Monday, September 29, 2008

rain doesn't prevent good times at burtonsville day

The Eubie Blake Jazz Ensemble performs at Burtonsville Day last weekend. Check out this slideshow of this year's festival.

Despite the threat of rain, East County residents came out en masse for the eighteenth annual Burtonsville Day festival, held Saturday at the Marilyn J. Praisner Center on Old Columbia Pike. Started in 1990, the celebration - which, depending on the year, is either one or two days long - includes a free movie, a parade, and a day-long festival with food, entertainment, and booths featuring local businesses and community organizations.

At the East County Citizens Advisory Board table, new members Eric Luedtke and Anthony Ramirez having passers-by fill out a survey on the quality of life on the east side. "If you come to our [monthly board] meetings, maybe one or two people show up," says Luedtke, who lives in Burtonsville. "This enables us to get a broader idea of what people want."

After living in East Springbrook for six years, Ramirez is "finally starting to get more involved," he says. "This is a very unique portion of East County. It's very dynamic, it's not as established as other communities . . . we're still growing. We're becoming more diverse. It's already exciting, but I think it could get more exciting."

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

Intermittent rain didn't stop East County residents from coming out to enjoy Burtonsville Day.

Jeff Jones, pastor of Liberty Grove United Methodist Church, was happy to see the strong turnout. "It's good that the community can come out and share with each other, meet your neighbors, learn about your community," says Jones.

Wearing a shirt with the American flag on it, Councilmember Don Praisner (D-Calverton) was easy to spot as he paced the festival grounds, and seemed to be enjoying himself. Nearly four months after being sworn into office, Praisner says he's still "in the learning curve," especially with the ongoing budget crisis looming over the next council session this fall.

"Gonna have a lot of tough decisions," says Praisner. "It's not a matter of who much we can give but maintaining what we have . . . It requires a lot of concentration, because there are a lot of words, so you gotta keep listening."

Alison Praisner Klumpp, daughter of Councilmember Don Praisner, and her daughter Kaitlin Klumpp, in the BBA Fashion Show.

Inside the Marilyn J. Praisner Recreation Center - so named for the councilmember who passed away earlier this year - visitors could take part in arts and crafts, a book sale, and a fashion show hosted by Eileena York from the Burtonsville Business Association. Keeping with the theme of "Caring Starts In Our Hearts," the fashion show required contestants to enter with a friend or relative and talk about how the person touched their lives.

Half of the eight pairs who took part in the contest entered that afternoon at York's urging. Winners, who were selected at random for lack of an actual rating system, received gift baskets donated by local businesses. Supporting the Burtonsville economy was one of the many reasons York organized the fashion show, she says.

"We need to keep the Burtonsville legacy alive," states York. "Our rural roots, our small town feel, and we have businesses and we need to support them."

burtonsville day slideshow

East County Citizens Advisory Board member Eric Luedtke gets interviewed by a reporter from the Paint Branch Mainstream.

Check out this slideshow from last weekend's 18th Annual Burtonsville Day, held at the Marilyn J. Praisner Center in Burtonsville. Later today, we'll talk to some of the people who were there.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

road code changes ditch trees, embrace irony

Trees and speed cameras mingle in the median of Randolph Road in Wheaton.

Three weeks after his "Pedestrian Safety Week" and literally stumbling upon the scene of an accident where a woman was killed crossing Fairland Road a few weeks ago, County Executive Ike Leggett's commitment to pedestrian safety is starting to look suspect. The Planning Board recently slammed (scroll down for links!) his proposed changes to the new Road Code, championed by councilmembers Nancy Floreen and Valerie Ervin as a way to make county roads more pedestrian-and bike-friendly.

Among his recommendations, which came from a twenty-four member task force composed of county drivers and pedestrians: removing trees from roadway medians and along sidewalks and widening lanes to encourage motorists to drive faster. Drivers will be pleased, but at the expense walkers and bikers will just have more of the same difficulty getting around.

It's ironic because narrow lanes and street trees can be found on many of the roads where speed cameras were installed last year, particularly Randolph Road in Wheaton. These are just two of the many tools road designers use to force drivers to slow down - and, just as importantly, to make these roads more attractive for pedestrians and bicyclists.

AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman Lon Anderson sarcastically says that "Park and Planning thinks if every road was 20 mph or 25 mph that'd be great and every road should be tree-lined," and he's sort of right, whether or not he meant it. Discouraging auto use might cost Anderson a job, but he told us last fall he's a big supporter of the Purple Line, so he could definitely work for the MTA.

