A new coalition of elected officials, planning professionals, and engaged citizens is hoping to improve coordination of regional planning in the DC area, with the goal of fostering more complete and accessible communities.

Last month, the Region Forward Coalition (RFC) held its inaugural meeting. The coalition is sponsored by the Council of Governments (COG) and is charged with providing policy guidance on regional planning matters, and with advancing the goals set forth in COG’s Region Forward plan. The plan was adopted in January, 2010, and is an aggressive vision of regional Smart Growth.

I serve as a coalition member representing Greater Greater Washington, and will report on the group’s progress from time to time. GGW was invited as a member because of our ability to reach people who care deeply about regional development. The selection is a testament to the hard work and insight of our community.

The Region Forward report identifies goals in several categories with specific targets relating to accessibility, sustainability, prosperity, and livability.  The goals range from minimizing economic disparities and achieving balanced growth throughout the region to maximizing connectivity and walkability. 

The report’s land use goal sums up the overarching theme very succinctly: “We seek transit-oriented and mixed-use communities emerging in Regional Activity Centers that will capture new employment and household growth.”

The purpose of the RFC is to oversee the implementation steps recommended in the Region Forward report, and to advise the COG Board on future regional planning activities. The RFC consists of 80 members representing area jurisdictions, planning committees, and advocacy groups. Prince George’s County Council Vice Chair Eric Olson serves as the RFC chair, and Arlington County Board Member Mary Hynes and District of Columbia Planning Director Harriet Tregoning serve as vice chairs.

The author discusses the regional activity center of Woodbridge with Mary Hynes and Robert Brosnan of Arlington County, Bob Chase of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, Greg Goodwin of COG, and other members of the RFC.

Our kickoff meeting offered excellent opportunities for RFC members to engage with each other on a variety of topics, including the question of what’s included in the concept of “complete communities.”  What surprised me the most was the fact that there was a great deal of agreement among participants about the essential elements.  These included a variety of transit options to integrate activity centers into the region, a mix of land uses to enhance walkability and livability within the community, and the presence of a variety of economic and social opportunities nearby.

I was also impressed by the initial focus on transit-oriented affordable housing.  Too often, large scale planning exercises like this pay only lip services to things like public safety, education, and affordable housing.  I look forward to a process that ensures these priorities are factored into planning in a meaningful way. 

Alicia Lewis of COG moderates a panel on transit-oriented affordable housing programs

The next step will be to organize working subcommittees that will consider the definition and identification of “regional activity centers,” taking baseline measurements of those centers, and developing future planning approaches to help them grow according to the goals identified by the Region Forward plan.

As with any diverse coalition, the goals and needs of members will not always align, but everyone involved is committed to the vision in the Region Forward report. I am excited to be serving with so many outstanding public servants and representatives from such diverse communities, but I am even more excited about strengthening the dialogue between these groups and the GGW community.

It was obvious from the kick off meeting that there is great potential for GGW to have an impact on regional planning through the course of the RFC’s work. In the future, we envision live chats, guest posts and other forums to ensure that your voices are heard as we continue planning the future of the greater Washington region.