Sunday, April 8, 2012

Urbanization: What Is it and Why is it Coming?

In the early part of the 20th century, Baltimore and DC were very dense so much so that at the onset of the automobile age, they had very little room to adapt. The high density of the Baltimore and DC did not allow for cars to be kept therefore density in those Cities was lost to make way for acres of parking lots. As growth continued, the average consumer wanted their housing package to be reflective of the automobile. It was at this point that the suburbs were born outside of both Baltimore and DC. Suburbs are in low in density, and built around the idea of driving everywhere rather than walking or taking public transportation. Single Family Homes came with a generous piece of land and traditionally high density choices such as Apartments, even they were lower in density with large "Garden Apartment" complexes with large parking lots as the order of the day. The suburban Main Street became a Retail Drag of uncomprehensively planned strip malls with a hodge podge of styles. The only thing they had in common was their large parking lots geared towards, you guessed it, the automobile.
As the 20th Century wore on so did the expansion of the DC and Baltimore suburbs. James Rouse attempted to put the brakes on the automobile dependence in the 1960s when designing Columbia but that part of the experiment didn't go that well and Columbia's Residents depend on their Cars just as much as the rest of Howard County. In Baltimore it was discovered that the Harbor can be an attraction and that can be a way to bring revenue to the City. Old boarded up buildings by the Harbor were torn down in favor of surface parking lots to allow for automobile access in the City. It soon became apparent that the Harbor was not only a tourist attraction, but a place where people want to both live and work. It was at that point that surface parking lots were redeveloped into high density Apartment Buildings and Office Buildings with waterfront views. Baltimore at the time wasn't in the midst of a job market so a lot of the Offices with Harbor Views were merely existing companies relocating from Charles Center. All of these buildings either had underground parking or attached multi level parking garages. It makes you wonder if urban planners had thought of that at the onset of automobile dependence, if the suburbs would have taken off like they did. 
Growth is continuing and probably will continue in the Baltimore DC Area. In the Citys themselves, only certain parts seem to attract new Residents and investment. This begs the question; where will all this new population go? After all, the suburbs have been built out and with gas being so high the consumer doesn't want to move any further out. Now maybe suburbs have reached build out quite yet, maybe we're sitting tons of land that could be "urbanized" to make way for certain growth. Maybe that land is right here in Howard County!
Yes this post is ultimately about Howard County. In order for it to make sense I had explain the evolution of the suburb and the City's relations to one another. In recent decades, suburban Communities have begun to urbanize in other Counties such as Silver Spring, Bethesda, Rockville, Germantown, Gaithersburg, Towson, Owings Mills, Bowie, Laurel, Hunt Valley, White Marsh, and Glen Burnie. Columbia is at a stand still because the aging hippies that are Columbia's earliest Residents are getting in the way of progress. Columbia's Downtown will eventually be Howard County's introduction to urbanization. 
Other parts of the County in need of urbanization are in no particular order Wilde Lake, Harpers Choice, Oakland Mills, Long Reach, Owen Brown, Route 40, Route 1, Route 103, Route 100, North Laurel, and Savage. All of these places have dated Graden Apartments, sprawling parking lots, and unused land that would fit the definition of  "smart growth." At the same time, these areas are very much a great draw to prospective Residents and redevelopment of Garden Apartments and surface Parking Lots will only enforce their ability to attract new Residents and with denser urbanized layout, growth can continue full speed ahead. Who knows maybe if Howard County and surrounding suburbs are denser, more public transportation can come here and the dependence on the automobile can lessen.
Now that I've explanied urbanization, what it is and why it's coming, I can write more posts to that tune and then I will go into detail as to coming up with plans to urbanize certain areas. Stay tuned!

No comments: