Wednesday, August 26, 2009

silver spring in name only?

Two nights ago, I went to a dinner for contributors to Greater Greater Washington, which I've written for intermittently since last spring. Each of us had to introduce ourselves and where we lived. When it was my turn, I said I lived in "what I'll call Silver Spring," figuring that most of the people there weren't from Montgomery County and wouldn't know Calverton from California. "Would you really call where you live 'Silver Spring'?" asked David Alpert. Yes, I said, and this is why.

I embrace Silver Spring's lack of defined boundaries. Purists will argue that Silver Spring consists of Downtown and immediately surrounding neighborhoods. The Singular likes to call places that are not within this area "SSINO," or Silver Spring In Name Only. Silver Spring is not a municipality like Rockville or Gaithersburg. It means we don't have a mayor, but it also means the place can be as big or as small as we want.

To explore this relationship, I looked up the three hundred most recent rental listings in Silver Spring on Craigslist, tossing out commercial ads and keeping the ones that gave at least a nearby intersection as a reference point. This left seventy-five listings, the locations of which I recorded on a map. The result is a rough, unscientific survey of where Silver Spring really is.


View "silver spring in name only" in a larger map

What did I find?

- Of 75 listings, more than half (44) claimed to be in "Silver Spring," followed by "Silver Spring/Wheaton" (7), "Silver Spring/Takoma Park" (6), and "Downtown Silver Spring" (6). Six listings also mentioned other neighboring communities, including Rockville and Kensington. Only six ads referred to specific parts of Silver Spring.

- Of those listings that mentioned Downtown Silver Spring, only two of them were actually located in the central business district. The other four were all within a mile of the CBD, the furthest being on Dale Drive.

- Listings on Flower Avenue in the Long Branch area were said to be in "Takoma Park," despite being several blocks north of the Takoma Park city limits.

- Some listings were misplaced entirely. One rental at Randolph and New Hampshire - generally called Colesville - claimed to be in "Ashton," nearly six miles away. Another was physically inside the town of Kensington. Three listings mentioned places outside of Montgomery County, including Laurel, Columbia, and Beltsville.

- No listings mentioned Langley Park, Aspen Hill or Briggs Chaney, which may suggest that landlords were worried about any stigma associated with those neighborhoods. Also, some listings in Downtown Wheaton - including one across the street from Wheaton Plaza - were simply called "Silver Spring."

- The northernmost references to just "Silver Spring" appeared in Leisure World, which is surprising because that community would be familiar to people throughout MoCo and the region. An unscrupulous landlord might purposely leave the name off to prevent Leisure World's age restrictions from limiting their potential pool of renters.

- While I didn't include them in the final sample, I noticed that many of the commercial ads associated Silver Spring with other areas. Listings for the Bennington on East-West Highway referred to it as being "In Silver Spring near Shepard [sic] Park" and "In Silver Springs [sic] near Chevy Chase," seeking to place the building near ritzier neighborhoods. Meanwhile, the Monterey at Randolph Road and Rockville Pike claimed to be in "North Bethesda near Silver Spring," a surprising association for a building already in an upscale area.

Conclusions?

I'm not sure if my opinion changed very much. If anything, I realized that people may identify even less with individual neighborhoods than with Silver Spring as a whole. This may be because of the revitalized downtown, which serves not only as a regional anchor but as the preferred place to hang out. It would also explain why the most distant listings mentioned Rockville or Columbia - because people who live there might spend more time in Rockville Town Center or at the Mall in Columbia.

Regional identity is significant. Downtown Silver Spring becomes all the more relevant when people who live ten miles away associate themselves with it. At the same time, a lack of local identity makes "Silver Spring" becomes a pejorative term, a way to quickly and cheaply collect a bunch of places that are no longer worth individual names. This may or may not be an issue depending on who you ask and how they see their community. (Someone who lives in the once-prestigious Burnt Mills Hills neighborhood probably wouldn't say they live in "White Oak.")

The census defines Silver Spring as basically everything below the Beltway and Four Corners, with a population of 76,540 in 2000. But the U.S. Postal Service gives eight zip codes (20901,2,3,4,5,6,10 and 12) to Silver Spring, an area containing over 200,000 people. As a result, someone living on a farm at Ednor Road and the Patuxent River has the same address as someone in a high-rise at Colesville and Georgia. Can farms and high-rises happily co-exist in Silver Spring, or can communities that historically had their own identity as rural villages (places like Norbeck, Colesville and Fairland) reclaim them from the suburban quilt? I doubt we'll find the answer on Craigslist.

