Thursday, May 14, 2009

nowhere to go (more thinking about high school)

Construction continues on the Silver Spring Civic Building and Veterans' Plaza, formerly home to "the Turf."

It's been a month since the idea of a teen curfew in Downtown Silver Spring was first floated around the civic associations, but with summer coming up and no "Turf" to cushion the blow from kids pouring into the area, you know everyone's going to be talking about it. But for me, the issue is less when kids should be out and rather where they can go at an hour when they'll probably be out anyway.

High school and the early years of college, when we still lived in dorms and went home each summer, were filled with stories of trying to find a place to make out when the night was finished. Most of my friends have a story about getting busted by the cops in a parking lot with the windows fogged up because their houses were too far; their parents were home; the movie theatre closed (for the day or for good). Underage "relations" (cough cough) are one thing, but a lack of Places To Go are another.

I tried to think of all of the places in East County where kids might want to close out a Friday or Saturday night or any other time of day. There are three kinds of spaces for young people: public, commercial, and private. All three of them are available, but lacking at the same time - and the solutions may lie in combinations of the three.

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

Public spaces include parks, squares like Silver Plaza and "the Turf" in Downtown Silver Spring, and recreation centers. There are a fair number of parks in East County, as are recreation centers, with two either under construction or in planning in Layhill and White Oak. I know the Praisner Recreation Center used to hold "Club Friday" events for middle school kids each week, but even as the County opens more recreation centers, they don't play the same role in young lives as they did back in the heyday of Teen Centers in the 1960's.. Depending on who runs them (and at what hours), you could count skate parks as well. Besides K-town in Kensington, there's a single skate park in Olney and another proposed in Fenton Village. Schools count as well, of course, and they can be good for the occasional dance, but they're not usually a resource at this hour.

Commercial spaces include movie theatres, bowling alleys and arcades, or shopping centers. These places are designed for sales and entertainment and appeal to a wide crowd, but have become de facto hangouts for kids because they often stand in for a lacking public realm. At the same time, these places are lacking as well. No fewer than four movie theatres have closed in as many years (both the P&G 11 and the Loews 3 at Wheaton Plaza; the AMC 10 in Silver Spring; the Olney 9), and the now-defunct Glenmont Lanes leaves only one bowling alley. Kids flock to a number of local shopping centers to hang out - the new WesTech Village Corner has become a favorite of those in Calverton and White Oak - but these are places designed to discourage, not encourage loitering.

Private spaces include informal gatherings, parties or shows hosted in homes, and partially fills the void left by the commercial and public realms. These range from something as small as going to a friend's house to punk shows held in houses. Since the 1970's, the D.C. area's been home to the DIY (Do-It-Yourself) culture and, for many kids in the 'burbs, house shows are a way to make music and see their friends make music, to meet friends, and just to hang out. This isn't a public amenity, however; because they're held in private homes, these concerts are often publicized little, keeping them within the purview of the local "scene."

Montgomery County Public Schools let out on June 16, a couple weeks after the local private schools have already ended for the year. It'll be a rough summer without "the Turf," and given the state of hangouts on the east side, there's no telling what kids will do: keep going Downtown? find somewhere else to be? Or just stay home?


marylandgangs said...

Apparently that Fenton Village skatepark idea was killed a while ago. Gary Stith told me that's because neighbors didn't want it. Lisa Jaeggi was fighting for that and she made some progress, but then she left for college and no one continued the fight in her absence.

Meanwhile, Downtown Silver Spring and the Silver Spring Regional Office decided to stop blocking off the end of Ellsworth on Friday nights and Saturdays, taking away the only legal place to skateboard in all of Silver Spring.

The reason Gary told me they stopped blocking that area off was because businesses complained. So now, kids have no legal place to skateboard anywhere in Silver Spring.

Dan Reed said...

Businesses complained? I'd buy that if it were only the kids who'd linger outside those stores on Ellsworth. We had the same problem at the store I worked at in Rockville and, let me tell you, it sucks. But not when you have adults, parents, families all gathering just to watch kids they may or may not know skating. That sounds like a gift to any shopkeeper with a window to watch the action.

marylandgangs said...

