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Smart Growth in My Community: Silver Spring, Maryland

2012 March 21

By Susan Conbere

When I was interviewed for the position of Communications Specialist for the Office of Sustainable Communities last September, a director asked me to edit a description of the National Award for Smart Growth Achievement. I opened the booklet and – hah! – there was my town! I was delighted to see that Silver Spring, Maryland had won the 2008 award for overall excellence in smart growth.

For 10 years, my family lived in the outskirts of Silver Spring. We were far from everything except a park and a pool. If my kids wanted to go anywhere outside the neighborhood, I had to drive them. We spent at least 10 hours a week in the car, driving back and forth to school, fencing practice, and running meets. I also drove to work downtown, which should have taken 20 minutes, but regularly took up to an hour in traffic. My husband commuted to Virginia, which was much worse.

In 2006, we decided to look for a house downtown that was closer to work and school.

For years, downtown Silver Spring was plagued with empty storefronts and streets. Several attempts to revitalize the city had failed. Then the city turned to smart growth, an approach that helps communities grow so they are walkable, safe, and convenient to stores and public transit. Residents walk more, so they get more exercise. They drive less, so there’s less traffic and air pollution. Businesses are attracted to such communities, which creates jobs. People shop downtown, which brings in revenue.

In 2003, a large corporation put its headquarters near the Silver Spring metro. The city built an outside pedestrian mall with stores, restaurants, movie theaters, and a green community center. I can walk to all this, plus a library, a post office, three grocery stores, and a farmer’s market. Today, Silver Spring is an exciting place to be.

My family loves it. My younger son takes the city bus home after practice or runs home on the Sligo Creek bike trail. My older son attends the University of Maryland, so he can take the metro home whenever he likes. My husband loves the convenience to downtown. And I walk 5 minutes to the metro to get to my office, which manages EPA’s smart growth program.

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About the author: Susan Conbere is the Communications Specialist for EPA’s Office of Sustainable Communities in Washington, DC.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

6 Responses leave one →
  1. Josephine Mooney permalink
    March 21, 2012

    Nice article. I do enjoy visiting the Silver Spring area and watching the kids play in the fountain in the photo. I live in historic Ellicott City and work in Falls Church VA and have to commute by car–fortunately I have flex time at least. I love both my job and where I live, but I don’t like my carbon footprint. I do many other things to reduce it however, and my career in enviromental work is part of that commitment.
    Great that your whole family can keep a small carbon footprint!

  2. Lina-epa permalink
    March 21, 2012

    Nice blog. Yes, I’ve seen how Silver Spring has developed over the last 30 years. It’s definitely a vibrant community now.

  3. kiyohisa tanada permalink
    March 22, 2012

    The effective urban development “is ultimate ecology”
    I think so.
    These measures are stages of the city design,
    When all “government offices” do not cooperate, it does not come true.

  4. Ernest Martinson permalink
    March 22, 2012

    Is smart growth seeking solutions to symptoms of an underlying disordered market? If so, it may be superb in its spotty successes, but will lose the war even while winning battles. Do the commanders have full access to intelligence? This is impossible even with super computers. This is why a properly structured free economy can outperform a command and control economy. A free economy draws fully on the distributed energy and information in each of the economic actors or citizens. This would include the victims of exclusionary zoning, building codes, and comprehensive planning.

    Fiscal reform would be a first step in correcting the market disorder causing dumb growth. For example, the elimination of the property tax and instituting a land value tax in its stead would reduce urban sprawl. Holders of vacant lots would be inspired to use it or lose it. Development of infill would not be penalized. Nor would mass transit, bicycles, or pedestrians be discouraged if oil taxes replaced oil subsidies.

  5. Arman.- permalink
    March 22, 2012

    Smart Growth : Children Are Subject, Do not Object !

    By learning by doing, the children could create their intelligences who care supporting the adult advantageous……

  6. Jenn permalink
    March 22, 2012

    I love living in DTSS for just this reason. My son is a year old, and he has so many options right at his fingertips. Gymboree is practically across the street from our home; the Farmer’s Market, library, and parks are walkable within five minutes.

    And for my husband and I, the restaurants, theatre opportunities, and local indie movie theatre (and, OK, the multiplex, too), are high-quality and convenient, to the point where we don’t need to go into DC to eat or entertain ourselves.

    It’s saving us time and money in travel (bus, car, or Metro), as well as being greener. And our rent is cheaper than our comparably-sized home in the district.

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