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Back in the day, the symbol of change was the bulldozer. When the suburbs were being created in the 1950s and 1960s, one was never far from the sight or sound of bulldozers grading the land for construction of single-family houses on quarter-acre lots.
Fast-forward to 2014, and the symbol of change is more often the construction crane. Single-family houses — mostly for the high-end market — are still constructed in Montgomery County, but that’s no longer the most common form of construction. More often, you see multifamily housing. The garden-apartment style of multifamily has been replaced by four-story buildings, and the trend is to go higher and denser.
We seem to have general agreement in Montgomery County in favor of tall development, rather than sprawl development. “Smart Growth” is the catchphrase. The profiles of some communities — Bethesda, Silver Spring, and Rockville — have been redefined by high-rise construction. We’re not talking skyscrapers, but that time may come.
For a more in-depth look at change and economic development issues in Montgomery County, please see my post today in David Lublin’s TheSeventhState political blog under the title, “Contemplating Life Inside An Economic Engine.”
— John Hayden (BJohnHayden@icloud.com)
UPDATE: For more on economic development and growth in Montgomery County, past and future, please see my post, “Contemplating Life Inside An Economic Engine,” at the TheSeventhState political blog, http://www.theseventhstate.com
Most Americans outside the beltway* are justified in thinking that the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area is a one-company town, and that company is the U.S. government with its myriad contractors.
But here in Montgomery County, MD, the industry with political clout, decade after decade, is real estate development. It’s always a lucrative proposition. Start with some relatively inexpensive farmland, rough-in a few roads and water and sewer, build housing, and sell the added value for a tidy profit. Styles change — ticky-tacky ranchers, split-levels, townhouses, McMansions, luxury apartments or condos — but the concept remains the same.
Development has been a political issue in every local election for as long as I can remember. The slogans are short and sweet: No Growth, Slow Growth, Managed Growth, Smart Growth.
Sometimes the focus appears to be on related construction, such as adequate schools, highways, pubic transit, even parks and open space.** The undercurrent is always development. Some recent twists have been fill-in development and redevelopment.
Election 2014 will be more of the same. If anything, the focus on development has been reinvigorated by the recent debate regarding Ten Mile Creek and Clarksburg. Bill Turque of The Washington Post has a concise story today highlighting the influence of developers on Montgomery County local politics. It’s a little bit “inside baseball,” but it might be a good introduction for voters new to the area.
The proximate subject is the Democratic primary contest for the District 1 County Council seat between Roger Berliner and Dutchy Trachtenberg. The tantalizing story is a political fund-raiser associated with the development community calling the Sierra Club “the most vicious anti-development, anti-growth organization in the country.” For the record, the Sierra Club endorsed Berliner over Trachtenberg.
The “most vicious anti-development” trash talk is only a passing tempest in a long campaign season. But for any new MoCo voter, the story pulls back the curtain on the role of political contributions by real estate development interests. Montgomery county is home to a million people. Candidates for County Executive and the nine County Council seats face about a million pounds of pressure from all sorts of interests, with developers supplying much of the tonnage. Developer interests, as might be expected, are usually at odds with environmental concerns.
A secondary insight from the story is the role of candidate endorsements by influential interest groups such as the Sierra Club. Every imaginable interest group throughout the state is pestering candidates with questionnaires, with endorsements often forthcoming for the right answers. However, endorsements are
sometimes often made in arbitrary fashion behind closed doors. In many cases, endorsements go almost automatically to incumbents, rather than challengers.
— John Hayden
* Maybe it’s time to retire “inside the beltway” and replace it with “inside the InterCounty Connector.”
** In the early days of suburbia, country club golf courses were often cited as “open space.”
Any thoughts on the wild world of nearly unlimited campaign money?
North Dakota is a happening place. I wish I had time to write a full update to my 2009 post on the geography of frugal living in North Dakota, which continues to attract readers every day. Clearly, frugal living is not the central issue in 2012.
Much has happened in the past three years, and I imagine the changes in North Dakota must be fascinating. This week’s news that North Dakotans will vote on whether to eliminate property taxes gives a hint of what’s going on. While most states struggle with unmanageable budgeting problems, and some totter on the edge of insolvency, North Dakota is apparently flush with revenue.
North Dakota’s prosperity seems entirely connected to the booming energy industry. The state has the lowest unemployment rate in the nation. I imagine that workers are flocking to the state, and housing must be in short supply.
Any comments from folks on the scene in North Dakota would be welcome. All the positive news raises a few questions:
- How many of the newcomers will adapt to the harsh North Dakota winters? Conversely, how will the people of the rural and somewhat insular Northern Plains adapt to the influx of newcomers?
- Are prices rising and shortages developing? How much will wages and prices fluctuate in coming months and years?
- Could the North Dakota boom be the first part of a boom-and-bust cycle?
- How will U.S. energy policy develop regarding innovations in oil and natural gas extraction? And pipelines?
- Exactly what are the environmental implications of whatever is going on, deep underground in North Dakota? Are adequate precautions being taken, or are corners being cut?
- How will the new wealth be divided? Will longtime North Dakota residents and landowners be ripped off or forced out? Will workers be paid fairly, or will most of the gains accrue to large energy companies? Will the energy industry take over or buy out North Dakota government and politics?
- The boom can’t be limited to North Dakota only. What about South Dakota, and Montana? And Canada? Are the Northern Plains in danger of becoming an economic colony of the global oil and gas industry?
Anyone with answers or opinions is welcome to comment.
You want to know more about North Dakota? Of course you do. You can go right to the source.
— John Hayden
- Oil-rich North Dakota votes on ending property tax (money.cnn.com)
- 1st African-American crowned Miss North Dakota (thegrio.com)
- North Dakota’s Property Tax Question (midwestwing.wordpress.com)
- North Dakota oil boom could put country on path to energy independence (humanevents.com)
- I Am Moving to North Dakota (welcomehomecommunitiesblog.wordpress.com)