Friday, May 29, 2009

eulogy for lost neighbors (an essay)

When my family moved here, ten years ago, there was a tradition called "circle parties." It would start around six on a Saturday in spring or summer, when kids were finally let free from soccer leagues and music lessons and started trickling into the cul-de-sac. There were probably a dozen of us between six and fourteen at the time. When a quorum formed, the lawn chairs came out. I would help the lady who lives three houses down take them from her backyard and arrange them around the clump of trees in the middle of the circle.

The parents bring dinner out, bar-be-que and pasta salad, and a cooler; the kids play catch and ride bikes until it gets dark. Then everyone gathers in a tight clump on the asphalt. Parents crack open beers and commiserate; the kids catch fireflies and giggle. Around nine or ten everyone goes in and it's over until the next week, but the "circle party" was everything I'd been waiting for when we moved out here from Downtown Silver Spring.

This went on for a few years before everyone got even busier. Kids would pile in to the Suburban wearing Catholic-school uniforms at 8 a.m. and hop out twelve hours later wearing dirty baseball helmets. This was also the time of one-upmanship among the parents, which required them to put in extra hours at the office. One would get a new Mercedes C-Class, the other would reply with the S-Class and so on. I was living in College Park for months at a time, but whenever I came back the circle looked the same: empty.

The family who lives three houses down moved away today. I saw their next-door neighbors outside this afternoon talking softly in Chinese, pointing at the blue recycling bin they'd left at the curb for pick-up tomorrow, the eerily tidy yard free of sports paraphernalia and gardening tools. I remember eating an ice cream cone I'd dropped on their driveway when I was eleven. That was when I joked I was putting the ice cream man's kids through college, because he always knew to stop in front of my house. I'm not even sure if he even comes any more.

They are moving to Brookeville, to a house probably twice the size of the one they had here, which was already the largest on our street. Two of their kids - both of whom spent their entire lives in that house - are in college, with a third to follow next year. They'll have one kid at home and many, many empty rooms. He'll be fifteen soon, I think, and if he was like me at that age, he will be bored out of his mind. But in Brookeville he won't even have the mile-and-a-half walk to Giant and the poky, deliberative Z6 bus that I had.

Not that there aren't kids on our block anymore. The houses turn over slowly, but when they do, it's usually a family just starting out. Whereas my generation - the kids I played with in 1999 - were almost entirely white - the new generation is African, Latino, and Asian. There isn't a single white kid on our street anymore who isn't out of high school. But the circle's starting to get busy again: skateboards and scooters are appearing again, and even on a cool weekday night like last night the sidewalks were filled with people, just walking around.

No one talks to each other yet. We have learned how to say "hi" to each other from passing cars, cell phone in one hand, steering wheel in the other. Today, my mother said she's kind of sad to see our neighbors go. I think the only time they ever crossed the cul-de-sac to see us was to say they were moving to Brookeville. But even if you can live a hundred feet away from someone and never know who they really were, you can still forge these bonds of friendship through the years so that when they leave you feel kind of empty inside.

I hope our new neighbors are as decent as they were.

what's up the pike: no rain

- Yesterday, the Planning Board approved the Project Plan for Studio Plaza, a mixed-use development in Fenton Village that I talked about yesterday. The complex, at Fenton Street and Thayer Avenue, will include over 600,000 square feet of office and retail space, apartments and hotel rooms.

Speaking of which: Next month, the County Council will be interviewing applicants for the Planning Board opening left by John Robinson, who has reached the two-term limit. Five of the nine applicants live in Silver Spring, returning an East County perspective to a panel with no current members from this area.

Among them are civic activist Alan Bowser, who lives in Sligo Park Hills, and former County Council candidate Chris Paladino (at left), who lives in Layhill. Only three of the applicants - Donna Mandel Perlmutter of Potomac and Roberto PiƱero and Cynthia Rubenstein, who also live in Silver Spring - have an educational background in architecture or planning.

- Friend of JUTP Izzy Klein asked me to remind you (The Readers) about the Susan G. Komen Global Race for the Cure, which is coming up next Saturday, June 6:
The 2008 Race for the Cure resulted in $3.7 million in 2009 grants across the DC region… and our goal is to improve on that number this year.

Race day is filled with excitement, speakers, musical performances and, of course, the race. You can walk, run, jog and even sleep in. If you haven't already, please join me and thousands of people here and abroad and register for this year’s race.

Thanks, and see you at the race!
- IMPACT Silver Spring is holding their first-annual Spirit of Silver Spring Fair and Community Dance Party this Saturday, May 30 from 5:30 to 8pm on Ellsworth Drive in Downtown Silver Spring. For more information, check out their event page on Facebook.

- Meanwhile, the 26th annual Colesville Strawberry Festival takes place at the old Colesville Elementary School on New Hampshire Avenue from 10am to 4pm. For more information, check out the Gazette.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

bringing the "instant plaza" to east silver spring

Video of the new 17th Street Plaza in San Francisco. For more pictures, click here.

Over the past month, two American cities gave streets back to the people, turning space once restricted to cars into plazas. Last weekend, it was Times Square in New York; just two weeks ago, San Francisco put out IKEA chairs and cardboard bollards to turn some underused asphalt into a temporary piazza. I'm still in shock looking at photos of people dancing and playing catch on what was once four lanes of downtown traffic.

Both projects have been well-received for creating open space in the crowded city, and I'm wondering how this model could be used - on a much, much smaller scale here. One place might be the intersection of Sligo, Chesapeake and Chicago avenues in East Silver Spring. Sligo is the local "Main Street," lined with apartment buildings, schools, and locally-owned businesses. This corner is a community gathering place; when school buses stop there, kids pour out into the street, stopping to chat or heading into Iva's Beer and Wine for a snack.

"This is where we went to scream after the Supreme Court said Bush won," civic leader Karen Roper said when she first introduced me to the neighborhood in 2006. "It's like our barbershop - [where everyone comes to meet]."

The corner store at Sligo, Chesapeake and Chicago avenues in East Silver Spring.

Chicago and Chesapeake are both residential streets with considerably less traffic; in fact, Chesapeake is only a block long. The three streets meet in an awkward cross shape, and both Chicago and Chesapeake intersect with Sligo Avenue, barely thirty feet apart from each other. Two intersections mean more turning movements on and off of Sligo, holding up traffic. It also means two more places where cars and pedestrians conflict with each other. Worst of all, it's a lot of asphalt that isn't being fully utilized.

