Friday, November 21, 2008

silver spring, aspen hill runners-up for "best places" list

But what about all those dangerous curbs? Even so, Silver Spring was named the second-best place to raise a family in Maryland by Business Week magazine.

I never take these "Best Places to Live" lists seriously. I can't fault them for picking suburbs, but the ones they choose tend to be pretty white-bread. Take Olney, which made #17 on Money Magazine's "Best Places" ranking last year. Don't get me wrong: Olney's a great town, nice schools (which I attended, sort of), nice shitty movie theatre, nice Cal Tor. But it's still The Bubble, a place for affluent families to shelter their kids from all of the perceived evils of the Big Bad City like poor people and diversity and culture.

Perhaps Business Week magazine was thinking of that when they released their "Best Places to Raise Your Family" list for 2008. The ranking - which for the first time considers "racial diversity" in addition to things like the cost of living, job growth, local parks and cultural amenities - goes to one city (with more than 50,000 residents) and two runner-ups in each state. Ironically, the winner for Maryland is still Gaithersburg, which also makes #29 on Money's Best Places to Live 2008 list. (Also on that chart: "Columbia/Ellicott City", #8; Rockville, #66; Germantown, #81. Olney is conspicuously absent.)

But the runner-ups for Best Places to Raise Your Family in Maryland? In at number two is Silver Spring, which may be the Big Bad City to your friends in Olney, but through its unrelenting mix of culture, grit and diversity manages (in my humble opinion) to produce kids who are better-positioned for living and working in an increasingly diverse country and a global economy. And at number three is Aspen Hill, which looks like an attempt to compensate for all the Gaithersburgs and Olneys on the list. Diversity? Absolutely. Arts and culture? Not so much. Shitty movie theatre, even? Not for a few decades, though the shopping center it was located in is probably one of the nicest strip malls in the area.

Aspen Hill . . . ? I think we'll have to ask former County Council candidate and Aspen Hill booster Thomas Hardman why his community is the third-best place to raise a family in Maryland.


Thomas Hardman said...

Well, my "props" and hearty WTF go right out to Business Week.

But looking at their criteria for the selections:

Bear in mind with this list, the organizing principle was affordability. While the median household income varies by state, we purposely weighted the results to prevent pricing out most readers. That's why, for example, Greenwich, Conn., with its good private schools, low crime, and abundance of cultural amenities, was left out. It simply costs too much to live there.

Briefly, thus, Aspen Hill and Silver Spring made the list because, like downtown Gaithersburg, they're the cheapest places to live in Montgomery County.

Of course, with MoCo's appallingly overpriced real-estate (and taxes thereon) in general, and the high income levels of the majority of the county, you can get your kids a level of public-school education that for the cost-of-living in the barrio is second-to-none, other perhaps than for the opportunities in the scant low-rent housing in 90210.

Now, I am tempted to gulp an entire pot of overcooked espresso and launch into a rant on Aspen Hill that would test the posting size limits for Blogger, but I think I'll restrain myself to only a half-pot of coffee bought on sale at the local Rite-Aid.

I'm tempted to start with a scathing but factually unsupported ironic remark about how their statistics are probably comparing the average net worth of adults with the number of children enrolled in zip-code 20906, which includes all of Aspen Hill east of Georgia Avenue. Now, that does include a lot of single-family detached residential, but also includes a huge number of condo and rental-apartment units. If you looked at that particular part of Aspen Hill only, the ranking of adult-wealth to children-enrolled doesn't look so hot. If, on the other hand, you include the other part of 20906 -- Leisure World, a sprawling and populous retirement community -- the ratio appears to indicate a lot of dual-income/no-kids demographic with a scattering of parental-units-with-kids.

And don't get me started on the other statistics; I think I covered those pretty well with the infamous Single White Female? Don't Count On It posting a few months back.

But let me speak out in defense of the Business Week rankings. Aspen Hill does have something that's great for kids, or at least we had it last summer -- Free Food programs for any kids that showed up. At first it was supposed to be for any kids in the Kennedy Cluster, then they noticed that none of the kids seemed to have any documentation indicating school registration, and they just decided that any kids who showed up would get fed. As this was on the Federal ticket and cost the county nothing outside of some administrative and schoolbus costs, this was considered a win-win situation all around. Crime was in fact a bit lower than expected in the neighborhood during that timeframe.

