Monday, November 17, 2008

what's up the pike: two questions

While Just Up The Pike hopes to make an appearance at (and write a subsequent post about) the Purple Line hearings this week, it'll be tough to maintain the regular posting schedule over the next few days. So, in the meantime: I'll give you a topic. Or two. Discuss:

- Now that "gadfly in the ointment" Robin Ficker's thirty-four-year anti-tax campaign has finally been vindicated, will I ever wake up early enough to run up the stairs of Cole Field House with him before I graduate?

- While talking about Scumbag Nation tonight, my roommate (who you may remember from the Purple Line diaries in August) and I had an argument this evening about where the real "Montgomery County" is. According to him, places like Bethesda, Silver Spring and even Colesville (where Scumbag Nation is located) are functionally part of D.C., while upcounty locales like Gaithersburg and Germantown are independent of The City and can be considered "just plain MoCo."

What do you think? Where do you think D.C. stops and MoCo begins, if not at the city line? Can we say such a boundary really exists?

See you later this week!

9 comments:

Terry said...

I think there are four distinct regions in the county and they have relatively little to do with each other.

- Chevy Chase, Potomac, parts of Betheda. Largely affluent and insular.

- Rockville, Gaithersburg, parts of Bethesda. Minivan country. Aspiring in a way to be the middle class version of the above group.

- East County, including Silver Spring, Langley Park, Wheaton. Working to middle class, ethnically diverse, a different universe than the two groups above. Sometimes seen as dangerous by folks in those two groups.

- Farmland and small towns, largely to the north. People looking toward the above three groups, seeing how fast expansion is occuring, and wondering how long they have left.

Gross generalizations, of course. There is no single Montgomery County culture, the way there is no single PG County culture or DC culture. Each is a collection of neighborhoods with shared or linked histories. We are not a single tribe and we shouldn't or couldn't be.

Gary H said...

There are only a couple of little patches of MoCo that are "part of DC" in any meaningful way:

* Some of the residential zones along Western Ave. (pieces of Chevy Chase, Woodside) are a lot like NW DC across the border.

* Some of the stuff further down Western from Chevy Chase (Someset area, etc.) are "connected" in the same way - basically NW DC extended.

* The commercial stuff across the road from Friendship Heights (not Bethesda proper, though - you're in a different place by then).

* Not Takoma Pk. -there's a definite "border" feeling when you cross over there.

Sligo said...

I think there are completely different areas within Silver Spring itself. I certainly wouldn't lump all of Silver Spring with Langley Park.

Robert said...

Concerning: "Some of the residential zones along Western Ave. (pieces of Chevy Chase, Woodside) are a lot like NW DC across the border.

* Some of the stuff further down Western from Chevy Chase (Someset area, etc.) are "connected" in the same way - basically NW DC extended."

He's got it backwards, those parts of NW Washington are more like suburban Montgomery County than they are D.C. I don't consider any part of Montgomery county to essentially be D.C. Just look at our government and schools.

Dave Murphy said...

If you're driving, there is a clear distinction where the city stops and the county begins.

On River Road, Wisconsin Avenue, Massachusetts Avenue, Connecticut Avenue, Georgia Avenue, 16th Street, and New Hampshire Avenue, the second you cross Easter/Western Avenue, your foot presses a little harder on the gas pedal.

Why? Street parking disappears. The lanes get wider, and there are more of them. Often the speed limit increases. Shops frontages often start including surface parking in front. Even where good MoCo urbanism is present (DTSS, Bethesda) next to "suburban" DC, there is a highly perceivable shift in priority from pedestrians to automobiles once you cross out of the DC line.

Thomas Hardman said...

I am baffled by how you folks seem to define "DC".

Are you talking about the "District of Columbia"? That is a legal definition, based on the Constitution, Article I, Section 8, parts 17 and 18.

Are you talking about culture? Of which elements of culture do you speak? The socioeconomic classes, and/or their neighborhoods which are often defined by either rents in the present day, or the mortgage (as it were) payments back in the day in which those neighborhoods were built? Or are you speaking of the neighborhoods as they now exist, perhaps generations after they were built, and perhaps once or twice reiterated through cycles of increasing slumminess or a return (or not) therefrom?