On his website Montgomery Sideways, pedestrian advocate William Smith has posted a plan he's working on with the MoCo Department of Transportation and East Silver Spring community to make Sligo Avenue safer for walkers. (This Saturday, May 30th at 11am, MCDOT is conducting an "on-site review" of the area.) The Sligo/Chesapeake/Chicago intersection is one of the spots his Sligo Avenue Accessibility Project studies. There, he proposes curb bump-outs, wider sidewalks and a pedestrian refuge island in the middle of Sligo Avenue.

William Smith's proposal for pedestrian improvements at the Sligo/Chesapeake/Chicago intersection.

View sligo/chesapeake/chicago in a larger map
My proposal for a plaza on the currently underused portion of Chesapeake Avenue between Sligo and Chicago.

If we want to make the intersection more pedestrian-friendly and take advantage of its local significance, it might be worthwhile to consider making part of it into a plaza. The fifty feet of Chesapeake Avenue between Sligo and Chicago could be closed off to vehicles, meaning that cars coming from Chesapeake would have to turn right at Chicago before turning onto Sligo. There would be one fewer intersection and one fewer street for pedestrians to cross.

In the new plaza, tables and chairs could provide places for people to sit, eat and mingle. Planters and bollards could be used to define the space and make it clear that cars do not belong here. The market's parking is on the street and in a lot on Chicago Avenue, so they wouldn't lose any vehicular access to the project. But they do have a new amenity - public open space, a rarity in a neighborhood of apartment buildings and homes with private yards.

The best part about this proposal is that it's temporary, an opportunity to see - as New York and San Francisco are doing - how well these spaces are received and how they could be improved upon. In San Francisco, the 17th Street Plaza was created by painting the asphalt yellow; in New York, Times Square was closed with a few well-placed Jersey walls. It's not pretty, but it's a quick and dirty way to create and troubleshoot a public space. If it succeeds, we could see future "instant plazas" throughout East County. There are plenty of opportunities to do this on underutilized streets and parking lots (as the Emergent Urbanism blog explores in California), creating a "sense of place" in areas where it isn't readily available.

This is, after all, the place that laid out 35,000 square feet of plastic grass and turned it into a people-watching paradise. We can do it again.

Cross-posted (sort of) on Greater Greater Washington.

studio plaza proposal picks up downtown revival

The proposed Studio Plaza development will include two new streets and a public green. For more images, check out this photoset.

Today, the Planning Board is set to approve a development in Fenton Village that could pick up where the revitalized Ellsworth Drive corridor left off five years ago. But some issues remain, including the abandonment of a public alley on the site that could harm two local businesses and outcry from adjacent residents about the project’s scale.

Studio Plaza, a project proposed by developer Robert Hillerson, would take up most of the block bounded by Thayer Avenue, Fenton Street, Silver Spring Avenue and Georgia Avenue, including the current County Parking Lot 3. The five-acre site would contain over 620,000 square feet of “residential, retail, office, and/or hotel uses” in four high-rise buildings, according to the Planning Board. It's a considerably larger project than one he submitted three years ago, which featured just two buildings. The incorporation of Parking Lot 3 comes alongside the adoption of the Silver Spring CBD Green Space Plan, which proposed redeveloping the lot to include a square.

A new, private street roughly forty feet wide - the same width as the recently-built Bethesda Lane in Bethesda (at left) - would connect Thayer and Silver Spring avenues. Meanwhile, the Mayor’s Promenade, a short walkway east of Georgia Avenue where the bust of “Mayor” Norman Lane is located, would be extended to Fenton Street. The two streets would intersect at a new public green which, at roughly 16,000 square feet, would be half the size of “the Turf.”

The exact amount of apartments, retail and office space, and hotel rooms that’ll be in the project isn’t released in the staff report, but a Gazette article from earlier this year says there’ll be approximately 600 apartments, 60,000 square feet of retail and 170,000 square feet of office space. Because of the proposal’s complicated and evolving program, Planning Board staff chose to save comments on how and what uses are in the project until later on in the approval process.

What are local residents and business owners saying about the project? so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

The submitted site plan of Studio Plaza.

In the meantime, they’re reviewing the proposed abandonment of an alley that lies in the middle of Parking Lot 3. First dedicated in 1904, the alley provides access to the Gerecht property, currently home to a hair salon and publishing company, and the Kalivas property, both on Fenton Street. While both of the businesses on the Gerecht property are cooperating with the Planning Department, Athena Kalivas is more skeptical, having hired an attorney. She claims the project would inevitably block rear access to the Thai market on her property, forcing it out of business.

Residents from the adjacent East Silver Spring neighborhood have also voiced complaints about the project, saying it’ll hurt small businesses and bring crime to the area. “The developer excludes current businesses from his retail design, yet creates a private road to access his chosen businesses,” writes resident P. Giroux in an e-mail to the Planning Department. Jane Gorbaty of Grove Street complains that Hillerson’s site plan is too insular, calling it a “self sufficient block” and a “secret court yard” that “does not integrate into the community.” The proposed underground parking will be unsafe, she writes, stating that “I could not find any woman that would favor parking in an underground lot verses the above ground parking lot 3.”

Studio Plaza from across Fenton Street, adjacent to the Adele, an already approved apartment building.

But local business owners, whose employees and customers use parking lot 3, say that the project will be a benefit, citing improved safety and increased foot traffic. They submitted thirty pages of letters to the Planning Department in support of Studio Plaza. "The presence of new businesses and residents . . . will benefit the existing community," writes Carol Warden, president of Dale Music, also on Georgia. "The area will be safer with this additional activity, both day and night."

Hillerson has even proposed to clean up Mayor Lane (at right), putting utility poles underground and installing a common trash and recycling area for businesses. The alley's current state "has been a deterrent for prospective shoppers and diners that want to come frequent the area," writes Roberto Pietrobono, who owns Olazzo Restaurant on Georgia Avenue. "My female employees feel unsafe walking to their cars at night . . . my back door which opens out to Mayor lane has been used as a restroom and a target for graffiti vandals several times."

If the project plan is approved, the next steps will be for Hillerson to submit preliminary and site plans for the Planning Board to review. Those will provide in further detail information about Studio Plaza's mix of uses and the size and programming of the public green.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

what's up the pike: number two, y'all

With 30,701 visits through April, Just Up The Pike is the second most-visited "local blog" in the state of Maryland, according to analysis from Adam Pagnucco at Maryland Politics Watch. Rounding out the top five are Baltimore's Inside Charm City (with 80,984 visits), our friends on The Other Pike Rockville Central and Further Up The Pike at Tales of Two Cities, and the trippy Oceanshaman blog out of West Ocean City.

Thanks for supporting JUTP over the past (almost) three years, y'all. Here's hoping the Maryland blogosphere continues to grow and prosper in the years to come. Anyway . . .

