Wednesday, March 18, 2009

guest blog: can't have it both ways (updated)

The following is a guest post by Brent Gilroy, a Seven Oaks resident for over two decades. He contacted the Peterson Companies after the violence following last weekend's "Stop the Violence" concert and has a simple message for them: either clean up the scum or watch them take over.

Read our previous related guest blogs by Pershing Road and John Haslinger.

I chose to live adjacent to downtown Silver Spring 24 years ago to be part of a livable urban community – walking distance from shopping, entertainment and transit. Silver Spring was struggling amidst the remains of its vibrant post-war life, but with promises of revitalization.

As residents bickered over the kind of community they wanted, the one they had became a wasteland of abandoned storefronts, litter and aggressive “street people.”

Eventually, revitalization came to Ellsworth Drive – a bookstore, high-end grocer, a mainstream movie house and the “art” offerings of AFI, plus restaurants generally cleaner and more comfortable than the ‘90s’ shabby eateries. Some complained about the chains, but they proved people would dine here – paving the way for Jackie’s and Nicaro and bringing new customers to the Quarry House and Tastee Diner.

Early on, we who saw Silver Spring through its downslide warned, “You gotta get the nasty, belligerent people off the streets so that decent folks – upper, middle or working class – will stay.” City Place – an attractive discount mall that became ultra-low end, frequented by surly young men loudly proclaiming their sexual needs to buddies nicknamed (fondly) “muthafucka” – was a cautionary tale.

Others decried the “sterile” nature of the new Ellsworth and warned authorities not to deal harshly with ANY visitor. “Everyone has a right to be here,” they said. “THAT is diversity…Foul language is part of city life...Crime happens wherever there are people.”

Montgomery County and its revitalization partner, the Peterson Companies, listened to those “more tolerant” voices. The Majestic Theater became infamous for littering and outrageous behavior. Sidewalk diners with children found fresh air and strolling families came with a dose of passersby declaring, “Bitch, don’t fuck with me or I’ll kick your goddamn ass!” The walk to the parking garage or home included confrontations with belligerent beings whose stance said, “Wanna get by me? Kiss my ass!” All amidst the litter they dropped.

(This, I MUST be clear, is a separate issue from the gaggles of sometimes annoying but seldom vile or abusive teenagers often seen downtown. That IS just part of urban life.)

Many complained to the county and Peterson – our pleas for order growing in proportion to the disorder. We said: “Clean it up or we’ll take our money elsewhere.” Last summer, our discontent boiled over on blogs and neighborhood list serves.

“We hear you, and we’re acting,” county and Peterson officials assured.

Then, March 7, a concert honoring a youth violence victim itself turned violent. Thirty-five arrests (according to the March 18 Gazette), confused and frightened shoppers fleeing down Ellsworth, pepper spray in the air.

The county and Peterson say, “We still hear you.” But they make no promises; they downplay the seriousness of March 7 and how much worse it could have been.

Nationwide radio accounts (reported by people in other cities) of “a riot at an anti-violence concert in Silver Spring, MD” can’t be good for business as Peterson struggles to fill retail space that remained vacant even when the economy was good. (Silver Spring’s past of decay and bad behavior always made it a hard sell.)

Yes: “We told you so.”

You (Montgomery County and Peterson) heeded the other guys. From both political and economic standpoints, it was just easier

Maybe you figure those who like peace and order along with convenience and diversity will just keep coming no matter how much filth and profanity (and now, it’s been proven, violence) you tolerate.

WRONG.

Many are ready to vote with our feet – not only by not shopping and eating in Downtown Silver Spring, but by moving to Bethesda, Arlington and other truly LIVABLE urban communities. That exodus – once publicized – won’t be good for business.

So the question to government and business leaders is this: Do you want decent, law-abiding people to SPEND MONEY in Silver Spring, or do you prefer to have potty-mouthed, violent scumbags who might buy a Coke or a t-shirt (if they don’t strong-arm it from someone else!)?

You can’t have both.

5 comments:

Mike said...

Well said, Brent.

We don't need to encourage the worst elements of dysfunctional slums to take hold in DTSS, because like a cancer, that will spread and before anyone knows it, become the norm.

Let the kids have their fun. Let them talk loud and squeal and flirt and be obnoxious like only teenagers can, but when they cross the line into loud and constant profanity, or littering, or jaywalking, or aggressively blocking paths, then the party needs to end.

How to end it, though, in a way that respects everyone's First Amendment rights, is the pickle.

Ftjazgal said...

Public ass whippings, that's how.

Seriously...if citizens are given a warning by police that they are crossing a line and they do not heed that warning, they should be conscripted into immediate DTSS litter cleanup for a length of time determined by their infraction.

I don't see this being doable in the real world, but in my head, it works really well.

Thomas Hardman said...

I think this is a case of "If you build it, they will come, and you are gonna need some crowd control and bouncers, too..."

Mike said...

Ftjazgal, in my head I see adults telling these kids to watch their language, then I see these kids getting in the adults' faces and threatening them, and then I see the police arresting these kids and charging them with assault, and then I see them going to prison for a few months (yeah, it will be like sleepaway camp for them, but at least they won't be in our streets).

In my optimism I see individuals convicted of violent crimes (committed in cold blood) being given vasectomies along with their prison terms. That way they at least won't end up fathering a new generation of neglected kids.

Thomas Hardman said...

Well, supposedly teen pregnancies are way down, so if we get them before they are old enough to drive cars with back seats, that might almost work. (sarcasm)