On Wednesday I attended Rail~Volution
, a national conference about building better communities through transit. I saw a presentation by Peter Calthorpe
that I will go ahead and say was the best presentation about planning and the environment that I have ever seen. We can see all around us now the evidence of a change in living patterns as people return to the cities and embrace/build the high quality of life that a great urban area can provide.
Here in Montgomery County we have great suburban neighborhoods and a truly rare agricultural belt, but our urban districts are only starting to blossom. It is in these urban districts, served by public transportation, that we must focus our future job and housing growth. That will be the best way to keep our suburban and rural ways of life intact while fostering the job growth we need to pay for our government services and accommodating the population growth that we know is coming. And I would say most importantly, it is a necessary change if we are going to avert catastrophic climate change. I think we all know that we cannot continue to add cars to the road and vehicle miles traveled at the same rate in the next 50 years as we have in the last 50 years. We have to make a bold change.
These concerns are what animates me in a lot of the daily battles that we have at the County Council. The council has a huge influence on land-use and transportation. Zoning, for example, is the intersection of community building, economic development, neighborhood preservation, environmental stewardship, transportation planning, and so many other key policy areas. It is NOT an eye-glazer!
On a separate note, if you have been reading this blog you know that I have been working diligently to sustain the Fenton Street Market
, a great example of grassroots economic development in the Silver Spring area. I am delighted to see this work get results as Hannah McCann and Megan Moriarty have announced they will work to keep the market going. There was a huge gap between the county and the market over use of public space in Silver Spring that we have been working to resolve. We are close now. If this works I hope to see similar efforts take root around the county.
We have an economy that “grows” but doesn’t create jobs. The human
toll of this national crisis is devastating for so many families.
It might surprise you then to know that there are hundreds and maybe
thousands of private sector jobs that could come online in Montgomery
County but have not materialized because they are moving in slow
motion through our government bureaucracy.
In an economy like this, if we could accelerate an approved project
for a new office building or hotel and deliver that project and those
jobs in one year instead of two, wouldn’t that be an effective job
creation strategy and economic stimulus? Over the short term, clearly
more effective than chasing after companies headquartered in other
Just in the past few weeks, I have spoken with business leaders in
Bethesda and Silver Spring who have said that their new commercial and
residential projects, though approved with community support, are
stuck in the mire of our development process. Multiple decisions from
an array of bureaucratic stakeholders at the county level don’t happen
quickly enough because there is actually no one inside the government
responsible for getting the projects to the finish line.
This is not to denigrate the individual players at our agencies who
are doing good work. We just need someone who can steer everything
through that maze successfully.
There has been a lot of discussion recently about the county’s
economic strategy. I am passionate about these issues because I know
that a job with decent pay is the bedrock of any family and community.
As a county, we make a big profit on tax revenues when we create jobs
but not so much when we create housing. If we want to keep funding our
schools, parks, libraries and social services in a time when incomes
are falling, we need more robust job growth to pay for it.
There is tremendous value locked up in our bureaucracy. We need to get
it moving and get those jobs out to our people. I’m going to see how
I can address this issue.
Meanwhile also, please keep asking Hannah McCann to keep Fenton Street
Tonight’s youth town hall was a huge success. Yes it was contentious
but it was very healthy. Naturally the young people there raised many
objections and criticisms about the proposed curfew. For my own part I
tried not so much to convince everyone of my views so much as to
explain how I look at this issue and what I want to accomplish.
Alan Xie, the student member of the board of education, asked
questions about education funding that were sufficiently detailed to
provoke some guffaws from the council. I hope he didn’t take that the
wrong way. Everyone is just tense over the budget because we have no
money and next year isn’t looking very good either.
You can catch the town hall on county cable and on demand at our website.
I also continued my work today on the Fenton Street Market. You may
have seen the market announced that it plans to close rather than
compete for the RFP for veterans plaza. I reviewed the RFP and I can
imagine a document like that does not look friendly (you can see a
copy at the market’s website).
If you care about this issue please tell Hannah and the County
Executive and the Council that the community wants this market to
continue! I believe we can find a solution. One day Hannah is going
to have her markets all over Montgomery County.