14 comments:

Sligo said...

Interestingly, part of "Silver Spring" is in PG County.

karenreads said...

Another issue is that a lot of people are new to the area and may not know all the "neighborhoods" and their boundaries. I just moved here a few months ago, and all I really know is that my mailing address says Silver Spring. The neighborhoods aren't listed on most maps of the area, and if I didn't read this blog, I probably wouldn't have a clue which one I lived in. Why would I? Silver Spring has a lot of people who are new to the area and don't know about all the intra-neighborhood rivalries that seem so important to people who've lived here a long time.

Andrea said...

I don't know, karenreads. I just moved from a house in Aspen Hill (listed on Craigslist when I moved to the area a year ago as "Silver Spring") to an apartment in Rockville and I find the "intra-neighborhood rivalries" very important.

Of course, I could just be angsting after spending a year commuting to 20910 from 20906 on a crowded bus due to my ignorance when I first arrived.

Knowing MoCo’s neighborhoods has become integral in my mission to some day walk to work. May April 2010 come quickly.

C. P. Zilliacus said...

Dan, the definition of Silver Spring which I prefer is from the U.S. Postal Service - the following Zip Codes:

20910 ("downtown" Silver Spring)
20901 (Woodmoor and Four Corners)
20902 (Wheaton)
20903 (Oakview and Hillandale)
20904 (Colesville)
20905 (Cloverly)
20906 (Wheaton)

There are some other Zip Codes in Silver Spring, but I believe them to be specific to one post office.

Note that I do not include Takoma Park (20912).

Thomas Hardman said...

Dan Reed wrote, in part:

No listings mentioned Langley Park, Aspen Hill or Briggs Chaney, which may suggest that landlords were worried about any stigma associated with those neighborhoods.

Well, let's see.

Aspen Hill proper, in many parts, is as nice as any other elder core suburb built in the early 1960s.

Yet the part of Aspen Hill that has a 20906 "Silver Spring" zip code is beset by many demons, at least as concerns anyone looking at it through the foggy goggles of real-estate considerations.

With one of the highest rates of foreclosure and unsatisfactorily-resolved Code violation complaints, such as this heinous monster, "Harmony Hills" has much to dis-recommend it.

For example, the gross racial imbalance reported by the Maryland State Report Card (Maryland Schools) would have resulted in court-ordered bussing in the 1960s/1970s back when Civil Rights was an ideal to which people actually aspired, rather than paying mere lip-service to it.

It's pretty clear that there's some sort of "steering" and "redlining" -- not to mention "blockbusting" -- going on here. In the English language newspapers, nobody mentions "Aspen Hill" or "Harmony Hills" if they want to have a prayer of making a sale. I wonder what the Spanish-language papers are saying. As near as I can tell, this place is being sold as "the barrio to be in".

What's really funny is that the parts of Aspen Hill outside of Harmony Hills and the low-rent complexes like "Peppertree Farm" -- google that name in the context of "crime" and see what pops up -- are listed as "Rockville". So I could advertize my house as being in Rockville and people would actually come to see it. Harmony Hills? Not so much. Yet even in the really rather nice parts of Strathmore that are located in 20906 "Silver Spring", you find that people just don't want to buy, because of the onus of the 20906 "Silver Spring" name.

Personally, I like Sligo's designation of SSINO. Aspen Hill is Aspen Hill -- and in parts it has gotten ghetto as fuck -- and Layhill is Layhill, Glenmont is Glenmont, etc etc.

Dan Reed said...

I use 20912 because that zip code and Takoma Park's city limits aren't the same. As a result you could have someone who lives in "Takoma Park 20910" or "Silver Spring 20912."

Cyndy said...

Back in the olden days when I was growing up the kids from my high school (Springbrook) would all say they lived in Silver Spring, and they'd say Colesville, White Oak, Burnt Mills, or Hillandale if they needed to be more specific. I don't think anyone would say Burnt Mills Hills - they'd just say Burnt Mills. Saying the name of your individual neighborhood, like Burnt Mills Hills, Pilgrim Hills, Cheviot Hills, or Paint Branch Farms, for example, kind of went out in elementary school.

Our downtown was downtown Silver Spring. We took the bus there before we could drive. There was never an issue as to whether or not we lived in Silver Spring. According to the post office we lived in Silver Spring and that was good enough for us. I don't know why there would be an issue with that now.

