Monday, March 31, 2008

amish market signs twenty-five year lease for laurel location (updated)

WHAT'S UP THE PIKE: Our "District 4 Head-to-Head Tour" continues as we interview Democrats Steve Kanstoroom and Pat Ryan along with Republicans Thomas Hardman and Robert Patton.

Burtonsville's Dutch Country Farmers' Market, a draw for shoppers throughout the region, will be moving to eastern Laurel, according to an article from last week's Laurel Leader sent to us by an anonymous commenter over the weekend.

After twenty years in the Burtonsville Shopping Center at Route 198 and Old Columbia Pike, the so-called Amish Market will be moving to a shopping center on 198 on the Prince George's/Anne Arundel county line and near the Laurel Park racetrack, says market manager (and purveyor of small backyard structures) Sam Beiler. The market has signed a twenty-five year lease for the space.

Last year, it was booted out by developer Chris Jones, who plans to eventually redevelop the strip mall and bring in a large grocery store. After the market's management announced it was opening a second branch in Upper Marlboro, a cadre of community leaders and elected officials - including County Executive Ike Leggett and former Councilmember Marilyn Praisner - attempted to help the new market find a new location in the immediate Burtonsville area. As recently as last month, Leggett suggested that the market could move to a nearby site in the Burtonsville Industrial Park.

I'm curious why MoCo and the Burtonsville community couldn't keep the market here. It appears that neither Prince George's nor Anne Arundel counties took the same interest (as municipalities) that Montgomery did. Shouldn't that mean something? The Dutch Country Farmers' Market has been a part of our community for twenty years. I'd think they would have worked harder to stay here.

Nonetheless, the new site is only five miles east of Burtonsville, thus keeping me in hot wings and lemon squares for years to come.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

al wynn steps down

WHAT'S UP THE PIKE: Check out our interviews with County Council hopefuls Mark Fennel and Nancy Navarro.

Al Wynn steps down from a Metrobus in Silver Spring before a press conference last June.

Eight-term Congressman Al Wynn (D-Dist. 4) announced today he will be stepping down in June. Last February, he lost the Democratic primary to Donna Edwards, who's favored to win this November in District 4, which stretches from Clarksburg to Fort Washington.

Promising a "clean fight," Al Wynn rushed head-long into his reelection campaign last year, determined to make a better showing after beating Edwards by a slim margin in 2006. To show his support for public transportation, Wynn kicked off his campaign with a Metro-and-bus tour of Montgomery County. Despite support from a number of Democratic elected officials in his sprawling, gerrymandered district, the national progressive establishment slammed him for crossing party lines and taking positions that were out of step with those of his liberal constituents.

mark fennel, pounding both pavement and property taxes

Part TWO of our "District 4 Head-to-Head Tour," which seeks to interview all eight candidates running in a special election to replace Councilmember Marilyn Praisner, who passed away in February. A primary will be held April 15, followed by a general election May 13.

County Council candidate Mark D. Fennel at the McDonald's in Colesville. Fennel does not have an active website, but you can check out this Gazette profile of him from the 2006 election.

Last Monday, if you'd asked me whether there was still a Caribou Coffee in Aspen Hill, I'd say there was. If you asked Mark Fennel, Aspen Hill resident and Republican candidate for District 4 County Council, he would've said yes as well. And we were both surprised to discover that the place we'd agreed to meet at had mysteriously closed. Instead, we moved to the new Colesville McDonald's. With soft lights, nice music and big, cushy booths, the new McDonald's is a fine coffeehouse substitute. And for Fennel, it's become a campaign headquarters of sorts.

"It's right in the middle of the district," he says. For the past several weeks, Fennel and MoCo political gadfly Robin Ficker have been meeting at McDonald's when going out to canvass East County neighborhoods. Since working together on one of Ficker's many property tax propositions four years ago, the two have become good friends.

"It's fun!" says Fennel of pounding the pavement, clearly excited. "It's a really good way to meet people and knock on doors and say 'I'm working to keep down property taxes! Property taxes are too high! Can we put this sign down?" And, seemingly overnight, the streets and highways of District 4 are now lined with pairs of signs - one for him and one for Ficker. One says "Mark Fennel for District 4." The other says "Property Tax Relief!"

With just a few weeks to win over East County Republicans before the primary April 15, Fennel is trying to win voters by going for their wallets. Mention the budget deficit and his head perks up. But as an employee of Citizens Against Government Waste, a watchdog group monitoring pork barrel spending in the federal government, he's naturally concerned about our County's finances.

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

Former County Executive candidate Robin Ficker, shown with Robert Fustero in 2006, has joined Mark Fennel's campaign for County Council.

And that's not even the worst problem we face, he explains. "58,000 people have left, median income has gone down, foreclosures have doubled, seniors are losing their homes, and it hits minorities really hard," says Fennel, an Aspen Hill resident. "I asked Ike Leggett [at the Town Hall Meeting last week] 'when is the insanity gonna end?' and he said, 'it's in the Council's hands now.'"

Like many of the candidates running to replace Marilyn Praisner as District 4 councilmember, Mark Fennel sees the need for a change. "I thought it would be a good opportunity for Republicans to break the monopoly that Democrats have in Montgomery County," he says. In 2006, the last Republicans holding public office in the County - State Delegate Jean Cryor and Councilmember Howard Denis, both representing the Potomac-Bethesda area - were voted out.

If the only way a Republican could win in MoCo was by running in a super-wealthy community, could one do the same in the decidedly less swanky East County? Mark Fennel doesn't see why not. "It's a special election. It's not gonna be a draw to bring people out," he says. "It'll all really come out to turnout."

And Fennel has been working hard to turn out the Republican base, calling up every voter in the district registered with his party. "We're working from hard Republicans all the way down," he explains. "It's really very motivational when you talk to somebody on the phone. It's not a recording. It's a personal appeal . . . people ask 'how do I spell your name?' I want to vote for you.'"

"I'm a District 4-first person. Let the At-Large candidates worry about the issues that affect the County as a whole," he says. "If I'm not gonna stand up and fight for the interests of District 4, who will?"

While the stereotype would hold that a Republican would be out of touch with East County's diverse population, Fennel feels very comfortable with different kinds of people. His wife Estela moved here from Honduras five years ago; together, they have a six-month-old son, Caleb. Once a week, Fennel goes to church with his wife at a Spanish-speaking congregation in Damascus. "Just from living with her and talking with her and knowing her family, her congregation, it would enable me to better understand the needs of the immigrant community in District 4," says Fennel.

"Honduras is absolutely stunning," says Fennel of his wife's homeland, which he's visited a number of times. "There's wildlife, there's spider monkeys, there's deer . . . I was surprised by how mountainous it is, how green."

Mark Fennel supports additional mass transit in East County, but remains skeptical about its effectiveness.

The preservation of green space in East County is a major motivator for Fennel. "I'd like to see the State of Maryland buy undeveloped land around the ICC" to prevent it from getting developed, he says.

In the last Council election two years ago, he the only Republican opposed to the InterCounty Connector. For him, the highway treads over a place he cherishes. "In the '70's I used to play football for the Wheaton Boys and Girls Club and we'd practice on Bonifant Field. They made that field part of the staging area for the ICC as part of the 'land swap,'" he explains. "There's some nostalgia. You feel attached to an area, you want to do what's best for that area."

Fennel rattles off a list of traffic fixes smaller than the ICC he supports: the Brookeville Bypass, which would re-route Georgia Avenue around the small town north of Olney; a rapid busway between Burtonsville and the Silver Spring Metro; the White Oak Transit Center, currently in planning; and a proposed Purple Line spur from White Oak to Langley Park.