ALSO: Construction on the Sarbanes Transit Center in Downtown Silver Spring starts this weekend, moving the stops for all of your favorite bus routes; The eighteenth-annual Burtonsville Days (not enough civic pride for just one day!) comes this weekend, with a parade down Old Columbia Pike Saturday morning, followed by the first-ever Burtonsville Fashion Show.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

what's up the pike: work outs and column inches

- Jessica from A Parent In Silver Spring asked me to let you know about The Work Out For Demitry, a fundraiser this Sunday for the sixteen-month-old son of a local hair stylist who recently lost her fiance in a tragic motorcycle accident in July. For $40, not only can you support a very good cause, but you might lose a few pounds in the process working out with "the region's finest instructors in spinning, yoga, pilates, hip hop cardio, interval training and zumba dance." The event will be held at the Rock Creek Sports Club on Grubb Road. I've also been told there'll be food from Kirsten's Cafe and Red Dog Cafe, which is far more enticing than the possibility of exercise.

For more information, call Rachel Posell at (202) 329-6762 or e-mail her at rachel at posell dot com.

- Check out this week's column in the Diamondback about University Town Center (see photo above, taken last year), the new mixed-use development near campus that's attracted some seriously unwanted attention. What, you haven't heard? I write for the University of Maryland's independent student newspaper now. You can find my earlier columns here.

- Hey, you should stop e-mailing me at my old address! Please send your questions, rants, tips, and et cetera to justupthepike at gmail dot com.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

state planners hold "open mike" for smart growth at blake

Stuart Rochester discusses development in East County as moderator Jim Cohen watches during last Thursday's Smart Growth "listening session" at Blake.

Anticipating a million new residents statewide by 2030, Maryland planners sat down with fifty Montgomery and Prince George's residents to discuss how the state should grow at a "listening session" last Thursday at Blake High School in Cloverly.

Dubbed an "open mike" by Secretary of Planning Richard Hall, each of the six listening sessions being held across the state gives people the chance to speak with Department of Planning officials directly. At issue was Maryland's eleven-year-old Smart Growth program, which sought to curb sprawl by directing development to designated "priority funding areas" in established communities. Located in the far northern fringes of Silver Spring and surrounded by sprawling new homes on two-acre lots, Blake was an ironic choice for a location to talk about Smart Growth, as Greater Greater Washington pointed out two weeks ago.

Several speakers cited past planning mistakes as challenges for the future. Stuart Rochester, local activist and Fairland resident, questioned the "growing infatuation with Smart Growth," noting the construction of apartments in the Route 29 corridor in anticipation of a light-rail line that was never built. "We have to be very careful when we presume Smart Growth around transportation when it may just be wishful thinking," he said.

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

"We had zoning laws that said it was better to work here and live here and shop somewhere else," said another speaker, who also noted that businesses have chosen to locate along I-270 rather than in East County because of tax incentives offered there. "There's a place in Burtonsville [Office Park] that has pressure to be anything but jobs, but it needs to be jobs. It's right on 29. We need the economic incentive."

Rochester also stressed the need for more employment opportunities on the east side. "You get more higher-paying jobs, you improve the socioeconomic make-up, the demographic make-up [of East County]," he said. "This is what we need to encourage, more than housing density."

Comments from local residents were written on large boards. BELOW: Meeting attendees placed orange dots on locations that should be developed and blue dots on those that should be preserved.

Harry Sanders, co-founder of the Action Committee for Transit and board member of Purple Line Now! was the first to bring up the state's recent cuts to local transit projects, including the Purple Line. He mentioned that he first moved to Woodside thirty years ago in anticipation of Metro coming to Silver Spring. "If you calculate the value of public transit in providing a range of good things, it's worth it, but it needs to come together with good planning," said Sanders.

Stan Doore of Calverton suggested monorails as one solution to the state's transportation woes. President of the Maryland-Virginia Monorail Initiative, Doore campaigned for a referendum on building a regional monorail system six years ago. "Transit costs four times more per mile than a personal car," said Doore, whose comments were cut short twice by the event's moderator. "If you elevate it, you're above the congestion and you can have driverless vehicles."