- A man calling himself the "Potomac Secret Agent" has been posting signs around Potomac warning motorists of speed cameras. While I applaud the attempt at "civil disobedience," knowing that drivers see a speed camera and slow down thinking that "35" really means "20," the signs might mean they hit their brakes even sooner, but it still means speed cameras don't really affect driver behavior more than fifty feet away. If we're truly serious about lower speeds and pedestrian safety, we need to rip out the cameras and start some aggressive "traffic calming," starting with narrower lanes, on-street parking, curb bump-outs, and so on.

- No one's expressed interest in taking County Councilmember Nancy Navarro's former seat on the School Board. If you're interested, the Gazette has information for who to contact.

- The County Council's holding a hearing on the proposed White Oak Transit Center at New Hampshire and Lockwood next Tuesday, June 9 in Rockville. The facility would consolidate several local routes and stops in one location, with six bus shelters and a queueing area.

- Park and Planning wants to name a playground in Kensington after activist Wayne Goldstein, who passed away earlier this month. I know there will be some grousing about having to name things but honestly, for all he did, couldn't you name the whole playground after him?

housing, not parks best for land around police station

The new Third District police station would be on Milestone Drive in White Oak, near Route 29 and Stewart Lane. Right: the White Oak shopping center.

Last week's Gazette talks about MoCo's proposal to build housing around the new Third District police station, which will move from Sligo Avenue in Downtown Silver Spring by 2012. While County Executive Ike Leggett suggested building apartments on the roughly twelve-acre site on Milestone Drive in White Oak, community members say it's more development than the area can handle.

Right now, the site is completely wooded, and North White Oak Civic Association president Barry Wides would like to see a park there. But a park wouldn't be the highest and best use of the land. Maximizing the amount of housing you can put here would be pretty smart, because there are few places in East County where you can actually walk to places, and this is one of them. The New Hampshire Avenue/Route 29 interchange isn't the most pedestrian-friendly place now, but possibilities exist for making it safer and more attractive to walk.

An increase in auto traffic from this site is not inevitable with all of the amenities you can reach from it. Both the Northwest Branch and Paint Branch parks, stretching across East County, lie within a mile of the site. Martin Luther King, Jr. Park, with playgrounds, sports fields and a swim center, is nine-tenths of a mile away. The White Oak Library is literally next door.

Up New Hampshire Avenue, the adjacent campuses of Jackson Road Elementary School, White Oak Middle School and St. John the Baptist, a K-8 private school, are four-fifths of a mile away. That's too close to offer bus service, according to MCPS. The White Oak shopping center, with a Giant, CVS Pharmacy and a Sears, is two-fifths of a mile away, as is the soon-to-be-built White Oak Transit Center.

Nonetheless, townhouses would be the most appropriate use for this property given its context. To the north and east, the site is surrounded by single-family homes on lots ranging from a quarter-acre to several acres. To the south are several garden and high-rise apartment complexes, with buildings up to twenty stories high. Townhouses would provide a transition between each of those two extremes, stepping down from the height of the apartments to the south while putting people in a location where they can take advantage of the area's amenities.

Final plans for the police station - let alone any development associated with it - is a long way away. But it's worth it to see that this property, in a central location with easy access to schools, shopping and transit, gets put to the best use possible. Is this the most inviting place for pedestrians to walk around? Not yet, which should be taken in to consideration.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

more on briggs chaney and east county's "neglect"

Over the past week, Stuart Rochester, chair of the Fairland Master Plan Advisory Committee, and I have been going back-and-forth about what I wrote about affordable housing on the east side last Monday. Here's where we left off after what I posted last Wednesday. My responses are in italics.


I'm very familiar with the Briggs Chaney area. Many of my friends and classmates have moved there after college because it's affordable and a surprisingly attractive place to live. I'm familiar with Greencastle Lakes. I have friends who grew up there; my mother, a real estate agent, sells homes there. I know people in those neighborhoods are frustrated by the "deterioration" there. But I also know they can't afford to live anywhere else because of the policies of a Master Plan that limits the kind of housing built in East County.

The townhomes in Greencastle or Avonshire are not the townhomes being built in Aspen Ridge (off Briggs Chaney) or ParkView (off Greencastle) - half-million-dollar units going to young families and professionals working at FDA, according to the builders I've spoken to. Attached housing isn't the problem. It's transient renters. Go to Aspen Hill or Glenmont - they have this problem as well, but their communities are mostly composed of single-family homes.

Simply put, I think the focus on attached housing is silly and misguided, and ignores the realities of an area that is increasingly expensive to live in - for low-income households, for middle-income households and everyone else. And I'm not sure what the ideal demographic "balance" is, nor should we be attempting to figure out what those numbers are. What would that accomplish? Our goal should be to create communities that are as economically mixed as possible - from the regional level to the neighborhood level. That means offering single-family homes, market-rate townhomes and subsidized housing in new developments like Fairland Park. We should be trying to keep people who'd otherwise be moving to Olney/Rockville/Columbia in East County, but not everyone is "moving up" into a four-bedroom, two-car garage single-family house.

You want to improve conditions in Briggs Chaney? Convert apartments to condos and give residents an opportunity to "buy into" their community. It's not perfect but, to me, it'd do a lot more than restricting home ownership - and community involvement - to whomever can afford a big new house in Briarcliff or Cross Creek Club.


Thanks, Dan. This the kind of constructive dialogue that is productive and that I welcome. I think we are both agreed that the aim is home ownership and not the price of the houses; I would absolutely support converting apartments to condos. Where we disagree is on what constitutes a "tipping point" and the validity of the importance of demographic/housing balance.

I, and many residents, maintain that many market-rate townhouses in Fairland are bought either for investment purposes or are sold and/or rented by disillusioned homeowners within a year or two of purchase (often purchased and held by HOC for rental) because of the perception of our schools in particular owing to high discipline and suspension rates, low participation in PTAs due to the number of single-family households and perhaps other factors, high transiency rates that affect the continuity and quality of education as well as teacher morale and effective PTAs, etc.--and that to strengthen the schools and PTAs (and communities), and gradually change both perception and reality, the east side of 29 needs more middle-class families, hence demographic housing balance.

THEN you would truly have truly mixed economics, demographics, and housing choices, which is your admirable goal. But to say that the Fairland/Briggs Chaney area has limited housing options at the low end defies County statistics, which show the area to be one of the most affordable in the County.

Anyway, I appreciate your posting my comments from yesterday, and you may want to add our exchange today as well. I believe you are remarkably informed and that your blog is extremely useful so long as it does not become a tool for circulating misleading information and can be relied on for accuracy and credibility.


