New COG Effort to Help Governments, Stakeholders Create Thriving Communities throughout the National Capital Region

Jan 8, 2014

Washington, D.C. At its January meeting, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) Board of Directors approved a new report that analyzes development opportunities in area business and residential hubs -- known as Activity Centers -- to inform government leaders and stakeholders on planning and development decisions.

Place Opportunity examines 92 Activity Centers throughout the District of Columbia, suburban Maryland and Northern Virginia and groups them according to similar characteristics and challenges. The study was carried out by COG, city and county planning directors, and a team of local and national experts.

“Place Opportunity shows how strategic investments in each of our local communities can move us closer to our shared regional goals and targets,” said Arlington County Board Vice-Chair Mary Hynes, who helped lead the effort as Chair of COG’s Region Forward Coalition, the public-private group focused on projects to make metropolitan Washington more accessible, sustainable, prosperous and livable.

The report presents a variety of strategies, such as zoning changes, public-private partnerships, branding and marketing campaigns, and affordable housing initiatives, tailored to different types of Centers. For example, in revitalizing, urban Centers likely to undergo significant change, the report focuses on strategies to support small businesses and preserve affordable housing for low-income residents. In suburban Centers with a stable real estate market, the report focuses on strategies to make the places more walkable and encourage a mix of land uses.

To create Place Opportunity, researchers studied the real estate market and urban form of different Centers, examining their density, street grids, sidewalks, and presence of businesses, retail establishments and parks, among other characteristics. They also considered a location's median household income, access to jobs via transit and housing affordability to determine relevant strategies for different types of Centers.

"While area leaders can agree that Activity Centers will best accommodate our rapid growth, attract businesses and workers, and advance our Region Forward vision, we also know there is no one-size-fits-all strategy for these locations," said COG Executive Director Chuck Bean. "With Place Opportunity COG strives to connect decision-makers with useful strategies, complement the work of local planners, and provide a big picture of the relationships among our Centers."

The report illustrates the challenges and opportunities facing Activity Centers by highlighting locations along three new transit corridors -- the Silver Line in Virginia, Purple Line in Maryland, and H Street in the District -- and case studies of Centers in the City of Frederick, District of Columbia, and Fairfax County. It also includes local planning and development summaries to show the numerous ways area jurisdictions are strengthening their Centers.

Place Opportunity builds on last January's COG Board approval of an updated map of the region's Activity Centers and COG's Economy Forward economic competitiveness plan, which encouraged area leaders to develop strategies to guide efficient investments in Centers.

Moving forward, COG is partnering with the Urban Land Institute-Washington on Technical Assistance Panels that will help area leaders address land use challenges and create stronger Centers. COG and ULI will work on three local projects over each of the next three years.

Area leaders will also use Place Opportunity to help inform the Transportation Planning Board's Transportation and Land Use Connections program, which awards grants of up to $60,000 for planning and pre-construction activities. In addition, if member governments choose to support more in-depth technical assistance, COG can analyze Centers not studied in this report or conduct more research on certain groups of Centers.

COG's Place Opportunity project partners of local and national planning groups included RCLCO, Reconnecting America, Urban Imprint, and Mobility Lab.

For a video by Mobility Lab and COG on Activity Centers featuring the City of Manassas, Virginia, NoMa in the District of Columbia, and Twinbrook in Maryland, click here.

 
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