Wednesday, July 2, 2008

sick of emo kids on ellsworth: how to walk without driving downtown

UPDATE: Greater Greater Washington, as always, explains what I was getting at below in far fewer words.

Downtown Silver Spring: Why does "pedestrian-friendly" have to mean "shopping mall"?

Downtown Silver Spring is a nice place to be, and even nicer if you can walk there. And while the definition of "walkable" seems to be getting bigger (County Councilmember George Leventhal says he walks downtown from his home a mile away), Downtown still isn't walking distance for a lot of people. How can we create these kinds of pedestrian-friendly places outside of Montgomery County's major "downtowns"?

Thomas Hardman talks extensively about this in a string of comments following yesterday's post about Wheaton that could merit their own guest blog post - hell, its own blog. He makes several major points, among them: 1) that the County's "Downtowns" are only for those who can afford to live there, and everyone else just dreams they could too and 2) that a lot of people would gladly walk to their own neighborhood business district if they could, or if there was anything there.

At every single community event I've been to in the past two years, I've heard someone talk about "neighborhood scale," about the hardware shop and the corner grocery store. It seems like a nice idea to take those things and put them in a place you can walk to, so you can leave your car at home, if only once in a while. Say you don't always want to visit Wheaton or Silver Spring or Rockville when you want to walk, because you'll be bombarded by crowds and strangers and, of course, emo kids, if there are still any around in 2008.

So why do our "Downtowns" end up becoming malls? And how could we get the corner grocery store in our own neighborhood, within walking distance? I think I have an answer, though it's a lot more complicated than many people would like it to be.

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

Rockville Town Square: a lack of foot traffic in the immediate neighborhood means high-end shops and big events (like Hometown Holidays, pictured) to attract customers from a wider area.

I work at a store in Rockville that sells four-dollar-a-scoop ice cream, across from a store that sells forty-dollar laundry hampers, and down the street from a store that sells four-hundred-dollar clothes. Rents in the apartments above push $1,800 for a one-bedroom; there are cheaper apartments, but they're heavily subsidized. The Rockville Town Square is a pretty, high-end shopping center, and it's tenanted the way it is to draw customers from a wide area - the standard for most malls is about 250,000 people within a fifteen-minute drive.

Densities push forty homes an acre in the complex, but the surrounding neighborhood is all single-family homes, and they won't be enough to sustain the shops here. So you have to make it like a mall, because people aren't going to drive fifteen minutes for a hardware store, and that means one thing: The Mall People.
The county in its "wisdom" has decided that it only supports The Mall People and their kin. Thus, you can't have walkability as they have it in almost every comparable jurisdiction; you're stuck with "centers". I do occasionally go to Wheaton to do some shopping and that's out of necessity alone. It takes me literally days or weeks to get over it. - Thomas Hardman
The "mall mentality" happens in neighborhood shopping centers as well, because miles and miles of single-family homes won't be enough to sustain them. The developer's still working on a smaller variation of the "250,000 people within fifteen minutes" rule, which means Super Fresh and Home Depot and Starbucks, and even they are barely hanging on in some areas. It happens in Aspen Hill, in Burtonsville, in Montgomery Hills, everywhere. You can make these places easier to walk to; you can build sidewalks and slow cars down, but you won't get that corner grocery or hardware store to move in.

The White Oak Shopping Center: a dense neighborhood means lots of people to walk around and support local retail.

Neither of those things exist at the White Oak Shopping Center, but there are a slew of locally-owned shops, including a clothing store, a bowling alley, and an ice cream store selling two-dollar-a-scoop ice cream. White Oak is surrounded by thousands of apartments, creating a base of shoppers who can all reach it by foot. It's an imperfect example - there's a Sears, which is both big and a chain; the demographics skew lower-income; and there are issues with crime - but it points us in the right direction.

If we're going to be at least partially reliant on pedestrian traffic, we need to increase the density at our neighborhood shopping centers. That means throwing in civic buildings, offices, and housing - ten, twenty, even forty homes an acre - that can sustain little shops pushed up against the sidewalk. Instead of talking about people within a fifteen-minute drive, you have people within a fifteen-minute walk. There are also people here at all times - office workers during the day, residents in the mornings and evenings - giving businesses a steady stream of customers.

Burtonsville: Practically invisible from Route 198, this Indian/Pakistani grocery is dependent on the Indian/Pakistani community for business. In a pedestrian-oriented center, sidewalk traffic would provide another source of customers.

There will be traffic, but also more alternatives to driving for those who wish to take advantage. At these densities, walking becomes viable, along with transit - real, usable transit, not just one bus every half-an-hour that goes twenty places you don't want to go before reaching your destination. A lot of people will drive here to walk, as these kinds of places are still a novelty in MoCo, or if you're disabled, for whom accessible parking suddenly becomes a serious issue.

From the looks of last month's charrette, it seems like Burtonsville has already answered this proposition with a resounding "hell, no. " It's clear that there are a lot of issues to deal with, like how to make sure that the complex isn't reliant on chains like Downtown Silver Spring, or how to prevent development from encroaching on surrounding residential neighborhoods. But the benefits are clear: stronger communities reinforced by local business; smaller-scale alternatives to so-called "town centers," and, of course, avoiding the Mall People.

Nobody likes the Mall People, but nobody said that sidewalks are only for the hip, either. But in many of our neighborhoods, it seems like we've already given them up.

18 comments:

Thomas Hardman said...

I don't mind the Emo kids, I suppose, being vaguely flattered by a slight bit of imitation, a generation or two removed from back in the day (or night) when I used to be Goth As Heck. Please pass the whiteface and mascara, hold the bowl-cut and Keds, thanks. But you'll never see the Emo Kids where I live, a neighborhood that has seen fully-effective Gothnic Cleansing.

I might mention that in a lot of ways, Aspen Hill already fills the bill for walkability, depending on where you live. For example, if you lived in the Harmony Hills neighborhood -- an odd little cul-de-sac neighborhood -- you could very easily walk to Aspen Manor Shopping Center, Northgate Plaza, Aspen Hill Shopping Center. K-Mart and Home Depot and 7-11 are also within walking distance although they're at the limits of how far you would want to schlep home a load of groceries if you're young and fit.