Hi, Stuart -

What statistics, if any, are available on how many homes in the Briggs Chaney/Greencastle area are renter vs. owner occupied? I'd be interested to see them. I'm not entirely sure if there's a connection between either owner or renter occupied attached housing and a prevalence of single-parent families. Most of the people I know in Greencastle Lakes came from two-parent families there.

I think the biggest problem in Briggs Chaney relates to its physical form, not just the housing offered there. A neighborhood of thousands of apartments, isolated into complexes behind fences and gates and again by a disconnected road system, increases traffic, discourages civic involvement/ownership and encourages illegal activity. Why? Because, even though this area is dense enough to support walking and transit use (and it does, to large extent), all car trips are forced onto Castle Boulevard or Briggs Chaney Road, creating congestion. Because residents identify not with the greater community or region but with a single apartment complex. And within that complex, a dearth of true public space (anywhere from parks and playgrounds to meeting places - squares, plazas, spaces like "the Turf" in Downtown Silver Spring) isolates residents from each other. Sure, the apartment buildings may front onto lawns, but the notion of who "owns" that space is unclear.

If someone were trying to commit a crime, this is an ideal place to do it, because no one around them will feel responsible for watching or protecting that space, and private security or police presence will only do so much to make that area feel "safe." (Not to mention that Briggs Chaney's confusing and disconnected roads, all feeding into Castle Boulevard, make it very easy for criminals to hide out or make a quick escape.) But as the apartment complexes in Briggs Chaney and White Oak age there will be opportunities for redevelopment, and I think reconfiguring how those communities are physically set up will solve many of the problems plaguing them now. More dense housing, in the same form as it's already been built, would only be worse for East County.

It's not that I think East County has limited housing options at the low end as I think there are few opportunities for people living there to "move up," so to say. Take the townhouses built around Waterford Tower (formerly Renaissance Plaza) on Castle Boulevard. That was an opportunity for people living in those apartments to "buy in" to the community, as homeowners, not landlords, and more affordably than a single-family home. Hopefully we agree on that.

Like I may have said before, when I visited the Whitehall Square and Albany Grove/Aspen Ridge developments two years ago, the sales agents and builders I spoke to at both sites said they were getting a lot of sales from FDA employees, predominantly working couples, some of whom had young children. These are people who might, at a later stage in life buy a single-family house but, in the meantime, they're buying a townhouse. The quality of design and construction is much higher than what exists in some of East County's single-family neighborhoods! These aren't "cookie-cutter" units, and I'd like to see more developments like it here.



I will try to dig up the statistics, which I have seen in the past and are available from Park and Planning. I believe you make some valid points regarding the location and configuration of Castle Boulevard but then how do you explain the chronic and serious issues at Avonshire? And as for "physical isolation," remember that Castle Blvd/Briggs Chaney has all kinds of amenities in terms of a walkable shopping center, rec center, County services center, etc.--how many places have those kind of advantages so close?!

I think there are fundamental underlying social-economic issues that are key here and that you tend to minimize. There are large concentrations of apartments on Rockville Pike around Grosvenor, etc and there are none or few of the problems associated with Briggs Chaney. Still, from a planning standpoint I agree Castle Blvd a disaster because of overconcentration of rentals, much like White Oak/Lockwood Drive--there should have been a mix, a balance. Greencastle Lakes could have been a great diversified community in terms of income levels and housing options but having trouble because of spillover from Briggs Chaney.


building "green" can mean not building at all

You're reading Just Up The Pike's 702nd post. It's hard to keep count after nearly three years of writing about the east side, but I thank you for reading and putting up with me all this time!

The "Eco-Estate" (right) and a newish, traditional house on Briggs Chaney Road in Cloverly.

The other day, I drove by the "Eco-Estate," a new house under construction on Briggs Chaney Road in Cloverly. Showcase Architects, the local firm which designed and built the house, sought to make it environmentally-friendly. Earlier this year, I wrote that a big, boxy house on a big lot in the suburbs isn't particularly "green" - but a house that ignores its context is even worse.

What context? Historically, this part of East County - Fairland, Cloverly, Burtonsville, Sandy Spring, so on and so forth - were small, rural communities. Homes sat on large parcels of land, but that land was being farmed. And the houses built were modest - no two-story great rooms here; just a living room, a kitchen, a couple of bedrooms, a porch for sitting. The only "green" features were an efficient use of materials and windows on all sides for cross-ventilation because air-conditioning wasn't cheap. These older houses you might see on Briggs Chaney Road might look dowdy and run-down, but they represented an awareness of conservation and sustainability we're still trying to find today.

This cottage across the street is being rehabbed.

The "greenest" - and often cheapest - thing you can really do is take an old house and renovate it. Showcase Architects should be applauded for moving and eventually renovating the house that formerly occupied the site where the Eco-Estate is now. Across the street, another old farmhouse is being renovated. Built in 1937, it predates the Silver Theatre in Downtown Silver Spring, but as recently as last year there was a "For Sale" sign outside advertising a tear-down. By fixing the house up, we're preserving East County's history while providing a new, environmentally-friendly place for a family to live in.

Monday, May 25, 2009

what's up the pike: flags and cars

Hopefully you're not reading this, because it's Memorial Day and you should be outside, hovering over a barbeque, making sure those burgers (or gardenburgers) come out just right. I'm more the kind of guy who stands next to the barbeque, patiently waiting for the burgers to be done so I can have first dibs. Anyway, here's a look at what's happening in East County:

- The Post tracks the money from the repaving of New Hampshire Avenue in White Oak, officially the first road project under President Obama's stimulus package. The $1.8 million contract starts with a construction company based in Pennsylvania and bounces between companies largely in the Baltimore area.

While I'm not sure if this was the package's intention, I'm wondering if it would've had a bigger impact locally if the dollars went to firms closer to the project site. On the other hand, a map of stimulus projects in the region shows few in Maryland to begin with. (Strangely enough, the New Hampshire Avenue repaving doesn't show up on the Post's map.)

- East County hasn't lost any car dealerships yet, but with one of the area's largest auto parks, we may get our share of fallout from the automotive industry's collapse, leaving us with a lot of vacant properties to deal with. The Daily Green blog lists a number of possible uses for former car dealerships, from flea markets to redevelopment as a town center. If you've been down to Hyattsville, you may have seen the Lustine Center, an old showroom-turned-gallery in the Arts District development.

- If you missed them last week, check out our stories on the Christian Coalition's attempt to bring same-sex marriage into the District 4 election; a proposed "high-density" development at Georgia Avenue and the ICC; and an Arby's that looks like it was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

PHOTO: An American flag over the Montgomery Auto Park on Briggs Chaney Road.