While he's a supporter of mass transit, he remains wary of its ability to take cars off the road. "You hope that if you have mixed-use and Smart Growth developments around Metro centers, that's the theory, that people are gonna use Metro," he says when asked about a proposed development at the Glenmont Metro. "But you look at the 2000 census, you see people near Metro centers really aren't."

In the end, it's about finding not just the most economic solution but the one best suited for the kind of community Fennel would like to see. "I thought the ICC was . . . too expensive of a project. For the price tag I saw there are a lot of smaller transportation projects that could've been done," he says. "I see the reasoning in trying to connect to the airport, creating a Technology Sector around 270."

Fennel shrugs. "We can leave that to Virginia."

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

nancy navarro, taking the county establishment by storm

Part ONE of our "District 4 Head-to-Head Tour," which seeks to interview all eight candidates running in a special election to replace Councilmember Marilyn Praisner, who passed away in February. A primary will be held April 15, followed by a general election May 13.

Photo courtesy of the Gazette.

Nancy Navarro and I are enjoying lunch at Ledo Pizza in Colesville, a few blocks away from the home she shares with her husband and two daughters. It's a Wednesday in early March, soon after the pollen's started, and we're both stuffy and miserable, but the interview soldiers on. It isn't until after an hour that the current School Board president and Venezuelan native reveals why she's running for County Council, and her voice suddenly drops out, sapped of its normal enthusiasm.

"I'm so not a politician," Navarro says, and you have to believe it. "Deep down inside for me, it's about my kids, it's about my husband from Haiti. They grew up with certain hopes . . . if you want to run for public office, you shouldn't have to deal with all the crap I went through. I will be a pain in the behind for all these people because they weren't counting on it."

She adds, "I could not live with how this district is characterized."

Like all of the candidates running to replace Marilyn Praisner for the District 4 Council seat in this year's special election, Nancy Navarro never expected to find herself on the campaign trail so soon. The councilmember, who passed away seven weeks ago, seemed to be doing just fine after a car accident last fall. "It was weird because I saw her at the Democratic Party Brunch and she looked very strong," Navarro says. "She was leaving the building and I kept yelling 'Marilyn! Marilyn!' and she turned around and asked her husband 'Why are you so slow?' It seemed like she was fine."

Suddenly Navarro, who'd just won a second term on the School Board in 2006, was out pounding the pavement for votes once again. "Seeing first-hand so many of the issues that this district is facing . . . I see myself as the person to take on this responsibility," she says. "My girls looked at me like 'what? are you crazy?'"

"It's a tall order, to follow a lady like Marilyn Praisner," she adds.

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

Navarro was warned that many East County residents, like these shown at a Citizens Involved meeting last spring, are concerned about land use and development issues.

At her campaign kickoff two weeks ago, Navarro said she believed in the "politics of possibilities," but some of her fellow Democrats made it clear they didn't buy it. "My opinion is that Nancy Navarro is partly responsible for the current budget crisis," says former candidate Cary Lamari, who threw his support behind Marilyn Praisner's widower Don after County Executive Ike Leggett and other higher-ups asked him to step down. Lamari was inferring that, as current president of the School Board, Navarro supported budget increases for Montgomery County Public Schools (among them, regular pay increases for teachers) that may further exacerbate the county's large deficit.

"It's too early to know how the numbers are gonna come in," replies Navarro. "Folks have not sat down to address the whole deficit. I was surprised that it went from $400m to $297m just like that."

Leggett also warned Navarro about staying in the race, suggesting that she was out of touch with East County voters. Frustrated by living in a dumping ground for subsidized housing in the 1980's and stuck in a building moratorium for two decades afterwards, many residents were drawn to Praisner's passion for planning, earning her four straight terms on the Council.

"To be told that people in this district only care about land use issues and development issues and the ICC . . . I've been lectured that if I don't know the intricacies of these issues, then I won't be able to win," says Navarro. "I would like to demonstrate that the residents care about other issues."

While she may not share Praisner's familiarity with local development, Navarro says she's more than willing to learn. "I tend to be very analytical, study things, get a lot of points of view and that's usually how I guide my decisions," she explains, adding, "I've learned speed-reading."

Opponents have characterized her as the "developer's candidate," but Navarro insists she hasn't even met one. She wants to "to sit down with developers and say 'no, you can't have carte-blanche to do what you want'," but also to explore more "innovative possibilities" for future growth in the County.

"To me it's not so much a matter of 'let's set a number for how much we need to grow' but 'what does a livable community look like?'," says Navarro. "I was born in a city of five million people, Caracas. That's what crazy looks like. I know what unchecked growth looks like."

Developments like the WesTech Village Corner in Calverton have been embraced by East County residents eager for higher-quality restaurants nearby.

Carting around her fifteen-year-old daughter, a student at Springbrook High, has shown Navarro some of the facilities East County is starved for. "My daughter likes that she can walk here [to Colesville Center] with her school friends . . . she'd like to have more here so she wouldn't have to go to Downtown Silver Spring or the Olney Theatre," she says. "My husband and I are constantly chauffeuring her to Silver Spring or Olney, so I hear it."

And the burden isn't just felt by high schoolers waiting to take Driver's Ed. "I was at the new IHOP on Cherry Hill and I waited for, like, an hour," she says. "The people I talk to lament that if you want to go to a restaurant, you have to go to Rockville or Bethesda or Silver Spring . . . I think we need to explore 'what do we have now, what can we bring here that responds to the income levels because we have a lot of low-income residents but we also have a lot of middle-class'."

"Sometimes," she adds, "people tell me 'I forget we have a library here'."

The Fairland Center in Fairland, currently home to Galway Elementary School while its building is modernized.

On the School Board, she's been an integral part of the Kennedy Cluster Project, which aims to reduce the achievement gap between Black students and their White and Latino counterparts. Currently in a trial stage, the Project - located in the cluster with the highest percentage of Black students in the County - brings together different County agencies to provide a "safety net" for struggling students. For instance, Navarro explains, if a school is notified about a pending gang incident, they're forbidden to act on it, but they would be able to contact the police or any other appropriate organization.

"I view school buildings as the epicenter of what's going on outside," Navarro says. "The majority of the schools in the district, if you go inside and close your eyes, you won't believe you're in Montgomery County, it's so diverse."

Despite its rapid growth in the past few decades, that "diverse" population has had increasingly less of a say in how the County is run. As a native of Venezuela, Navarro's goal is to bring those people to the table.

"At our meetings, we'd have the same five PTA people," she laments. "I took it on myself to go into the community and find [people] . . . People say 'are these people really going to vote as a bloc,' but I'm not giving up . . . the reality is we have a growing immigrant community that tends to be isolated."

In order to do so, she explains, you have to go past the PTAs and HOAs and into the streets. "You have to do grassroots. Find out who are the organic leaders in these communities," says Navarro. "In these low-income and immigrant communities, word-of-mouth goes a long way . . . you pass along information that is relevant. You don't do focus groups. People want something that is tangible and relevant."

Navarro expresses frustration with the County's policy-makers who claim to represent communities they may not be familiar with. "I am not so arrogant as to say I can speak for everyone," she says. "It's very easy to be privileged and entitled and say 'I represent all these people' . . . have you ever sat in a shantytown in Caracas with members of your own family? Have you ever had to deal with poverty?"

"Who has been given the wand to determine all things progressive in this County, and where are the immigrants, the people of color?"

While Nancy Navarro claims not to be a politician, she proves to be a woman of the people. And in a suburban community whose original residents are grappling with an influx of younger, more diverse people, Navarro sees herself as the missing link.

"I'm building a legacy, building on the present and looking to the future. I'm respectful of the people who've lived here for forty years, I know what they want, but I also want to build that bridge," she says. "Part of the new paradigm has to be if a person has worked in the community on important issues, you should have the right to run for public office. You should not be delivered."