One person questioned the need for any growth at all, suggesting that the problem lay not with the state but with vaguely defined outside forces. "Do we just have to accept that we'll have one million more people in 20 years?" asked Dan Smith of Cheverly. "Maybe the State should be thinking about some international policies that would allow us to not concentrate people in this region."

"What are you talking about?" asked a member of the audience. "Birth control? Closing our borders?"

The Department of Planning will compile comments from each of the six listening sessions, along with results from an electronic survey given to attendees, into a report that they'll submit to the state legislature in December. While creating a plan to accommodate a million new residents seems daunting, Sheldon Fishman of Forest Glen reminded the audience that Maryland's tackled big projects in the past, like the building of the Capital Beltway. He had just five words for the planners: "My suggestion is, 'Be bold.'"

Friday, September 19, 2008

next week on just up the pike . . .

A million new people are coming to Maryland in the next twenty years, and state planners want suggestions on how to house them. We'll have a re-cap of last night's Smart Growth Listening Session at Blake High School (pictured above), where local residents offered their two cents on how the state should grow.

Also: what happens when a government contractor from Poolesville starts taking the train to work? He decides to write a musical about the Purple Line. Check out our exclusive interview with Paul Stregevsky, the creator of Tracks: The Musical.

All this and more next week on Just Up The Pike!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

what's up the pike: back in the saddle

If there's anything I'm learning from working at a newspaper, it's that words are a terrible thing to waste. So . . . yeah. Here's a look at what's happening Up The Pike:

- The Maryland Department of Planning will be holding a town hall-style meeting this evening to discuss its Smart Growth policy. If you want a say in how Maryland develops in the coming decades, come out and talk to the people who write the plans. The meeting, one of six being held around the state, starts at 6:30 at Blake High School in Cloverly.

- Adam Pagnucco, JUTP friend and blogger at Maryland Politics Watch, will be interviewed by Brad Rourke and Cindy CG on Rockville Central Radio, a weekly show from the blog of the same name. They'll be talking about - what else? - local politics, with an emphasis on MPW's recent series on the near-collapse of the Gazette newspapers. Check it out this Friday at noon.

- Washington Adventist received a special exception from the Montgomery County Board of Appeals to build a new facility on Plum Orchard Drive in Calverton, bringing the 100-year-old hospital one step closer to moving from its current location in Takoma Park. Next up: a site plan review by the Planning Board in November; after that, the proposal goes before the Maryland Health Care Commission next year.

- Following the death of a pedestrian at Fairland and East Randolph roads earlier this month, the Montgomery County Department of Transportation plans an in-depth examination of the mostly two-lane road between Colesville and Calverton. "I give you my word on that . . . what we want to do is fix it," says department director Art Holmes. One clear solution we thought of would be roundabouts, which were recently completed on Fairland east of Columbia Pike. They don't impede traffic the way stoplights do, but they do force drivers to slow down, making it easier for pedestrians and local residents to move around the neighborhood.

just up the pike's in print now, except not really

Can't get enough Just Up The Pike, especially considering that my blogging tends to drop off during the school year? Check out my new weekly column in the Diamondback, the University of Maryland's independent student newspaper. Basically, it's the same kind of writing you'll find here - except set in College Park, and with actual editors who make sure I stay on topic and that my writing is correct and, most importantly, not libelous.

My first two columns, "Knox Road: Look both ways before you dream" and "Wanted: A real coffee shop in College Park, are already online, with new ones coming out every Wednesday.

Monday, September 15, 2008

what's up the pike: it was very silver spring

A very Silver Spring moment on Ellsworth Drive.

My friend's band, Lonely Are The Brave, are all from East County, and they had their demo release show Friday night. "We had the most diverse mosh pit," he said, re-capping the show for me. "It wasn't just scene kids. It was everybody . . . it was very Silver Spring."

Diversity, mosh pits, alternative music: all things I think of when I think of Silver Spring, last weekend's Jazz Festival notwithstanding. (Alas, no pits there.) What else just screams "Silver Spring"? Here's a look:

BLAMING THE MAN: Thayer Avenue's Eric sat down with developer Bruce Lee, who ran afoul of the blogger last week for demanding looser building restrictions for his company's property behind the proposed Fillmore music hall on Colesville Road. "There’s a lot of blame to go around" in the ongoing controversy over who should build or operate the venue, laments Eric, who implores the MoCo government to "get their heads out of their asses and make something happen.