Please see a bit of history about the District in recent years. After all, that reference is arguably one of the origins of "blogging" and it covers most of 1997 to 2001, at least it covers the interesting parts... such as the rather forcible dislodging of much of what characterized the District in the two decades or so previous to the ousting of then-Mayor Marion Barry and the imposition of the DCFRA "Control Board".

Note, if you will, that in the years of about 1986-1996, the population of the District decreased by about one-sixth; largely that was due to flight from the prevalent crime and violence, and from the blatant dysfunction of local government combined with neglect by the Federal government.

At first, due to the 'affordability' issue, Prince George's County MD filled up first, to the point where the County Executive (Curran? see Ref: for cites) complained that Federal reform exercised through District regulatory closures of outright slums was flooding his county with "ghetto folks". After PG County filled up, the 'affordable' places in MoCo started to fill up... and no place was as affordable as Aspen Hill, once certain parts of Maryvale, DTSS, and the "affordable housing alongs Briggs Chaney Road" filled up. Interestingly, though, a lot of these "relocated poor" wound up in houses in the same neighborhood.

To the degree that various neighborhoods have become home to the displaced people of the District, to their families, to their extended families, and in some cases to much of the original neighborhoods, you could say that these places have "DC culture". But keep in mind... most of the people displaced from the crushed slumlords' former crappy domains were black. So you could say that anyplace the District people moved out of the District, there be Washington, aye, matey. Ahrr. Thar she blows.

But there's a really much more interesting question, which I as the whitest of the whiter-than-white can't presume to answer. I do occasionally see and do occasionally wonder at the interactions -- or the lack thereof -- between the rural-culture American black folks and the displaced-downtown American black folks... and the African black folks... and all of their various kids. The suburbs, for what it is worth, and regardless of the income class of the parents, are melting-pots of the newest generations. The kids all seem to get along, though I have personally heard one kid say "they don't trust my ass 'cause I'm African, they think I'm all violent and schemin'" and I've heard about the same accusation from the other side... from people who had their own reputation -- which they themselves fostered and played for all it was worth -- for about the same thing.

But once again -- what is "DC"? Is DC the vast majority of hard-working black single moms? Or is it the extreme minority of whites, the majority of whom came here from afar to work for the government, or for the companies that feed on it? If I go down to Adams Morgan, I know damned well that the vast majority of the white folks I see flocking the streets are interns from Kansas or wherever, or else they're not too much different from me: people who are bugfuck sick of their crappy suburbias and want the authenticity of a real city, whether or not any of the people you'll encounter are actually "from there". So we get the heck out of our crappy suburbias such as Rockvile or Potomac or Fairfax or (feh) Annandale, and we are part of DC. So maybe the question isn't how far DC extends into Montgomery County, but how far Montgomery County extends into the District.

Another good question nobody has asked is "how cohesive is Montgomery County culture, and in what ways is it cohesive, and among which groups, and what are the characteristics of the groups?"

For example, what have I -- a reasonably intelligent self-educated HS graduate who couldn't stand college, a pagan among Christians and Jews and Muslims, someone who has lived here since 1963 -- what have I got in common with people who graduated from some Methodist University in some podunk cowtown in 1998 and who have absolutely no ties to any community other than their employers and their congregation?

And what ties have they to the poverty-stricken welfare mom who moved out of the District in 1997 when everything was collapsing, and who I just happen to know from back in 1987 or so when she worked downtown in the building next to mine? What ties do I have to her? Is she part of DC out here in the 'burbs? Am I a part of DC out in the 'burbs? She and I are poor, and the Methodist U graduate is comparatively fantastically rich. Will Montgomery County value a total stranger who has no local community other than to co-workers and congregation -- most of whom are also not from here -- will MoCo value them more highly because they pay more taxes, and know less history and "back story"?

Simple questions should only ever bring more complex questions. I can't answer these simple questions, okay?

Sorry to go all "TL;DR" to be tolerate by people with either insufficient time or with simple minds. But Mr Reed, your initial question is just a steppingstone.

You can make a research career off of just the few tiers of steppingstones that lies maybe three hops out from that starting point.

Dan Reed said...

I'm talking about attitude, as in "where do you stop considering yourself a part of D.C. or the D.C. metro area"? I don't think anyone inside-the-Beltway can get away with that, but I'd say the kids I grew up with in Burtonsville, or the kids I worked with in Rockville, or my friends who live in the Upcounty, don't really acknowledge that they live in a suburb of D.C. But, to someone in the Upcounty, Burtonsville (and Scumbag Nation) IS part of suburban D.C.