Yet for most people, in most ways, Harmony Hills is the sort of neighborhood where you would drive home from work, go immediately into the house, and securely lock the doors. If I lived there, that's how I'd be doing it. Take a look at the CrimeReports.Com map of the area and see for yourself. Try to not be fooled by the apparently low level of calls-for-service, the map is generated from the 911 dispatcher logs. Most of the crime in the area never gets called in to 911, as it's criminal-on-criminal crime. Astute observers can hang out in the area and see a lot of stuff going on that never makes it to the dispatchers.

Harmony Hills has a problem which might seem at odds with the goal of "walkability", which is ease of access to shopping without needing to drive. Harmony Hills's problem is that it's vehicularly isolated.

If you live, for example, at the intersection of Palmira and Wendy Lanes, you can walk through a pedestrian-only passage and through a breezeway and you're right there in the Aspen Hill Shopping Center, right next to Panera and the US Post Office. A slightly different course will send you to the Aspen Hill Office Building, rather fortuitously so, as that's where the WIC office is conveniently located to serve the needs of the many neighborhood recipients.

Yet here's the problem: If you live at that intersection, you see nothing but foot traffic all day every day, and there's just no telling who is going to be walking through there. Harmony Hills has one of the County's highest rates of unlicensed rentals and excess occupancy. The neighborhood also has some of the most ridiculously overbuilt (recent add-on) homes you've ever seen. There's one on Palmira Lane that has to be seen to be believed, you could park a couple of battalions in there and probably launch a jet fighter off of the roof. It's like a freakin' battleship. But I digress.

One long time resident was recently beset and violently abused with backpacks by "the new people", who all ran away giggling mostly en espa~ol. Yet roving gangs of teen dwarf-bashers isn't the worst of it. I've lived in the District and a friend of mine wound up living in Trinidad and I used to occasionally go visit. Trinidad, like Harmony Hills, is exceptionally walkable... but it's vehicularly isolated. That makes it a perfect place for carrying on business you'd rather not have seen by by passing traffic. And of course, the roving gangs of teen dwarf-bashers find that it's just fabulously fun once they've bashed a dwarf or two to go hang out at the shopping centers looking for anyone else that probably deserved bashing, such as yours-truly.

Aspen Hill's "walkable" neighborhoods are suffering to some degree mostly because of their "walkability". As an aging "elder edge suburb", the side-effects of the housing bubble and the massive population explosion combined to make various neighborhoods of Aspen Hill extremely predictable in terms of the demographics. Who lives on the streets near to Home Depot? Who else? -many dozens of people who until recently were all working in a construction trade where if they didn't have a current gig, all they had to do was to walk to Home Depot and stand around and they'd probably be hired within the hour. Home overcrowding and code violations in the area were so legendary as to require photographic documentation since quite frankly I could tell people and they just wouldn't believe me, not even when I computationally combined State Tax and County Code/Permits data in an automated slumlord detector complete with googlemaps.

Yet when you look at the mappings, you start to see a pattern: the poor don't just like the walkability, they need the walkability. Furthermore, at least in Aspen Hill, they both drove up the prices of real-estate but also drove up the prices of real-estate far less than they drove it up outside of the walkable areas.

The massive population influx and the desire for "walkability" concentrated the poor; you get out of the "walkable" parts of Aspen Hill, and that's where you still have the "old school" traditional demographics of Aspen Hill, predominantly native-born people of european ancestry. Yet even that is changing, as a lot of people are moving on to "Seizure World"... but even more are moving on to anyplace they can walk to shopping without having to be forced to deal with the roving gangs of dwarf bashers and a population bound and determined to pursue gothnic cleansing.

For all I know, that's where all of the little Emo Kids at the privately owned Ellsworth Street "not-a-mall" mall are coming from: they're afraid to sport their bowl-cut in Aspen Hill and so they infest Silver Spring. Besides, there's not much point in dressing in a style of protest and disaffection unless people (lots of them) can see you being disaffected with the society that thoughtfully provides you with places to express your disaffection... as long as you buy something there now and then.

The New Downtown Rockville is far better done, at least when it was built it was built right next to where City Hall and about ten gajillion cops and lawyers are looking right at all of it all day every day. That's "walkability done right", more or less... though as mentioned in the original post, it's not the walkers that will pay for most of it. Aspen Hill has lots of walkability, but not for the wealthy who would frankly be best advised to take that walk with a security detail. Lots of robberies of pedestrians happen around here, but a lot of that is the so-called "amigo shopping". (Lest anyone draw an incorrect inference, let me point out that this is in fact not a revenge of the dwarves.)

What conclusion can I draw from all of this? Well, "crime prevention through environmental design" is a right bitch to try to retrofit into existing communities and easy to impose while still in the planning phases of urban engineering. Foresight, thus, is better than hindsight, though of course it's a lot more work to engage in Futurism and to engage in misreadings of History.

And in closing, allow me to point out that I do have a blog but either nobody ever reads it, or they're too shy to leave a comment. Despite the present evidence to the contrary, I much prefer a dialog format to mere pontification from a lonely stump in the middle of nowhere, however walkable that nowhere might be.

Well, excuse me, I have to go get a couple of cans of soda -- but not from the walkable stores -- and drive to the local park to take my walk... where it is safe, mostly, mostly because it's outside the walkable zones patrolled by the dwarf-bashers.

Dave Murphy said...

Dan,

Though I agree that the Silver Plaza area is a little prefabricated, if you will, it is only one spot in Silver Spring. Venture down Fenton, Georgia, or Cameron and you get a whole slew of shops, restaurants, grocery stores, parks, etc.

I also think that White Oak, though there is a lot within walking distance, isn't exactly walkable. Perhaps if those buildings engaged New Hampshire and Lockwood Drive a little better and the parking was in the rear, you could say it was walkable. But that entire area-- the Enclave Apartments, the shopping center, the interchange, the fences in the median on New Hampshire-- was designed for cars, not people. I'd go so far to say that if the layout was a little more friendly, the crime might go down.

