Ever think about what our region was like 50 years ago?Or what it will be like 50 years from now?In 1957, Washington, D. C. was a sleepy southern city. Sparse bedroom communities had just started to spring up in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs. The Beltway did not exist. Metro did not exist (remember the old D.C. Transit and AB&W bus lines?).Dulles Airport hadn’t been built. The Lake Barcroft community was home to only about 400 families, and houses there were selling for about $25,000.A general aviation airport occupied the space where Skyline is now, and Woodward & Lothrop had just opened at Seven Corners Shopping Center.
Regionally, we looked different, too. A board of commissioners appointed by the federal government ran the District of Columbia. Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties in Maryland didn’t have County Executives. Fairfax County voters didn’t directly elect the chairman of the Board of Supervisors; the position rotated among the (then) seven members. Nearly everyone worked in the federal core of the city. Only 4 percent of the region’s population was foreign-born.
Faced with both the challenges and the opportunities of future growth, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) was formed in 1957, to encourage coordination on issues related to growth in the region. Fifty years later, the regional effort includes outer suburbs of Prince William and Loudoun Counties in Virginia, as well as Frederick County in Maryland. Workers commute from faraway places – West Virginia, Pennsylvania – or telework electronically from their homes a few days a week. No sleepy southern city anymore, Washington and its regional partners make up one of the most diverse and dynamic focal points anywhere on the globe. In an economist’s lingo, we are now “megapolitan.” The same thing is happening in the Boston region, in Phoenix and Tucson, and in the Pacific Northwest. Planning for growth on a megapolitan scale is important for transportation investment, environmental planning, and economic development.
Despite the growth and fast pace in what has been termed the “Chesapeake” megapolitan area, we still are connected by our neighborhoods and “small town” com-munities. At monthly COG Board meetings, elected officials from the small cities of Greenbelt and Falls Church sit side by side with their counterparts from Fairfax and Montgomery Counties, to address affordable housing, water quality, and crime. Takoma Park officials share information about a successful farmers’ market in a diverse low-income neighborhood. Alexandria’s mayor describes how the community came together to support a new fire station with affordable housing above it in Potomac Yard near National Airport. A District of Columbia council member reports on the renovation and rebuild of the historic Eastern Market, destroyed by fire in the spring. The “people” issues are all very similar, whether we live in a small town or an urban county. I suspect that the “people” issues were not much different, even 50 years ago!