ANTI-WAR SENTIMENT: PeaceAction Montgomery and a slate of local pacifist and religious organizations are sponsoring a town hall meeting next week on how Montgomery County can help end the Iraq War. County Executive Ike Leggett will moderate the event, which features speakers Brendan O'Flaherty, an economist from Columbia University, and Karen Dolan from the Institute for Policy Studies. Five of the nine County Councilmembers will be there, including George Leventhal (D-At Large), Marc Elrich (D-At Large) and Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5), all of whom live in either Takoma Park or Silver Spring. The meeting will be next Monday, Sep. 22, from 7 to 9 p.m. at Montgomery College's Germantown campus.

SWEET, SWEET GENTRIFICATION: Home Properties, the developer who wants to redevelop part of Falkland Chase, plans to offer displaced tenants moderately-priced units in one of their complexes in White Oak. Small and lacking the amenities of newer complexes, the New Deal-era Falkland apartments have long been a cheap alternative to other buildings in Downtown Silver Spring. Maryland Politics Watch proved that East County's not the "dumping ground" for affordable housing some fear it's become, but sending people priced out of Downtown to White Oak doesn't do much to change that perception.

Friday, September 12, 2008

b'ville fashion show brings caring to the catwalk

In an attempt to draw business back to its struggling village center, the Burtonsville Business Association is holding a fashion show featuring local retailers during this year's Burtonsville Days celebration, scheduled for September 26th and 27th. The theme, as envisioned by BBA co-founder Eileena York, is "Beauty Starts In Our Hearts," and participants are required to sign up with a friend or relative who they feel is a caring, supportive individual. "What will be judged is not how someone looks, but who touches our hearts," writes York in an e-mail sent out earlier this week.

State Senator Rona Kramer (D-Dist. 14) will host the fashion show, which will be held at the Marilyn J. Praisner Center. York encourages civic leaders to take part in the event, noting that Alison Klumpp, elementary school teacher and daughter of the recently passed Councilmember Marilyn Praisner, and her daughter Kaitlin Klumpp, will be participating. "We want to bring the sense of small town and rural feel back to this community," writes York.

Aspiring models can register at a number of retailers in the Burtonsville Crossing shopping center, including Dress Barn, Today's Image, Hair Cuttery and Nail #1 Spa, which are all offering discounts of up to 25% for fashion show-related purchases. Winners will receive one of two gift baskets valued at $500. For more information, send an e-mail to BBA at comcast dot net.

don't silver spring me!

From the Baltimore Sun, in an article about the redevelopment of Columbia Town Center:
"I disagree with 21-story buildings, with making new streets across the General Growth parking lot, with turning this lovely beautiful suburban city into Silver Spring."
You know, it's a little flattering. Who would have thought that of all places in the area, Silver Spring would be held up as the bad example?

But really, Columbia, I thought we had an arrangement here. You let us come to your mall for shopping, and we let you come down here for, good food, culture, diversity, and so on. Sure, I always felt like Columbia got the short end of the stick (Peruvian chicken vs. food court cuisine? No-brainer.) but, uh, maybe you deserve what you get.

So, Columbia, if you see the bridge on Route 29 between Howard and Montgomery counties mysteriously disappear over the next couple of days, maybe you'll know why.

what's up the pike: double-crossing edition

- Chevy Chase activist Pam Browning, who organized the anti-Purple Line Save The Trail petition, is actively seeking people to crash local events supporting the proposed transitway between Bethesda and New Carrollton. "Purple Line advocates have infiltrated bike and environmental groups throughout the region," writes Browning in an e-mail circulating around the Bethesda-Chevy Chase area, where the Capital Crescent Trail (pictured above) is being considered as a Purple Line route. "We need bicyclists . . . to observe their strategy and to ask questions about the impact the Purple Line will have on the Trail," Browning adds.

- In a letter going out to all nine councilmembers today, 9:30 Club owner Seth Hurwitz reminds the County Council that his offer to build and run the proposed Silver Spring Music Hall without public money is still on the table. Hurwitz cited the County's ongoing budget crisis as a reason why they should walk away from an established deal with the Lee Development Group and corporate promoter Live Nation, both of which have endured intense scrutiny for the perceived "special treatment" they've gotten from Montgomery County. Live Nation will receive $8 million in public subsidies, while Lee may be able to take advantage of a new zoning amendment that streamlines the approval process for potential development behind the new venue, to be located in the former J.C. Penney building on Colesville Road.