The apartments aren't really set up in a community-oriented manner. Though dense, they are separated from everything around them. This includes the apartments behind the shopping center along Lockwood and Stewart Lane. I believe the lack of eyes on the street contributes heavily to the crime rate and bad reputation.

Dan Reed said...

"Walkable" used to mean little pedestrian paths separated from everything else (like in White Oak and Aspen Hill) so people would be "safe" from cars, but as it turns out they're not safe from getting mugged, because there's no other traffic (cars, bikes, buses, etc.) and often no one really to watch over the space. In White Oak there are plenty of undefined (and therefore unclaimed) open spaces where anything can happen and no one can stop them without jumping from their third-floor balconies. If I lived next to one of those walking paths, I'd be scared, because I wouldn't know who was coming down them or where they were coming from.

I personally know emo kids who live in Aspen Hill! I'm usually guaranteed to see one or two walking down Randolph (by the bus stop at Veirs Mill) on my way to work.

Thomas Hardman said...

Walking paths can either a blessing or a curse depending on how they're laid out, of what materials they were constructed, etc.

The Rock Creek Hiker Biker Trail through Aspen Hill has been pretty crime-free so far as I know, aside from the Sue Wen Stottmeister murder case, which really is best classified as a fluke, due to the derangement and totally outside-of-typical nature of her assailant.

One of the reasons that there's little crime on that trail, in my opinion, is that it's a fairly wide and paved trail, and the County can and does drive down it on an unpredictable schedule. Also, the park and the trail are closed to the public from dusk to dawn. Yet it might be something of a special case because that trail doesn't actually go anywhere, at least it doesn't go from any one "destination" to any other. It's a recreational trail, not a transit trail, as it were.

During recent somewhat acrimonious debates over the Matthew Henson Greenways trail, there were the usual NIMBY crowd arguing about how the trail shouldn't be there, all it would do would be to provide fast access and easy escapes for burglars and other such criminals. Given that one end of the trail isn't far from the crime hotspot at Layhill and Bel Pre, and that the other end is at the hotspot of Georgia and Hewitt Avenues, this isn't a totally unreasonable expectation. Yet the same crowd who was arguing against it on the basis of crime was the same crowd arguing against the trail being a paved trail.

With the trail paved, and with that greenspace maintained as a vehicularly accessible area under at least occasional patrol by the Park Police, it could actually turn out to be an anti-crime asset rather than a mugger magnet. How so? If you have a problem with crimes occurring in the apartments/condos and the criminals traditionally escaping into the greenspace, now it will be possible to have an intercept unit already in position, or to move rapidly into position.

Comparable debate has circulated regarding the various apartment communities in the area. For example, geographic isolation due to anti-crime fencing might make people who are stones-throw neighbors need to walk a mile to get around the fence. Yet, due to the Department of Police's focus on vehicular patrols, you simply cannot leave a place where people can go but cars cannot, or these chokepoints will assuredly be used by pedestrian criminals to evade vehicular police pursuits. And so anti-crime strategy divides a natural community into little enclaves that don't much talk to each other, or at least that used to be the case before we started cleaning up the North Gate Park. Still, for anyone to access the local stores, the fencing makes for such a long and roundabout route along curbline sidewalks that those who can drive almost always do drive.

As for the Emo kids, I'd wave at them if I saw them, except they'd probably be terrorized at the sight of a clear and obvious scruffy old redneck driving a hideous old pickup. ;)

Speaking of subculture, does anyone beside me remember that at one time there was -- at the modern-day site of the Gilchrest Multicultural Center -- once a very good used record store in downtown Wheaton that was a punk-rock bar by night? I remember seeing "Das Ich" there along with a slough of local counterculture types. "Phantasmagoria" was the name of the club.

That was in fact one seriously sketchy nightclub in a pretty sketchy part of Wheaton but

at least it was nightlife
and alternaculture!

I wonder, would it be worth having Wheaton's downtown be turned into yet-another megamall-of-malls even bigger than it now is, if we got a couple of venues like the old Phantasmagoria? You know, something to draw in the Emo kids and keep them off of the streets?

Silver Springer said...

Sorry Dan, but White Oak and that shopping center in particular has not changed much at all in my time being in this area and I’ve been here about 25 years, it isn’t dense and is full of discount retailers. Which I suppose is the “affordable retail” we want right? Dollar stores et al?

Comparing it to downtown Silver Spring in any way, shape, or form is an insult. Using pedestrian friendly and White Oak in the same sentence is a highly dubious statement. Not with 650 running through it and all those fences.

Thomas Hardman, I’ve read all your posts and while they are very long they are surprisingly shortsighted. One must not forget that once upon a time, downtown Silver Spring was very “affordable”, before the real estate boom that is not exclusive to Silver Spring. No one ventured into it. Then the redevelopment came and I would never go back.

There is nothing wrong with having upscale retail in an area that really never had any. A real city, a real urban area, a real downtown does not only cater to one crowd, it doesn’t cater to the “affordable” “working class” crowd or the “upscale wealthy” crow. It does its best to reach as many as possible. It is the intricate uses in all aspects as Jane Jacobs would say. Takoma/Langley Park is plenty affordable, so why aren’t people cramming through the crossroads to go and live there? Why does the county have a 4000+ waitlist for MPDUs? Why? Because a place has to be desirable too, you have not found the economically feasible equilibrium so your points are mute. No one is going to do it for free as there is no such thing as a free lunch. Your affordable wonderland is out of touch with reality and has major trade off and setbacks.

The problem with many who criticize downtown Silver Spring is that they fail to do their research. They proclaim boldly the “problems” of Downtown Silver Spring as if it is an anomaly the world has never seen but it all boils down to someone’s personal dislike.

For example you all call for more neighborhood shops like hardware stores in Downtown Silver Spring but fail to mention Strosniders, a locally based hardware store with only three locations in the region. Quite frankly half the shops or more in Downtown Silver Spring are locally owned and that number is increasing. Rockville Town Center or Pentagon Row cannot claim the 38th most visited movie theater in the country or the most heavily used whole foods in the country.
Do you even know how many National Chains Downtown Silver Spring has as opposed to Bethesda Row, Rockville Town Center and Pentagon Row?