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

whatever happened to wheaton?

WHAT'S UP THE PIKE: Our "District 4 Head-to-Head Tour" commences later this week as we talk to candidates Mark D. Fennel and Nancy Navarro.

A sign in Downtown Wheaton. Photo by IntangibleArts.

Thayer Avenue pointed us to news that the Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse will be taking over the Loews Cineplex 11 in Westfield Wheaton (also known as Wheaton Plaza) later this summer. The newly re-named Montgomery Cinema 'N' Drafthouse will have six screens playing a mix of first-run, second-run and independent movies, along with some stand-up comedy. There will also be table service, as is currently the practice at Arlington and the former Bethesda Cinema 'N' Drafthouse, now a live theatre. And it won't the first time that art-house films are playing in Wheaton, as the Loews Cineplex 11 tried to compete with the AFI by showing indie movies a year or two ago.

The Drafthouse folks are particularly giddy about their new location, as seen by the venue's new website (emphasis added):
The centrally located new 6-Theater Entertainment Complex, located in Silver Spring in Montgomery County is a very short distance from Potomac, Rockville, Bethesda, North Bethesda, Kensington, Chevy Chase, Olney, Beltsville, Laurel, Burtonsville, College Park, NW Washington DC and Downtown Washington DC.
Frankly, I'm surprised they didn't find a way to name this venue "Far, Far, Really Far Northeast Bethesda Cinema 'N' Drafthouse." Not only do they slap "Montgomery" on the name, ignoring the community it happens to be located in, but they don't seem to know what community that is, either. Real nice. I suppose all of those people coming from Northwest D.C. and Potomac just wouldn't feel right spending their evening in Wheaton, and even the idea of going to Silver Spring makes their skin crawl just a little.

One could say that the Drafthouse folks merely typed their new address into Google Maps and it spat out Silver Spring. But, I mean, as vague as the boundaries of Wheaton and Silver Spring are - both being unincorporated - you could ask anyone where the center of Wheaton is, the place where Wheaton is at its Wheatonest, and they would point to Wheaton Plaza. (But if there is any justice in the world, they will actually point to El Pollo Rico.)

Oh, well. At least I can have beer at the movies now.

Monday, March 24, 2008

committee recommends delaying funds for b'ville access road

WHAT'S UP THE PIKE: Leggett cites "security concerns" for new $65,000 private bathroom; Burtonsville residents top Peeps contest with "Thriller" remake; Cabbie collective in Dumont Oaks worried about D.C.'s switch to fare meters.

Route 198 in Burtonsville. Despite increasing congestion and declining business in the so-called "village center," the County Council may cut funding for a proposed access road.

The revitalization of Burtonsville's town center could be put on hold indefinitely as the County Council considers removing the proposed Burtonsville Access Road from its Capital Improvements Plan, which assigns funding to transportation projects over the next five years. On her new blog Nancy At Large, Councilmember Nancy Floreen (D-At Large) unveils recommendations made by the Council's Transportation and Environment Committee, of which she is the chair. The County Council will review those suggestions next month.

Elsewhere in East County, the White Oak Transit Center at New Hampshire and Lockwood Drive could be delayed for at least a year while new construction estimates are received. Meanwhile, a bike trail on the west side of Route 29 between Four Corners and Burnt Mills could be delayed indefinitely because a sidewalk was recently completed (with great fanfare) across the street. And funding for the Metropolitan Branch Trail through Downtown Silver Spring, which is tied into the Purple Line, could be held up because of conflicts with CSX, which is withholding permission to use its railroad paralleling the Red Line for the path.

Although only a quarter-mile long, the Burtonsville Access Road has long been considered essential to the revitalization of the business district, now a mix of aging strip malls and garages. The road first appeared in the Planning Department's Fairland Master Plan, drafted in 1997. It would allow local businesses additional access points and provide local traffic a way around congested Route 198. A market study released last fall states that the so-called "Burtonsville Village Center" will already be losing business from newer, more upscale shopping centers like Maple Lawn in Howard County and the massive Konterra development in Laurel.

Nonetheless, the County Council sees the project as unnecessary, especially given the ongoing budget crisis. "The timing for this road is not as urgent as was anticipated when the project was first conceived," the Transportation and Environment Committee says, citing that other improvements along 198, a State highway, have also been delayed. "The need for the road is not pressing."

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

While the report correctly states that the InterCounty Connector could reduce traffic along 198, its impression that Burtonsville's revitalization could simply be cast aside is disappointing. It's even surprising given that our County Executive, Ike Leggett, lives literally two minutes away from the village center. (However, Leggett's office in Rockville will be getting a $65,000 bathroom with shower, so he may not be spending too much time at home.) While the Route 29 bypass, has improved north-south travel, it's also making Burtonsville a pass-through on the way to Columbia or Silver Spring, crippling local businesses.

We need to give people a reason to stop in Burtonsville. The access road could do that. It would help to create a pedestrian-oriented "village center." By going behind Route 198, it would provide access to properties currently landlocked by existing businesses, providing opportunities for new operations to set up shop. It would also remove local traffic from the highway, making it easier for people outside the area to visit. One such parcel, near Burtonsville Elementary School, has been a rumored location for the Amish Market to move to when kicked out of its current home in the Burtonsville Shopping Center.

A decision to delay funding for the Burtonsville Access Road, even in the name of fiscal responsibility, would be nothing short of a mistake. Why kick the business district when it's already down? If anything, this road - and the revitalization - needs to be pushed up.

Check out the Transportation and Environment Committee's recommendations for the Capital Improvement Plans here.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

is marilyn praisner the new ronald reagan?

WHAT'S UP THE PIKE: Pedestrian hit on University Boulevard; Park and Planning wants to talk aesthetics; College acceptance made easy at Springbrook High.

I apologize for any offense caused by this post. Please check out this apology and this interview with Don Praisner, Marilyn's widower.

County Executive Ike Leggett's eagerly finding as many things as possible to name after Marilyn Praisner, who passed away seven weeks ago. This week, he and Council President Mike Knapp decided to rename the County's Exceptional Service Award, given to government employees who show "exemplary support of County program," for the four-term councilmember. The new "Marilyn J. Praisner Exceptional Service Award" will join the Marilyn J. Praisner Library and Marilyn J. Praisner Recreation Center, which were re-named barely two weeks after her passing.

Which makes me wonder: will Praisner become the new Ronald Reagan, who became the namesake of everything from high schools to aircraft carriers both before and after his death in 2004? The County Executive wants to preserve her legacy - he even wants to see her widowed husband take her place on the Council - but could MoCo become Praisner'd out?

Just a thought. I'll see you back in East County next week!

center court (part two)

Part TWO of "Center Court: A Half-Century of Trends Meet At The Mall," a paper I wrote last spring about one of my great loves - the shopping mall. Look for cameos from some of your favorite East County palaces of commerce! Click here for part ONE.

Urban renewal projects like the Inner Harbor in Baltimore was considered a way for mall developers like James Rouse to expand into under-served markets when traditional malls were no longer viable.

By 1978, Time magazine declared there was “a pall over the suburban mall” as over twenty years of mall development quickly came to a halt. That year, only twenty malls were completed nationwide; by 1980, there would only be nine. The energy crisis a few years earlier had made developers reconsider the ridiculously high heating and air-conditioning bills demanded by an enclosed mall; meanwhile, customers, already discouraged from shopping by inflation and high unemployment, were increasingly unwilling to drive long distances to regional shopping malls. Plummeting birth rates meant closed schools, deserted cul-de-sacs and, most importantly of all – empty mall food courts. White flight from inner suburbs to outer suburbs sent many older malls into decline, and as population growth caught up with mall expansion, newer centers were threatened as well. As a result, many communities became increasingly wary of shopping malls. Burlington, Vermont, a small city near the Canadian border, caused a national stir when it fought tooth-and-nail to keep developer Pyramid Companies from building a mall in neighboring Williston. Pyramid, which had almost single-handedly saturated the retail market in New York, was forced to drop their plans when a Vermont environmental commission argued that the proposed mall would affect “the entire social fabric” of the region.