With his proposal to pay for the club out of his own pocket, "you can still redirect millions of dollars to what we expect government to invest in: education, public safety, social services and transportation – not a nightclub," writes Hurwitz. Check out the letter in full over at Thayer Avenue.

- When the State announced it was cutting $1.1 billion from its transportation budget for the next six years, many blamed the InterCounty Connector on diverting funds that would have otherwise gone to the Purple Line and other projects around the region. Now, the ICC's cannibalizing itself, as a small portion of the eighteen-mile toll road currently under construction has been postponed indefinitely. This comes a week after the total cost of the highway - last pegged at $2.4 billion - went up over a hundred million dollars.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

pedestrian safety isn't just about the roads

A family attempts to cross Route 29 at Stewart Lane in White Oak.

Despite all of the new initiatives County Executive Ike Leggett's announced throughout his Pedestrian Safety Week, which has just drawn to a close, the biggest news has gone to just how bad pedestrians have it in Montgomery County.

Our walkers may inspire no sympathy - local news stations broadcast footage of a man jaywalking across University Boulevard directly behind a press conference on pedestrian safety in Long Branch last week - but they remain endangered by the poor decisions of local drivers. Today, after announcing that speed camera revenues would be fully used to pay for pedestrian safety improvements, Leggett happened upon the scene of an accident early this morning in which a pedestrian was killed crossing Fairland Road at East Randolph Road.

Leggett's seven-pronged "Pedestrian Safety Initiative" is nothing short of ambitious; and it promises to make some improvements for those traveling on foot. But the solutions we're employing thus far are oriented more to those behind the wheel of a car. Speed cameras and concrete bump-outs might get drivers to hit the brakes, but their behavior won't change until they understand they're not the only ones on the road. Just look at these letters to the Post's Dr. Gridlock about the bump-outs installed along Arcola Avenue and Connecticut Avenue. Drivers don't see what the fuss about pedestrians is - chances are, they haven't seen enough to think there's any problem in either of these places.

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

We have to make walking a safe, easy and attractive form of transportation in Montgomery County, not just a last resort for people who can't afford to do otherwise. University Boulevard, Fairland Road, Arcola Avenue - all of these roads are designed for cars, not pedestrians; they're pass through suburban neighborhoods where houses turn their backs to the street and stores sit behind vast parking lots. They're not places where people on foot should feel safe or even remotely comfortable.

The more people there are out in the street, the less drivers feel entitled to it. No amount of traffic calming can make that happen by itself. It's also an issue of planning - how we design and build our communities, how buildings are sited to the street, how close amenities like schools and shopping are to the neighborhoods we live in. If there are more places to walk to, more people will walk to them, creating a presence on our local roads that cannot be ignored by motorists.

Pedestrian Safety Week may start in the road, but it's not going to end there. We have to make places worth walking to before we start to see any change in behavior.

Monday, September 8, 2008

what's up the pike: can you hear me now?

Now that Hurricane Hanna's passed and sunny skies are in the forecast - at least for the time being - it's back to business as usual in East County. Here's a look at what's happening this week Up The Pike:

- East County civic advocate Stuart Rochester will be appearing at the Action Committee for Transit's monthly meeting this Tuesday at 7:30pm. He'll be joining the Sierra Club's Pam Lindstrom and planning consultant Phil Perrine for a talk called "Transit-Oriented Development: Hype vs. Reality." A Fairland resident, Rochester has first-hand experience with East County's attempt to build around transit in the 1980's, during which thousands of apartments went up in Briggs Chaney and White Oak in anticipation of a light-rail line up Route 29 that was never built. The meeting will be held downtown at the Silver Spring Center at 8818 Georgia Avenue.

- Cell-phone users in Stonegate might actually get reception now that the Planning Board's approved an antenna tower (warning! PDF file) in Northwest Branch Park, adjacent to the National Capital Trolley Museum on Bonifant Road. For aesthetic purposes, the 140-foot-tall tower will be disguised as a tree, and the photo simulations Verizon's provided of the structure in its new location are nothing short of hilarious. The nearest antenna towers are located in Colesville at Randolph and New Hampshire and in Glenmont at Randolph and Georgia.

- The Maryland Department of Planning is holding six "listening sessions" throughout the state to discuss future growth. Each meeting will cover issues like sustainability, regional development, and growth's effects on transportation and schools. All meetings are open to the public. The "Washington Suburban" listening session will be held at Blake High School on September 18 at 6:30pm.