You also fail to mention City Place Mall, plenty of affordable retail, plenty of small business, locally owned shops. Great connection and synergy with the Downtown Silver Spring project. They tied it in very well and the novice would not now they are totally separate projects with separate owners.

Don’t like City Place Mall? Then I suspect a hint of racism and contradiction.

People for some reason cannot comprehend that the Downtown Silver Spring project is part of a larger downtown area called the Silver Spring Central Business District (CBD). They are unfamiliar with the boundaries.

In fact Silver Spring is the densest urban district in this entire region. No other area including downtown D.C. has a higher residential population for that geographical size. The downtown project is supported by residential densities that are unmatched. Only Bethesda’s residential densities comes close.

Silver Spring has three grocery stores in the CBD and many smaller mom and pop grocery stores like Thai Market and the Ethiopian grocery stores. Silver Spring has three gyms within 2 locks of each other and over 7 million square feet of office space and over 6,000 residential units planned, under construction or completed within the last 5 years. This does not include the area outside the CBD.

It has an almost equal racial demographic population. Headquarters of Discovery Communications, United Therapeutics (largest independent biotech in the region and state), AFI etc . Silver Spring is epitome of what a well blended intricate urban area should be. The only thing that’s missing is taller buildings at its core for a fundamental start.

You Mr. Hardman, have a personal bias against Silver Spring. Set those blinders down and take a closer look. I am dumbfounded by the attention and critique that Downtown Silver Spring gets as opposed to other places in this region. Let’s talk about the big box Target at Columbia Heights or the Suburban looking office building at Bethesda row? Or how about the car friendly parking spaces right in the core of Pentagon Row? Maybe we can discuss the failed attempt at condo living for $800,000 in Rockville Town Center?

You sir are surely delirious if you think Aspen Hill fits the bill of walkability and then you go on to have anything negative to say about downtown Silver Spring. Do you live in Aspen Hill trying your best to protect your property value?

Dan, I am even more disappointed that you are eating this guys tripe!

Anyone who has heard about Jane Jacobs book the Death and Life of Great American Cities, either has not read it or has misinterpreted what she was trying to say. In the book she writes that the corner Grocery store is not the answer to vibrant streets and cities. In fact she goes as far to say that it is an indication of something negative happening to the neighborhood and that developers back then would often throw it in as token retail.

I ‘m going to put this to Downtown Silver Spring bashing to rest once and for all and do a comparison between Bethesda Row, Rockville Town Center, Columbia Heights, Pentagon Row etc and post it on my website Silver Spring Scene.com. We will see how many “chains” we can find and the results will surely surprise you.

Dan Reed said...

Whoa, Henry, call off your dogs. I don't even know where to begin responding to this, but I'll give it a try.

a) no one ever tried to compare White Oak to Downtown Silver Spring. I was trying to make a point, though, that because White Oak has a high population density, there are a lot of people who can and do walk to the shopping center and thus can support smaller, local businesses. It's not a walkable area, nor did I ever say it was.

b) I didn't mention City Place because it's A MALL, and I wasn't writing about enclosed shopping malls. Notice I didn't talk about Wheaton Plaza, either.

c) the Silver Spring CBD has a lot of small, local businesses. The Downtown Silver Spring complex is less so, and even if it does have several local establishments (Strosniders, Lebanese Taverna, Asian Bistro) that doesn't mean that centers like that are automatically conducive to them.

Don't accuse me of DTSS-bashing. I think that's a bit strong, and you know better. I'm not against upscale retail, and nobody said "we don't want it here," but I want to explore how the system works, why certain things go where they do, and why places like DTSS do end up feeling like malls. It's true! It's not a bad thing, but it can only contribute so much to a vibrant downtown.

I figure I'll have to clarify this piece in the coming week . . . I wanted to also talk about how it's important for retail spaces to be for sale instead of lease, so it's easier for businesses to customize their space (creating a more varied and authentic streetscape than a developer might, and within just as little time) and they won't be forced out by rising rents. We'll see how that goes.

Silver Springer said...

I don’t think Downtown Silver Spring is a good “test subject” to critique when talking about places that aren’t walking distance for a lot of people.

There is no urban center so intricate in this area with as much residential in its downtown as Silver Spring.

Like I’ve said many times, find me an urban district (Rosslyn, Ballston, Clarendon, Bethesda etc) that has over 6,000 residential units planned, under construction or completed in the last 5 years.

That’s more than the City of Baltimore! Heck we have over 1,200 going up right now! Who can match that? Silver Spring already goes as high as 125 units to an acre.

And Downtown Silver Spring has more chains as relative to where? Bethesda Row? Rockville Towne Center? Pentagon Row? DC USA in Columbia Heights?

Ok so I’m guessing 1) you would have liked residential on top of Downtown Silver Spring, particularly where the clock and DSW is? But wouldn’t people start bitching about “human scale”? “Oh no! The buildings are too tall!” I believe that the space for Downtown Silver Spring could have been more efficient, better utilized. IMO the Ellsworth Condos are a big waste of space and a sprawling complex. There is always the possibly of building on top of the garages but does the County have the foresight?

2) You seem to want more density in the immediate area right outside the CBD? Doesn’t this mean the redevelopment Neighborhoods like Woodside and East Silver Spring (some of those areas could use a redesign though)? The single family neighborhoods around Rockville will never be touched, they are historic in nature.Rockville already demolished much of it's historic center which was a bad move. The existing buildings are already pretty high for “afraid of Heights” Montgomery so your only option is to implode buildings like the nasty Americana buildings and build taller. But you would not like that because tall buildings are a sin.

As to your point of our downtown shopping districts being malls. What exactly will make Downtown Silver Spring “less like a mall”? The hardware store? Already there! The dry cleaners? Already there! The grocery store? Already there with several others large and small in very close proximity!

My point with City place is that is has all the “mom and pops” people think aren’t around but they are there, it’s simply in an enclosed fashion. What is the definition of a mall anyways?