Meanwhile, in cities still reeling from the race riots a decade earlier and hemorrhaging population, the mall seemed like a last-chance opportunity to lure people downtown again. James Rouse – who had first pioneered the enclosed mall with Harundale – was at the forefront of the movement to build urban malls. The Rouse Company’s biggest success was Harborplace, located in the Inner Harbor of Baltimore and considered the catalyst for the city’s revitalization upon its opening in 1980. Harborplace fulfilled Rouse’s ideal that "the only legitimate purpose of a city is to provide for the life and growth of its people." In 1981, he appeared on a Time magazine cover next to the phrase “Cities Are Fun!”, which succinctly explained his personal sentiment, but the nation as a whole was still moving away from the city and towards something new.

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

By the 1980’s, the “edge city” had overtaken downtown in both job and retail growth. There were two hundred edge cities in the United States by the end of the decade, and each one was larger than downtown Memphis. Twenty of these were in the Washington-Baltimore area alone. Success was likely, but not guaranteed for malls that located or were already located in an edge city. These were places that businesses had chosen to set up shop in because of their easy access to existing residential areas in addition to airports, other job centers, and downtown itself. These are the places where malls were usually very popular, had large, dedicated consumer bases – a quarter-million people within a fifteen-minute drive was the ideal – and where malls would have to start expanding in order to take advantage and stay relevant.

Smaller shopping centers, like Virginia Center Commons outside Richmond, Virginia, were drained of shoppers and business by larger, more extravagant malls that could draw from a regional consumer base.

The enclosed shopping mall, which used up obscene amounts of energy, occupied hundreds of acres of land, and was occupied by the branches of nationwide chain stores, was now only useful on a level more befitting its scale: as a regional destination. Smaller malls like Harundale – still trapped in its 1950’s state – failed, lacking enough attractions to serve a large area and without any room to expand. In 1997, it was finally torn down and replaced with Harundale Plaza, a strip mall. Even larger malls like Tysons Corner Center, now twenty years old, had to adapt to changing times and changing mall tastes. In 1988, Tysons added a Nordstrom department store and a second level; with over two million square feet of retail space, it was now nearly double the size of nearby malls, putting it in a exclusive group of new, “super-regional malls” like South Coast Plaza and King of Prussia Mall. Across the street, a strip shopping center that formerly had a K-Mart was transformed into a “luxurious, mixed-use complex” with new tenants including Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. It was called Tysons Galleria, or Tysons II to locals. Between the two malls, there were now well over three million square feet of retail space in the same location, vaulting Tysons Corner over downtown Washington, D.C. as the shopping hub not only for the metropolitan area but for the entire Mid-Atlantic region.

This store at Tysons Corner Center in Northern Virginia is set up to look like the outside of a Greenwich Village apartment.

In order to serve hundreds and thousands of shoppers – the population of a decent-sized city – the mall now had to become as diverse as a city, responding to the splintering of mainstream culture by providing stores for any number of different tastes. “The mall, like the city, is capacious,” writes Paco Underwood in Call of the Mall. It “serves any number of subcultures and even sub-subcultures simultaneously." Like a city street, the corridors of the mall were becoming lined with increasingly varied façades, reflecting the different images a store would try to sell its audience. With such a large consumer shed, malls were guaranteed that a store modeled after a California beach bungalow, a Greenwich Village apartment, or an Adirondacks sporting goods store would all be successful. In fact, all three chains are owned by the same company – Abercrombie and Fitch – and appear together in a number of malls, including Tysons Corner Center. One of the first stores to take advantage of this branding technique was Pacific Sunwear, which opened in 1981 and traffics in the California surf and skate scene. Seven years later, it was joined by Hot Topic, the “much maligned yet hugely influential (and ageless)” store aimed at fans of everything from punk rock to Japanese anime. It is perhaps best known for its exposed-brick-and-red-neon décor, calling to mind an underground city club. The main clientele of all of these stores are teenagers, the very same who, a few decades earlier, had nowhere to go and, more importantly, a ruthlessly conformist suburban culture that gave youth “an emotional emptiness” and “stunted creativity." While all of these stores, particularly Hot Topic, have their detractors, they – and the malls that allowed them to open – gave suburban youth an entrée into a world outside of the cul-de-sac.

The ubiquitous Hot Topic, shown here at the Coastal Grand Mall in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, creates the feel of an underground city club.

Meanwhile, affluent, time-starved consumers were finding trips to the mall for minor purchases inconvenient. It was no longer practical for a shopper to fight traffic to drive to the mall, find a parking space, and go down a corridor past several stores he or she does not want to visit to reach the store they want, regardless of Taubman’s or any other developer’s intentions to make them stay. At the same time, the sense of civic pride that had once existed in the small towns and large cities of America had all but eroded with forty years of explosive suburban growth. Malls, many of which did have public meeting spaces and held community events, were still privately owned and were not always willing to accommodate patrons who were not, after all, there to buy something. Only a handful of enclosed malls were built during the 21st century; in 2006, just one mall opened – Jordan Creek Town Center, located in West Des Moines, Iowa. The mall as we know it had split, going into three different directions to serve the different needs of modern suburban consumers.

With "big-box" stores like Target, Staples and Petsmart, Orchard Center in Silver Spring, Maryland is considered to be a "power center."

The super-regional mall was one example of the mall’s split, giving consumers a place to go when they actually wanted to shop and had a day or at least an afternoon for it. At the other extreme, serving shoppers who had little time to purchase things, there was the power center, or “big-box” center, the first example of which is 280 Metro Center in Colma, California, located in an edge city just outside of San Francisco. It is contained almost solely of anchors, so-called “category killers” such as Home Depot and Best Buy that deal exclusively in one department, dominating it and threatening their mom-and-pop counterparts, lined up in a row. These complexes often rival regional malls both in floor space and in land acreage. Each store has its own parking directly in front, allowing shoppers to drive up, get what they need, and leave. The only aesthetic difference between it and a normal strip mall is the scale, but their effect on existing retail is huge. “In the face of the big boxes’ aggressive expansion,” writes Dolores Hayden, “local drugstores, stationary stores, clothing stores and hardware stores have disappeared by the tens of thousands,” permanently altering the communities they locate in. Providing a wide variety of goods at low prices, power centers have become the preferred main shopping destination for many suburbanites.

The Downtown Silver Spring complex, located in downtown Silver Spring, Maryland, exemplifies the current "lifestyle center" trend.

On a completely different plane from the mall and the power center is the “lifestyle center,” which sought to bring back the “town” back into the “town square” that malls had reputedly become. The first lifestyle center, the Shops at Saddle Creek, opened in Germantown, Tennessee in 1987. It, like most lifestyle centers, was “designed especially with the upper-income shopper in mind, ample sidewalks, parking adjacent to stores, entertainment facilities, and upscale restaurants and shops” according to a study on lifestyle centers from the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. While Saddle Creek was little more than a few small strips arranged next to each other, the lifestyle center would evolve into a “mini-downtown” for suburban areas, both in form and use. As of 2005, there were 132 lifestyle centers in the United States. Downtown Silver Spring, a complex one mile from the Washington, D.C. line in Maryland, exemplifies the lifestyle center standard: shops front onto actual streets, albeit privately-owned ones; parking is easily accessed but tucked away in parking garages, or behind shops; plazas and squares are located throughout for lounging and people-watching; and entertainment facilities, such as movie theatres and bookstores, are a standard feature. At 450,000 square feet, it is less than half the size of a typical enclosed mall. Yet looking at the massive crowds that appear on a Friday night, it’s clear that Downtown Silver Spring is thriving, even as the corridors of neighboring City Place Mall, a relic from the urban mall movement, remain empty.