- FINALLY: JUTP gives its condolences to the family of an unnamed motorist who died during the storm Saturday afternoon, when his SUV veered off the road and hit a tree just before the Powder Mill Road exit on I-95 in Calverton.

ABOVE: How a recently-approved cell phone tower in Northwest Branch Park will look from the neighboring Bonifant Park subdivision. Images courtesy of Park and Planning.

Friday, September 5, 2008

what's up the pike: think it's gonna rain rain down

Hey, it looks like we're getting a tropical storm this weekend. As we prepare for those big, fat raindrops to hit the ground, here's a look at some more drops and rises in East County:

- The Planning Board's approved plans to redevelop a third of the Falkland Chase apartments while preserving the rest of the New Deal-era complex at 16th Street and East-West Highway. Developer Home Properties proposes replacing the North Parcel, which contains 182 apartments, with a high-rise apartment building that may have over one thousand units.

As I've said before, redevelopment of the Falkland North site may be inevitable, but Home Properties' current plans - a giant tower in a superblock - is completely inappropriate for a site in the middle of Downtown. Here's hoping that when the project goes up for design review, the Planning Board encourages a more urban, pedestrian-friendly project.

- InterCounty Connector construction crews were awarded nearly $560 million to build the segment of the highway between Georgia Avenue and Columbia Pike, over $100 million more than originally anticipated. The cost of the entire eighteen-mile toll road between Gaithersburg and Laurel was supposed to total $2.4 billion, a price that's increased dramatically since the project was resurrected by Governor Ehrlich in 2002.

BeyondDC points out that this overrun alone would've paid for the entire Columbia Pike streetcar . . . in Virginia. (No telling when our light-rail along The Pike, first proposed nearly forty years ago, will ever happen.)

- SAT scores are falling across Montgomery County, with especially big drops seen in the Northeast Consortium high schools. Blake's average SAT score this year was 1490, sixty-nine points less than it was last year; Springbrook's and Paint Branch's scores dropped fifty-four points and nine points respectively. School superintendent Jerry Weast blamed the drops on the growing racial gap between the scores of white and Asian students and their Black or Hispanic counterparts.

The racial gap may be a major reason why Blake's scores have fallen. Until two years ago, the school was required to admit a certain amount of students on free and reduced lunch, circumventing the "choice process," which allowed East County eighth-graders to pick between specialized programs at each school.

landscape architects fear "the turf" could kill their jobs

"The Turf" as it existed in June 2006.

If "the Turf" did anything during its brief tenure at the corner of Ellsworth and Fenton (other than offer a place for East County emo kids to loiter), it's scared the shit out of the people who make great outdoor places. "If you can just throw down some artificial turf and bring in hundreds of people, who really needs landscape architects?" asks writer Daniel Jost in this month's issue of Landscape Architecture magazine.

The article, "Beauty and the Turf" (which isn't available in full online) and a related blog entry compare "the Turf" to Silver Plaza down the street, a space that definitely bears the mark of a designer. It has places to sit, lots of shade, immediate access to food, even a colorful fountain that's been very popular with the preschool set. "The Turf," meanwhile, is just 35,000 square feet of fake grass. There are no trees, no places to sit, and by itself is no real draw. And while you'll still see quite a crowd in Silver Plaza on a Friday night, we know which space was the real winner.

People don't like to be told what to do, or how to use a space. They like places where they aren't pressured to have an agenda, like buying something. Silver Plaza is the epicenter of the "mall" they call Ellsworth Drive, surrounded with chains and constantly programmed with activities: concerts, movies, etc. It can be overbearing and even unwelcoming to someone who just wants a place to chill.

That's why you'll find kids hanging out in the mall parking lot: the tangible attractions are inside, but the freedom is outside. Not to say, of course, that public spaces should look more like parking lots, but it does suggest a hidden demand for so-called "blank slates," perhaps as a balance to places that are heavily designed.

It makes you wonder what'll happen when Veterans' Plaza is finished a couple of years from now. Will people use it as they did "the Turf"? Will its design allow that? Or will we see the adjacent Whole Foods parking lot become East County's newest teen hangout?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

i suppose we're just unrefined . . .

From the Gazette:
"East county isn't the best place to go for high-end wines, said managers at the stores at 11407 Georgia Ave. in Wheaton and 11239 New Hampshire Ave. in White Oak. Those areas tend to sell more liquor than wine, they said.

