Just Up the Pike attended a recent charrette on improving the village center in Burtonsville. Located along Columbia Pike (Route 29) a little west of Laurel, Burtonsville saw its biggest draw, a farmer’s market, move to Laurel. The main crossroads at Routes 29 and 198 is a collection of low-density commercial buildings.

At the charrette, Burtonsville engaged the community in a discussion about its future. Options included plans to build a “village green” on a plot of empty land nearby, and varying levels of development along the main roads, some mostly commercial, residential, or a mixture. JUTP supports mixed-use development with live-work buildings.

The discussion took an interesting turn when some residents criticized the “village green” idea for the potential of attracting “undesirables,” aka black people and the poor. JUTP took strong exception to this characterization, having friends and relatives who lived in some of Burtonsville’s townhouses and apartments. “I do not believe there are any ‘undesirable’ people in my community, especially not in this gathering place we are trying to create,” he said to applause.

Many suburban towns took exactly this tack in the mid-twentieth century, zoning for large lots and only single-family homes in an effort to price the poor, especially minorities, out of the area. Now, with city neighborhoods rising in price, many suburban towns are finding their picket-fence communities becoming the bad side of town. Fighting crime by trying to keep people out of a community isn’t a long-term solution (or even a good short-term one). Building lively areas with active downtowns, with “eyes on the street” and lively public spaces open to all ages, races and income levels, is.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.