Friday, May 22, 2009

christian coalition brings same-sex marriage to special election

While the same-sex marriage debate rages in the District, it also took a swing through District 4 this week as the Montgomery County chapter of the Christian Coalition distributed a "Voters Guide" outside Paint Branch High School in Burtonsville during Tuesday's special election. While Republican Robin Ficker and Green Party candidate George Gluck gave their responses to a series of questions about same-sex marriage, abortion, and taxes, Democrat Nancy Navarro (who, of course, won the election) did not.

I was surprised to see that the Christian Coalition - a once influential right-wing organization led by televangelist Pat Robertson - even had a chapter in liberal Montgomery County. The only information I could find about their MoCo chapter online was this 1997 article about their opposition to a push to outlaw anti-gay bullying in the public schools. "We . . . will share with parents, teachers, and the public the knowledge and the truth concerning homosexuality," said then-chairman Joseph Simon.

Frank Hackenberg, who's listed as the current chairman of the MoCo Christian Coalition on the voters' guide, is an 87-year-old Calverton resident who unsuccessfully ran for the District 14 State Senate seat in 2006. Hackenberg, who won 31 percent of the vote, said the biggest issue facing his district was that it was "becoming more and more liberal . . . Our education system concentrates on sexual orientation and sexual experimentation rather than on a basic curriculum."

While the Christian Coalition's voters guide probably had a negligible effect on the election (the table the flyers were posted on wasn't attended by anyone, and I'm not sure if they were at any other polling places), it shows that Montgomery County isn't completely blue. Remember that it took a court order, not a referendum, to pass the transgender rights bill in MoCo last year. (I'm also thinking about my former high school classmate who basically ran John McCain's campaign at uber-religious Liberty University last year.)

Side note: while looking up the MoCo Christian Coalition, I stumbled on the Montgomery Christian Softball Association, a league of local churches. The team with the most wins this season is from Burtonsville Baptist Church. Go East County church softball!

what's up the pike: still graduating

- The Gazette recaps last Saturday's Safe Silver Spring Summit, where the youth who attended made it clear that they can't survive on "homework clubs" alone: they need unstructured places like "the Turf" as well. "It [was] a big and free space and now we are crammed into that walking area," one student said, referring to "the Turf" and Ellsworth Drive. "We're loitering if we aren't buying something."

- The MTA says they're not interested in tunneling the Purple Line below Wayne Avenue, frustrating residents who oppose putting the transitway down the middle of the busy street. But the tunnel, which would add $170 million to the Purple Line's existing $1.7 billion dollar price tag, doesn't make sense when the project's already imperiled other local transportation projects.

- Last week, the Planning Board decided to postpone their decision to approve an amendment that would allow a pedestrian bridge to be built between the new Silver Spring Library and a parking garage across Wayne Avenue. The bridge debate reveals a vast difference in how people see the central business district - as an urban place where people and transit take precedence over cars, or as the center of a vast suburban area.

For those who believe Silver Spring's becoming a city - like board member and developer Joe Alfandre, best known for the Kentlands in Gaithersburg - the bridge will reduce street activity and encourage speeding. Planning Department director Rollin Stanley, who cut his teeth redeveloping Toronto and St. Louis, says he almost got hit crossing Wayne Avenue at Fenton Street before the hearing. Building a bridge that takes pedestrians off the street will only make drivers less aware of those who remain below.

But board member Jean Cryor, who used to be the State Delegate representing Potomac (a very suburban, car-centric place) doesn't understand why the library isn't putting cars first. "Why would anyone think it would be a good idea to put a library on a street where you can't park?" she's quoted as saying. She doesn't seem to understand that the library will be on top of a Purple Line station and two blocks from the second-largest transit hub in the State, meaning that not everyone who comes there will be concerned about where they'll park.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

is the ICC enough to justify high-density development?

Winchester Homes recently finished these townhouses at Fairland View, adjacent to the InterCounty Connector and Route 29.

What we could call the first "InterCounty Connector-Oriented Development" goes before the Planning Board today as Winchester Homes submits a preliminary plan (warning! PDF file.) for a 262-home neighborhood where the new toll road will meet Georgia Avenue and Norbeck Road. While the project's size has been decreased significantly, concerns remain about its layout and proposed traffic patterns, especially now that the planned widening of Norbeck (Route 28) is being put on hold to fund the Purple Line.

The development, called Greenbriar at Norbeck Crossing, will include twenty-three single-family homes, ninety-five townhomes and 144 condominiums centered around a "village green." Fifteen percent of the subdivision, or roughly forty homes, will be Moderately Priced Dwelling Units. While the entire project is connected with a loose street grid - including two existing streets, Bradford Road and Coolidge Avenue - each housing type occupies its own area.

Site plan of Greenbriar at Norbeck Crossing. Norbeck Road is at the bottom, Georgia Avenue at the left and the ICC on-ramp at top left.

Residents of Leisure World, directly across Norbeck Road, say Winchester's proposal negatively impacts their community because the four-story condo buildings are closest to their homes and are "segregat[ed]" from the rest of the development. The plan "does not seem to integrate or embrace the various housing types," writes lawyer Rebecca Walker, whose firm Miles and Stockbridge represents Leisure World, in a letter to the Planning Board.

Also at issue is how the new community would be accessed. Winchester proposes blocking left turns into or out of the subdivision, potentially confusing drivers and snarling traffic a block away from Norbeck Road and Georgia Avenue, one of Montgomery County's most notoriously congested intersections. The thirty-one-acre site is just one portion of the Golden Bear Triangle, an area designated (warning! PDF file.) by the Olney Master Plan for housing at "higher densities" because of its proximity to the ICC and Norbeck Park-and-Ride, meaning that this project's streets will one day have to handle traffic from future development as well.

By creating high-density housing adjacent to an ICC interchange, Greenbriar at Norbeck Crossing sets a precedent for future development along the highway. At nearly nine homes an acre, the project would have a higher gross density than King Farm (at right), a New Urban neighborhood in Rockville with roughly eight homes to the acre. Like King Farm, Greenbriar will have a mix of housing types; a pedestrian-friendly street grid; and a central gathering space. But it'll lack King Farm's stores and offices; its community facilities; and its proximity to the Shady Grove Metro station - meaning that future Greenbriar residents will be in their cars, joining the traffic at Norbeck and Georgia.

Is the ICC enough to justify high-density housing? Or should there be a stronger attempt to create complete communities along the highway?

frank lloyd arby's

I'm graduating today, so here's something not serious.

