Smart Growth in My Community: Silver Spring, Maryland

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.