Still, the people compiling the rankings probably don't know the extent to which the MoCo county government goes to hide statistics that would reflect reality in a way that might tarnish the image. Indeed, MoCo's government has assumed a role not unlike that of a used-car salesman trying to swat any bugs that might get stuck in the fresh coat of paint sprayed over the rust spots on the heap they're trying to unload on unsuspecting and indiscriminate customers.

Walk around that picture perfect little rail station in oh-so-precious downtown Old Towne Gaithersburg. Walk in a circle around it, keeping a radius of about three to four blocks. Do it after dark, do it well-dressed, and do it talking on your cellphone. If you make it through the complete circle without a police escort and retain your cellphone, clothes, and composure, I will recommend you to anyone as either a candidate for NFL linebacker or martial-arts instructor. If you elect to raise your family inside the bounds of that circle, I will testify that I think you're too crazy to be allowed parental visitation rights, much less custody.

Comparably with parts of Silver Spring. There are pockets of icky yuckness interspersed with all-American diversely wonderful folks from where-the-heck-ever and these could be anything from the guy who runs the convenience store to the guy who administers the Federal "TARP" program or designs artificial hearts or wrotes missile guidance code for some Beltway-Bandit contractor. Then again, right next to the homes of any of these could be a no-doubt-about-it crack house full of bona-fide Dope Fiends with a yard full of scrap breeding giant rats.

20853 (most of which is Aspen Hill) is a very mixed bag of mostly detached single-family residential though obviously without question there are folks who have gone just too damn far in terms of "home improvement". It's also got 60-some foreclosures just in the 20853 part of Aspen Hill; the 20906 part of Aspen Hill has got close to 120 foreclosures.

Maybe some nice families that believe the hype will move right into those foreclosed properties, and wishful-thinking propaganda will become self-fulfilling prophecy when "liar loan" idiots in foreclosure are replaced by upscale yuppies with large taxable incomes, though those bring their own problems such as highly-organized NIMBYism.

Now, as for amenities etc, Aspen Hill Shopping Center is in fact one of the nicest strip-malls you could ask for, though if you want to go there after dark -- or for that matter right when school has just let out -- you could be in for a bit of a shock if you're bothered by the roving packs of teenagers in the afternoon or the truly sketchy fiends-in-hoodies around for the late-night. Of course, decent parents will keep their kids home or in supervised activities, so they won't have to deal with any of this, and for them, Aspen Hill would indeed be a good place to raise their kids.

But there are indeed so many things hereabout -- and doubtless in parts of Silver Spring as well, as witness the Ride-On senseless murder of Tai Lam by illegal-alien gangsters who should have been in jail -- that are just plain wrong and dangerous, and somehow neither Business Week nor the County government seem to have noticed it.

Thomas Hardman said...

A day later:

I'm somewhat baffled as to why I'm considered a "booster" of Aspen Hill.

Actually I think the place is deeply troubled in a great many ways, and I firmly believe that the place needs "fixin'".

I've had to trim back or remove most of my shrubs around the house to keep people from hiding behind, sleeping under, or merely urinating upon them.

I've spent most of a decade working with elements of the state and county governments trying to fight crime and improve public order in the community. Yet somehow I show up in almost any of the local stores, and the nicest thing that I get from such experiences is a cold shoulder, which generally is better than having someone front me up by smiling in my face while someone else sneaks up behind me and jabs me with pokey things.

I bust my butt -- and have done so since I was old enough to pick up a rake, call it 40+ years -- to keep the yard pretty and the lawn in prime condition.

I've even kept my police record pretty spotless (do occasional "busted tail-light" tickets count?) just so I could be more credible as I try to make the place better.

Maybe that's one reason why Aspen Hill is a runner up for "best places"? Because I'm trying so hard to improve a place most folks want to ignore or bypass? I doubt it.

In fact, astute readers might want to stop in and read today's tirade against goodness and normalcy... as conceived of by some Aspen Hill folks.

Of course, if someone decided to leave a comment to the effect of "that's just how people are everywhere" I suppose I can stop wasting time praying for the salvation of humanity.