New initiative aims to leverage economic opportunities while retaining community identities along MTA’s new transit corridor
When the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) completes construction on its new, proposed “Purple Line” light rail transit line in 2020, it will link six communities, two MARC train lines and two Metro lines within Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. The addition of the Purple Line, a hot topic in the Washington-metro area for decades, will bring radical change to both counties, economically, environmentally and socially. Although MTA isn’t set to break ground for at least another 18 months, grass top and government leaders from communities spanning the line are entrenched in preparations, exploring ways to reap the benefits of the Purple Line while protecting their community assets, interests and cultures. But research shows that the most successful transit oriented districts, or TODs, are the ones where communities coordinate their efforts corridor-wide to leverage their assets. The National Center for Smart Growth (NCSG) is poised to help through a newly established Purple Line Corridor Coalition (PLCC), an initiative aimed at guiding the efforts and expertise of community, government and private business leaders. Spearheaded by Director of NCSG, Gerrit Knaap, the coalition provides these leaders with a forum for cross collaboration and idea exchange, as well as access to key research and case studies.
“There are a lot of organizations throughout both counties with planning already well-underway for the Purple Line,” said Knaap. “With the Purple Line Corridor Coalition, we aren’t looking to replace those efforts, but rather provide them with the research and additional tools they need to cross-collaborate and leverage more opportunities.”
One of those tools is GIS mapping technology, a unique way to determine opportunities for economic growth along the corridor. A specialty of the NCSG—which has used GIS technology in regional studies and projects for the past several years—GIS mapping will allow the coalition to take raw data and translate it into a bigger picture, giving coalition members a better understanding of development prospects. It can also provide key forecasting scenarios, such as how different development and zoning decisions could affect commuting, affordable housing and small businesses.
The center will also be actively seeking out market opportunities and vulnerable areas along the Purple Line where communities can collaborate on best practices. Historically, cross-collaboration in corridor projects around the country has resulted in more financial support, productive joint projects and a better standard of living for those who live and work along transit corridors.
“We have seen other cities achieve great success retaining affordable housing, small businesses and even increasing small business development in the wake of new development along transit corridors,” explained Kim Ross who is coordinating the PLCC for NCSG. “There is a lot we can learn from cities like Minneapolis and Denver, who were able to leverage economic growth along transit lines while still protecting and nurturing the identities of their communities.”
A new fall course taught by Knaap will also enlist the ingenuity of graduate students and doctoral candidates from the Urban Planning program in the effort. The project-based class will task students with research, GIS mapping and engaging members of the PLCC.
Since launching in June, PLCC has enrolled 13 member organizations, ranging from nonprofit groups to developers, employers and government entities, with more identified each week. Work will be on going as the line itself begins to take shape.
“There is a lot of energy and effort around this project. Our goal is to help these communities achieve the maximum economic, social and environmental benefits, while preserving a sense of place for their small businesses and residents.”