We all want to live in communities that offer us the chance to interact with other people and feel like we’re part of something vibrant. However, if one or two investments are off-base or not aligned with the vision of what the community wants, it can derail our hopes and dreams.
The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) has a visionary plan, implemented in 2008, called Region Forward. Mobility Lab has recently signed on as a partner to help figure out how 136 communities being calling “activity centers” (see map) – or, essentially, mini-downtowns where the majority of the region’s future growth will occur over the next 30 years – can succeed and thrive, and continue to make the DC region the kind of place where the next generations of people want to call home.
The idea of activity centers is not really anything new. There are plenty of places in, for example, Arlington County, Virginia that nobody in the past would have thought of as activity centers. But because of deliberate planning, formerly parking lot-centric Ballston is no longer referred to “Parkington” and Pentagon City has transformed from a brownfield into a shopping district with some of the highest retail sales per-square-foot in America.
What is new is that Mobility Lab and others have joined COG to invigorate the intense academic work that has already gone into examining market strength and a massive list of place-based physical characteristics. The Center for Transit-Oriented Development, Reconnecting America, Urban Imprint & State of Place, the Urban Land Institute of Washington, and Robert Charles Lesser & Company will bring this work into practice – by helping make the case for the right kinds of investments – with a series of upcoming workshops, webinars, and trainings – and lots of media coverage.
Region Forward is all about vision and planning – and sticking with that plan, which is often really, really difficult to do. And it’s why this foundation for the activity centers – whether they are undeveloped and laying the foundation for future investments or already have high-density development and want to build upon their market strength – is so crucial to moving forward in visionary ways.
Further, no community-development plan is complete without some thought given to transportation options – which just happen to be the bread and butter of Mobility Lab. What is impressive – and revolutionary – about the Region Forward plan is that it aims to connect activity centers with dozens of other activity centers throughout DC.
The new metro stations and the enormous activity center coming to life in Tyson’s Corner will be really good for the rest of Arlington County. People there will be living a lifestyle on a daily basis in which there will be less need for a car. They will also be more likely to visit other activity centers with the knowledge that they don’t need to get there with a car but can instead use other options – like Metro buses and rail, biking, and even walking – that will improve the quality of their lives.
It will be really exciting to work with COG, local governments, investors, transit agencies, developers, state and federal agencies, and the public as these activity centers come alive and thrive.
Another exciting element is the feedback Region Forward is soliciting from the public. Through October 1, anyone can submit an idea to make help make sure DC has lots of activity centers that make us want to live, work, and play here for many more years.
Photo by Downtown Silver Spring