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New "Place + Opportunity" Report Provides Toolkit for Strengthening Activity Centers

Feb 17, 2014

A new report from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments provides a toolkit of strategies designed to strengthen the region's Activity Centers -- by expanding economic and social opportunity for the people who live, work, or do business in them.

The report, called "Place Opportunity: Strategies for Creating Great Communities and a Stronger Region," is meant to complement local planning and development efforts to make the region's 141 Activity Centers more attractive and successful, whether they're highly urban places, suburban town centers, or traditional towns.

The report categorizes each center into one of six "place types" and one of four "opportunity types," based on shared market conditions, urban form, and socioeconomic characteristics. The classification system is designed to identify common needs and support strategic investment and development to help communities meet their aspirations for their Activity Centers.

Manassas Battle Street, by Mr. T in DC on FLickr

The place types in the report reflect existing or likely economic conditions and development patterns in centers, based on things like the mix of residential and commercial uses, development densities, and walkability. Opportunity types reflect the social and economic opportunities that people are likely to face as a result of new development, taking into account existing or planned job access via transit, housing affordability, and income diversity.

One of the Activity Centers highlighted in the report is the City of Manassas, which has been classified as a "satellite city" place type and a "stable" opportunity type. That means it is located on the edge of existing regional activity, already has a mix of nearby uses and activities, and has lower concentrations of low-income households, less job access by transit, and less housing affordability. In places like these, the report calls for greater branding and marketing to take advantage of existing desirable market and urban form characteristics, like its walkability and traditional downtown development pattern.

The NoMa neighborhood in the District of Columbia is another Center featured in the report, classified as an "urban center" place type and a "connected core" opportunity type. In places like these, the report recommends leveraging strong existing real estate markets and physical infrastructure, especially proximity to Metrorail and good pedestrian connectivity, to expand housing affordability.

The other place types in the report capture the range of places located between urban centers and satellite cities, including "suburban multi-use centers" and "close-in and urbanizing centers," among others. The remaining opportunity types capture "transforming" and "transitioning" neighborhoods, which have greater housing affordability and income diversity. Many transforming and transitioning centers are located along corridors where new transit facilities are planned, like Columbia Pike in Virginia or the Purple Line corridor in Maryland, and the report recommends investment in neighborhood affordability to preserve existing assets.

The strategies in Place Opportunity aim to make Activity Centers better places to live, work, and do business for more people, which supports the region's long-term transportation goals, too.

The Regional Transportation Priorities Plan, approved by the Transportation Planning Board in January, calls specifically for concentrating more of the region's future household and job growth in Activity Centers, then connecting those centers and circulating people within them using more efficient travel modes -- transit, bicycling, and walking, in particular.

The plan says that concentrating development in Activity Centers provides opportunities to take greater advantage of existing highway and transit infrastructure, to move more people more efficiently, and to improve socioeconomic balance, especially by focusing attention on Activity Centers on the eastern side of the region.

Like Place Opportunity, the Priorities Plan is designed to be a resource to assist local decision-makers in developing improvements to their local communities that also benefit the entire region.

In approving Place Opportunity in January, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments has provided a toolkit of strategies for strengthening the region's Activity Centers in ways that expand economic and social opportunity and help the region achieve long-term transportation goals for moving more people more efficiently and improving quality of life.

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