Tuesday, June 30, 2009

daily snapshot: the fountain

People Outside City Place Mall (Colesville and Fenton)
One of my earliest memories living in Downtown Silver Spring as a kid is of being in the car, on what I would later learn was Colesville Road, in front of a building I would later learn was called City Place Mall. Then it was just a big new thing that had appeared in my consciousness. I was four. I remember a banner draped over the front of the new building, words like "Construction" or "Coming Soon." There was a drawing, too. Maybe that's when I decided I would be an architect.

A few months later my mother would take me to the new AMC movie theatre to see The Little Rascals. I remember going to see a puppet show at the Armory, and I remember being scared of the skater kids at East of Maui. These are all little things, but someone who moved to Silver Spring just a few years after I had would never have known they existed.

town-gown relations sour fight to redevelop former art school (updated)

Neighbors of the former Maryland College of Art and Design, vacated in 2005, complain it's become an eyesore.

After a two-year fight to stop a housing development at the former Maryland College of Art and Design on Georgia Avenue, residents of the surrounding Carroll Knolls neighborhood are one step closer to having a much-desired park built on the land. Now all they have to do is win over the County Council - and find the money to get it done.

"I think we're on a good trajectory to turn this property into a park," says Councilmember Valerie Ervin, who attended a meeting with Carroll Knolls residents last Tuesday at the Capital View-Homewood recreation center in Kensington. Ervin, along with fellow councilmember Marc Elrich, discussed using county funding to purchase and build the park, at the intersection of Georgia and Evans Drive in Wheaton. Brenda Sandberg from the Department of Parks was also on hand to talk about the Legacy Open Space program, which would require support from the County Council and final approval from the Planning Board.

It's not that there's a shortage of parks near Carroll Knolls. Directly across the street from the former school is the Evans Parkway Park, which is funded for an expansion. But reaching the park would involve crossing Georgia Avenue, a main commuter route with heavy traffic throughout the day.

Traffic On Georgia Avenue
Georgia Avenue is one of the most heavily-traveled roads in Maryland, and a major barrier for Carroll Knolls residents trying to access Evans Parkway Park on the other side.

Activist Beverly Sobel, who's lived in a townhouse directly behind the former school for several years, says she's gone to Evans Parkway Park "like three times." She sits on the sustainability sub-committee in the Wheaton CBD redevelopment task force - and, as the daughter and granddaughter of home builders, understands the development potential of a site halfway between two Metro stations. But Sobel notes that while parks on the east side of Georgia are plentiful, the MCAD site is the "only green space" on the west side of the avenue between Glenmont and Downtown Silver Spring, a distance of four miles.

"It's not realistic for parents to ask their kids to cross Georgia Avenue to go to a park," says Elrich, who used to play in nearby McKenney Hills-Homewood Park as a kid. "It might as well be a wall." Nonetheless, he urged residents to "be open-minded" about what should happen to the land, noting that it would cost several million dollars for the county to acquire the land, demolish the school, and build a park there. One of the suggestions he offered was building a few houses to offset the cost of keeping the rest of the site open.

For thirty years, the Maryland College of Art and Design was a source of pride for the community. Not only was it a place for residents to take affordable, enriching art classes, but its tiny campus was filled with student-produced public art. But in 2005, Montgomery College absorbed the school; two years later, when they moved it to a brand-new facility in Downtown Silver Spring, the building was vacated. Almost instantly, the site became a neighborhood blight, a haven for vandals and squatters.

But what made residents of the adjacent Carroll Knolls neighborhood even more upset was the college's quiet transfer of the property to the Montgomery College Foundation, which raises money for the school. In 2006, the college made a sales agreement to Kaz Development, who proposed building twenty-seven townhomes on the site. A lawyer living in Carroll Knolls upheld the neighborhood's 1948 covenants, restricting use of the property to the twelve single-family homes it was originally zoned for. (Institutional uses like MCAD, and the Hebrew school which preceded it, are exceptions.) In response, the developer sued the civic association for preventing them to use the land as they wished.

