feeds to the engine.  That's how the digital information kiosks work (called CityPost, produced by Smart City Media) alongside the Kansas City Streetcar.

From the Digital Signage Today article "Meridian deploys outdoor interactive kiosks in Kansas City" :
The interactive kiosks, located at Kansas City Streetcar platforms and throughout downtown, enable travelers to check the arrival time of the next streetcar, offer Kansas City locals and tourists access to city services, and display information about local restaurants, activities and events...

Kiosk users can sync their smartphones to the kiosk with a mobile app to save and share information. For example, Kansas City Streetcar travelers might see an ad for dinner at a local restaurant. They are then able to pull that information onto their mobile device to access again at their convenience.
There is also the LinkNYC program, delivered by Civiq Smartscapes, but these systems tend to be more focused on delivering advertising rather than useful community-specific information.  I have similar concerns about a program done separately by the New York MTA transit agencies.

The feed would be multi-stream instead of a single advertising feed or a single transit information feed. 

Take (1) the digital ad feed presented in bus shelters and transit stations; (2) add transit and mobility information like the TransitScreen application; and (3) create and deliver a separate "community information feed" promoting  nonprofit and public sector organization, events, public meeting notices, etc.  (Note that Outfront Media is doing (1) and (2) on screens in Metrorail stations.)

There is great need for systematically delivering community information in public and visible ways in many places, because community media outlets are going out of business because of how the Internet has changed the business of media and advertising.

In fact, Montgomery County does a form of delivering community information digitally at the Silver Spring Civic Center, where they have two digital screens side-by-side behind the information desk.  One presents the TransitScreen info, and the other cycles through "ads" for Montgomery County Government agencies and services, and community events.   

The idea is to create content in a way that works at two scales: (1) a city or county; and (2) at the sub-city/county scale, by neighborhood/ transit district.

The stream would be device independent, so that it could be displayed on screens and kiosks as well as received on a digital feed.  Besides delivering this digital network in kiosks at transit stations and key "crossroads," in bus shelters, and civic buildings and sites, ideally, places like coffee shops, office and apartment buildings, etc., would put up screens and "subscribe" to the feed as a service to their customers/tenants--many do this with transit information already.

As another example, recently I came across the Pitt Smart Living Project, but it seems to focus only on delivering area-specific transit information.

-- Pitt Smart Living Project TransitScreen for Sennott Square

To create and deliver the community ads and event content, I'd set up an "advertising and design curriculum" as part of the School of Art and Design at Montgomery College, perhaps with the involvement of the journalism program of Montgomery-Blair High School, which very actively markets its Silver Chips student newspaper to the community beyond the school. 

A way to extend the community and educational value of the program would be to create an equivalent of the teen graphic design program of Boston's Artists for HumanityArts on the Block, based in Kensington, could participate too.    The firm handling advertising in Montgomery County's bus shelters would be another partner.

Currently the MC Media Arts & Technology program is located at the Rockville campus, but in keeping with the presence of Discovery Channel in Silver Spring, perhaps this academic program could shift to the Silver Spring campus.

-- Smart City Media video showing the program in Kansas City

An issue is whether or not to include "for profit" ads.  I would in part to defray costs, but outside of bus shelters, perhaps ads should be limited to businesses based in Silver Spring, potentially the Silver Spring retail trade area (which includes parts of DC and arguably, part of Prince George's County), and Montgomery County outside of Silver Spring.

11.  Creating the Silver Spring/Montgomery County Arena and Recreation Center.  As mentioned above, Montgomery County would like to have an arena in Silver Spring.  But I think their expectation that the private sector would take this on without significant subsidy is unrealistic, given the economic and use conditions presented. 

The football stadium is on the roof of Union City High School, New Jersey
The football stadium is on the roof of Union City High School, New Jersey.  Photo from MaxPreps.

In keeping with the fact that Montgomery County is the 41st largest county in the US in terms of population. an arena is worth creating.   

But being outside of the center city means that Montgomery County needs to be particularly creative in forging a forward path to realize this goal. 

This item is addressed more fully in a separate blog entry, "Creating the Silver Spring/Montgomery County Arena and Recreation Center."

It proposes the creation of a multi-purpose facility with an arena, and a community serving recreation center, complemented by a "field" on top of a separate parking structure, comparable to the roof-based football stadium at Union City High School in New Jersey.

12.  Developing the Silver Spring Triangle as a "Bike Friendly District.  Besides the creation of a high quality very visible cycletrack network, a number of parallel improvements can brand the district as a "bike friendly business district" ("How Bike Lanes Increase Small Business Revenue," Elly Blue).

- High quality bicycle air pumps should be installed at various locations in the Silver Spring Triangle, along with the update and reprinting of the Silver Spring Bikeways map including large copies posted at transit stops and stations, and some repair stands, including at the Silver Spring Transit Center.

- The bike hub that is supposed to be created as part of the Purple Line extension to the SSTC should be included in this program.

- Note that The Blairs private development has an outdoor self-serve "bicycle station."  This is a model for what should be being done already, across public and private spaces.

13.  Designate Silver Spring as a pilot node in the development of a DC-area "Parkiteer" secure bike parking network.  In "Building a network of bike facilities at the regional scale" I suggested the creation of a regional integrated secure bike parking network modeled after the Parkiteer program in Greater Melbourne, Australia. 

Silver Spring would be a great place to pilot the development of such a network, with public and private sector partners including the parking management section of MCDOT, Montgomery Parks, Metrorail, alongside a parallel program in DC.

14.  Bring Car2Go to Silver Spring.  Car2Go is a one-way car sharing program that serves DC and Arlington County, Virginia. 

In a piece last year, I suggested that Mount Rainer, Maryland, as a resident attraction tactic, should facilitate Car2Go expansion to their community, in part by not charging for their initial entry. 

Montgomery County should consider the same tactic for Silver Spring, as a resident attraction and transportation demand management measure.

This would justify a pilot phase for the program at no cost, providing at the outset a schedule for phasing charging, depending on the success of the program. 

As an interim measure, working with Montgomery County's Department of Parking Management, drop off-pick up "free zones" could be designated at some parking structures. 

Car2Go does short term drop zones as a special promotion in association with festivals, and has a permanent drop zone program at the Trudeau Airport in Montreal.

15.  Create a district-wide retail development and recruitment program.   Silver Spring was once a major retail center which was supplanted as shopping shifted from open air commercial districts to enclosed shopping malls. 

That Wheaton Plaza and Montgomery Mall are just a short distance away make it tough today for Silver Spring to land a department store and other larger format chain stores (Target, Kohls).  Nonetheless, Silver Spring needs more retail stores to strengthen its position as a regionally-significant shopping destination. 

Meanwhile, independent retailers have tended to locate in Class B and Class C buildings on Colesville Road, Georgia Avenue, and Fenton Street east of Thayer Avenue, and on the side streets between Georgia Avenue and Fenton Street.

Thus far, Montgomery County has relied on Peterson Companies (which runs the retail side of the "Downtown Silver Spring" program) and other private sector firms like Petrie Richardson Ventures, owner of Ellsworth Place ("In Silver Spring, the long, difficult business of saving a mall," Washington Post), to recruit retailers, mostly chains, to the core of Silver Spring, while the independent retailers and other properties fend for themselves. 

Many years ago, a graduate school studio studied Silver Spring's independent retailers in the face of the development of "Downtown Silver Spring."  That study needs to be revisited given today's retail and development conditions.

To keep Silver Spring's retail offer relevant, especially given the tumult in the retail sector, there needs to be a focused retail development and recruitment program and planning initiative.  Also see these past blog entries:

-- "Why ask why? Because," from 2007 about analyzing failure in neighborhood commercial districts, and building robust operations within retailers
-- "Independent retailers can succeed and thrive," from 2008
-- "Nurturing independent businesses through creatively reducing capital requirements," 2005
-- "To get independent businesses you need to rebuild the supporting infrastructure," 2005
-- "Why the future of urban retail isn't chains," 2007
-- "Store siting decisions," 2005

Managing the retail mix more purposefully is necessary anyway, to keep a commercial district in the face of ever changing competition and circumstances.  Commercial district revitalization work is never done, but always ongoing.

