Region Forward Blog

Activity Centers: Economic Engines and Livable Places

Jan 16, 2014
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“For many people this is a neighborhood where you can live you can work you can shop you can have lots of cultural and recreational choices all in the same place” explains Harriet Tregoning Director of the District of Columbia Office of Planning in describing NoMA in a new video from COG and Mobility Lab. She notes that these qualities were created in NoMA a neighborhood in Northeast DC within less than a decade through transit land use and zoning decisions.

This video highlights the core values of Place Opportunity: Strategies for Creating Great Communities and a Stronger Region approved last week by the COG Board of Directors. The report provides recommendations to enhance place-making economic development and access to opportunity in the region’s business and residential hubs known as Activity Centers. In developing the report COG and its partners recognized that creating and supporting strong Activity Centers was not just important for transportation and growth management but also for quality of life and economic competitiveness.

“People and firms are making decisions about where to live and where to located based on place and quality of place” says Mariela Alfonzo founder of State of Place (and a project partner). “What I’ve found is that walkability is key to what people are looking for more and more these days.” To assess these qualities our Place Opportunity team studied the 90 Activity Centers in the report. We conducted street-level surveys to record the presence and frequency of elements that encourage walkability. These range from sidewalks and pedestrian infrastructure like benches to traffic reducing measures and bike lanes to street trees parks and plazas. These surveys along with analysis of data on market conditions housing transit access and socioeconomic characteristics were used to identify six different place types and four different opportunity types provided in the report and to guide development approaches.

As the video illustrates the concepts of livability and quality of place are increasingly driving planning development and location decisions not to mention personal choices. One of the four tenets of Region Forward –livability-has to do with whether a neighborhood offers a high quality of life. This means different things to different people but certainly includes both the necessities of housing transportation and employment as well as amenities that make life easier healthier and more enjoyable.

Do you have an affordable and suitable place to live? Can you get to work within a reasonable amount of time? Do you have convenient access to the goods and services you need in everyday life like grocery stores day care health care pharmacies and cafes? Can you walk safely and comfortably in your neighborhood? Can you get around without always relying on a car? Are there places for recreation relaxation and entertainment whether parks plazas libraries or cultural institutions?

These questions are what people most often associate with urban places and the region certainly has many great examples of these. In addition to those qualities of urban life one of the main principles of this report is that these elements are just as relevant and important in small towns and suburbs. Place Opportunity aims to advance Region Forward’s livability goals by providing goals implementation strategies tools and resources to meet the needs of diverse Activity Centers and to help create and support thriving high-quality communities.

(Read more here.)

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