Sunday, April 22, 2007

can downtown silver spring stay relevant?

ALSO IN THE NEWS: A sneak peek at the new Birchmere; Washington Adventist may be moving to Calverton; NPR wants to relocate to Silver Spring [from the Penguin].

ABOVE: National Harbor, a mini-city on the Potomac in Prince George's County, is set to open next year. The Peterson Companies, its developer, also built Downtown Silver Spring.

When it opened in 2004, the Downtown Silver Spring complex was heralded as the savior of the Downcounty, and two of the region's biggest developers - Foulger-Pratt and The Peterson Companies - earned bragging rights for sparking an urban renaissance. But now that the fanfare has passed and the "Silver SprUng" signs have been taken down, F-P and Peterson have both moved on to bigger and better things. How will Silver Spring compare to this new generation of suburban downtowns? And will it remain true that you can't "build a city in a day"?

"We're not looking to redo Silver Spring over again," said Bryant Foulger of Foulger-Pratt at a presentation for the East Campus redevelopment, covered by Rethink College Park, where the first visuals of the College Park project were revealed.

East Campus will have a similar amount of retail as Downtown Silver Spring does now, but this adds a crucial component - on-site housing, including over 2000 apartments in the project. While conceptual drawings of the project (at right) look strikingly familiar (mosaic tiled fountain, anyone?) it seems like Foulger-Pratt might want to distance itself from Silver Spring given the harsh criticism people both in and out of the planning community have given it. (I'm not suggesting that thosse bloggers are to blame, but any developer should be aware of public opinion on his/her work.)

Milton Peterson's hand in redeveloping Downtown Silver Spring, perhaps his most visible and influential project in Maryland (even greater than Washingtonian Center, I'd argue) is given only a cursory mention in this Post profile of his plans for National Harbor, the mini-city on the Potomac in Oxon Hill that has nearby Alexandria fearing for its life.

Silver Spring cannot begin to compare to the size of National Harbor, however; the multi-billion-dollar project will include thousands of homes and millions of square feet of shops and offices, along with one of the largest convention hotels in the country. Peterson has Disney Imagineers advising on public artwork, and has even bought "The Awakening" sculpture (at left) and plans to move it from Hains Point to the site. With all of the glitter and hoopla surrounding this project, does Peterson even need to hold up Silver Spring as a tiny example of what National Harbor coudl be like?

While developments like Downtown Silver Spring have changed the way we look at and build communities in Greater Washington, it's apparent that these early "urban villages" may only become footnotes in a greater history. Perhaps, then, some of the criticism launched at Downtown Silver Spring and its "pre-fabricated" appearance may be valid, so long as developers continue to build larger and larger monuments to their imagination.

If it ensures that future developments are of a higher quality, then I say we should dissect Downtown Silver Spring as much as possible, throwing out the things that don't work and building on the things that do work. Any of us who've hung around the corner of Fenton and Ellsworth long enough to see it change know that there's a lot of good we can improve on.

Friday, April 20, 2007

the '50's are back in silver spring

BUT FIRST: Washington Adventist Hospital might be moving to Cherry Hill Road. What does this mean for East County?

From the Silver Spring Scene via Silver Spring Forward's website:

Hopefully, we'll get to see this become a reality in just two years. Can you imagine the nostalgia trip Colesville Road will become - the AFI Silver's 1938 marquee on one side, the blaring 50's neon of the Birchmere on the other? This will clearly become the most exciting (if not the brightest) city block in the metropolitan area.

I wonder if the three vertical bars on the right could be hooked up to the sound system inside and set up to work like an equalizer display, lights moving up and down the bars with the music playing in the club. That would be sick.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

washington adventist is coming Up The Pike

BUT FIRST: Thoughts on the tragedy at Virginia Tech.

With the announcement that Washington Adventist Hospital has purchased land for a new hospital in Calverton, East County is one step closer to becoming a major player in the MoCo universe.

The current, century-old facility located in Takoma Park is "difficult to access," according to the press release, and "unable to provide physicians and nurses with the offices and facilities they need," which led to a multi-year study to find a new location in the White Oak area. With their new forty-eight-acre property at Cherry Hill Road and Plum Orchard Drive, Adventist HealthCare hopes to "improve the region’s capacity to handle major medical emergencies and other public health-care crises."

And the expansion couldn't come at a better time. With talk of a hospital shutdown affecting a number of Prince George's County hospitals, other area hospitals will become increasingly strapped for room. While the move from Takoma Park will certainly disenfranchise the inside-the-Beltway population - especially in Langley Park, where the majority of residents do not drive - the new location has Washington Adventist poised to serve people throughout Central Maryland, not just communities along the County line.

The new location will already be near the FDA headquarters on New Hampshire Avenue; Riderwood Village, the ridiculously over-sized retirement community across Cherry Hill Road; the future East County Science and Tech Center; and numerous other medical establishments. Talk about a hub of activity!

