Strategies To Map Out Growth
By Peter Whoriskey
reprinted from the Washington Post February 2,
In 25 years, experts say, there will be 2 million
more people, 833,000 more homes and 1.6 million
more jobs in the region. Area leaders gathered
for a planning exercise designed to help calculate
their next moves.
The challenge of Washington's daunting population
growth has been turned into a board game that
might be called Everybody Squeeze!, and yesterday
300 government, business and civic leaders gathered
With 2 million more residents anticipated in Washington
and its suburbs over the next 25 years, the crowd
of players -- which included Montgomery County
Executive Douglas M. Duncan, Fairfax Board of
Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly and District
Mayor Anthony A. Williams -- gathered around table-size
maps of the region and tried, using yellow Lego
blocks to represent dwellings, to locate homes
for the coming throngs.
All around the game room at the Ronald Reagan
Building, there were signs of conflict and cajoling:
Some environmentalists drew bold lines around
lands they consider ecologically sacred. Politicians
and county planners hemmed and hawed, trying to
think regionally but keeping an eye on their own
dominions. And some developers looked askance
at proposals to build homes closer to or even
on top of one another.
"Not all the 2 million people are going to
want to live like they do in Manhattan -- we're
not an urban community, we're a suburban community,"
one Charles County developer, Gary Kret, warned
Despite the diverse interests at the 30 map tables,
the solutions reached by afternoon shared a remarkable
number of themes.
Most of the map groups largely kept the Lego blocks
-- yellow for homes and blue for workplaces --
out of the undeveloped areas at the region's fringe,
rather than "sprawling" them outward.
Most of the groups stacked up blocks at Metro
stations instead, arguing that denser populations
are best served by trains. And most of the groups
favored pushing new development into underused
areas of the District of Columbia and Prince George's
The prescriptions, in many ways, reflected the
"smart growth" principles that have
become the new planning orthodoxy.
"It seems that today to say you're going
to go build everything out in the green fields
is as socially acceptable as lighting up in public,"
said John Bailey of the Urban Land Institute's
Washington District Council, which organized the
Yet even among some of the most enthusiastic participants,
there was ample skepticism about whether the growth
visions espoused yesterday can ever come to fruition.
"This event is called 'Reality Check,' but
I think we checked reality at the door,"
For one thing, the high-density development prescribed
by many tables is difficult to achieve over the
opposition of neighborhood groups. And pushing
development into underused areas of eastern Washington
and Prince George's County will require drumming
up more market demand for offices and homes than
has existed there in recent decades.
"The market tells me the demand isn't there,"
said Gary Garczynski, a Prince William County
developer and former president of the National
Association of Home Builders. "Can it be
created there? I don't know."
The estimates of growth, which were compiled from
figures gathered by the local jurisdictions, predict
there will be 2 million more people, 833,000 more
homes and 1.6 million more jobs in the region
by 2030. The region was defined as reaching west
from Fauquier and Loudoun counties east to Anne
Arundel County, and north from Frederick down
to Spotsylvania and St. Mary's counties to the
"We're very confident in these numbers,"
said Paul DesJardin of the Metropolitan Washington
Council of Governments. "Since the 1960s,
our projections have been almost spot-on for the
number of new households."
Organizers agreed that the day of planning, if
it stops there, will solve little. But yesterday's
conclusions, analyzed by planners at the University
of Maryland, will be encompassed in a report that
eventually, organizers hope, will be used as the
basis for regional agreements on growth.
They pointed to the example of "Envision
Utah," which held a similar game simulation
and has changed local growth trends for the better,
its leaders say. Robert Grow, one of the leaders
of that effort, addressed yesterday's crowd. He
compared growing without a plan to driving into
"If there is no vision, the public slams
on the brakes," he said.
If nothing else, yesterday's exercise represented
a rare attempt at regional land planning in Washington,
an area riven by rivalries among more than 20
local governments, each with its own views of
how the area should grow.
The regional land planning map developed in 1996,
largely used for informational purposes, is regarded
as a breakthrough.
Given the scant history, the fact that the event
brought together Connolly, Williams and Duncan
as well as other elected officials and a who's
who of planners from across the area was touted
as a significant step forward.
"The Washington region is a stepchild that
has 20 parents -- all the different jurisdictions,"
said Len Forkas, chairman of the Urban Land Institute's
Washington group. "The idea here is to get
all of the parents into one room to decide on
the best way to raise the child."