As far as affordability goes, 1) we are getting back there again if ones does there research on home prices. 2) How do we build affordable without compromising architecture? 3) How can we do it without the County paying for it like it was destined to provide affordable housing for the entire D.C. region? 4) How do we not end up with large swaths and towers of “affordable housing” so that we don’t end up like Takoma Park or Briggs Chaney? 5) How is it going to be economically feasible? 6) Are we doing these things already?

I agree with your overall premise though. We need more mixed use at our existing shopping centers, I cringe when planning talks about “development capacity” . In some areas in the County it doesn’t exist. North Bethesda should be building 40 story buildings, likewise for downtown Silver Spring’s and Bethesda’s cores. The County isn’t running out of space, it simply doesn’t know how to utilize areas for redevelopment. That goes for the single family neighborhoods too. Ranchers on Viers Mill are nobody’s sacred cow. I’ve discussed with the County about retailers owning their shops perhaps you can call more attention to it.

Silver Spring isn’t some small town in the 1940s anymore and quite frankly it never was a small town relative to everything else in the region, it was pretty large and significant. Think of Tysons Corner as the Silver Spring of the 1990s. The day of the corner grocery store is dead and wasn’t a positive indication in many instances. What are we to gain in bringing back these nostolgic memories to life again? Also remember it wasn't so great for many people at that time.

Dan Reed said...

1) Downtown Silver Spring could've been a lot denser. I met Gary Bowden, who was project leader (I think) for DTSS while at RTKL, and the first thing I told him was "you should've put a high-rise on top of the shopping center." But that's just me.

2) I didn't say anything about redeveloping Woodside, BUT in order for places like DTSS and Rockville Town Square to work (work better) there have to be smaller, denser centers that feed into it. (Hence "neighborhood scale.") Turning strip malls in neighboring areas (Montgomery Hills, Long Branch, Spring Center on 16th St., etc.) into small, mixed-use centers. That's what I was talking about, and if you think about everything I said in the post in that context, I think it'll make more sense.

3) That being said, the issue isn't that DTSS NEEDS more local retail, but that there has to be a greater effort to encourage it in other places. DTSS works exactly like you say it does - it's upscale, and that's fine, but it's not the be-all, end-all to urban design and development. Downtown Silver Spring (the complex) needs Downtown Silver Spring (the business district as a whole) to work.

4) affordability now all-too-often means vinyl siding. I think you can make attractive, affordably-built and priced places without sacrificing design. One way is by using green design to reduce energy costs. Another is by building denser to begin with.

Perhaps the most affordable solution is, in the redevelopment process, dividing up land into smaller parcels and selling them off to be developed. So instead of one big developer building his big high-end project because it's the only way he can make a profit, you have several little developers - and even individual businesses - building their smaller projects. It won't look or feel as upscale as a Bethesda Row, but that's okay. It'll have the necessary building diversity to have a "sense of place" (more so than the fake facades along Ellsworth) and maintain a variety of uses by virtue of the different owners. In order to ensure that the project doesn't drag on for decades, you give the owners a deadline to have their work completed - say five years. That way, you can create a new urban (not New Urban) project without sacrificing so-called "authenticity."

5) The corner grocery can be really useful, though in a lot of places (inner-city neighborhoods in D.C.) they're seen as bad, but I'm thinking of places like Trader Joe's or, in College Park, our recently-departed Wawa. Places that sell produce, dairy, deli meats, etc. It's not a replacement for Giant, but a supplement. Now you don't have to get in a car every time you need a thing of milk, but rather walk to it.

Thomas Hardman said...

Silver Springer,

Like Dan Reed, I honestly don't know where to begin to try to respond to your remarks; I don't think I said anything bad about Silver Spring, other than that I mostly think of it as a place I drive through to get to my real destinations, which are down in the District. I have a friend who lives right there in the deep heart of Silver Spring, maybe a 10-minute walk from Metro and he's pretty much right there at 16th and US-29. And when I visit him, he says "let's get the heck out of here and go downtown". One of these days I'll make him show me what there is to do in Silver Spring if you're a 50-year old with limited financial resources, other than maybe eat out or go see a movie down off of Ellsworth.

By the way, you're pretty far gone over the top when you tell me that I'm clearly a racist because I didn't mention "City Place Mall". WTF? Never been there, I'm pretty sure. Not even sure where it is. Like I have said here and elsewhere, places that attract crowds and tourists are not the places I like to go. I am not gregarious and people who are gregarious basically drive me nuts. I am not the sort of person who thinks it's a really good idea to squish as many people as possible into as small a space as possible. I recognize that a lot of people do feel that way, but really, the best way to assure yourself that I will never go someplace is to make that place "trendy" and "hip", or -- saints preserve me -- make it "vibrant".

Also, you seem to be really missing a point here, like those Emily Latella skits on the old Saturday Night Live. I'm not talking about things that need to be done to improve downtown Silver Spring, it's quiet evidently a smashing success by most people's standards. We were mostly discussing Wheaton.

I could also add here that when you ask why people aren't busting butt to go live in Langley Park or "Crossroads" or off of Piney Branch Road, well, it's a crime-ridden ghetto that shows no slightest clue about ever turning around with "gentrification". It might have something to do with all of the gang graffiti, the murder rate, and the folks you see hanging out behind Tick Tock liquor.

As for Aspen Hill's alleged walkability, it's got everything it needs to fill that bill with the exception of major employers. As it is, there are a lot of professional offices here, and a major engineering firm, but I'm pretty sure that all of those people commute here rather than living in the neighborhood and walking to work.

Now, to the Revitalization of Columbia Heights, let's just say that my "street cred" is really good on that issue... and on those streets. I lived there, too, more or less right at Columbia Road and 14th Street NW. Try to figure out whom you intend to deride before you start in on them.

Thomas Hardman said...

Sorry to follow myself, but I have to point something out, that people don't seem to "get" about me.

I'm very poor, always have been and very likely always shall be. That said, try to understand that this means that I always wind up living in whatever place has the lowest cost of living. I am also not the least bit criminal in intent or activity, but when you live in the cheapest place available, you're going to learn a lot about crime and criminals. You also learn a lot about the struggles of others who are both poor and decent. The main difference between myself and a lot of these people is that I am fairly articulate online, and when I speak truth to power, I'm speaking as much truth as I can because I have very little to lose and everything to gain.