Well, the next time that I find myself needing to go to the hospital, I look forward to doing so at Washington Adventist Hospital. It will always hold a special place in my heart, and moving within half-mile of my house will keep it there forever.

tragedy at virginia tech

Their voices rose thinly against the drone of newscasts on the movie screen at the end of the dining hall, the endlessly grim reports live from this place where they are but somehow aren't, as if the wind has carried a part of them away, too. They talked about whether to go home for the weekend, or stay and study for final exams two weeks away. Someone came back from the food line exclaiming, "God, I love cake!" and Jessica Micsan shook her head but laughed gratefully. - "After the Gunshots, Sounds of Sorrow and Dauntless Youth," Washington Post
How do you relate to people facing what is not just a personal tragedy but a tragedy of national scale? How can I, a five hours' drive away through those lonely mountains, ever hope to comprehend the horrors that took place yesterday?

And what does it take for one person to heal? For a college campus? For a nation always willing to start a new round of fearmongering, never willing to hope that a massacre like yesterday's will never happen again?

The closest I may ever be to the shootings at Virginia Tech is that I visited the school last year to sing, and we sang in the building next to Norris Hall, where thirty people lost their lives yesterday. My only impression of the place before is that it seemed very peaceful, and very beautiful, and though I'd never thought to apply there, it seemed like a good place to go to school, and I hope that its reputation - as trivial as this may sound now - remains that way.

We can only pray that this remains an isolated incident, and that the families of those thirty kids - who, like me, were looking forward to so much - can one day be healed, and that the 26,000 who were lucky to live through Monday can finish their school year with some sense of normalcy.

Friday, April 13, 2007

a loss for the purple line, a victory for lemonade

BUT FIRST: Could trailers solve the housing crisis in College Park? And how has "mandatory busing" returned to Montgomery County? Read more.

Just when you thought that the Purple Line was already on life support, we find out the Chevy Chase Town Council wants County taxpayers to fund their anti-Purple Line lobby. It's all here in this press release (warning! PDF file) from the Action Committee for Transit, which covers the town meeting last Wednesday where Purple Line foe Meir Wolf requested $250,000 for "independent studies" of the beleaguered transitway. (Sources close to Just Up The Pike say that Wolf will blow the quarter-million in Vegas and write his "findings" on a dirty cocktail napkin reading "make people take the bus.")

Town resident and lemonade magnate Amy Kostant, whose business is threatened by the proposed transitway, was not available for comment. Nonetheless, I declare this another victory for lemonade. I mean, who cares about traffic on East-West Highway? I'd sit in traffic for three more hours for a cold glass of fresh-squeezed lemonade.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

and so it's come to this

Last night, about fifty students - just a small percentage of the six hundred seniors kicked out of on-campus housing last week - began a week-long campout on McKeldin Mall, the picturesque main quad of the Maryland campus, in protest of the Board of Regents' refusal to fund a new dorm. As always, Rethink College Park has the complete story, but local news outlets like ABC 7 have jumped on the story as well.

Meanwhile, the Department of Resident Life continues to insist that they are not planning to build any new dorms, causing the Diamondback to suggest that the University has been lying about what it would take to finance more student housing. While the plans to redevelop East Campus remain in place, they won't come to fruition until about 2015, leaving a good eight years of giddy anticipation before anything happens. It's appalling to think that the school would not even entertain temporary solutions to the housing crisis.

One possibility I keep coming to - so long as we've got kids living in tents - is modular housing: a trailer park, if you will. Catholic University already did it ten years ago by opening Curley Court, a "modular home community" in the center of campus with about twenty-five single-wide trailers, each housing four upperclassmen. It sounds (and looks) ridiculous, but if you were forced to choose between a trailer on campus or a house several miles away, which would you take?

The University - and the City of College Park - need to find a solution as quickly as possible. I don't understand how the school could be so patronizing to students who, four years ago, were promised on-campus housing their entire time here. I also don't understand how City neighborhoods could be so unwelcoming to the students (not the University) who give College Park its name. Something is clearly broken. Now, who's going to fix it?

Thursday, April 5, 2007

seniors on the street: college park's housing crisis (updated)

BUT FIRST: Why are some East County kids being bused eight miles away for school? read more.

Years of rising enrollment and the increasing popularity of College Park to students and families alike have finally taken their toll: According to today's Diamondback, the University of Maryland has kicked the entire rising senior class out of on-campus housing this week, sending over six hundred students out into the streets of College Park with only a minute's notice to find a place to live next year.

The City of College Park has a very small vacancy rate, as I personally found out earlier this semester while looking for a house off-campus with a few friends. Most homes in the City are passed down to younger students as older students graduate, making it hard for transfers to find a place to live. And despite the addition of several new student apartment complexes - including a building re-opening this fall - there remain thousands of students, from incoming freshmen to seniors, who don't have any guarantee of housing either on- or off-campus.

