Sunday, December 14, 2008

"i want to find the nicest part of montgomery county near campus . . ."

About a month or so ago a friend invited me to a church meeting on campus here at Maryland in College Park. She promised a free dinner, so I agreed to come. Not surprisingly, most of the twenty or so people who came were students - both undergrad and graduate - and before the meeting began, one woman asked the women around here where she should live next semester.

"I'm looking for a place near campus," she said.

"You should go to Montgomery County," replied a woman in red, who I later learned was more or less the meeting leader.

"Where is that?" she replied.

"I thought we were in . . . Prince George," a third said.

"Some of these streets," added a fourth, gesturing around her, "they lead to Montgomery County."

"I want to find the nicest part of Montgomery County near campus," the first woman said.

"Takoma," one person said.

"Takoma isn't nice," snapped the woman in red. "You want Bethesda and Rockville. They are in Montgomery County. Richard Montgomery High School is, like, number one in the country."

"I don't have kids!" whined the first woman. "It doesn't matter to me. Just what is the best part of Montgomery County?"

"Well, the nice part is considered to be Bethesda and Rockville," began the woman in red, "and the bad part is Silver Spring-Wheaton -"

At this point, I'd just been eavesdropping for the sake of eavesdropping, and I always like listening to people who aren't from here try and figure the area out, but I figured my 'hood was being dissed here, so I had to say something.

I leaned towards the woman in red. "I live in Silver Spring," I said quietly.

Suddenly her sweater wasn't the only thing that was red. She smiled faintly, trying to hide her embarassment. "Oh, Silver Spring is very nice," she said.

Then the meeting started, so the conversation died. Afterwards, the woman in red gave me an earful about their church, and asked was I a Christian (my mother was a Methodist pastor, I explained, much to her chagrin), and said maybe I should come back. And I just might, because the food was spectacular.


Thomas Hardman said...

I dunno, Dan.

My experience of whether or not a neighborhood is "nice" pretty much depends on two things, but it really all boils down to the causative factor, which is people.

Some neighborhoods are places where people clearly care about the upkeep of their personal holdings, and some neighborhoods are places where people care about the upkeep of the public spaces.

In my humble opinion, you can tell the difference between "nice" and "crap" mostly depending on where you place a mental dividing line.

In Aspen Hill, for example, there are a lot of people who have been here since the place was clearly a nice neighborhood which of course had its share of people who were not nice. Even the best of neighborhoods will have at least a few complete jerks. But what we see here in parts is that the old folks take scrupulous care of their yards, and the "bus people" get off of the bus and throw trash everywhere, or they throw trash everywhere as they stand and wait at the bus-stops. And increasingly, public space take on a rat-eaten air, just because of all of the trash that blows in. Eventually the old folks despair or just give up and/or move away.

And the new people that move in are moving in because that's what they can afford, not because the place is desirable.

Wheaton and Glenmont have always suffered, to some degree, because of all of the paved areas and storefronts, which give parts of those communities the ambiance of light-industrial parks. And as the place looks sketchier, more crime moves in, people take the obvious steps of adding fencing, and the grimness of the ambience deepens.

And in the neighborhoods, failure to enforce occupancy or permitted uses contributes, as people pave their yards and park their work fleets on the paved yards, and even more trash collects and blows around, to the point where even the cleanly stop feeling guilty about littering because anything they might throw down is just a drop in the bucket. And where trash gathers, so gathers crime, and people lose interest in coming out of doors, and if you can't use your own property in quiet enjoyment, you live in a State that it violating part of its own constitution for the citizens who are so denied the quiet enjoyment of their own property. Why bother to clean up the trash that every passing bus or every waiting rider leaves everywhere?

At that point in time, that neighborhood is just plain ghetto as fuck. More importantly, so are the mindsets of all, or most, who live there. Until people come back who care about the neighborhood's appearance, and the appearances of their own homes and the homes of their neighbors, that place will remain as it is, ghetto as fuck.

My advice to the gal who wants to live someplace "nice", rule one is "live back in the neighborhoods and the farther from bus-stops and the arterials the better". I know that this statement will gall the transit-oriented urbanists, but until the County starts putting trash cans at every last bus-stop and maintaining them and enforcing their use, bus lines mean trash. That's all.

Rule two: "you don't want to live where the County doesn't enforce overcrowding and permitted uses regulations".

Rule three: "if it looks like an industrial park, it is an industrial park, and you don't want to live there".

Rule four: "if they actually need security fencing, get used to spending all of your time indoors, or someplace else".

I know certain other bloggers love to sing the praises of Wheaton Central Business District, and sometimes I need to shop there and so that's where I go. But the idea of actually walking around Wheaton, Glenmont, or Aspen Hill stores because I like the ambience or expect to meet nice people, that's crazy talk.

My neighborhood used to be pretty much crime free outside of stuff like people getting high at home after work, or occasional drunken domestic spats or traffic offenses. Now people get robbed getting off of the bus in front of my house. But a few blocks away from the bus-stop, people still take care of their own yards in most cases, and their kids can play in the front yards under the watchful eyes of their suspicious matrons who don't hesitate to dial the phone.

Keep in mind that half of the general Aspen Hill area is considered "Rockville", though it is not Rockville. 20906, right across Georgia Avenue, still Aspen Hill, is considered "Silver Spring". And that is a trouble spot and a designated Crime Corridor.

That young woman, and any others looking for a nice place, should look at and see what sort of calls for service the 911 operator has been getting.

Unknown said...

There are nice places near campus. University Park is the best best example I can think of (I live there). It is clean, (nearly) crime-free and 99.9% of residents there care about their home and their community.

I really can't understand why people turn their nose up at the campus area as a whole. It really blows my mind.

Can Rockville/Chevy Chase/Kensington to College Park be considered "easy" to commute from? I walk less than a mile from my front door to my campus office. C'mon!

Richard Layman said...

Well, you wonder about my bias vis-a-vis Silver Spring or MoCo vs. DC. It's because I have heard so many similar comments about DC from people like her who live in your fair county. It's the typical suburban anti-urban bias. It's similar. Your Silver Spring-Wheaton is the equivalent of my DC vs. Germantown. Welcome to the club.