Any thoughts?

Gary H said...

Dave Murphy - good point on the driving change - quite evident on those routes.

robert: I guess the question is, do you "leave DC" inside the district - roughly when you enter Ward 3 (parts of Ward 4, too, north of Walter Reed) and enter a new "liminal" "NWDC" zone that spans the legal border... There is a definite cultural affinity there, but it doesn't extend out even as far as the Beltway.

Thomas Hardman: much better broader points and a really refreshing historical perspective - thanks for the lesson and thoughts about living here. Not too long.

Thomas Hardman said...

Dan, thanks for the clarification, I had the beer goggles on anyway.

Okay... growing up here, we had frequent field-trips downtown, mostly to the Zoo and various museums, etc. Heck, we even once had a field trip to Baltimore, to see Fort McHenry. During the 1960s, Rockville was sort of the ends-of-the-earth, Aspen Hill definitely was as far north as you could go along Georgia Avenue and think of it as non-rural. Olney was smaller than Sandy Spring, and Norbeck was still its own community.

This could have been just me, but when I was 18-21 and living in Houston, people would ask me where I was from, and I'd say "Rockville, Maryland"; the thought of claiming to be from DC never entered my mind, and if I had even thought of it, I'd have thought myself pretentious.

(An interesting aside, someone out west once told me he knew someone from Maryland before, and he was a freakin' asshole. So I asked them where in Maryland this person had come from, and they said "Baltimore". And I said, "jeeze, whaddaya expect?" I'm not sure if they got it or not. I had to explain that Rockville was on the other side of the state, "down near DC".)

The thing was, when I was a teen driving around with my friends, we used to drive around to places like Damascus, Potomac, Hillandale, Redland, etc. Generally, the idea of driving into the District, or to Prince George's County, just didn't much occur to us.

But even back in that day, MoCo had its zones. More or less these centered around high-schools, big surprise as I was in high-school at the time. Potomac and Chevy Chase were definitely considered "part of DC" because DC was where the money was and people in Potomac or Chevy Chase (so we believed) worked in DC making the big bucks for the government or for law firms, or were rich doctors, etc etc.

"Real people" lived in places like Silver Spring, Four Corners, White Oak, along Arcola Avenue, maybe even out in Colesville.

Places like Poolesville or Burtonsville were nice, for sure, and those "country boys" had a reputation for awesome parties with lots of bands and kegs.

Bethesda was definitely DC. DTSS was DC but it was also its own place, especially if you headed out Sligo Avenue towards Takoma Park.

Gaithersburg was in no way shape or form DC. It still isn't. Gaithersburg is 100-percent MoCo through and through.

MoCo, however, isn't Maryland any more than Baltimore is Maryland. Maryland is places like Frederick, Frostburg, or Salisbury. MoCo, like Baltimore, is almost universally one of those places where everyone who isn't dirt poor is from somewhere else, and the people who are from there are from there mostly because they're too poor to go anywhere except Jessup.

I used to wonder why it was that so many of my friends from highschool who got good grades went off to college and never came back. You have to have lived somewhere else for a while to get the distance to see the place for what it is.

Poor MoCo, not really Maryland, not really DC, at least that describes most of it, at least most of the parts outside of the Beltway.

My own experiences have been that whether it's Maryland or Virginia, you get far enough outside of the suburbs, and you can be civil and friendly to people and they'll be civil and friendly right back at ya. And in certain parts of the District, all you really need is to have been seen around there for years and not be known for startin' stuff, and you can get along with most everyone.

Here in Suburbia -- and I'm not going to just point the finger at MoCo or PG or (cough cough) Arlington (cough) or even (shudder) McLean -- there's something Desperately Housewivish going on. Yet these people have the nerve to say things like "I never go downtown, it's too... weird. Yet good luck finding people from the District who actually want to hang out in College Park, mostly because it's the place on the East Coast where you're most likely to get caught up in a senseless riot.

So maybe that's where you find your dividing line... If people go into DC, that's part of DC, at least culturally. If people only go to other parts of MoCo or to UM, they're MoCo. If they have enough sense to come no closer that Urbana, they might be Marylanders, but they're likely not the vicious kind.