174 MARCH/APRIL2015 | BETHESDAMAGAZINE.COM
mount is opening with luxury apartments above and retail below.
Welcome to Montgomery County’s
“It’s going to be a series of emerald cities popping above the tree canopy of 20-,
30-, maybe 40-story buildings at each of
the Metro stations, and then a spine of
high-density housing up and down the
Rockville Pike,” says land use strategist Christopher Leinberger, a George
Washington University professor and
president of Locus, a national network
of developers and investors interested in
creating sustainable, walkable communities. Locus members include such local
developers as Federal Realty, JBG and
The Meridian Group.
That trend will only increase if the proposed Purple Line connecting Bethesda
to New Carrollton goes through, Leinberger says. The $2.45 billion light-rail
line would have 21 stops in Montgomery
and Prince George’s counties, including
well-heeled locales such as downtown
Bethesda and Chevy Chase, and less
affluent neighborhoods in Silver Spring
and Long Branch. A proposed bus rapid
transit system throughout the county
could help, too, he says, although bus
routes haven’t delivered the same impact
on development as rail lines.
Is this the end of the suburbs for
Montgomery County? Not quite, Leinberger says. Winding streets lined with
tidy homes won’t vanish from most of
the county. But for about 10 percent of
the land along major corridors, he says,
change is coming.
And not everybody is thrilled about it.
“IT COULD BE GOOD, but it’s probably going to be bad,” says Pat Baptiste.
A lifelong Chevy Chase resident and
vice chair of the village’s board of managers, Baptiste has been an outspoken critic
of urbanizing Montgomery County,
prompting Rollin Stanley, the county’s
former planning director, to dub her and
like-minded critics “rich, white women…
spreading fear” in a story in the March/
April 2012 issue of Bethesda Magazine.
Stanley later apologized, and Baptiste
started wearing an “RWW” badge, a gift
from her son, to make light of it.
Baptiste chooses to meet at Le Pain
Quotidien in downtown Bethesda, the
kind of place urban-style developers
look to as a model. She likes Chevy Chase
because shops are in easy walking distance. And she loves cities like Washington, New York and Paris for the walkability that planners are trying to replicate in
new developments in the Montgomery
But she also loves them for their less tangible qualities, she says: parks, museums
and beautiful architecture that make them
not just dense, mixed-use developments,
but some of the world’s greatest cities. In
contrast, she says, the new developments
in Montgomery County feel artificial.
“Just because you can walk to a restaurant and have a really nice meal doesn’t
mean you’re having an urban experience,” she says.
Where are the parks in Montgomery County’s new developments, she
asks? Wine bars are fine if you’re young
and single, but will you be able to find
a grocery store? Who can afford to live
in these places, anyway? And who says
Montgomery County needs to keep
growing in the first place?
“I don’t have all the answers,” she says.
“Just a lot of questions.” Baptiste calls the
urbanizing movement “a planning fad.”
If it’s a fad, supporters of the concept
say, it’s one that isn’t going away anytime
soon. “What we must do is reduce consumption,” says former Maryland Gov.
Parris Glendening. “The way to reduce
consumption is to go back to what worked
through most of human histories, and
that is walkable, mixed-use communities.”
They also can make for nicer places to
live, supporters say.
Places like Kaldi’s are part of the resurgence of Silver Spring, Casey Anderson
says as he takes a seat in the coffee shop,
surrounded by a 30-something studying for a French test, another working
remotely on her laptop, and retirees
chatting with friends. Better planning,
he says, is making the city a friendlier,
more walkable place.
The new head of the Montgomery
County Planning Board, Anderson has
gained attention as a cycling advocate, but
bike riding was secondary, he says. “The
reason I come back to bikes is not because
I like to ride my bike around,” he says, “but
because it’s a good test to see if a place is
healthy, safe and attractive to people. A
place that’s good for bicycles is almost by
definition a good place for people.”
For Anderson, that means a place
where cars share the road with pedestrians and cyclists, where shops and restaurants are close enough to reach by pedal-power, and where public transit is nearby.
When he moved to Silver Spring in
2001, that wasn’t the case, he says. But it’s
changing. “It’s about giving people more
options,” he says. “The fact that housing
prices go up in places convenient to tran-
“The way to reduce consumption is
to go back to what worked through
most of human histories, and that is
walkable, mixed-use communities,”
says Parris Glendening.