I went on a family vacation to Virginia Beach last weekend and, on the way back, we stopped at an Arby's in Richmond. I've always wanted an Arby's in East County (the closest one that I know of is in Beltsville at Route 1 and Sunnyside Avenue). Now I really want an Arby's that looks like it was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Truly, this is the Unity Temple of fast-food.

Check out this photoset for more pictures.

There aren't any bright lights or overhead menus here. Inside, it feels like you're in a real restaurant - or, at least, at an "upscale" fast-food place like Cosi or Panera Bread.

The restaurant cops a lot of Frank Lloyd Wright trademarks, from the geometric pattern on the (fake) stained glass windows to the tall-backed chairs.

I'm not sure how Wright would have felt about the murals, but the wallpaper is close to the Cherokee red he loved to use.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

rochester responds to monday's post

The following is a response from Stuart Rochester, chair of the Fairland Master Plan Advisory Committee, to Monday's post about the Fairland Park development in Burtonsville. As always, I want to encourage discussion about the issues affecting East County and invite anyone with something to say to speak their mind here.

Dan: I was not able to get into your blog or I would have posted this directly.

It continues to disappoint me that someone with your enormous ability and knowledge continues to allow a jaundiced view of the East County to interfere with fair and accurate reporting of important stories. As usual, you are entitled to your opinion but not your own facts. "Civic activists" did not "rewrite the local Master Plan" to favor the development of single-family homes at Fairland Park.

The master plan committee was composed of residents and other stakeholders from every part of the planning area, including ministers and affordable housing advocates, ALL of whom agreed on the need to balance the housing envelope and demographics to create healthy, diversified, sustainable communities where citizens want to put down roots and stay rather than move to Howard County or elsewhere. The concern of blacks, whites, and all those committed to staying and building a strong community in the Fairland planning area was to remedy the TRANSIENCY that has affected our schools and neighborhoods as a result of the overconcentration of rental properties resulting from the previous master plan.

You are so cynical of motives, Dan, you read some kind of "code" into every action and demonize those concerned citizens as trying to keep "undesirables" out when the situation is so much more complex.

Moreover, you are are dead wrong that the number of MPDUs has been reduced at Fairland Park. The number is not one less than required under County regulations. The purpose of the waiver, which has been recommended by every planner and official in the County who has bothered to read the Fairland master plan, has been to discourage the addition of market-rate townhouses which have so often been converted to rentals in Fairland and Burtonsville; if you do not understand this, Dan, and it does not concern you from the standpoint of school transiency and other factors, you are into denial or blinded by your own prejudice.

Go to Greencastle Lakes, to Blackburn Village, etc. and talk to TOWNHOUSE owners there as to THEIR upset over the deterioration of their neighborhoods because of the excessive number of rentals even of market-rate units as the original owners leave the area. Before you go self-righteous, the majority of renters are fine people and good neighbors, but common sense tells you that as a percentage they do not have the same stake and interest long-term in their properties or schools. THIS IS NOT AN INDICTMENT OF THEM, DAN, BUT RATHER HUMAN NATURE!!!!

YOU are the one obsessed with talk of "property values." No such mention was ever made in testimony or correspondence. We are talking about well-being, Dan, for ALL of us.

I would appreciate your publishing this response if that is possible.

Stuart Rochester
Chair, Fairland Master Plan Committee

what's up the pike: it's navarro!

- By a nearly 2-1 margin, according to the final election results. And she worked for it: walking from my house to my car this afternoon, I was accosted by a Navarro volunteer who handed me a flyer and asked if I was voting today. It's not like my address is 12345 Columbia Pike or anything, so I was very surprised to see them canvassing my cul-de-sac.

In other news:

- The Purple Line's constantly-rising price tag means that a road project in East County could get axed. Maryland plans to divert funds from the widening of Route 28/198 between Georgia Avenue and I-95 to help pay for the transitway between Bethesda and New Carrollton, whose cost is currently quoted at $1.68 billion dollars.

Both the Purple Line and Route 28/198 widening are touted as improving east-west connections in Montgomery County. A major commuter route between Gaithersburg and Rockville in the west and Burtonsville and Laurel in the east, large portions of the 28/198 corridor are only two lanes wide. In Burtonsville, where it serves as the community's Main Street, the road is often congested by both commuter and local traffic. Nonetheless, Route 28/198 is paralleled by the under-construction InterCounty Connector, suggesting state officials think that traffic won't be as big a problem in the future.

While the Purple Line's final route and mode will be officially decided by Governor O'Malley this summer, Transportation Planning Board documents imply that light rail has already been chosen over Bus Rapid Transit, according to the Post.

- And speaking of the Purple Line: tonight, the Maryland Transit Administration presents the results of their analysis of building a tunnel through Downtown and East Silver Spring. The meeting's from 7 to 9pm at Oakview Elementary School, 400 East Wayne Avenue.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

building on, not knocking down briggs chaney's strengths

Don't forget to vote in today's District 4 Special Election! To find your polling place, check out the Board of Elections website.

Condos and townhomes in Briggs Chaney.

With clusters of self-contained apartment and townhome complexes, places like White Oak and Briggs Chaney have all of the problems of density with few of the benefits. They're compact enough that residents could (and often do) walk to amenities like schools, shopping and transit, but because they're divided into isolated complexes and built with few connecting streets, these neighborhoods have become decidedly car-oriented environments - and they've got the traffic congestion to show for it.

Not only that, but they discourage the formation of community. The yearly East County Community Day, hosted by the Windsor Court and Tower apartments, doesn't draw nearly as many people as it could - both from within Briggs Chaney and the greater area - because it's tucked away inside one apartment complex, out of sight and out of mind.

What would it take to make these communities into functioning, pedestrian-friendly urban places? Chris Bradford from the Austin Contrarian blog writes about Austin's "apartment city," a place that sounds strangely like Briggs Chaney, and says it's a waste that a dense neighborhood can't also be a paragon of good urbanism as well:
"It occurred to me that this vast stretch of apartment buildings was a tremendous missed opportunity. With just a little rearranging, these apartments could have been transformed into a pleasant urban neighborhood of 20 or 30 blocks.

The complexes contain literally scores of individual buildings. It would have been easy to arrange them in a grid fronting public streets with alleys in the back. The only significant architectural modification would have been closing in the breezeways/stairwells to create common entrances . . . I have to believe that lots of prospective tenants would have preferred an urban layout. They would have gotten pleasant, proper neighborhoods, with a store or two nearby -- the complexes are dense enough to support a couple of small retail uses were they not walled off from one another.

