I came across a curious invitation for speakers who would like to expound on a "makeover" of suburban Montgomery County. What makes it interesting, is that it is not an open forum to discuss the future direction of the county. Rather, it only invites speakers who subscribe to a particular view, with a preset list of acceptable topics. The language of the announcement is exclusive, rather than inclusive. And it starts what is ostensibly an academic exploration with rigid, ideological conclusions prepositioned firmly in place.
First and foremost among these "consensus" views, is that the suburbs were a 20th Century Mistake. In fact, the suburbs were part of a revolution that created the greatest period of economic mobility and convenience in American history.
But consider the prejudicial language employed by the announcement.
The event itself is called, "Makeover Montgomery." In reality, does a wealthy county, which nearly a million residents have proclaimed a great place to live, need a planning "makeover?"
"Transformation." This noun is defined by Google's dictionary as "a thorough or dramatic change in form or appearance." We're not talking about spiffing up the place, then. What's advocated is an upheaval of the current dynamic. Montgomery County currently has two successful edge cities, Bethesda and Silver Spring. They always were downtowns, and have evolved into more densely-developed downtowns. This progress will and should continue. And the bedroom communities around them and north of them have desirable, single-family home neighborhoods, with commercial corridors and shopping centers that provide needed services. In regards to planning, other than the need to address our failure to complete our master plan highway system, and our affordable housing crisis, where is the demand or need to force a "thorough or dramatic change" in Montgomery County's "form or appearance?" From the legion of residents who testified against the radical county zoning rewrite, it's clearly not coming from a majority of the citizenry.
The announcement seeks ideas that will "continue to transform suburbs into exciting, attractive and sustainable communities." Again, this is biased language, suggesting that suburbs are currently not attractive. The population count and diversity of Montgomery County suggest otherwise.
"Taming suburban street design." It's a jungle out there, apparently.
Now, a lot of what's up for discussion at this event is actually worthy of discussion. Improving bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, the relationship of land use and transportation, and affordable housing are important issues.
But referring to "commuting culture" and suburbs in a negative light is counterproductive. Criticizing people who can't afford to live in Bethesda - but want a nice neighborhood and a backyard for kids to play in - for buying homes further out, and driving in to work because it is convenient, is not academic. It's elitist. And the encroachment of urbanization into suburban neighborhoods - now codified in the pending zoning changes - suggests where that "dramatic change in form" is going. That's one extreme makeover Montgomery County doesn't need.