I recommend a two pronged program.  First, a retail entrepreneurship development program focused on creating and supporting independent retailers, modeled after initiatives in Los Angeles, Austin, and Boston, as well as Cleveland (Fund for Our Economic Future) and Detroit (New Economy Initiative)  to support the development of strong and successful retail and restaurant businesses.    

A formal retail incubator/utilization of vacant spaces as pop up retail spaces could be created as part of this program.  Note that Silver Spring has a number of cool and interesting independents, including the Kaldi Coffee Shop, which may be the most interesting coffee shop in the DMV.

Primark department store in the pedestrianized downtown of Essen, Germany. 

Second, would be to augment the private sector's efforts recruiting chain retailers by doing a study of the district's retail mix, identifying evident gaps and coming up with a plan to address the gaps.

Because there are so many different property owners with competing interests, an extranormal effort by the local government is likely required to facilitate this.

Ideally, a department store could be landed, but that's tough given the current state of the industry, although even so there are opportunities, like Primark, the European chain that is now expanding in the US, even Boscov's, based in Reading, Pennsylvania. 

A bookstore like Barnes & Noble could succeed, based on the success of the Borders store, which closed its Silver Spring location only because the company went out of business.  But a bookstore could be developed too, as a function of the proposed independent retail development program. Why not try to recruit Politics & Prose?--although B&N already has very successful stores elsewhere in the county.

But to land some of these stores probably involves incentive payments, which is always controversial.  But I would argue this is necessary to strengthen Silver Spring's place in the regional retail landscape, especially given the competition presented by Wheaton and Montgomery Malls and the massive string of retail along Rockville Pike and in Bethesda.

Note also that recently Montgomery County has outsourced its economic development functions. 

That's probably a mistake for Silver Spring, which needs more careful and ongoing attention paid to the health of its retail sector beyond the interests of the "Downtown Silver Spring" group.  For Silver Spring, more direct retail mix management should be one of the functions within the County urban district management structure.

(Note that Montgomery County should extend this retail development program as outlined here to the Takoma Crossroads/Langley Park district complementing the Takoma Langley Community Development Authority--this area will also be served by the Purple Line, Wheaton, and Takoma Park, though the City of Takoma Park already actively works to recruit retail businesses.)

16.  Positioning Silver Spring as an innovation district and/or an Ecodistrict.  This item could be covered in a separate, expanded blog entry also.  The discussion of "creative quarters" in this blog entry from Europe in Baltimore, as well as the past blog entry, "Naturally occurring innovation districts" cover the argument more generally.

-- Creating knowledge hotspotsin the city: A handbook| Practical guidelines for developing campuses,science quarters, creative districts and otherknowledge hotspots, Urbact, EU
-- UrbanIQ

This item proposes positioning Silver Spring-White Oak as an East County innovation cluster, to aim to be "more equal" with West County and its innovation ecosystem which there is organized around biotechnology, cybersurveillance, and other industries, anchored by the National Institutes of Health, NIST, and the business corridor along I-270.  This would be developed in cooperation with the Montgomery County Innovation Program.

With FDA located in White Oak, United Therapeutics in Silver Spring, the development of a Children's Hospital medical research initiative on the old Walter Reed campus on Georgia Avenue in DC, and the forthcoming move of Washington Adventist Hospital to the White Oak area and the White Oak Science Gateway initiative, plus Discovery Channel in Silver Spring, arguably Silver Spring's place as a center for innovation can be enhanced as an economic and community development initiative. 

While the County's biohealth innovation facilities are located in West County, perhaps there is a room for another science business incubator-innovation center in Greater Silver Spring.

As discussed above, digital media and arts is an opportunity for clustering, because of Discovery Channel and other businesses, and the proposed digital community and transit information network project proposed in item #10.

I'd link the Catylator maker space and expand it as part of a broader business entrepreneurship program with Montgomery College as proposed in the next item, create a retail incubator as mentioned above, etc., again using the Cleveland and Detroit models (this is equally relevant to Takoma Crossroads/Langley Park), etc. 

The City of Helsinki’s information technology innovation unit, Forum Virium Helsinki, a public-private partnership but also an agency of the city government, is another model to consider in the development of broader knowledge innovation efforts, in conjunction with Montgomery College and even the University of Maryland.