The only drawback -- and I acknowledge it could be a big one -- is safety. Those tall fences and gates provide a sense of security. Now, they don't make it difficult to get into the complex. In large complexes with hundreds of residents, the gates are constantly opening or closing. (I freely wandered in and out of one yesterday.) But the fences and gates do make it harder to get out, which deters criminals. Complexes like these of course experience assaults and car break-ins, but I'm sure they're safer than similar complexes that lack fences and gates.

Proper urban neighborhoods provide their own deterrents, though. A short block lined with dense walk-ups has lots of eyes and ears on the street. Good lighting is another deterrent. As is steady traffic."
Check out the original post to read the rest.

safe silver spring summit recap

Don't forget to vote in today's District 4 Special Election! To find your polling place, check out the Board of Elections website.

The following is a recap of last Saturday's Safe Silver Spring Summit by former County Council candidate/former youth-vote director for the Obama campaign/local activist/friend of JUTP Hans Riemer. (Longest introduction ever, right?) A response to recent violence in Downtown, the summit was hosted by Prezco, Councilmember Valerie Ervin's office and the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board.

If you attended the Safe Silver Spring Summit and want to share your thoughts, post a comment or e-mail me at justupthepike at gmail dot com.

I attended the Save Silver Spring Summit and participated in the workshop about how to make Ellsworth and downtown more welcoming to everyone. We were lucky to have two young people from the Gandhi Brigade share their thoughts and then we proceeded through a hearty work session about problems and solutions to community concerns.

It was an inspiring session and a lot of us felt like this specific conversation would lead to solutions for the problem.

Some of the key points that we walked away with:

1. The physical space shortage has to be addressed. With the loss of the turf, there is a much smaller space for teens to hang out. This compression of the urban space has made it more difficult for everyone. We need new space downtown that is very loosely structured, like the turf was, and can provide a setting for a wide range of different people. It is possible that the Civic Center will provide a solution but we are not clear on that yet. But if we don't find a solution for the physical space we may not see success with other tools that we hope to use.

2. Education campaigns about community standards. We need to define what is acceptable as a standard of civility and then find some innovative ways to educate our different audiences on terms they can relate to. For example, we might have young people create graffiti posters that can be posted, and videos that can be shown in the theaters and online.

3. Organizational solutions will help. We talked about creating a structure for young people to take ownership and responsibility of the community space that we share, and to have an ongoing conversation with residents and the county. Perhaps it could be a youth-police liaison group, or a subset of the Citizens Advisory Board, the Town Center, or some such (we weren't clear on that). These efforts would have to be marketed effectively to young people in the area, beyond usual channels.

4. Policy enforcement is also important. We talked about increasing "red shirt" patrols as well as addressing any legal and enforcement issues that might stem from Ellsworth's status as a public-private partnership. Peterson noted that in the past, "Codes of Conduct" were rejected by the County. It was also noted that adult men are sometimes the worst offenders downtown.

Monday, May 18, 2009

who's "neglected" in east county?

Many of my neighbors have moved to Olney, but is it because East County isn't hospitable to middle-class families.

I have a lot of respect for Stuart Rochester. He is the public face of East County, someone who’s lived here for a quarter-century and has given a lot of his time and energy to various forms of civic activism. What I don’t respect is his insistence that this community is under siege by poor people, or that this area is “neglected” by the County.

People like Rochester who can become involved are not neglected; in fact, they're heard loud and clear by the powers-that-be. The people who are neglected are the ones who don’t have the time or resources to get active. Stuart Rochester does not represent them. His main talking point is that the 1981 Fairland Master Plan - which he worked to rewrite as chairman of its Advisory Committee in 1997 - ruined the east side by allowing the development of apartments and affordable housing in places like Briggs Chaney.

In last week’s Gazette he's talking about the proposed Fairland Park development in Burtonsville, which will include 319 "move-up" homes and 46 townhouses, all affordable. He says the Master Plan “transformed what had been a stable community of schools and neighborhoods into an area marked and much diminished by limited housing options, middle-class flight and one of the highest school transiency rates in the county.”

Homes in Cross Creek Club, a recently-completed golf-course community in Calverton.

My neighbors sold their house and are moving to Olney, to a house on a lot that are probably twice as big as what they have now. They’ve lived here for seventeen years and raised a family here. When they move, they’ll have one kid at home. Most of the kids I grew up with had parents who lived in D.C. or in Downtown Silver Spring before they moved here, and now they’re all talking about moving to Rockville or Olney or Columbia.

But my neighborhood isn’t decaying, and we have a number of County-subsidized affordable units. There's a very involved homeowners’ association and homes than sell for upwards of a half-million dollars even after the bubble has popped. I am pretty sure there are fifteen people living in the house next door to me – a sprawling, multi-generational Sudanese family who couldn’t care less about HOA regulations saying you can’t service cars in your garage – but when most of our neighbors move out, someone who looks like them takes their place.

I don’t think “middle-class” people have any difficulty finding or affording a place to live in this area. My mother jokes that our neighbors move to Olney or Rockville to “live with the white people.” Maybe that’s their intention – and we’ve had neighbors who are white, black, and everything in between. They have two choices: either get up and fight, like Stuart Rochester does, for a community that has the same “quality of life” (whatever that means to you) as an Olney or Rockville, or vote with their feet and leave.

Apartments in Briggs Chaney.

There are a lot of people who don’t have either of those choices. Maybe County-subsidized housing or an apartment is the only option they have. Maybe these schools are the only ones they can send their kids to, because they can’t afford private school and they figure the worst school in Montgomery County beats the pants off any school in Prince George’s or the District, right? These people do not come to Planning Board meetings; they don’t have time to write letters to the Gazette; they don’t have time to sit on advisory committees. And, as miserable as those apartments off Briggs Chaney Road may look to some, I don’t think they’d call it a “fiasco.” They might call it “home.”

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with building “move-up” housing at Fairland Park. Rochester argues that the project “promises to help balance the housing and demographic envelope, help stabilize schools plagued by high transiency and contribute to keeping the middle class, white and minority, from leaving Fairland for Howard County or [Interstate] 270.” But I don’t think that this is the solution to the issues East County faces, nor is pointing fingers at affordable housing – the units we’ve built and the units we have yet to build. A house is not a school or a neighborhood or even a status symbol, because if it was, my neighbors would’ve just gone down the street to Cross Creek Club and bought a big, new house on the golf course.

They’re moving to Olney because it is Olney. It’s a matter of image and reputation: Olney is supposed to be a good place to raise a family. The longer that East County is represented by someone who says that East County has been devastated, the longer that we’ll continue to see families pass us over for seemingly greener pastures. I mean, if Stuart Rochester is so concerned about transiency in the schools, why don't I see him at the School Board instead of the Planning Board?

what's up the pike: the day before

The District 4 County Council special election is tomorrow. Find your polling place here.