Dan, the Silver Spring Regional Office was well aware that for years, that strip of Ellsworth was the only legal place to skateboard in Silver Spring, and yet they took it away without even having a conversation.

If the businesses complained, and if there was a problem, there should have been an attempt to resolve it. There was none -- they just took away something incredibly valuable to a lot of area kids and essentially criminalized their activity, since now they only skateboard in illegal places.

Thomas Hardman said...

I'd say that some public spaces seem to be pretty well designed for multi-generational uses, but I don't think it was as much planned that way as it just worked out that way.

For example, possibly most shopping centers constructed recently are either in-fill strip-mall type places, for example the new development replacing the Anchor Inn in Wheaton, or they are huge malls of the general scale of Wheaton.

In the smaller infill types of places that are public/private, parking is usually at a premium, so there's little tolerance of skating. In the larger shopping centers, there might be abundant unused parking area that would be ideal for skating... if it weren't for the risk of fairly high-speed traffic cutting across parking tracts. Hence, a tendency to like to skate in parking garages. They often have space to spare, and traffic can move only at a fairly slow speed.

In other places, we might see "C"-shaped (serif, or sans-serif ;) shopping centers, with the majority of the parking enclosed in the "C", and also with most of the traffic and parked vehicles also there. Yet behind such stores there might be ample overflow parking that is generally unused, or reserved for staff parking (which may barely put a dent in the available space).

Businesses might be less averse to skating (a good example usage) in such places provided there's some cooperation between the kids and the business staff. For example, if most of the staff vehicles are parked in one area, surveillance of the parked cars is easily done with one camera or watcher, and all you have to do then is to convince the skaters to steer clear of the employee cars.

It's also necessary to have fairly good surveillance or security mostly for the purposes of keeping the "desired users" in the place, and keeping others out. But there's a fairly fine line to be drawn here, I suppose.

Most businesses are subject to laws which say that if they are open to anyone they are open to everyone, absent a formal banning which generally must be based on proven criminal activity (else run the risk of harassment/discrimination suits). Thus, anyone who is there to do business and who isn't criminally offensive gets to come in and do business. That's good progressive policy and it's just.

Yet, how could a business owner -- or mall-landlord/property-manager legally discriminate against skaters they didn't like while allowing "family friendly public/private uses" like skateboarding for only the children of locals, or local young-adults? It's a vexing question, as there is potentially massive legal liability in picking and choosing who can use and who has to leave. With so much gray-area and legal fuzziness, probably most places tend to simply ban everyone from certain activities such as skating.

One alternative would be to post a "locals only" sign with a clear definition of "locals", for example under a membership system not too different from those you see at local swimming clubs. Locals/members pay a certain fee, most of that buys insurance, and to avoid discrimination litigation, anyone can buy a limited "visitor's pass" or become a member.

This approach helps forestall litigation, pays for insurance, helps regulate activity that otherwise might get out of hand, and turns a mostly unused parking area into something that might not be a big moneymaker, but provides kids with a place to hang out and do stuff, and not-incidentally puts more eyes on the street in an otherwise hard-to-secure area.

WashingtonGardener said...

The Fento Village proposal was DOA as it violates the SS Master Plan.

I see skaters now most nights on 410 by what I'd call "the Canada Dry plaza" -- apparently all taht new vaguely art deco hard-scaping and stone furniture is great for their stunts. I'm sure word will spread. We'll see how long it takes the ajacent apartment managers to chase them off.

I still think the Discovery front plaza is a natural for a skate park location.

Agreed that taking away the skater space on Ellsworth without community discussion and input was crappy. Remind me gain of who owns that street?

Dan Reed said...

I used to see a lot of kids in front of Lenox Park (Colesville/410) when I took the bus home from Bethesda. It's a good spot: lots of terraces and ledges for little jumps, very prominent intersection where a well-timed trick (or spectacular fall) can be seen by thousands of people.

The plaza in front of Discovery makes a lot of sense, as does the "Sensory Garden" behind it. Isn't that supposed to be a public park?