It was kind of interesting that the neighbors one street over from some of my friends in Hillandale went to High Point HS in PG county, but I guess the county line was already there when they built that neighborhood.

Melanie said...

Silver Spring is what looks and feels like Silver Spring. In other words, Wheaton in not Silver Spring. As for the residential neighborhoods beyond, if DTSS is their center, then it stands to reason they are from Silver Spring. Same would hold for Washington DC. DTSS maybe our local downtown, but DC is the regional downtown. So if you are from Chevy Chase, SS, or Arlington, and you gravitate to DC'S downtown rather than your local one, seems like your entitled to claim it. Maybe they just need to incorporate a town of Silver Spring, but in my opinion, they should incorporate DC into Maryland, because that's where it is.

mattandeliz said...

It always seemed to me the Post Office basically lumps anything in Montgomery County that isn't incorporated as something else into "Silver Spring." But if I'm trying to tell someone where something is I definitely use something more specific -- I live near downtown Silver Spring, my friend lives in Wheaton, etc.

C. P. Zilliacus said...

Dan wrote:

> I use 20912 because that zip
> code and Takoma Park's city
> limits aren't the same. As
> a result you could have
> someone who lives in
> "Takoma Park 20910" or
> "Silver Spring 20912."

You are correct. The boundary, if I recall correctly does not exactly follow the corporate limits of Takoma Park in the area around the Montgomery College/Takoma Park Campus, for reasons I cannot now recall.

I believe that the borders of 20912 faithfully follow the municipal (and county) boundaries on the east side of Takoma Park.

Added trivia:

What is now 20912 was formerly 20012, and thus part of the District of Columbia as far as the Post Office was concerned. There are others like this over in Chevy Chase and Bethesda (some of the 208XX codes were once part of 200xx - 20815 was once part of 20015, today they are separated by Western Avenue, N.W.). The Postal Service changed these "Washington" Zip Codes to "Maryland" Zip Codes sometime in the 1980's, at the request of the D.C. Government, but in spite of that, to this day, Washington Dulles Airport, clearly in the Commonwealth of Virginia, carries a "Washington" zip code of 20014.

Julian said...

I hope Long Branch still counts as Silver Spring. We're right next to Takoma Park, and closer to Langley Park (in more ways than just geographical distance) than to Downtown. Most people don't know this neighborhood unless they live here, have lived here, or knew Silver Spring a long time ago. (Honestly, the neighborhood only seems to exist to the outside world when people are senselessly killed.) Anything in Montgomery County inside the Beltway, east of Sligo Creek and Four Corners, and not Takoma Park seems to be disappearing in terms of its identity as Silver Spring proper.

C. P. Zilliacus said...

Julian wrote:

> I hope Long Branch still
> counts as Silver Spring.
> We're right next to Takoma
> Park, and closer to Langley
> Park (in more ways than
> just geographical distance)
> than to Downtown.

Long Branch, IMO, is certainly part of Silver Spring.

> Most people don't know this
> neighborhood unless they
> live here, have lived here,
> or knew Silver Spring a
> long time ago. (Honestly,
> the neighborhood only seems
> to exist to the outside
> world when people
> are senselessly killed.)
> Anything in Montgomery
> County inside the Beltway,
> east of Sligo Creek and
> Four Corners, and not
> Takoma Park seems to
> be disappearing in terms
> of its identity as Silver
> Spring proper.

I have lived in places identified as Silver Spring since 1960, first in Four Corners (20901) and since 1985 in Fairland (20904), and I consider them both to be Silver Spring.

As Dan and others have mentioned, Silver Spring is not incorporated, so its definitions vary.

But even corporate limits don't always dictate place names - consider our neighbors in Northern Virginia, where many homes are in places dubbed Alexandria, Fairfax and Falls Church (independent cities, like Baltimore is in Maryland), but are actually located in unincorporated Fairfax County.

Here in Maryland, it is possible to live in Rockville or Gaithersburg or Hyattsville (as far as the Postal Service is concerned), but live rather far beyond the limits of those muncipalities.

Sligo said...

I found it interesting that this Post article refers to a location as being "in the Silver Spring area", whatever that means.

Matthew said...

Moved to the 20904 about a year ago, and initially told people that I'd moved to Colesville. The blank looks I got in return motivated me to start telling people I lived in S.S. Or finger quotes "S.S." Or "Outer Silver Spring, nowhere near downtown"