- There's a new Montgomery County blog on the block, this one tackling with that everpresent issue of pretentious ass-faces: Snoburbia, written by "Kensington/Bethesda/Potomac" native Lydia. Topics covered include everything from condescending ex-patriate parents to Starbucks-sipping MoCo cops. Definitely check out the accompanying store with what Lydia calls "T-shirts for the overclass." They even have a Silver Spring shirt. (It and the website's logo use the streamlined, awesomely pretentious Futura typeface, which happens to be one of my favorites.)

- Did you go to last Saturday's Safe Silver Spring Summit at Montgomery College? How was it? Tell me your thoughts and I'll post them here.

- Tomorrow's the District 4 Special Election, hopefully giving East County some permanent representation on the County Council . . . that is, at least until the general election next fall, when we can do it all over again. Over at MPW, Sharon Dooley talks about the last debate between Democrat Nancy Navarro, Republican Robin Ficker and the Green Party's George Gluck at Sherwood High School.

Meanwhile, the last election mailer to come from Nancy Navarro has Ike Leggett's endorsement on it, suggesting that MoCo Democrats aren't giving up any ground to the rapacious Ficker. Will he support Navarro like this in 2010 if she faces some primary competition from, say, Ben Kramer or Alison Praisner-Klumpp?

Friday, May 15, 2009

peoplesdirt shows the dark side of east county's high schools

The Colorado-based gossip website has gotten a lot of press after a kid from Tennessee threatened to kill people at Bethesda's Whitman High on the site's message boards, whose traffic comes mainly from kids in Montgomery County. Go take a look at what's posted there. Sometimes, it's outrageous; sometimes, it's blatantly fake; but it's always really scary.

Topics range from the "who is secretly g@y??" thread at Blair (sample response: "nahh [name] ain't g@y son he fucked soo many girls") to the "Freshmen That Need To Be Beat Up" thread at Sherwood (sample response: "i already am taking care of that little f@gg#t"). Both Blake and Einstein have threads titled "black people." Springbrook's pages has a "NAME ALL DA HATERZ" thread; the second post reads "MY MANS DURSO BEEN HATIN FOR A MINUTE YADA I MEAN????", referring to Principal Durso, who received death threats from two students last month.

A thread on Blake High's forum asks "who would u kill?" The post is from last Sunday, a day before the Whitman threats were discovered - but, even if it's not a copycat, other students were quick to put the fire out. "This is the kind of BS that brings negative media attention . . . We know how the Whitman thing turned out," one person writes.

On Einstein High's pages, a kid threatens suicide in a post a month ago; a few people respond over the next couple of days, but it's not until today that someone named "concernedadult," who learned about the site on the news, tries to get him/her some help. For all we know, it might be too late.

PeoplesDirt has quickly become a place for MoCo's youth to air out their dirty laundry, whatever it is. This isn't just locker talk: it's a hot mess of opinions, hormones and frustrations, an online watering hole for kids who wouldn't even talk to each other in the hallways. That almost seems like a positive. Almost, if it weren't for the bullying and suicide. Given that MCPS is probably monitoring this site very closely now, a well-placed threat or cry for help might save a kid's life. Or maybe, with the world's attention turned on you, it might destroy one.

I'm so happy I grew up.

what's up the pike: firsts and lasts

County Executive Ike Leggett makes the Fillmore official with a signature at a press conference two years ago.

- The Lee Development Group, who's developing the Fillmore music hall on Colesville Road, says construction could start within the next year. Two years after Montgomery County signed an agreement with promoter Live Nation to operate the venue, the Fillmore's been mired in controversy. Nearby residents complain the club will create more noise and crowds Downtown, while local activists are concerned about the "transparency" of the process used to select Live Nation.

- Of the nearly eight hundred Chrysler dealers closing around the nation, a dozen or so are in the D.C. area, and not a single one is in East County. The only Chrysler dealer on the east side is Darcars Chrysler Jeep Dodge of Silver Spring on Cherry Hill Road.

- Check out my very last column in the Diamondback, U-Md.'s independent student newspaper. This week, I'm writing about my first time at the bars in College Park. Check out the comments: they are hilarious.

- The Northeast Consortium's in the news this week: The Association of Educational Publishers has named the Blake High School newspaper, the Blake Beat (of which I was a proud member during the 2004-2005 school year) the best high school paper in the nation.

Meanwhile, Blake and Springbrook High students met with the East County Citizens Advisory Board at Montgomery County's first-ever Youth Forum, airing their concerns before their local liaisons to the county government. And Springbrook principal Michael Durso, who faced death threats from two of his own students last week, announced that he'll be retiring at the end of this school year after a half-century in education.

- Remember: the Safe Silver Spring summit is this Saturday at Montgomery College's Takoma-Silver Spring campus.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

did you know robin thicke lives in silver spring

. . . and writes Silver Spring, Singular? I always wondered why he kept his real name secret (sort of secret) because, I mean, being a reasonably-famous R&B singer/Alan Thicke's son/savior of White America is enough to keep people constantly knocking down your door.

No, seriously. Look at the Singular's write-up in the Washingtonian and see the picture of him for yourself. To think I bragged to people that I live near Lewis Black's old house! This is much better.

(And let's not forget that another Silver Spring blog made it into the Washingtonian last month. You know, people used to say I look like Spike Lee, but taller. Personally, I think that's kind of silly.)

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?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

what's up the pike: eight days (until graduation)

Photographer extraordinaire/friend of JUTP Chip Py sent us this photo a few weeks ago of a couple on the platform of the Silver Spring Metro. If you haven't checked out his website or photos of ICC construction on his Flickr page, you owe yourself a look. Anyway:

- Prezco, the umbrella group of Silver Spring civic associations, is holding their Safe Silver Spring summit this Saturday at Montgomery College's Takoma Park-Silver Spring campus. The meeting will take place in two sessions - one at 8 a.m. and another at 11:30 for you late risers - with lectures, workshops and, of course, a free lunch.

- The two writers trying to buy a house in Silver Spring who are chronicling their search on "Newmans Own," the blog from Slate magazine . . . still haven't found a house yet. No word if they've figured out that the schools here aren't as bad as their Realtor made them out to be.

- Remember former County Council candidate Andrew Padula's idea to replace streetlights with more efficient LED lights and manufacturing them in East County? It's actually a real thing - the lights, I mean. "Everyone thought I was crazy," wrote Padula when he e-mailed me this link for a workshop on LED lights in Pennsylvania. MoCo might want to consider sending someone up there.