Activity Centers Aim to Increase D.C. Region’s Future Growth, Avoid Infrastructure Chaos

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[By Paul Goddin for Mobility Lab, published on February 3, 2014]

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I have written about Activity Centers before, to less than stellar Internet traffic.

My concerns regarding how to market the regional planning initiative have been shared by my Mobility Lab colleague Paul Mackie, and we have struggled to come up with a hook or angle for these neighborhoods that will capture the imagination of the D.C. public.

The difficulty with marketing Activity Centers should in no way minimize the work of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG), or that of its legion of partnering organizations, including Mobility Lab. COG has created some incredibly valuable and informative tools with its series of Region Forward plans, of which the regional Activity Centers documents are a subset.

The conundrum seems to boil down to this: how to get non-planners to care about a relatively high-level regional planning document. It’s generally not until the implementation of a plan – bike lanes installed, a building torn down, or zoning laws changed, for instance – that most people sit up and take notice.

So why, then, should you care about the revision to the D.C. region’s Activity Centers and the new planning documents that are being produced by COG?

Because the list of 141 activity centers is a valuable guide for where to move, live, and invest in the D.C. region.

Here’s the deal. Through the year 2050, the D.C. region is projected to add at least an additional 2 million residents onto its current population of 5 million. Activity Centers will absorb the majority of them.

The rationale behind this is the recognition that simply dispersing these people throughout the region would cause havoc on our infrastructure, especially transportation. The 141 Activity Centers were selected based on their ability to accommodate this enormous increase in population, and their existing interconnectedness.

The Activity Centers’ parent jurisdictions have committed to focusing their (often scarce) resources in order to make these Centers dense, walkable, vibrant, and urban. Transportation connections between them will be strengthened and improved, with better service and more options. Public improvements and amenities will be prioritized in these neighborhoods.

In short, D.C.’s Activity Centers will become the premiere living, shopping, and employment centers in the region (in fact many of them already are).

It’s like The Washingtonian’s “Best Places to Live” lists, but with an emphasis on walkability, pedestrian friendliness and smart growth principles, which are widely being adopted throughout the region. And, with all due respect to the aforementioned magazine, based more on data rather than anecdote.

The list of Activity Centers is future-based as well, including not just places that are already “hot” (such as Dupont Circle or Clarendon) but also those that one day will be. It’s a list of where to move, live, and invest, backed up by the influence of COG and the good-faith intentions of our region’s planners and officials.

Get on board now.

Do you think Activity Centers are a good means of accommodating the D.C. region’s future growth?

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