It's hard to call this a "housing crisis" when College Park is but one city in a metropolitan area of five million people, but the improving reputation of both the University and the City have made it an increasingly attractive place to live. Students can move elsewhere - and they had, for years - but the convenience of living near the activity of campus has finally trumped the desire for privacy or cheaper rents. Call it "back to the city" for College Park, if you will.

The University runs commuter shuttle bus routes as far as Burtonsville, New Carrollton and Silver Spring, an especially popular area for students to commute from. When my mother returned to college after I was born, we moved from to Downtown Silver Spring so she could commute to College Park. And today, I frequently drive past the shuttle bus that runs to Powder Mill Village apartments in Calverton. Last year, it was almost discontinued due to low ridership - but will an exodus from on-campus housing make it a student outpost once again?

"Student sprawl" from College Park hurts everyone. It hurts efforts to create a "campus community" in town while turning quiet suburbs and apartments elsewhere into beer-and-music fueled mini-dorms, to the chagrin of working families. It makes traffic on local roads twice as worse during rush hour, and it makes what little student housing is available in College Park increasingly unaffordable.

The University hasn't built new student housing in twenty-five years, and the "explosion" of new developments approved by the City Council are solely geared to the yuppie-and-retiree set. What about the students - the "College" in "College Park"? Someone's got to take responsibility for student housing, lest the effects be felt throughout the area.

For more extensive coverage, check out Rethink College Park.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

can hampshire greens play the race card?

BUT FIRST: Burtonsville residents struggle to keep the Dutch Country Farmers' Market in town, whether or not it's actually possible; and a former local teaches anti-Purple Line activists in East Silver Spring about streetcars and little pedestrians in Toronto.

FINALLY: There's a ten-car pile-up at the intersection of race and money in Hampshire Greens, the McMansion-and-golf course community at New Hampshire and Route 28. Three years ago, when the InterCounty Connector was but a glimmer in Bob Ehrlich's eye, residents argued that they were being unfairly targeted by the State, who wouldn't have built the highway in predominantly-white (but no more affluent) Potomac.

This Census map (at right), in which darker-colored areas represent a larger black population, shows that Hampshire Greens is in fact blacker than its immediate neighbors, but not by a lot. This was only one of many reasons why the neighborhood's fight was quickly shut down by Planning Commissioner (and, in a further twist of race, black Republican) Allison Bryant.

But today, I'm left wondering why the kids of Hampshire Greens, however many of them may be black, are currently being bused to predominantly-black Key Middle School, eight miles away - and, as a result, Hampshire Greens parents are pushing the school board to send their kids somewhere closer.

A forty-five minute bus ride down New Hampshire Avenue in rush-hour traffic is absolutely unacceptable - and, worst of all, Hampshire Greens kids are being isolated from their "neighbors" in surrounding developments. (Never mind that you couldn't walk from Hampshire Greens to Llewellyn Fields, or Ashton Preserve, or one of the other McMansion developments nearby.) Why wasn't Hampshire Greens originally zoned for Farquhar Middle School, located just four miles away in Olney? Farquhar's got better test scores, a fourth as many kids on free or reduced lunch as Key - and, most importantly, room for over 170 additional students, according to these MCPS fact sheets.

I've said it before: The school system is not responsible for engineering racial diversity, whether by screwing with the Choice Program for high schools or by busing students across town. School assignments should be based on proximity - if kids in an apartment building live next door to kids in a golf course community, then they should both attend the same school. I don't think it benefits anyone to throw a handful of well-off kids into a struggling school like Key just for the hell of it.

Teaching kids about diversity at school is important, but whatever they've learned about dealing with different kinds of people is lost when they step off that bus and back into the isolation of a homogeneous neighborhood, whether it's Hampshire Greens or a White Oak apartment tower. This sort of "mandatory busing" only undermines the feeble attempts at community-building we can make in an area where everything is so spread-out and economically segregated.

Meeting photograph from Hampshire Greens website. Golf course depicted is actually Cross Creek Club.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

sunset on a great adventure

To commemorate the end (for now) of the "County Government Head-to-Head Tour," I've done a little cleaning up of the sidebar and replaced the background. What you're now looking at is sunset at the Maryland Farms Shopping Center, on Cherry Hill Road straddling the County line.

By "for now," I mean that our adventures in Rockville are not quite finished. An appointment has been made to meet with Roger Berliner (D-Potomac) again . . . in June. So look out for that! Summer means a lot of things for Just Up The Pike, namely more attention to the blog, and I'm looking forward to being more involved in it.

ANYWAY: There's been much talk over the past several months of what will happen to our beloved "the Turf" in Downtown Silver Spring. A lot of the discussion has been sparked by Finding Our Turf, last summer's documentary about the field produced by the Silver Spring Youth Collaborative. I've been anxious to see it - and now everyone can, because it's been made available online. (Thanks, Internet Archive!)

There's also a poll for what you think should be done with the "Veterans' Field" area. Take a second to cast your vote! Who knows - this might actually convince a few people in Rockville that Turf is the way to go.