-- Building an Open City, Forum Virium Helsinki
-- "City-as-a-Platform: The Rise of Participatory Innovation Platforms in Finnish Cities," Sustainability, 2016, 8(9), 922

Consider the creation of a Silver Spring/County Ideas Festival, modeled after the New Haven International Festival of Arts and Ideas, the Bristol Festival of Ideas and Manchester's FutureEverything Festival--both in the UK, the Idea Festival in Louisville, Kentucky, etc.

Another form of innovation district, focused on sustainability, is the "Ecodistrict" concept.  The Downtown DC BID aims to be an ecodistrict and the National Capital Planning Commission's plan for the Southwest DC Federal District was positioned on ecodistrict terms. 

There are tremendous opportunities for extending sustainability not just across commercial properties, but also in multiunit residential buildings, which for the most part have been unaddressed by most of these efforts ("Best practice multiunit residential zero waste project in Scarborough/Toronto").
ecodistricts-concept-build-stage5
Ecodistrict theory of change diagram from the Ecodistricts Council.

Where is the talk about Smart Suburbs?  All the talk of "Smart Cities" seems to bypass the suburbs.  The search term "smart suburbs" gets fewer than 6,000 returns on Google, while "smart cities" approaches 8,000,000.

Like how Kansas City combined broader "Smart City" initiatives with its streetcar program ("How Kansas City is turning Main Street into a model for digital downtowns," Curbed) which included 125 "smart" streetlights, a sensor network currently focused on capturing traffic data, a 3 square mile Wi-Fi district in Downtown, and 25 digital kiosks, the Silver Spring initiative outlined here could include similar elements, as could the Purple Line program more generally.

The Silver Spring Sustainable Mobility District could be a test bed for various "Smart City" innovations.

-- "Triangle cities use data to improve efficiency, quality of life," Raleigh News & Observer

The Silver Spring Innovation Center is an economic development initiative of Montgomery County Government, and one of three such centers.

17.  Expand business innovation, through expanded start up support and development activities, and a larger scale makerspace.  Since 2004, the County has a business start up facility, the Silver Spring Innovation Center, a space supporting up to 25 small businesses in a 20,000 s.f. facility, along with training opportunities and other technical support, although its in the process of shifting to private management.  There is a small independent makerspace, Catylator, too.

In conjunction with Montgomery College, entrepreneurship development opportunities should be expanded, more "incubation" space created, linked with expanded academic and professional training programs, ideally in a dedicated building on the MC campus. 

This center should include an expanded makerspace, comparable to the Tech Shop "chain" of maker spaces, which include a wide range of digital and analog equipment,.  The group has a 20,000 s.f. space in Crystal City ("Crystal City's TechShop Is a “Village of Nerds” You'll Want to Join," Washingtonian Magazine)  and a "We Work" type collaborative working space, providing a different kind of space suitable for certain types of startups and independent workers and consultants ("Inventing the Collaborative Workspace," Harvard Business Review).

18.  Assess branding-identity and retune marketing. (Note that some elements of branding and identity are reflected in elements and expressions of urban design, item #8).

 Perhaps the current logo needs some updating.  Make sure branding is extended more uniformly across the Silver Spring district.  The VanGo bus circulator should be branded consistent with this broader identity.

The Downtown Silver Spring sign could be a lot more prominent especially at night--it emphasizes Downtown and doesn't emphasize Silver Spring as much.  Perhaps this sign should co-equally promote the "Downtown" and "Silver Spring."

The Toronto sign, installed at their City Hall as part of promoting the Pan American Games, is an example of what the Silver Spring sign should become, especially at night.
toronto-sign-at-night.jpg.size.xxlarge.letterbox

Marketing.  The marketing program should be evaluated, refreshed, and expanded.  Compared to the Bethesda Urban Partnership's efforts in Bethesda, and the Friends of White Flint/Pike District efforts in North Bethesda/Rockville Pike, the Downtown Silver Spring effort doesn't seem as externally focused, although there is a wide-ranging program that has developed maps, brochures, websites, calendars, and other items.

This should be done in parallel with the assessment and development of a retail recruitment and development program (item #15), the Innovation District (item #16), the creation of a digital community and transit information network (item #10), and branding and identity elements as expressed within urban design (item #8).

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