A Guidebook to Old and New Urbanism in the Baltimore / Washington Region

By Michael Watkins

This guidebook is intended to offer a brief description of places in the Baltimore / Washington region, both old and new, that illustrate the principles of the Charter of the Congress for the New Urbanism.  This guidebook is not about the history of the planning of Washington, D.C.  That history is far too rich and complicated to include in a guidebook such as this and a number of excellent books have already been written on this subject.  As interesting as that history is, so is the history of the planning that has gone on around our nation’s capital.

The Baltimore / Washington region is home to a collection of some of the most significant planning projects of their era.  It boasts the first cities of Virginia and Maryland (Alexandria and Annapolis) as well as communities offering a summer escape from the city (Washington Grove and Sherwood Forest).  Early examples of garden suburbs including work by Frederick Law Olmstead (Sudbrook Park) and the Olmstead Brothers (several projects by The Roland Park Company) are found here.  The area is also home to planning efforts by the Federal Government (Dundalk and Greenbelt), a modern company town (Bataville), the flagship planned communities of the 1960’s (Reston and Columbia) as well as some of the first New Urbanist projects (Kentlands and King Farm).  This capital region is a remarkable cross-section of planning history in this country.

Plans that will never be built are included here because of the valuable lessons the offer and as encouragement not to miss similar opportunities in the future.

Like good urbanism, this guidebook permits exceptions with the intention of making the thing more interesting.  Take the George Washington Memorial Parkway, for example.  Not exactly “urbanism” but nevertheless an outstanding example of an element of our built environment changing appropriately as it moves from the more rural environment of Mount Vernon, through the more urban environment of Alexandria and back to the rural environment alongside the Potomac River.

Ellicott City, an historic mill town built by three Quaker brothers, while not “planned” in the most deliberate sense, exemplifies the durability of common sense applied to planning as it has withstood the difficulties presented by the site itself as well as subsequent fires and floods.

Some infill projects, such as York Courts, are included because infilling existing neighborhoods is essential to fulfilling the objectives of the C.N.U.

The company town, Bataville, designed by a C.I.A.M. member is, or was, a fascinating example of traditional planning and modern architecture.  Regrettable, as this Guidebook goes to press, Bataville is being demolished to make way for a conventional office park.

Columbia and Reston are included not because they have been mistaken for urbanism, but because they are icons of a planning era from which much can be learned.

Washingtonian Center and Bowie Town Center are certainly not whole neighborhoods but they offer the hope of one day becoming the downtown for future neighborhoods that will surround them.  In the same way that a place like Kentlands anticipates its future downtown, these places await pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods that will support them.

I thought it worthwhile to include a wide range of types of planned communities because there are lessons in them all.  In attempting such a collection, I suspect that there might be omissions or an occasional date or other statistic which some reader might question, but hopefully more good than harm will be done.

In the course of researching this guidebook, a number of firms were conducted but for various reasons did not submit their projects for this edition.  It is my hope that this guidebook will be updated from time to time as new places are designed, those under construction are completed and old ones are rediscovered.  If you have information about projects you wish to see included in future editions, please let me know.