A half-century after Southdale and Harundale, the enclosed shopping mall lives on, yet in a wildly different context. After supplanting downtowns forty years ago, today’s shopping malls are becoming downtowns in their own right. In Tysons Corner, there is a plan to turn the business district, now larger than Atlanta’s, into a real city with tree-lined boulevards, thirty-story towers, and four stops on the Washington Metro subway. It sits at the center of the nation’s third-wealthiest county and next to its first-wealthiest, between two international airports and, of course, it is just a short drive away from the capital of the free world. Of all of the malls built in all of the towns over the past half-century, Tysons Corner has become an unparalleled success as it has grown and adapted to changing times and tastes.

Meanwhile, fifty miles away in Glen Burnie, a shopping cart still waits by the entrance of Harundale Plaza, a shopping center that, while given a new lease at life, will never inspire happiness the way its predecessor had. Harundale was a time capsule, a look at the history of the shopping mall, a history so important only because the constantly-evolving mall cannot let its shoppers know one exists. While not original to America, the shopping mall has become an American institution, one as diverse as our society and varied from place to place. As long as the mall, in whatever form, remains our “town center,” it may become the only place to sample local flavor, if only to see what indoor springtime feels like during a Minnesota winter or Arizona summer.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

east county in review: sketchup edition

WHAT'S UP THE PIKE: InterCounty Connector could be finished before opponents' court case is settled.

Dense, complex and sophisticated, Montreal is an amazing city, filled with great food and an amazing urban fabric. Hopefully, I'll have the opportunity to write more about it in the future. (Tomorrow, we'll talk more about shopping malls.) In the meantime, here's a look at what's going on in East County:

A rendering of the proposed Purple Line along Wayne Avenue east of Downtown.

COMPUTER MAGIC BRINGS PURPLE LINE TO LIFE: Google SketchUp is a program that allows anyone from computer novices to professional designers to point-and-click their way to amazing, three-dimensional models. Our very own Maryland Transit Administration is using SketchUp to give East Silver Spring residents a taste of what the Purple Line will look like if built. The listservs have been buzzing this week after MTA released the first renderings of the controversial transitway in its future habitat. Wayne Avenue, which is currently four lanes wide east of Fenton Street, would lose two lanes for auto traffic to accommodate either bus or light rail vehicles. Other new images show a stop at the proposed new Silver Spring Library at Bonifant and Fenton streets, first visualized at a series of MTA Open Houses last fall.

The entire PowerPoint presentation is available online right here.

ALSO: The Food and Drug Administration announced this week that they want to expand their new campus on New Hampshire Avenue, still under construction, to hold nearly 8,900 employees, twelve hundred more than originally proposed. I complained last summer that the Gazette "spoke too soon" in calling White Oak "booming," but their proposal could light the spark I've been waiting for. While the FDA's ongoing move - set to finish in the next two years - has already lured a handful of sit-down restaurants to the new WesTech Village Corner at 29 and Tech Road, throwing even more jobs into the mix could bolster demand for higher-end food and retail in East County. (Can anyone say Clyde's?)

Next week, the FDA will be holding an Open House for residents to check out their expansion plans and ask questions. It'll be next Thursday, March 27th from 6:30 to 8:30 pm at the CHI Center on New Hampshire Avenue.

Monday, March 17, 2008

center court: a half-century of trends meet at the mall

First in a special series on shopping malls adapted from research I did last year. Happy Spring Break! (Also check out part TWO.)

Harundale Plaza, in Glen Burnie, was built in 1958 as Harundale Mall, the East Coast's first enclosed shopping mall.

Harundale Plaza isn’t as busy as it used to be on a Saturday afternoon. A shopping cart sits in front of the giant sign at the entrance, waiting patiently for someone to come along and claim it. There are still more cars in front of the Value City than there are in front of the Glen Burnie public library, across the street, but not many. At the center of Harundale Plaza, beneath a fake clock tower, is what appears to be a rock but, upon closer inspection, is merely sculpted concrete, sanded down on four sides. There’s an inscription on each side: “Harundale Mall, Opened: October 1, 1958.” “National Association of Builders Neighborhood Development Merit Award.” If you close your eyes, you can imagine the bustling shopping mall that once surrounded that rock, a trendsetter for a time that has long since passed.

“Harundale Mall shoppers will enjoy perpetual springtime,” boasted the original promotional literature. Patrons were able to enjoy lushly landscaped plazas, a fountain, a cage with exotic birds and a sidewalk café – all under one climate-controlled roof. It was the first center of its kind on the East Coast and only the third nationwide. “No one in this part of the country had seen one” before, said architect Frank Taliaferro. Developer James Rouse, who would go on to revitalize Baltimore City while building entire cities of his own, was so excited about the concept of an enclosed shopping center that he originally proposed calling it Harundale HASS, for Heated, Air-Conditioned Shopping Street. It was every bit as groundbreaking as anticipated, attracting huge crowds and dominating the Baltimore market for decades. Yet, through its decline – and the rise and fall of hundreds of other American malls – we can follow the shifts in American society over the past half-century.

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

The founding rock at Harundale Plaza, originally located in the center court of Harundale Mall.

The enclosed, self-contained shopping mall, while seen as a uniquely American invention, had a brief heyday in Paris during the nineteenth century. Over 150 fully enclosed, gas-lit “shopping arcades” were built throughout the city, offering an “industrial luxury” and “a world in miniature, in which customers will find everything they need,” according to travel guides. Often just narrow streets covered (at the collective expense of the shop owners’) with a glass roof, the Parisian shopping arcade was a far cry from the sleek, wide corridors of their future American counterparts. The arcades were not successful for long, quickly eclipsed by larger, more-convenient department stores, and became the territory of flaneurs, or as an American mall manager would call them, loiterers. Today, only twenty of the original arcades remain, some of which are open and restored to their original grandeur.

A century later and across the Atlantic, American cities were failing as their suburbs experienced a population boom. The newly relocated children and housewives of these suburbs were suddenly isolated from the central cities that, for the time being, they were still reliant on for shopping and entertainment. The developer-funded streetcar lines that had connected earlier suburbs to the city had been bought up by large corporations like General Motors and dismantled altogether, while the Federal Highway Act had yet to be passed, which didn’t matter so long as most suburban households still had only one car, currently in the hands of the breadwinner at work. To William H. White, who wrote The Organization Man in 1956, the suburbs were merely “sororities with kids,” leaving housewives stranded. In the new super-subdivisions like the Levittowns, shopping centers were few and far between, and those that existed were not easily accessible by foot. For retail developers, an entire market had just formed.

It was a wildly idealistic architect named Victor Gruen who would resurrect the idea of the enclosed shopping corridor upon emigrating to America at the onset of World War II, right as the Nazis has invaded his native Austria. Gruen was inspired by the Ringstraße, the grand mall in Vienna where “Viennese of all backgrounds could mingle freely,” and Central Park in New York, his adopted home, which both provided “entertainment for all comers." Gruen sought to bring the positive features of those urban environments to the suburbs, attempting to do so with Southdale Mall, his first enclosed mall, built in Edina, Minnesota (outside Minneapolis) in 1956. With “artificial lights, giant show windows, and fancy façades for his stores” in Gruen was able to effectively recreate downtown within a safe, enclosed space, and people welcomed it as an antidote to the filth and crime of the city . Garden State Plaza, another Gruen mall built a year later in New Jersey, included “movie theaters, bowling alleys, skating rinks, playgrounds, and meeting rooms for community organizations,” baiting patrons to shop after their other events were over. Young people, who had previously complained that “if you don’t have a car, there are fewer places to go than in town” now had somewhere to go, and they went in droves, creating what would eventually be called the “mallrat” culture. Teenagers were the first to make the mall a “town square,” and while they weren’t always welcomed, they remain “the ones whose love for the mall is pure and constant and unshadowed by doubt or ambivalence,” writes Paco Underwood. He notes that their eagerness to buy caused retailers to take notice.

