Wednesday, September 19, 2018

wheaton's art parade shows how we can reuse vacant suburban spaces

This Sunday, works of art will take over the streets of downtown Wheaton for the Wheaton Art Parade. Now in its second year, the parade is a sign of how communities in Montgomery County are finding new uses for vacant suburban retail spaces.

One of the sculptures in the Art Factory, the former mall beauty school where pieces in the Wheaton Art Parade are stored. All photos by the author.

Earlier this month, I stopped by the Art Factory, a former beauty school behind Wheaton Plaza. Nestled between mannequins and barber’s chairs are giant sculptures, including a rainbow-colored chicken and a robot. A piece called “Narcissus” riffs on Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam by putting a smartphone in Adam’s hand as he takes a selfie.

Dan Thompson, executive director of the Wheaton Art Parade and a retired federal worker, wanted to bring local artists together. “The town doesn’t know the artists that are here,” he says. “Artists don’t know each other. You want to call a meeting with artists? They’re all busy scraping by.”


Tuesday, September 11, 2018

montgomery county says no new homes in silver spring because the schools are full

For decades, school planners assumed that families would move out to the suburbs once they had kids, and made projections for where and how to build new schools based on that. But as that trend begins to shift, Montgomery County is finding school enrollment harder to predict, which creates new challenges in and out of the classroom.

Paint Branch High School. All photos and maps by the author.

Like many places, Montgomery County Public Schools predicts how many students will enroll in local schools for the next several years, and if a school will have enough room or if it’ll be over capacity. Like many places, those projections, along with traffic predictions, can be used to stop new development.

This summer, Montgomery County’s planning department declared a “moratorium” in several areas, including Silver Spring, Wheaton, and part of Bethesda, because some schools are projected to have more students than there is space. This halts new development in those area until enrollment drops, the boundaries are moved, or additional classroom space can be found.

What families want is changing

How did this happen? In a recent Washington Post story, reporter Katie Shaver notes that Montgomery County Public Schools didn’t anticipate changes in how and where families want to live. The school system is seeing a lot of growth in close-in areas like Silver Spring and Bethesda, because more families want to live in urban, walkable neighborhoods where they can walk to shops, jobs, or transit.

These communities are also becoming very expensive because there’s a lot of demand to live there, and outside of a few areas, very few homes are being built there. As a result, many parents can’t afford to buy a house and are instead renting apartments, living with relatives, or even doubling up with other families to make ends meet.


Wednesday, July 25, 2018

here’s where Montgomery County is — and isn’t — growing

As in previous years, growth and development was a big issue in this year’s primary election in Montgomery County, and some candidates ran on a platform of slowing or stopping it. However, that growth doesn't look the same across the county — nearly all of it has been crammed into a few areas, leaving most parts of the county unchanged.

Areas like downtown Silver Spring are building lots of new homes, but most of Montgomery County isn’t. Image by the author.

Here’s where the county is growing

Montgomery County’s planning department is in charge of figuring out how many people will move here, how many homes and jobs we’ll need (among other things), and where they have to go. Each area of the county has a dedicated plan for future growth called a “master plan” or “sector plan” which is updated every 20 to 30 years.

If you add all of the county’s master plan or sector plan areas up, there were about 47,000 homes that have been approved to be built as of May 2018. This is what county officials call “the pipeline." Of those 47,000 homes in the pipeline, 15,000 of those homes have building permits and are in some stage of construction. That leaves about 32,000 homes that are waiting to be built.


Tuesday, June 26, 2018

your presence in this room is a radical act (12 years)

Burtonsville Crossing Charrette
East County residents gathered this month at a workshop on the future of Burtonsville Crossing. Photo by the author.
Twelve years ago today I started this blog. Since then, I’ve written over 1,700 blog posts, started Facebook and Twitter pages with a combined following of over 8,500, and met hundreds if not thousands of awesome people in our community. But the accomplishment I’ve been proudest of has been helping to build a network of people promoting positive change in this community, and encouraging others to not only speak up, but take leadership roles as well. Here are just some of the projects that our friends and neighbors in East County are working on this year:


These efforts will help make our communities safer, give people more and more reliable ways to get around, bring new life to our older neighborhoods, and provide crucially-needed housing and economic opportunities for our growing population. I’ve offered my time and advice to these folks, and consider them my friends, but otherwise I can’t take much credit for these efforts.

And that’s the best part! I’m excited that there are so many other leaders in this community, because together we can do so much more. The crucial part about these projects is that they’re bringing out people who don’t look like the “usual suspects” who get involved in Montgomery County affairs: young people and families, people of color, first-generation Americans, women, queer people, and people from underprivileged backgrounds. Judging from what we know about early voting, these groups are starting to make themselves heard.