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.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Dealing with I-270 doesn't necessary focus on dealing with the needs of biotechnology firms in Montgomery County

I have my hands full caring about "fixing" DC to spend too much time addressing issues outside of the city.

The proposal to widen I-270, which connects Frederick County to Montgomery County and then to Washington DC via the I-495 Beltway and arterials like Wisconsin, Connecticut, Georgia, and New Hampshire Avenues, has energized the Smart Growth coalition. See "Environmentalists Protest Plans to Widen I-270" from the Washington Post.

The Baltimore Sun published a big piece on this on Sunday, "Battle lines form over $4.6 billion I-270 expansion proposal I-270," and has an editorial today, "Lose the lanes - Our view: State should relieve I-270 congestion with more mass transit options."

Part of the reason that the Baltimore "Growth Machine," of which the place-based metropolitan newspaper is the leading voice and cheerleader is concerned about this is because money spent in the Washington region on highways or transit is money that isn't spent in the Baltimore region on highways and transit.

That being said, the Baltimore region has pressing needs, and it is unfortunate in times of limited resources, that the competition for resources often favors the Washington region.

The editorial has an interesting paragraph that might shed light on the backstory of how the Montgomery County "Growth Machine" might be thinking about why widening I-270 is so important:

Montgomery business boosters say that a congested I-270 threatens to wreck Maryland's economic engine if companies stop locating there. But the reason companies come to the I-270 corridor now surely isn't the easy transportation. It's because of the critical mass of other high-tech companies, skilled workers and government offices, and that's not likely to change soon.

For a variety of reasons, the biotechnology cluster of businesses along I-270 is going through a period of decline. The Washington Business Journal had a big story about this a couple weeks ago, "Lost promise: Can region's shrinking biotech sector bounce back after big hits?" (subscription required for access).

I just skimmed the article but in short it makes the point that the biotech cluster here was focused on information processing (figuring out the genome) more than it was on making pharmaceuticals, and that some of the companies were acquired by pharmaceutical companies, or that the critical mass of biotechnology businesses was still superseded by other clusters, and it made sense for the businesses to relocate.

Also see the marked excerpt on the biotechnology industry from this book (via Google Books) Clusters and globalisation: the development of urban and regional economies.

More important to maintaining the economic competitiveness of the biotech corridor is to focus on what hinders the continued development of the biotechnology sector and focus attention on that rather than on widening roads.

The roads aren't the primary issue, except to push sprawl outwards and foster continued real estate development. As the Baltimore Sun says:

But I-270 serves little purpose other than turning Frederick into a bedroom community of Washington, a trend that eats up farmland and puts more pollution into the air and water.

And this makes it harder for the center city and the inner ring suburbs to maintain their economic competitiveness also, and why it is something that should concern those of us with our heads down and otherwise focused on the center city.
Photo: AA Roads, I-270 Maryland, southbound.

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