As the baby boom came to a close, population growth peaked in the Washington, D.C. area, and throughout the nation . Mall growth continued unabated, as more and more suburbs were built, highways were built and extended, and land on the fringe of town became more and more accessible. The 1960’s saw the first regional malls, aimed at serving larger populations than neighborhood malls like Harundale, which had less than half a million square feet of retail space. Regional malls had at least a million square feet of space. They included the King of Prussia Mall in Upper Merion Township, Pennsylvania, built in 1963; South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, California, built in 1967; and Tysons Corner Center in Tysons Corner, Virginia, built in 1968, the largest single-story shopping center at the time and a regional attraction from the time it opened. When a delegation from Peking, China visited Washington, D.C. in the 1970’s, they “wanted a stiff dose of America,” according to Joel Garreau, leading them not to the monuments but to “Broomie’s,” or the Bloomingdale’s in Tysons Corner Center.

Center court at Tysons Corner Center in Tysons Corner, Virginia.

The proliferation of malls, both big and small, meant that the design process became both more varied and more standardized, as regional markets grew more crowded and shoppers more discerning. Malls of the 1950’s were nothing more than a single corridor lined with stores and “anchors,” usually department stores, at either end. Décor usually consisted of fluorescent lights, white walls, and either carpeted or tile floors. In the 1960’s, mall design became more sophisticated, but to lower prices, “prototype” designs were created. Alfred Taubman was the largest developer to use a prototype, building nearly two dozen malls from 1967 to 1990 with the same basic interior layout and fittings . The owner of what is “widely considered one of the finest collections of shopping malls in the world,” Taubman had mall design down to a science, reflecting how suburban consumers had quickly become just another marketing segment . “For a suburbanite . . . experience comes filtered and pre-ordered. The range of experience has been pre-selected and highly narrowed,” said Dr. Dorothy Lee, an anthropologist at Harvard, in 1960. “In the suburb, no less than in the city, the individual is viewed and dealt with as a representative of a category, rather than as a person in his own right."

Taubman's Marley Station Mall, located in Glen Burnie, Maryland, features his trademark concept of "adjacencies," or placing similar stores near each other to maximize sales.

It was that approach that made Taubman’s malls so successful. In “Terrazzo Jungle,” an article in the New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell states, “if Victor Gruen invented the mall, Alfred Taubman perfected it.” He used the timing and placement of lights to mimic daylight even after the sun went down; organized stores around triangular or diamond-shaped plazas to maximize views and make the corridor less monotonous; and graded every mall site with a slope so that the majority of parking spaces and mall entrances were on the second floor. “People flow like water,” Taubman said. “They go down much easier than they go up,” meaning that they are more likely to see the entire mall if they have go down stairs. He also pioneered the concept of “adjacencies,” or placing stores that would attract similar customers near each other. Standing in the atrium of his Marley Station Mall in Glen Burnie, Maryland, built in 1987, a consumer today can see American Eagle Outfitters and Aeropostale, two clothing stores catering to teenagers, on the upper level, in front of an elevator; below them, there is a Forever 21, another clothing store for teen girls, and a For Your Entertainment, a record store. If a shopper decides to go into one store, there’s a higher chance that they’ll go into one of the other stores if they’re next to each other. This meant higher profits for the stores and higher revenues for the mall developer, which meant even more malls.

Between 1964 and 1972, the number of shopping centers nationwide doubled to over 13,000. In the Washington-Baltimore area, mall construction continued unabated during the 1970’s, as eighteen malls were built in the region. Four of those malls were in wealthy Montgomery County, Maryland, evenly spaced every couple of miles along Rockville Pike, the county’s main “shopping street,” from the D.C. line to Gaithersburg, twenty miles away. Meanwhile, women had been entering the workforce in droves since the early 1960’s, a trend which fully took hold a decade later. Joel Garreau calls it “an article of faith” that couples will choose to live closer to “the job of the spouse who does the evening cooking”; as a result, office developers and corporations chose to locate in the suburbs, near where families were already living. The suburban “hot spots” solely devoted to shopping changed once again: now, they were places to shop and work, and the “edge city” was born. Households now had two income earners, meaning that mothers no longer served as chauffeurs, but rush hour traffic increased dramatically. The time for weekly family trips to the mall had all but vanished, and it was becoming clear that the heyday of the enclosed mall may soon pass.

Friday, March 14, 2008

leaving town for a few days . . .

WHAT'S UP THE PIKE: Students fear Takoma Park college moving away from liberal arts; Downcounty residents less angry over higher cost of parking; Blake High's yearly Jazz Swing Night (so good!) happens tonight.

County Executive Ike Leggett explores the economic and social consequences of turtle-stacking while reading Yertle the Turtle to second-graders at Fairland Elementary. (Photo from the MoCo website.)

While most college kids are heading south next week, I'll be heading up north to Montreal for some good ol' fashioned Spring Break debauchery, Canada-style. Back in high school, I dreamed about studying architecture at McGill University in Montreal because of their awesome affordable housing program - only to discover that not only was it only for grad students, but I'd probably have to learn some French before going up there. Parlez-vous Français? Non.

While I'm soaking up the heavy snowfall and sub-freezing temperatures, Just Up The Pike will run a series about the development of shopping malls, with a focus on the D.C. area. But if you need some blog action - other than reading my fellow Silver Spring bloggers, of course - you'll definitely want to check out these events coming up next week:

On Tuesday, discuss the future of Wheaton at a redevelopment forum hosted by Park and Planning and featuring a panel of "urban planning experts" and County officials eager to play a part in the revitalization of the business district, which was shaken up last month by the tragic destruction of local institution El Pollo Rico.

Then, on Thursday, County Executive Ike Leggett comes home to Burtonsville for his first Town Hall Meeting in the area. Come speak your piece before our native son at Briggs Chaney Middle School, which is actually located in Cloverly.

And, the rest of the time, you'll want to keep by your computer for the latest updates from Councilwoman Nancy Floreen's new blog, which came on line earlier this month. Floreen, who talked to us here last spring, will be joining such local luminaries as Council President Mike Knapp and former County Exec candidate Chuck Floyd.

Have a stellar break! We'll see you in two weeks.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

calling all district 4 candidates . . .

WHAT'S UP THE PIKE: Einstein High ditches Block Scheduling; Blake High's annual Jazz Swing Night coming this Friday; Discovery protester incites money-grabbing melee on Ellsworth.

The race to fill Marilyn Praisner's old seat is on, and Just Up The Pike wants to be on top of the action. Over the next few weeks (excluding Spring Break, during which we will be on vacation in warm, sunny Canada) I'll be interviewing each of the five candidates for District 4 Councilmember on what I call the "District 4 Head-to-Head Tour," a sequel to last year's highly successful "County Government Head-to-Head Tour." So check us out over the next few weeks - you won't want to hit the polls without reading what your District 4 candidates have to say:

Nancy Navarro (D), Colesville, 42, current school board member
the interview the website
"To be told that people in this district only care about land use issues and development issues and the ICC . . . I've been lectured that if I don't know the intricacies of these issues, then I won't be able to win . . . I would like to demonstrate that the residents care about other issues."

