The Region Forward Coalition: Looking Back and Moving Forward

Feb 27, 2013
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2012 was busy for the Region Forward Coalition with several key projects being completed such as the first Region Forward Progress Report and an updated Activity Centers map outlining priority growth areas for the region.

Completing the Region Forward “Baseline” Progress Report

One of the first projects the Coalition undertook was the Baseline Progress Report. The project created a regular process by which progress towards the targets and goals in Region Forward will be measured. The report finalized in June 2012 was overseen by a subset of members from the Coalition including academic researchers elected officials and advocates. The group advised staff on how best to assess and report out where we stand as a region where we are making progress and where we are struggling to achieve our goals.

The progress report highlighted a handful of major challenges critical to achieving the Region Forward vision such as the need to: create more affordable housing and capture more development in Activity Centers,increase investment in transportation infrastructure and improve the health of our waterways.

Many of these results were not a surprise. They include many of the key issues the region has struggled with for decades. The looming question therefore is how will the region respond to these seemingly intractable challenges? Will they be allowed to hamper the region’s future or will collective action by COG and local governments enable tangible progress toward our Region Forward vision.

Developing a New Regional Activity Centers Map

Activity Centers are the heart of Region Forward. They serve as the spatial component to the plan and are the primary framework for laying out metropolitan Washington’s future growth.

Area local governments recognize the importance of managing growth by concentrating development in Activity Centers and supporting this growth through infrastructure enhancements. However some local governments expressed concerns with the previous Activity Centers map (adopted in 2007). One primary concern was that for several jurisdictions the map did not align with local adopted comprehensive plans.

Furthermore the previous map was adopted at a time when transit-oriented development and smart growth were not considered a standard best practice. Therefore the update was designed to address these issues and the result is a map guided by Region Forward’s goals and targets that is also closely aligned with local development plans.

A portion of the updated Activity Centers map. Click image to learn more about the update and to see the full map.

The process for updating the Activity Centers map started in January 2012 and was completed in January 2013. The Region Forward Coalition adopted the Activity Centers map last November and the COG Board unanimously approved the map this January. The map will serve as a critical tool in regional growth and is a necessary step in the development of an upcoming Strategic Investment Plan. By pointing out the specific elements (i.e. sidewalks ground-level retail fresh food parks) that each Center is lacking or could improve upon the Investment Plan will help local governments determine how best to use limited resources.

The Activity Centers Strategic Investment Plan will be released later this year and is a key component of Economy Forward COG’s plan to prepare metropolitan Washington for a future with reduced federal spending and employment.

These accomplishments are a necessary foundation to support the long-term success of Region Forward. First the results of the Baseline Progress Report will enable better local and regional decision making to advance Region Forward’s goals. And secondly now that there is strong regional consensus for using the Activity Centers map as an implementation tool COG and local governments will be better able to target growth and development work in support of these goals.

The Coalition has positioned its 2013 work program to focus on identifying common strengths and opportunities in Activity Centers across the region. These efforts will help make clearer the connection between the work being done by local governments and actors across metro Washington and the regional vision. This is an exciting time for the Coalition.

New Leadership

2013 also saw a transition at the head of Region Forward’s leadership. Eric Olson who chaired the Coalition since its kickoff in 2011 and who oversaw the completion of the Progress Report and Activity Centers update stepped down at the end of 2012. Arlington’s Mary Hynes who previously served as Coalition Vice Chair was selected to Chair the Coalition in 2013 and her term began with the first Coalition meeting in January. DC’s Harriet Tregoning is staying on as Vice Chair and Greenbelt’s Emmett Jordan will also be a Vice Chair for 2013.

With new leadership taking the helm and critical projects completed the Coalition began 2013 on a high note. Even more exciting are the activities and projects in store for the coming year. We’ll discuss some of those in the next part of this series.

- John Mataya Regional Planner Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. This is first part of a series on the Region Forward Coalition’s work. The next post will focus on the Activity Center Strategic Investment Plan.

 

 
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