And because I'm trying to speak on behalf of, and in the interests of, people who are both decent and poor, you won't find me making arguments that appeal to elitism or wealth, but to that which grants the greatest hope of opportunity for those who are decent people as well as poor people.

So, the new super showpiece Wheaton Library needs to be, to serve us equally, someplace where you don't have to put on your church clothes or business suit to go check out a trashy potboiler novel. It needs to be a part of the neighborhood and a place where anyone can go to check out a book, not another "destination" where you have to pretend to be one of the Mall People just to get in and out the door without getting slapped in the back of your head for not being one of their kind.

Does Wheaton deserve a first-class library, or Aspen Hill some sort of businesses that can hire workers from the community? Of course. Should this benefit only the upper-crusties and come only at the expense of the poor? No way.

C. P. Zilliacus said...

> Sorry Dan, but White Oak and
> that shopping center in
> particular has not changed
> much at all in my time being
> in this area and I’ve been
> here about 25 years, it isn’t
> dense and is full of
> discount retailers. Which I
> suppose is the “affordable
> retail” we want right?
> Dollar stores et al?

The White Oak Shopping Center
is OLD - well over 45 years.
The Giant Food store there
dates back to at least 1959
(then-Soviet leader Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev visited
that Giant so he could see what
a modern U.S. supermarket
looked like). There was also
an Acme market, that was never
able to compete very well with
the Giant.

The Sears store is (in relative
terms) new.

retgroclk said...

Mr. Hardman hits the nail right on the head-- it appears that the poor and the working poor are slowly being squeezed out of the area.

I am more aware of this since I became disabled and saw my income cut in half from 60,000/year to 30,000/year.

As my living expenses rise, my disability doesn't rise to meet the increase in expenses.
I have been disabled for about 8 years- my savings and small investments have been depleted- it is a struggle and I am not elgible for a lot of benefits since I make too much money(?) and I own a condo.

But I am not whining, I just want to point out that there are many other people with the same problems or worse, and we are finding it harder and harder to enjoy the new changes in this County.
Unfortunately there is not much the County can do--and the answer is not to move out of the area- many people have family ties to this area or are too old to move and start anew.

The changes are nice, but I do not go to Silver Spring too often, and I limited my shopping in Wheaton to groceries and doctor visits.

I welcome a new look for Wheaton, but I would like to see more public parking and a better police presence.

I love this area and I have great memories-.
Anyway enough of my rambling- Dan Reed you still run a great blog Mr Hardman you have a great feel for the people on the fringes of these changes, and of course I have to give a hi to Adam at Maryland Politics.

Thomas Hardman said...

retgroclk,

There is nothing "slow" about the pressures bring put on the working poor. And depending on which of the working poor you are, there's a huge amount of discrimination going on, either for you or against you.

The 14th Amendment to the Constitution provides that the States will give equal protection of the laws, which has generally been held to mean that everyone is at equal risk should they violate the laws.

Yet here in Aspen Hill, I've seen massive failure to enforce certain laws against certain people, and I've also seen most of the enforcement of such things as fire, housing, and rental codes aimed at the people least likely to violate it. I'm not alone, at one of Mr Leggett's very first Town Hall Meetings, a black citizen from Hillandale got up and said that it doesn't matter how clean he keeps his yard he still gets cited, but his neighbors who have a yard full of wrecked cars and leaking batteries don't even get looked at twice. Why? In his opinion (as best I can recall it) it's because he doesn't have an activist organization working tirelessly for his special interest group, like his polluting neighbor found waiting to represent him when he entered the country. Other people at the same meeting expressed similar mixed complaints about how the East County was just being let to slide into the dumpster so long as the Potomac people had low-cost groundskeepers, etc etc.

A lot of the folks I hear from around here seem to think that it's just a unified action by "the elites" to drive out the PWT and I suppose there's some element of Calvinistic neo-darwinism in the ideology of the ruling party here. It's there in the Republican mindset as well, but at least the Republicans are honest when they come right out and say that the only useful measure of a person is whether they're sane, whole, and run a business. I don't know what the Democrats are thinking, other than that if you look at their actions, you can tell that their intentions and their words are far apart. Yet I think that the majority of these people of either (or no) party only want one thing, cheap labor for the rich and everyone else can expect to get thrown onto the dustbin of history or maybe go move to Frederick, whichever causes the most emotional distress.

Look, the mainstream goal of Montgomery County seems to be reproducing the society depicted in Aldous Huxley's _Brave New World_. Huxley wrote that as an anatopia, not as a utopian novel. But most of our educators and local-government types don't seem to understand that. Most of them are what Huxley would have called high-level Betas, and they all seem to have been programmed in the same way Huxley predicted, to think that they have their roles and other classes of people have their roles and whatever role you are born for is the role you'll fulfil. That means that to them if you are a little brown person you are going to be a menial and if you're pale you're going to be an office drone and anyone who isn't fitting into the program in the way they expect is to be expelled.

The way they expel people is mostly through discrimination in employment; if they decide someone's PWT from WV, they figure that by keeping rents high they can discourage that person enough to head back to the hills and hollers. The thing is, that policy disproportionately attacks the disabled of any class or origin.

These people running the show around here are, to me, generally incomprehensible. They claim to be inclusive and egalitarian, and they are... only so long as you are exactly like them in outlook and expectations. You go with the program and you do it exactly as they do, or you're the outsider, the enemy, not to be trusted and always to be undermined, in a passive-aggressive way of course, one that allows them to pretend to be benevolent and sharing and caring.

Can't stand the mall? That's the only place they're hiring. Your mobility is limited? Put whatever you need in the hardest-to-access place. The only thing that you have is your unmortgaged property? Raise the property taxes so that you have to sell and move away and put your home into the market mill so that it can forever more be churned and have the churning taxed. It's all about the greed and how much they can grab, all of the glitz and "amenities and services" is just the Gingerbread House from Hansel and Gretel. It's lovely in its appearance but you know what lurks within.

Silver Springer said...