Mark Fennel (R), Aspen Hill, 42, director of membership, Citizens Against Government Waste
the interview
"I'm a District 4-first person. Let the At-Large candidates worry about the issues that affect the County as a whole . . . If I'm not gonna stand up and fight for the interests of District 4, who will?"

Steve Kanstoroom (D), Ashton, 50, retired
the interview the website
"The issue is not 'is the developer the enemy,' the issue is the developer's using the broken planning system. They're the identifiable target for it, but it's more complex than that."

Thomas Hardman (R), Aspen Hill, 50, information technology and analyst
the interview the website
"Stop inviting more growth . . . if you look at living things, the size of an organism is designed for its environment. You're not gonna have an elephant where there isn't enough food for it to eat . . . things are scaled by design."

Pat Ryan (D), Fairland, 56, consultant
the interview the website
"Is it more important to give everybody their first choice or to give everyone a racially and economically diverse student body? . . . In a county that's increasingly diverse, you have to make sure you're not tolerating a silent racism."

Robert Patton (R), Spencerville, 33, athletic fields specialist
the interview the website
"I understand that new problems have new needs . . . but what tends to happen is you neglect your core responsibilities. On basic terms, it's your schools, your police force, your roads. Everything that makes the basic quality of living."

John McKinnis (R), Calverton, 32, real estate broker
the interview the website
"Let me be that fall guy on the council. This isn't about party lines, it's about leadership . . . and this fiscal crisis requires direct leadership."

Don Praisner (D), Calverton, 75, retired

the interview the website
"I don't think anybody could hit the books as hard as Marilyn did . . . I'll try to work as hard as possible, but I don't think anyone could carry the workload she did."

ALSO: By the way, did anyone watch the B&O Train Station documentary Next Stop: Silver Spring last night? I'd like to know what you thought of it, and if it's worth my time to catch a re-run of it, as I was too swamped to see it last night.

Friday, March 7, 2008

creating a legacy: the "folk ghetto" of silver spring (updated)

WHAT'S UP THE PIKE: Teachers' Union endorses Navarro for District 4; Residents ambivalent over new speed cameras on Briggs Chaney Road; Silver Spring documentary premieres on WETA this Sunday.

Part FOUR of a series about Lisa Null, Silver Spring folk artist, who performed solo for the first time in twenty years last month. In our last installment, we look at the so-called "folk ghetto" of East Silver Spring.

Lisa Null thrived in Washington's long-standing folk, blues and bluegrass scene. "There's a conversation about the music you can be a part of in the D.C. area," she says. For seven years, she was an adjunct professor at Georgetown, teaching variations on a course she designed called "American Music and Life."

"It was all I know, playing folk music and academics," jokes Null. When her partner, Charlie Baum, wanted to be closer to the Jewish community in lower Montgomery County, she didn't leave the District without putting up a fight.

"I had the Library of Congress within walking distance. For someone in research, it was like the Emerald City," she says. "I came out here kicking and screaming," she recalls of the move thirteen years ago. When they arrived in Silver Spring, however, they also discovered an outpost of D.C.'s folk scene.

"We call it folk-ghetto or folk-shtetl, if you will," she says. "I think people came here because it was cheap and it was near Takoma Park when they couldn't afford to live there."

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

Folk dancers live next door. Across the street is a banjo maker. Occasionally, Null and Baum have a "ballad night" in their home on Bonifant Street, inviting their neighbors for an evening of self-made entertainment. "When there's no commercial base for your music, that's very nourishing," she says.

Outside of the "folk ghetto," Null's found another world to explore in the ethnic shops lining Bonifant and Fenton. Living on disability after a fight with cancer that forced her to retire eight years ago and unable to walk long distances on her own, she keeps mainly to her immediate neighborhood. "I live next door to all these Ethiopians," says Null, who wrote about the so-called "micro-neighborhood" on Bonifant last summer. "I feel like they're my brothers, and I barely know them."

Null's even written a song about her neighborhood, entitled "Fenton Street Rag." "It reminds me of those little old Southern towns," she says.

The Internet has been another way for Null to stay in touch. "This area has an extraordinary sense of community," she says. "I think it's been enhanced by the listservs. These lists have kept me in touch with my neighbors."

Silver Spring's beauty, she says, is most evident in the places where people can come together, like "The Turf" at Ellsworth and Fenton. "I go down there at night and see so many people I know walking around talking. The scene is like it's some kind of Spanish village," she says. "I see men in suits on the ground with their computers, doing Wi-Fi stuff, teenagers flirting or roughhousing . . . it's wonderful."

Thursday, March 6, 2008

creating a legacy: slumming and story songs (updated)

WHAT'S UP THE PIKE: Developers present Konterra plan to West Laurel residents; Neighbor's complaint over White Oak mega-addition shot down; Leggett throws support behind Praisner's widower for District 4 race.

Part THREE of a series about Lisa Null, Silver Spring folk artist, who performed solo for the first time in twenty years last Thursday. Today, we're taking a look at her contributions to the Folk Revival movement; tomorrow, we'll see what she has to say about the "folk ghetto" of Silver Spring.

Stepping into Lisa Null's living room is like walking through all four decades of her musical career. Two walls are lined with bookshelves, whose contents have spilled out across tables and floorboards. A mass of old boxes and pamphlets form another wall behind the couch. And musical instruments are everywhere - an electric keyboard, an acoustic guitar in a case, and something on the mantle that I can't determine what it is.

"I can't ever say I made a great deal of money, but it was self-sustaining," she says contentedly.

Null's musical journey began at home in New York, where she grew up "with a family that loved to sing," Null explains. In high school, she began attending conservatory to become classically trained, but found it was killing her love of music. "My family had always told me that music was a joy, not a vocation," she says. Null left school and became entranced in the burgeoning folk scene coming out of New York City's Greenwich Village.

During the 1950's and 60's, once-obscure blues and folk artists from the turn of the twentieth century were being rediscovered by Baby Boomers who rejected the growing commercialism of popular music. Along with jazz, the so-called "folk revival" became the dominant form of musical expression for the early counter-culture.

there's so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

There were a number of music clubs Null liked to frequent, notably the Village Gate. "There were so many places you could enter for a couple of dollars and the price of beer and you'd get to hear so many great musicians," she says. The venue hosted a variety of artists, from Charlie Mingus to Pete Seeger. At smaller clubs, she'd come in the afternoons for an audition and she'd be allowed to play the same evening as an opening act.

That led to jobs singing in bars, where Null discovered she wasn't necessarily cut out for all kinds of music. "It was very good money at the time . . . you'd get a free steak dinner and a couple hundred dollars to take home," she says. "I tried to sing blues, and I heard someone say 'you sound like a Smith College girl slumming.'"

Null looked to the story songs and ballads she'd learned as a child for a direction in which to take her career. She traveled to Ireland and conducted "field collection" trips throughout Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, building up a library of songs to use in her performances.

In the early 1970's, Null and commercial folk-musician Pat Sky founded Green Linnet Records, headquartered in her New Canaan, Connecticut home. It was named after a code-word for Napoleon used by Irish sympathizers hoping that an alliance with him would gain them independence from Britain. While Null sought to create an outlet for the old airs and songs she'd cut her teeth on, her co-workers wanted to capitalize on the growing popularity of "revved-up" instrumental Irish music, and she sold the company. "This sort of hard-driving Celtic music really took off and I was more interested in . . . less commercially-viable music," Null says.

As the commercial folk revival was dying down in the late 1970's, Null joined forces with guitarist Bill Shute and hit the academic circuit, touring folk societies, schools and museums throughout North America. College campuses were another popular venue, as school administrators opened on-campus coffeehouses and cabarets to give students an alternative to drinking. The pair also made several apperances on A Prairie Home Companion, the NPR radio show hosted by humorist Garrison Keillor.

