Can the east side of Frederick become a Dutch wonderland on American soil?
During the summer of 2005, I had the opportunity to travel with my husband and children to Holland to visit extended family. Prior to our trip, I read with trepidation that the Netherlands is the most densely populated country in the European Union. I pictured my small children being swept out of my hands and into Amsterdam hash bars on a tide of boisterous crowds rivaling Times Square on Thanksgiving weekend.
I was way off base, as it turns out–about the crowds and the hash bars–because the Dutch are masterminds at urban planning and engineering.
The streets of Amsterdam were bustling and alive, but not crowded. In the nearby suburb of Wassenaar–where my brother-in-law lived with his family–it was a 30-minute stroll from the center of the charming village square through suburban neighborhoods to the farms that ringed the outskirts of the community. We spent a sunny August afternoon on a pristine beach just a 20-minute bike ride from his home–again, busy and lively, but not unpleasantly crowded.
Best of all, it is possible to travel to just about anywhere in the Netherlands by way of bicycle on dedicated bike paths criss-crossing the entire country. Perhaps as a result of the heavy dependency of the Dutch on bicycle travel, obesity did not appear to me to be a problem there (this despite the fact that most food groups in Holland are served fried into some sort of pancake).
I would never have guessed at any point during our all-too-brief time in the Netherlands that nearly 17 million people are crammed into such a tiny jewel-box of a country. To this day, I have no idea where those millions of people were tucked away. (I also had trouble spotting the very discreet Amsterdam “coffeeshops” until they were pointed out to me.)
My thoughts have returned to Holland many times as I’ve watched Frederick’s political pendulum swing back and forth between pro-growth and no-growth administrations. In Amsterdam I saw proof positive of an existence that allows for the best of both worlds: a vital and breathtakingly beautiful urban city community, surrounded by bucolic villages and farms. An existence with room for all kinds of people living in all kinds of environments supporting all kinds of lifestyles.
I have a tendency to become enchanted abroad, so this Utopic vision of Dutch life is no doubt partially a result of travel-dazzle and jet lag, but only partially. If the Dutch can create such beautiful clean-living harmony for millions of people on so few square miles of land (land that they largely artificially engineered out of reclaimed river delta) why can’t we create something similar here in Frederick?
Frederick may have a chance to do exactly that with East Frederick Rising, a 2,000 acre mixed-use smart growth project located between Carroll Creek Linear Park and Frederick’s expanding airport just west of the Monocacy River. Billed as “Mid-Maryland’s Economic Hub for the 21st Century,” this project is planned to marry the walkability of Frederick’s historic downtown with modern technologies and sustainable methodologies to create a community very unlike typical suburban developments.
East Frederick Rising is the next natural step in building on what was begun with Carroll Creek Linear Park, a beautiful destination born of Ron Young’s determination and indomitable will to solve the problem of recurrent flooding in the city and at the same time create a park drawing locals and tourists alike.
It may seem counter-intuitive for a city the size of Frederick to undertake a project of such substantial scope in a lackluster economy. However, the stars are aligning in a manner that suggests this project is entirely feasible:
- Millenials: East Frederick Rising dovetails perfectly with the zeitgeist of the millennial generation: urban living in walkable, vital communities served by public transit, rich in restaurants and cultural activities, and surrounded by environments that support active lifestyles.
- Political Will: Smart Growth is here to stay, and East Frederick Rising could potentially be a marquee project setting the bar for sustainable development in Maryland going forward.
- Location: Frederick is well within commuting distance of Baltimore and D.C. and airports serving both, and 2,000 acres is a massive tract of land for an urban renewal project.
- Capacity: We’ve had conversations at MacRo with several regional developers (all deep of pocket and rich in experience) who are enthralled with the character and charm of downtown Frederick and chomping at the bit to develop innovative mixed-use multifamily projects here. Without exception, they would all like to see a high-end grocery store located in the east end first, but that may be putting the cart before the horse.
- Jobs potential: The Frederick region has long been nurtured as an incubator for the bio tech industry, and with our highly education population has the potential to become a hot-bed of start ups and entrepreneurs.
Combine developer money, TIF financing, political clout, cultural shifts to urban living, a charming historic town in a highly-desired location, and steady job growth…and what do you get? A sweet spot where the impossible begins to seem possible.
The Urban Land Institute conducted a workshop to develop recommendations for implementing the vision of the project, and presented its findings to the City of Frederick yesterday. Judging by the comments of aldermen and the public alike, most saw the potential in the project, and understood the importance in having a vision and a plan to ensure that the fate of east Frederick isn’t left to the vagaries of market forces.
It goes without saying, East Frederick Rising will need a stalwart champion (or champions) with the vision, determination, patience, and clout of the Carroll Creek Linear Park advocates lead by Ron Young decades ago. And of course, this is a project that will also take decades–perhaps as many as five of them–to come to full fruition.
If executed true to the vision, East Frederick Rising has the potential to be an astounding mixed-use community that rivals anything Maryland has ever seen: a modern marvel in urban renewal that compliments and co-exists intimately with Frederick’s historic heritage and is locally sustained by its rich agricultural assets.
It’s enough to make even the Dutch a little envious.