Mews, Georgia Village (Looking South)
Residents opposed Montgomery College's plans to sell the MCAD property to build townhouses like these already built at Georgia and Plyers Mill Road.

"I take real issue with the idea that my money is going to Montgomery College - which I agree with - so that they can make income, says Carol Chace, who lives in Carroll Knolls. "For a taxpayer, that's really criminal."

Neighbors claim that the building has been repeatedly vandalized and occupied by squatters, and that Montgomery College has done little to maintain the site or assuage their concerns. (Representatives from the college promised to attend the meeting but did not show up.) The Montgomery County police department made an agreement with the college to use the vacant building for K-9 training, but stopped after one visit because of its dangerous condition.

Councilmember Elrich reminded the residents that the college, despite their negative actions, was still a public institution. "We have to separate the behavior from what the needs are," said Elrich. "This is not the case of some greedy corporation trying to fill their pockets."

Meanwhile, Councilmember Ervin pointed out that the school, which catered mainly to adult and youth classes, was a "losing proposition" for the college as attendance dropped. "We have to make sure people use these assets so we can keep them," she said.

Monday, June 29, 2009

daily snapshot: reflection


When buildings get older they become consumed with self-doubt. Trendy when built, suddenly they're faced with the possibility they may be obsolete. Up and down our avenues, if you listen closely, you can hear the concerned mutters between sagging roofs and creaking floors: Are my windows too big? Too small? Is my mechanical unit showing? Should I have gone a different route, become an office tower instead, or an art museum? Will old age - and the squatters - be kind? How long until I'm back in style again, and someone comes to lovingly restore me to my former glory?

what's up the pike: a picture's worth . . .

- A daylong standoff between Montgomery County police and a man in a Wheaton apartment who was allegedly keeping his girlfriend hostage came to an end yesterday evening when officers knocked down the door to find the place was empty. Friend of JUTP Chip Py sent us this photo of a sniper atop the parking garage of the Archstone Wheaton Station apartments at Georgia Avenue and Prichard Drive, a block from the Metro. The police "are now looking for the man and his hostage using what was described as 'Other Investigative Methods,'" Py wrote in an e-mail.

- Speaking of photos: the Montgomery County Planning Department and Town of Kensington are co-sponsoring a "Day in the Life of Kensington" photo contest. Residents living within a specified area (larger than the town's half-square-mile official boundaries, but not including all of the Kensington zip code) are eligible to submit photos taken within the same zone. The contest deadline is September 15. Aspiring photogs who don't live in Kensington will hopefully get their own "Day in the Life . . ." contests as well.

- Did anyone go to yesterday's Buy Local Silver Spring Block Party? (Twitter has been, uh, "tweeting" with comments about it.) What did you think of it? Leave a comment or shoot an e-mail to justupthepike at gmail dot com.

- Like Thelonious Monk? The JUTP inbox received an e-mail saying that after a two-month run at the Blair Mansion theatre, the monologue Monk - featuring Rome Neal as the iconic jazz musician - will have its last performance today. When? I'm not quite sure. Call them up at 301/588-1688 for more information.

- In the meantime, though: if you're near a radio around 12pm today, tune into the Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5 FM for a discussion about blogs with three awesome local bloggers and . . . me. If you're not near a radio, you can also listen online.

Friday, June 26, 2009

metrobus service changes take effect this sunday

New Metrobus, Calverton Shopping Center
A new Metrobus stops at Calverton Shopping Center.

Metrobus service changes taking effect next Sunday will mean increased service for many East County riders, but several routes have been discontinued entirely. In comments to this blog a few months ago, County Councilmember Nancy Floreen and Glenn Orlin, deputy staff director to the council, pointed out that they've worked to prevent additional Metrobus and Ride On lines from being cut as well.

