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The Suburbanization of Montgomery County, Maryland: An Overview

Proximity to Washington, D.C. with its stable and growing Federal government workforce was one important factor in Montgomery County’s growth as a suburban jurisdiction. Other important factors included the Metropolitan Branch of the B&O Railroad, electric streetcar lines and automobiles, the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission and Maryland National Capital Park & Planning Commission, an excellent school system, engaged citizens, and responsive county & local government leaders.

Montgomery County’s suburban history includes the emergence of late 19th Century railroad and streetcar suburbs, the explosive growth of 20th Century automobile-oriented suburbs, and a shift in the early 21st Century to planning transit oriented, pedestrian friendly, higher density development. The existing examples of these evolving suburban environments makes Montgomery County a microcosm of the positive as well as negative effects of suburban development on residents, institutions and land.

As the county evolved into a thriving suburban region, it struggled to find a balance between meeting the needs of a steadily increasing population and not completely losing its rural heritage. This struggle shaped the county’s contrasts. From the turn of the century suburbs of Takoma Park and Chevy Chase to the urbanized suburbs of Bethesda and Silver Spring; from the rural towns of Hyattstown and Poolesville to the suburban enclaves of Viers Mill Village and Montgomery Village; from the I-270 Technology Corridor to the Agricultural Reserve: Montgomery County is a fascinating case study of common trends in US suburban development.

Montgomery County, Maryland is recognized as a national leader in suburban land use, planning, and development. Planners and scholars hold up as a model the County’s “Wedges and Corridors” development plan from the 1960’s that for more than five decades has helped focus growth along major roadways, preserved green space, and allowed for the establishment of an Agricultural Reserve.