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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.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Revisiting the Purple Line as an economic development driver

Is this livery design particularly exciting and design forward?

Last year I wrote a series of pieces about the Purple Line light rail program in Suburban Maryland--Montgomery and Prince George's Counties. 

-- "Setting the stage for the Purple Line light rail line to be an overwhelming success: Part 1 | simultaneously introduce improvements to other elements of the transit network"
-- "Part 2 |   the program (macro changes)"
-- "Part 3 |   influences"
-- "PL #6: Creating a transportation development authority in Montgomery and Prince George's County to effectuate placemaking, retail development, and housing programs in association with the Purple Line

While the major thrust of the series was on how to leverage this extension of the transit network as a way to drive complementary improvements across the rest of the transit network, a number of the pieces, especially about Silver Spring but also about New Carrollton, discussed how the counties could simultaneously reposition lagging conurbations in much more innovation forward ways.

-- Part 4 |   Making over New Carrollton as a transit-centric urban center and Prince George's County's "New Downtown"
-- PL #5: Creating a Silver Spring "Sustainable Mobility District"
- Part 1: Setting the stage
- Part 2: Program items 1- 9
- Part 3: Program items 10-18
- Part 4: Conclusion
- Map for the Silver Spring Sustainable Mobility District
- "Creating the Silver Spring/Montgomery County Arena and Recreation Center"

Montpellier tram
Montpellier chose famed designer Christian Lacroix to create the liveries for their metropolitan tram system as a way to brand transit and the community as design-centric and design-forward.

The last piece in the series specifically made the point that Montgomery and Prince George's Counties, like Montpellier, France, could make forward design a key element of the Purple Line light rail vehicle program and in turn could leverage this to make the counties innovative and design forward more generally.

-- Part 7 | Using the Purple Line to rebrand Montgomery and Prince George's Counties as Design Forward

(This piece, part of the series, is more standalone, outlining what I am now calling "Transformational Projects Action Plans."  But I pulled together the concept in outlining a wide-ranging "revitalization" program for Silver Spring.

-- "(Big Hairy) Projects Action Plan(s) as an element of Comprehensive/Master Plans"

A more recent piece on Bilbao updates the TPAP concept further:

-- "Why can't the "Bilbao Effect" be reproduced? | Bilbao as an example of Transformational Projects Action Planning")

Suburban Maryland in the news.  Sadly, while collectively this is some of my best writing, it hasn't seen much traction. 
A couple recent articles make the work worth revisiting.

1.  In the face of high vacancy, development is shifting to the Purple Line catchment area.  A couple weeks ago Bisnow ran a piece, "Purple Line Construction Already Sparking Suburban Maryland Office Renaissance," making the point that most of the new commercial development occurring in Montgomery and Prince George's Counties is in association with the future Purple Line routing--not unlike how development outside of the transit shed in Fairfax County is shifting to areas served by the Silver Line.

Interestingly, much of this development is around College Park, home to the University of Maryland's flagship campus ("Revisiting past blog entries: College Park as a college town and economic development | PG County and Amazon").

That being said, Montgomery County has a high office vacancy rate, but some steps forward as business headquarters are moving to areas adjacent to transit stations, such as how Marriott will relocate to Downtown Bethesda.

2.  Montgomery County's economy lags.  Despite the County being short-listed for Amazon's HQ2 ("Study Predicts Bonanza If Amazon HQ2 Comes To Montgomery County," Patch), the Washington Business Journal reports ("New report shows MoCo's economic growth 'shockingly slow'") on an economic study of Montgomery County by Sage Policy Group, calling the County's economy somewhat moribund, clearly not helped by the recent announcement that Discovery Channel is relocating after their merger with Scripps ("Discovery Channel to leave Silver Spring"). 

The report was released today in association with a candidates forum for the County Executive election.

--The Coming Storm: How Years of Economic Underperformance are Catching up with Montgomery County

3.  But fails to acknowledge the primacy of the military economy within the region.  While it's always good to be self-reflective, years ago I wrote another great piece, making the point that the difference in economic success between Montgomery County and Fairfax County in Northern Virginia is that Montgomery's County is less intertwined with the military economy although it does participate in that end of the federal government related economy.

-- "Montgomery County's real economic development problem: it's not part of the military economy," 2011
-- "Montgomery County's real jobs problem is that it is an adjunct, not a full-fledged, member of the military-industrial complex," 2012

4. More focus on leveraging federal laboratories.  Now it's economy is slowing down because of federal government downsizing, even though the county is home to two major federal laboratories, the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The spillover economic development out of those two agencies is considerable--e.g., Montgomery's position in the biotechnology sphere is nothing to sneeze at--but it still lags because military spending seems to be garnering the greatest growth.

Still there is no question that the area jurisdictions, Montgomery County included, have to figure out on how to stoke the development of the commercial business sector outside of the federal sector, because of the slowdown of federal spending.

Note that Montgomery also has the FDA headquarters. But it is less of a laboratory and more of a regulator.  Nonetheless, the County aims to boost the place of the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries in that area as well.

Conclusion.  Leveraging the Purple Line is a great way to rebuild, extend, and reposition the economic development opportunities in Montgomery and Prince George's Counties to be more than just run of the mill strategies.

Concepts outlined in my Purple Line series are a great basis for such a re-set.

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