Dan reed said...

1) Downtown Silver Spring could've been a lot denser. I met Gary Bowden, who was project leader (I think) for DTSS while at RTKL, and the first thing I told him was "you should've put a high-rise on top of the shopping center." But that's just me.


Ok so we agree on that but how tall is too tall for you?


2) I didn't say anything about redeveloping Woodside, BUT in order for places like DTSS and Rockville Town Square to work (work better) there have to be smaller, denser centers that feed into it. (Hence "neighborhood scale.") Turning strip malls in neighboring areas (Montgomery Hills, Long Branch, Spring Center on 16th St., etc.) into small, mixed-use centers. That's what I was talking about, and if you think about everything I said in the post in that context, I think it'll make more sense.


What is the density range that Rockville Town Center needs in order to "work better" and where would you place it? Not south west at the large 28 and 355 intersection bisecting it. There really isn't much in the name of retail strip malls around Rockville Town Center. I believe there are plans for a phase 2 of the Town Center just north of phase 1 already completed. The parking lot in front of the Movie theater already has a hotel and residential units planned for it. The Giant shopping center and the smaller one by the Fitz could be redeveloped bu t the Giant shopping center is relatively new and the State and County would have to work hard to make crossing 355 worthwhile. Surrounding neighborhoods are already bitching about the County placing a 100'ft district courthouse on the former library site (which about the height of the new town center buildings). So will you ever get the density required to make Rockville Town Center a better place? The City would be smart to look at the redevelopment of the Americana Centre, it is an eyesore passed it's prime.

If residential density at the Rockville Town Center isn't adequate for you (perhaps because they are still leasing and selling units) than anything else would have to be considerably taller and considerably tall buildings for Montgomery county standards would have to get out of the way. There is just no way around it.


3) That being said, the issue isn't that DTSS NEEDS more local retail, but that there has to be a greater effort to encourage it in other places. DTSS works exactly like you say it does - it's upscale, and that's fine, but it's not the be-all, end-all to urban design and development. Downtown Silver Spring (the complex) needs Downtown Silver Spring (the business district as a whole) to work.


Yes, what I was saying in my previous post is that DTSS is a complement to the rest of CBD offering uses that it never had, there are many other parts of the CBD that accomplish what people feel are lacking in the project. Perhaps residential was limited because there is already over 6,000 units coming online surorunding it. This cannot be said for College Park or even Rockville Town Center. Ellsworth has still not broken ground, why is that? Surely PFA could have amended the site plan (they have done so about a million times already) to include more residential? Of course all developers are not created equal.


4) affordability now all-too-often means vinyl siding. I think you can make attractive, affordably-built and priced places without sacrificing design. One way is by using green design to reduce energy costs. Another is by building denser to begin with.


I hope so but they will bitch about it not being economically feasible. Green design is used to charge a premium at the moment. Just look at the rental rates in the Blair towns.


Perhaps the most affordable solution is, in the redevelopment process, dividing up land into smaller parcels and selling them off to be developed. So instead of one big developer building his big high-end project because it's the only way he can make a profit, you have several little developers - and even individual businesses - building their smaller projects. It won't look or feel as upscale as a Bethesda Row, but that's okay. It'll have the necessary building diversity to have a "sense of place" (more so than the fake facades along Ellsworth) and maintain a variety of uses by virtue of the different owners. In order to ensure that the project doesn't drag on for decades, you give the owners a deadline to have their work completed - say five years. That way, you can create a new urban (not New Urban) project without sacrificing so-called "authenticity."


That's a good idea and would work well for the Fenton street section of Fenton Village which I imagine as a Georgetownesque set up. This could also tie in with small businesses owning their own shops.

But there is nothing inauthentic about what is built today architecturally (quality is another matter) no more less than what was built decades ago. I'm sure the Egyptians would find the Art Deco age inauthentic as well. Maybe even insulting.


5) The corner grocery can be really useful, though in a lot of places (inner-city neighborhoods in D.C.) they're seen as bad, but I'm thinking of places like Trader Joe's or, in College Park, our recently-departed Wawa. Places that sell produce, dairy, deli meats, etc. It's not a replacement for Giant, but a supplement. Now you don't have to get in a car every time you need a thing of milk, but rather walk to it.


I thought we had too many chains in Silver Spring so why do we want a Trader Joes now? That is not what I imagine when I think of neighborhood grocery store. How about a MOM? They are locally based. Just to be clear I have nothing against Trader Joes, but people always bitch about how many chains there are in Silver Spring out one side and then cry for an Apple Store or Bed Bath & Beyond out the other. What is it going to be? I’m confused?!?!?!

Also Wawa is a terrible idea; I equate Wawa with 7-eleven which I guess is the modern era corner “grocery store”. We already have three 7-Elevens in the CBD.

Speaking of Trader Joes, there was suppose to be one as part of the Silver Place project but some NIMBY residents of Woodside had heavy opposition to it and they got their way. There lies one of biggest obstacles to creating great urban downtowns, the single family residents who live on the outskirts in their suburban homes but want to regulate an urban downtown. Now that there are more condo owners in Silver Spring, it will be interesting to see if the power line shits.

Dan Reed said...

What is the density range that Rockville Town Center needs in order to "work better" and where would you place it?

Rockville Town Square (the complex bordered by Beall Ave., Hungerford Dr., E. Middle Lane and N. Washington St.) is about forty homes/acre, which is good, considering that you need 15 homes/acre to support a bus route with decent frequency. I don't want to touch the surrounding neighborhoods (THOUGH many of the houses immediately west of N. Washington Street are all law offices and are either exceptions or zoned commercial anyway) but instead to develop similarly-dense centers up and down Rockville Pike (see the charrette the City held last month.) Forty homes/acre along the Pike from Grovesnor-Strathmore to Shady Grove, using existing strip malls, industrial sites and older apartment complexes as opportunities for mixed-use redevelopment. Let some of the smaller parcels remain for little projects and invite big developers to work on the big parcels. So you have a string of urban neighborhoods (like along 14th St. or Wisconsin Avenue in D.C.) that aren't sky-high but still dense enough to support a wide variety of retail and commercial uses.

