Posted on February 18, 2022

Officials Grapple With Racial Equity in Thrive 2050, Montgomery County’s Proposed Growth Plan

Ally Schweitzer, DCist, February 16, 2022

Like much of the Washington region, Montgomery County has a shortage of housing that’s affordable to families who are low-income or even upper-middle class. The county’s new general plan, Thrive Montgomery 2050, puts an emphasis on housing affordability, but it might not do enough to address the problem, and may even make things worse for low-income residents of color.

That conclusion comes from a preliminary racial equity analysis by the Office of Legislative Oversight that has planners and lawmakers scrambling to address criticisms of the document that could further delay its approval by the council.

Planners and some council members had hoped to put the plan to bed last year so they could focus on other priorities, such as a new sector plan for the downtown Silver Spring area. Now, it appears more deliberation is ahead.

Thrive Montgomery 2050, an update to the county’s general plan that has been in the works since 2018, guides the future of growth in Montgomery County for the next 28 years. The plan has drawn support from progressive and “smart growth” groups that praise its emphasis on walkable communities, housing affordability, and climate resilience, though many neighborhood associations are strongly opposed, saying the plan would attract too much development to single-family neighborhoods.

Now planners and council members must grapple with findings in the racial equity analysis, which elevated concerns from lawmakers and critics that the county hasn’t sought enough input on the document from Black and brown residents. Detractors of Thrive have seized upon the report as evidence that the plan is deeply flawed, while supporters maintain that the ideas in Thrive — such as adding a wider variety of housing types to single-family neighborhoods — would actually foster more equity in the county.

The report, by senior legislative analyst Elaine Bonner-Tompkins, recommends that leaders “elicit the meaningful input of residents of color” to help update Thrive so the document “reflects a consensus of land use policies and practices aimed at advancing [racial equity and social justice].” It also advises council members to add a chapter to Thrive describing the historical and current drivers of racial and social inequities in the county, among other suggestions.


Advancing racial equity through just planning policies and public investments in underserved communities, promoting the racial and economic integration of neighborhoods, and focusing on the potential for the design of communities to help build social trust and inclusion while encouraging civic participation are among the most significant elements of Thrive Montgomery 2050,” says a passage in the document’s introduction.