Livable Frederick: Balancing for Affordability

Consider the word “livable”. What comes to mind is what you often say when you’re negotiating among family members, peers or friends to reach a compromise during an argument.

“Yeah, I can live with it”.

When you look at it that way, having a “livable Frederick” takes on quite a different point of view of the perfect community the plan describes. Just “settling” for a negotiated middle ground isn’t what county leaders meant when they named it. Their vision was aspirational–to see what the community by working towards agreed community values.

But, there are different interpretations of these kinds of common phrases for everyone.

Reactions to the plan are important to hear.  There is already consternation and worry about what its recommendations imply for zoning on personal properties, even though it is not a zoning document. There are workgroups, such as the Energy and Environment workgroup, who are making recommendations for a better description of their vision in the plan.


 Citizens ponder at the Livable Frederick Open House.

Before anyone lets misunderstanding or dissension pulls the plan too far off track, consider using it as a new way to look at the place where we live. It’s like a husband and wife, who some time while they’re in their thirties to dream of the kind of legacy they would like to leave behind when they’re in their 70s. Having a big picture changes the way decisions get made in the ordinary-ness of the day to day.

The aspirational big picture has to fit, though, into the reality we face: a need for a diversity of jobs, both for well-educated people and those that don’t opt for it; the zoning and land use that is what many people count on as a way to plan their family’s futures; zoning. Both of these are huge impacts that exist whether or not a study projects what some people feel is a Livable Frederick.

Who really participated?

It’s hard to tell at this juncture who the answers came from; and I’ll update this post if I get more details from county staff. The plan talks in general terms, and for sure it received excellent response rates from what has been reported. It would be very useful to see comments detailed in the version that is coming to public hearing, and to have an understanding of the demographics of the people (age, zip code, economic strata) that answered.

Why is this so important? Because defining what is livable Frederick begs the question: livable for who?

Is It a Comprehensive Tale of livability?

If the demographics skewed towards answers from people primarily with income above $50,000 per household, or college educated, or white-collar employees, we may be missing a big piece of the vision of the people who are here. And as the report points out, affordability of living here is a big issue. This has already been well documented in the local A.L.I.C.E. study process.

Economic opportunity should be a defining issue throughout the plan. Even though we here at GreenFrederick tend to cheer for environmental initiatives, if we don’t put due emphasis on parts that will decrease the cost of living in Frederick County, we may very well be making Frederick unlivable for the very people the plan was written for. They won’t be able to enjoy environmental progress; benefits from health improvements, or the beauty of having farmland in agricultural preservation.

While the big picture that Livable Frederick is painting is important it’s critical that the entire community’s reactions balance the vision being presented in the plan, especially if the vision is not representing all the demographics that hold a stake in our future.