The Potomac store, at 10132 River Road, receives most of the 'really, really hot stuff,' Wurdeman said."
If we're going to have a county-funded monopoly on liquor stores, at least spread the wealth evenly! Do oenophiles not live in East County, or are they just sick of driving to Potomac for their $1,300 Chateau Margaux Margaux? Or is East County really just a place where corner boys drink 40's and cat-call passersby, where rednecks in Burtonsville tear open six-packs of Bud on the hoods of pick-up trucks, and where high schoolers far cooler than I was get trashed on Smirnoff liberated from their parents' liquor cabinet in the basement of some oversized Hampshire Greens McMansion?

Spare me, Montgomery County liquor monopoly. We are far more refined than that. So when are your wine futures gonna benefit us Up The Pike?

after gustav, thinking about new orleans

The house I helped gut while in New Orleans with a group from the University of Maryland.

Civic activist/all-around involved person Alan Bowser just posted a slideshow from the Montgomery Blair Katrina Run-O-Vation, organized by a group of Blair students to raise money for the ongoing reconstruction of New Orleans. I was impressed to see that the money's going to Hands On New Orleans, a group whose hostel I stayed in while down there last May. Henry from Silver Spring Scene's been bugging me to write about it already, and I probably should.

Seeing hundreds of Silver Springers running through Sligo Creek Park in support of New Orleans makes my heart swell, especially as the city's threatened by Hurricane Gustav. I couldn't help but think about all of the places I saw while in New Orleans - the neatly-restored houses in the Garden District, where I stayed; the house our group from Maryland worked to restore on General Taylor Street; and all the homes and schools and businesses that are still as they were when the floodwaters receded three years ago.

Do these places survive another hurricane? And if they don't, are they still worth coming back to? It's a question that weighs heavily on the minds of anyone who lives in New Orleans - or just came for a visit and wishes they could live there.

BELOW: Musicians' Village, a Habitat for Humanity development for local musicians displaced by Katrina; and the auditorium of Louis Armstrong Elementary School in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward, which was destroyed when a levee along Industrial Canal burst.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

what's up the pike: I quit my job

The Silver Spring Jazz Festival in 2006. Previous events, held on "the Turf," have attracted over 20,000 people. Photo courtesy of Montgomery County.

Happy Labor Day! There's nothing like one last day of free time and grilling to remind you that summer is over for reals and it's time to return to that cold, harsh daily grind of school and work.
Wow, that's really depressing! Anyway, here's a look at what's happening in East County this month:

- Next Saturday, Downtown Silver Spring plays host to some of the region's - and the world's - top jazz artists for the fifth annual Jazz Festival. This year's event features the Mingus Big Band, a tribute to composer Charles Mingus, who passed away in 1979; Israeli-born artist Yaron Elyashiv; and hometown favorite Marcus Johnson, who grew up in Silver Spring and but now lives in National Harbor. While previous festivals crammed over 20,000 people onto the bereaved "Turf," this year the event moves to the parking lot behind the Lee Building.

(Ironically, the Washington Business Journal recommended using the land as a stand-in for "the Turf" - it's slated to become the Fillmore music hall as part of a deal with the County many are calling foul on.)

-IMPACT Silver Spring, which encourages community-building and advocacy among East County's immigrant groups, is holding a Swap-o-Rama this Saturday at First Baptist Church, located on the corner of Fenton and Wayne. "Bring your clean, gently used clothes, and then take and alter as much clothing as you can carry for FREE," says the event's Facebook page; leftover items are given to charity. If you're interested in learning about future clothing swaps, subscribe to the Swap-o-Rama Yahoo! group.

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

This week, the Planning Board returns from summer break and takes a look at the Wheaton CBD sector plan.

-Design charrettes for the new Silver Spring Library will be held later this month, with the first meeting taking place Tuesday, September 23. A charrette is a workshop where planners and local stakeholders (like residents and business owners) produce a master plan for how an area or building should be developed. Recent charrettes in East County were held for SilverPlace, Park and Planning's new headquarters in Downtown, and the Burtonsville Village Center.

-Speaking of Park and Planning: the Planning Board reconvenes after summer break this Thursday with a packed agenda. They'll be looking at the Wheaton Central Business District sector plan; voting on whether part of Falkland Chase is eligible for historic preservation (warning! PDF file); and reviewing the Towns of Tanglewood, a proposed townhouse development off of Briggs Chaney Road.