We're lucky because Montgomery County already wants to do that along Rockville Pike. They have yet to be convinced on the merits of doing so along Georgia Avenue or sections of Route 29.

But there is nothing inauthentic about what is built today architecturally (quality is another matter) no more less than what was built decades ago. I'm sure the Egyptians would find the Art Deco age inauthentic as well. Maybe even insulting.

That's an interesting point, and one I even made myself a year and a half ago. Large outdoor developments like DTSS and enclosed malls like Wheaton Plaza are the prevailing architectural form of our era, though a lot of people don't seem to agree. Instead of saying "authenticity" in urban places, I guess I would be better off saying

a) ensuring that smaller businesses, local businesses, artists, etc. have the opportunity to set up shop in urban districts, which
b) requires that we retain a stock of "old" and therefore more affordable buildings (meaning relatively old, so really old buildings can be removed if need be, but that the district isn't all new, expensive buildings and
c) that assemblage of parcels is limited (in the number of parcels you can combine, or how often it can happen in a district) so that the entire area isn't all megaprojects like DTSS, which means that
d) not only are neighborhoods like Fenton Village able to retain some of their character but the DTSS complex can remain the biggest and most intense core in the area.

Thomas Hardman said...

Dan,

I was just doing a tiny bit of trivial number crunching. Let's see:

At 640 acres per square mile, if you laid out a strip of one-acre lots along one linear mile, you get about 25.3 "linear acres" per mile. The frontage of an acre, thus, is about 1/25th of a mile.

A little more simple arithmetic says that if you laid a strip of one-acre lots along a stretch of road, at a density of 40 homes/acre, you get about 1020 homes/mile.

Assume that you have 3.8 persons per home (a bit less than an average of two parents plus a bit less than two children per family) and you get about 3900 people per mile.

That's not really that bad, I suppose. How many miles of Rockville Pike or Route 29 would you need to house all of the people now living in the County? You only need about 258 miles of road with one-acre parcels fronting on one side.

Of course, if you have both sides of the road lines with one-acre parcels, you only need 129 miles, etc. Line the road two rows deep of one acre parcels on both sides, you need only 64.5 miles, Line it four rows deep on both sides, and you only need 32.25 miles, line it eight rows deep on both sides and only 16 miles of highway will house all of Montgomery County's population.

Line 8 miles of road 16 acres deep on both sides at approximately 40 homes per acre at 3.8 people per home and you house all of MoCo's population.

8 miles long, and 32 acres wide (25.3 acres frontage per lineal mile) and you've just housed everyone living here, assuming that they will all tolerate living in apartments.

Hey! Look, no doubt I have made it painfully obvious to everyone here that I am just not too bright, certainly not college material, and I'm not very good at math. However, I do like to take those few things that I do understand to their logical conclusions.

QED: there's no reason to consider densifying Georgia Avenue or Rockville Pike to 40 homes/acre, because if you density a mere 8 miles of Rockville Pike to 40 homes/acre, the entire rest of the county can become a rural heritage zone reclaiming "brownfields" to food production areas. That proposal ought to make me the darling of the Rural Heritage and Smart Growth people, eh?

Determining whether I am insane (but bother to do the arithmetic), being ironic, or trying to argue by absurd extremes, is left as an exercise to the reader.

Also left to the reader, because I just can't be bothered (remember, I don't have a college degree which signals laziness as well as stupidity), is calculating how many people it would take to populate the entire county from side to side and end to end with 40 homes/acre. Left for the serious brainiacs will be the calculations of how much energy it would take to ship food to and remove wastes from that population.

Regards, and keep in mind that the simplest questions often have the most difficult answers.

Thomas Hardman said...

Oops: I said:


QED: there's no reason to consider densifying Georgia Avenue or Rockville Pike to 40 homes/acre, because if you density a mere 8 miles of Rockville Pike to 40 homes/acre, the entire rest of the county can become a rural heritage zone reclaiming "brownfields" to food production areas. That proposal ought to make me the darling of the Rural Heritage and Smart Growth people, eh?

Ah, I meant to type "[...] no reason to consider densifying Georgia Avenue or Columbia Pike [...]" etc. My apologies.

Silver Springer said...

Thomas Hardman said...
Silver Springer,

Like Dan Reed, I honestly don't know where to begin to try to respond to your remarks;


Delayed but still posting…

If you look at the title of this post it is very much about Silver Spring, even “Ellsworth” is in the name.

Downtown Silver Spring (which ever way you want it) is constantly bombarded by self proclaimed critics that have nothing but one sided, negative comments about the place. This criticism, that we are supposed to value is all based on a one time pass-thru, not even taking into account the surrounding CBD.

DTSS must be the biggest abnormality in the name shopping districts, particularly in this self deprecating region. You would think with the constant negative criticism that people died in its construction. Or hundreds of trees were taken from Rock Creek Park to build it.

But like you said you “mostly think of it as a place I drive through to get to my real destinations, which are down in the District."

You have just proven my point, the critics of Silver Spring know very little about and how it fits in with the surrounding CBD and what stores are even there. I wouldn’t take what you said with a grain of salt but I see too many holes in your commentary. How do you know “The New Downtown Rockville is far better done” when you haven’t spent the proper amount of time in DTSS?

Please elaborate how it is “far better done” instead of just saying it which doesn’t make it so. Silver Spring has way more office space and residential in its core, so your point about Rockville being built in the “City Hall/County Seat which makes it better because about ten gajillion cops and lawyers are looking right at all of it all day every day.” (only a fraction of the county force are actually there and D.C. is the attorney Mecca in the region) is mute.

I mentioned City Place mall because of the fact that there are numerous small local businesses in there yet we constantly hear that Silver Spring is all chains and how much of a despicable place it is and how much Rockville Town Center is far better done. Many of the stores are run by Blacks, Latinos and Asians.

How does DTSS compare to DC USA in Columbia Heights, D.C. it is 90%+ chains and big box stores. Let’s start talking shall we?

I just wish people would do their research when making comparisons and talking about how much better one place than another. Why single one place out haphazardly, It could be the middle of IOWA I don’t care just do your research.