Wednesday, September 29, 2010

See planning history in Greenbelt by bike

When it comes to the built environment, the Washington region has long been one of the proving grounds for Planning.

From the first-ever National Planning Conference in 1909 to the demonstration of New Urbanism at Kentlands, Washington has benefited from planning ideas that often seemed far-fetched at the time.

Greenbelt, Maryland is no exception. It’s the best-preserved example of New Deal-era utopian town planning in the United States, and has been named a National Planning Landmark. This Saturday, I’m leading a bike tour of the community (details below). I hope you can make it.

About Greenbelt:
Faced with housing shortages, a decimated economy, and deteriorating conditions in cities, the Roosevelt Administration, as a part of the New Deal, set out to build 4 “greenbelt towns” as an example of how suburban development could and should move forward.

Partially inspired by England’s garden city movement, Greenbelt was intended to be a self-contained community surrounded by a green belt of parks, forests, and farms. Today, Greenbelt is not as isolated, but the historic center maintains its park-like setting.

Planning of the town was holistic, in keeping with the principles of the New Deal. In addition to housing, a commercial center was constructed. Civic buildings included an elementary school/community center and recreational buildings.

Perhaps most unique in the design was that residential buildings were turned “inside-out”. Residential structures have their main entrances on the “garden side.” The design of the community meant that pedestrian paths wound through superblocks, where buildings were turned inward toward parks, gardens, and social interaction. At the rear of the units is the street, the so-called “service side.”

Much of the architecture in the community is based on the International style with Art Deco elements. Some elements which are now becoming more common in urban design have been present in Greenbelt for over 7 decades. One example is the “shopping court” at the Roosevelt Center, where shops front on a pedestrian plaza, and parking is in the rear.

Greenbelt was designed with the automobile in mind, but it was not designed for the automobile. I think this is the largest and most crucial difference between Greenbelt and the prototypical post-war suburb. The community is walkable, traffic is calm, and despite being surrounded by sprawl, cars do not dominate the landscape.

The greenbelt towns were intended to be prototypes for suburban development. But the experiment didn’t become typical of suburbia. It did, however, help to inspire several planned communities, including Reston in Virginia, and Columbia and Montgomery Village in Maryland.

The Tour:
This Saturday, October 2, I’ll be leading a bike tour of the community. The tour will be approximately 4 miles in length and will include a tour of the Greenbelt Museum. It will cost $5.

The tour will begin and end at the Greenbelt Metro station. It starts at 1pm and will be complete by 5pm.

If you’re interested in attending or have questions, please email me at

Top photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.

HSR could get you to Boston in 3 hours, but it's pricey

Yesterday, Amtrak announced plans to create a new, exclusive high-speed rail corridor in the Northeastern United States.

The proposal would cost upwards of $117 billion and could be complete by 2040. Trips from Washington to Boston would take only 3 hours.

Amtrak rightly points out that there is almost no better candidate for true, "next-gen" HSR than the Northeast Corridor. But the density in the corridor would also make this easily the most expensive rail project ever undertaken in this country.

The benefits, though, could be phenomenal. In fact, Amtrak expects that the new line could generate an annual surplus of $1 billion (2010 dollars) and could more than triple Amtrak ridership in the NEC from today's level.

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Friday, September 24, 2010

Photo Friday: Looking Forward

I'm trying to bring more content to the blog, and what a better way to start than with another Friday Photo?

VRE 018
I've always loved this shot. I snapped it from the front car
of a VRE train on the Manassas Line headed northbound
into Washington. On the adjacent track, a northbound
Fredricksburg Line train is passing us.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Of Late

Posting here has been light, of late. And I apologize. But there is a very good reason.

Earlier this month, I was named Assistant Editor over at Greater Greater Washington. That has increased my responsibilities and time commitment there, and has decreased the amount of time I have to write at Track Twenty-Nine.

That said, I have no intention of abandoning T29. I plan to keep putting content here, but I doubt I'll be able to maintain the level of posting I had been doing in the past.

I am still writing, though. I generally write several posts a month for GGW. Many of those are specific to the Washington region. but some cover topics that are of interest to a wider group. If you want, you can subscribe to just my posts at GGW.

I would, of course, encourage you to subscribe to all GGW posts. David Alpert has put together an excellent team of writers, and I think you'll find many of their posts engaging and thought-provoking.

And speaking of GGW's influence, I am mentioned (and quoted) a few times in a great article in the Washington City Paper on how David Alpert is helping to shape Washington.

Thanks to all of you for reading! I'll continue to do my best to write about the issues that are important to me and to you.