While the money was decent, the touring life was proving to be a strain on Null and her fellow musicians in the dwindling folk community. "My colleagues . . . they were having car accidents, traveling farther for gigs, it was a very grueling life" compared to acts that could play clubs, she laments.

Fatigue eventually got the best of her, and Null performed her last solo concert in Rochester, New York in 1989. She delved into study, earning a degree in History at Yale and a degree in Folklore at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1991, she settled in Washington, D.C., attending library school at Catholic and eventually taking a job at the Library of Congress.

Next: Lisa Null moves to Silver Spring and discovers a whole new dimension of community.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

going beyond the park-and-ride

WHAT'S UP THE PIKE: Lisa Null series continues this week; County Council discusses Silver Spring music hall today; Lamari drops out of District 4 race.

Isolating transit facilities like the Briggs Chaney Park-and-Ride from housing, shops and other places make them targets for crime because there are no witnesses nearby.

It's on the other side of the County, but I was struck by a story in last week's Germantown Gazette about a woman who vows never to take the MARC train after being mugged at the Germantown station late one night:
The woman, who moved to Germantown six months ago, was considering using the train for her commute, and shortly before 10 p.m. decided to check it out. A man armed with a gun and wearing a blue bandana [the Gazette's mistake, not mine] to obscure his face demanded cash as the couple returned to their car in the parking lot.
There are two problems with this story. First of all: why do you go down to the train station at ten o'clock just "to check it out"? What is there to see? There are no MARC trains running that late, nobody to take your questions - and, worst of all, nobody watching to see if you get mugged.

And, second of all, the Germantown MARC station, like so many lonely park-and-rides in MoCo, enable crime because they aren't where the action is. On top of that, the ridership isn't very high. (The neighboring Boyds station, on the edge of Germantown, was threatened with closure three years ago.) No eyes on the street mean no witnesses for robbery.

Germantown Town Center, a mixed-use neighborhood with shops, a performing arts center and a spanking-new library fronting a pretty little square, is three-fourths of a mile away. Would that woman still have been mugged if the station was in the middle of Germantown Town Center, where even at night there would have been hundreds of shoppers, concert-goers and residents within earshot? Perhaps. But, even if she had, there would've been plenty of witnesses, and the robber would have been quickly caught.

Our friends in the Upcounty are also alarmed because of crime at the Lakeforest Transit Center and Shady Grove Metro, but no one in the article mentioned that they are, respectively, at the very edge of a mall parking lot and in an industrial area. These aren't places where you'll have people or any sort of activity late at night. The bus itself isn't the reason why robbers and gangs like to hang out there. It's because no one else has any reason to go.

We can learn from this in East County, where we haven't had anything in the way of transit-oriented planning. Route 29 from Four Corners to Burtonsville is lined with park-and-rides, which feed into some of the region's busiest bus routes. These seem like logical locations for development - perhaps not high-rises and shopping malls like in Downtown Silver Spring, but enough to give people a reason to be there if they aren't catching a bus. The park-and-ride behind Burtonsville Crossing Shopping Center has the proximity down, but because it's on the back of the shopping center, there are no "eyes on the street" keeping an eye out for potential danger.

I'm sure MARC and other local transit agencies have lost a lot of riders due to the perception of crime in and around train and bus stations. The key to increasing ridership and taking cars off the highway is by making them safer - not just with cameras and police presence, but by turning them into more than a place to wait for a ride.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

lamari drops out of district 4 race to support praisner's widower

Layhill resident Cary Lamari called us this morning to say he has been asked to drop out of the race to replace Marilyn Praisner for the District 4 County Council seat and will support her widower Don, who's announcing his candidacy on Monday.

"He's an unbeatable candidate in District 4," says Lamari, former president of the Montgomery County Civic Federation. "The residents of District 4 had the greatest respect for Marilyn Praisner and would consider this . . . a legacy, a tribute to Marilyn. If he espouses the same ideals Marilyn did, then I have to support that."

County Executive Ike Leggett announced yesterday he will endorse Praisner, who's also gotten the support of Councilmembers Marc Elrich and Duchy Trachtenberg, both at-large; Phil Andrews (D-Rockville), and Roger Berliner (D-Potomac), according to Maryland Politics Watch.

A primary will be held April 15, followed by a special election May 13. "There's just not enough time to get the money it's gonna take [to win] in so short a time," says Lamari. "I don't think we have a chance with so many outside influences deciding what's to happen."

Lamari, whose 2006 bid for County Council was endorsed by the Neighbors for a Better Montgomery, sees a two-way race between Democrats Praisner and Nancy Navarro, currently on the Board of Education. With the County facing a $300 million budget crisis and an increasing dearth of affordable housing, the council needs a "fiscal conservative" like Don Praisner, Lamari says. "My opinion is that Nancy Navarro is partly responsible for the current budget crisis," he notes. "I believe there needs to be balance in this council."

Hoping to get ahead of the pack, Lamari plans to build his campaign for 2010. "We've just got too many qualified candidates," he says, referring to the already-crowded field of hopefuls for the Democratic nomination. "With the coming of Don, we just don't stand a chance."

fillmore gets a wammie (of sorts) and other music news

WHAT'S UP THE PIKE: Check out our ongoing series on Silver Spring folk artist Lisa Null, which wraps up next week.

The JUTP inbox has been slowly filling with word that the Washington Area Music Association (or WAMA) has thrown its support behind Live Nation's plans to open a Fillmore music club in the former J.C. Penney building in Downtown Silver Spring. WAMA, who sponsored its yearly Wammie awards for local musicians two weeks ago, sent the Montgomery County Council and Executive Ike Leggett a letter Thursday endorsing the Fillmore. That same day, the County Council decided to approve $2 million in funding for the controversial venue.

In other news, I.M.P. Productions, whose counter-proposal to run a club in the same space was repeatedly thwarted by Montgomery County, is now in talks with the District of Columbia to lease the D.C. Armory as a concert venue. I.M.P., owners of the 9:30 Club on U Street, would be allowed to hold shows for between 1,000 and 5,000 people at the Armory. The Fillmore, meanwhile, will have a capacity of roughly 2,000 people standing and fewer seated.

Also, if you'd like to have some sort of say in how the Fillmore or other arts and music venues in Silver Spring are run, Ike Leggett would like to hear from you. The County is taking applications for positions on a new Silver Spring Arts and Entertainment District Committee. Resumes are due March 21.

WAMA's letter to the County Council follows AFTER THE JUMP . . .
February 28, 2008

Dear President Knapp and Members of the County Council:

We are writing to you to voice our strong support for the Fillmore music hall in downtown Silver Spring.

The Washington Area Music Association (WAMA) is an umbrella organization for Washington DC- area musicians, concert promoters, lawyers, recording engineers, managers, graphic artists and others working in the music business.

Among its other activities, WAMA annually sponsors the Washington Area Music Awards - also known as the Wammies - to recognize significant career achievements by area musicians, now in its 22nd year.

This project will significantly benefit economic revitalization in Silver Spring and will produce a significant public profit/benefit from the very beginning. And it will be a space that is available for community use.

You'll forgive us, though, if we focus on what's most important to us - the music.

We are very excited by the prospect of opening a Fillmore in Silver Spring. Such a world-class venue means more opportunities for area musicians to be heard and more opportunities for music fans throughout the region to sample the best of a whole range of musical styles in formats ranging from tables to chairs to theatre seating to stand-up.

This live music and entertainment venue will enrich Silver Spring, the whole County, and the region enormously.

We urge the full Council to approve the rest of the funding needed to make this music venue a reality. The sooner the building starts, the sooner the music gets made and heard.

Thank you for your consideration and for your support of this exciting project.


Michael Schreibman
Washington Area Music Association