Riders will soon see more buses on the L8 between Aspen Hill and Friendship Heights during rush hour. Timetable adjustments on the Z6 (Calverton-Westfarm Line) and Z8 (Fairland Line), which both run between Lockwood Drive and New Hampshire Avenue and the Silver Spring Metro, will allow buses to run every fifteen minutes in that area, serving people traveling downtown for work or shopping or to the FDA campus in White Oak.

Those improvements will help to compensate for the L7 between Wheaton and Friendship Heights and midday runs on the Z2 between Colesville and Silver Spring Metro via White Oak, which are both being discontinued. And low ridership is the culprit behind cutting the C7 and C9, which traveled from Greenbelt to Glenmont.

The loss of the C7 and C9 routes is ironic given that they run along congested Randolph Road, suggesting they would attract a lot of riders seeking to escape the traffic. But, as I noted two years ago when the cuts were first proposed, by only going as far as Glenmont the routes aren't useful to commuters heading further west to White Flint or Rockville unless they transfer to Metro or another bus.

But as one of the few east-west arteries in Montgomery County, Randolph Road desperately needs improved transit as a means of providing options for people who can't/don't want to drive and reducing congestion. When the money starts flowing again, restoring - and expanding - bus service along Randolph should be one of our top priorities.

three years, y'all

It's three years today that I went on the morning commute that would change my life. Melodramatic, right? I never imagined in a million years that I'd still be doing this, that I would've met so many amazing people through it, and that it would land me my first job out of college. I still don't know what to tell people when they ask "why do you do this?" But at least if they're asking that question, they understand that I'm not a reporter from the Gazette, which is good enough.

I can't make any promises that I'll be doing this in another year, because I want to see where life takes me, even if (God forbid!) it's out from behind the keyboard. In the meantime, I hope you stick around. And if you're near a radio on Monday around 12pm, tune into the Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5 FM - I've been invited to come talk in a segment they're doing about local bloggers. Hopefully, all goes well. I don't talk like I write.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

on community meetings

A more detailed write-up about last night's meeting on the new Third District police station will come later this week.

The language at last night's meeting about the new Third District police station in White Oak was toxic. It's not just that residents of the surrounding neighborhoods are uncomfortable with the housing also proposed for the site, to say the least. It's the way that some who spoke confused "affordable housing" with "public housing," or insisted that, in some way shape or form, they were being screwed over.

Rick Nelson from the Department of Housing and Community Affairs explained that the housing on the site - whether townhouses or apartments - would be a mix of market-rate and "workforce" units, for families making as much as 120 percent of the county's median income. That could be as much as $120,000 a year for a family of four, he said.

But people just didn't listen to him. One gentleman said that a street of townhouses in his neighborhood had turned into an "open-air drug market." Another insisted that they wanted a "better quality of people" coming into their community. Still others called the proposal a "walled ghetto." The phrase "established residential neighborhood" came up many, many times, as in "when you bring THIS into our established residential neighborhood."

The subdivision behind the new police station is called Sherbrooke. It was completed maybe seven or eight years ago, and I had friends growing up who wandered around the place when it still was a forest. "Residential," maybe, but "established" only in that it came first.

One couple insisted that the county was keeping secrets from them. They probably took up a half an hour complaining about secrets, and traffic, and established residential neighborhoods. Why don't you put the affordable housing on the other side of Route 29, the husband says, suggesting they go in a new subdivision on Stewart Lane that must have stalled in the recession because he hasn't seen any new homes built there.

That subdivision is called Whitehall Square. It's being built by NVHomes, the same people who did Sherbrooke. I visited it two years ago, when the sales associates were touting its proximity to Metro and the FDA, all for the then-bargain price of $440,000 - what the Sherbrooke houses were selling for in 2000. And I've been back many, many times since, to watch the land get cleared and for the houses to slowly rise. The website says there are only ten homes left for sale of the 106 homes originally approved.

So, after quite a while of listening to these people shoot their mouths off, I couldn't bite my tongue any longer. "Have you ever been over there?" I said to the man, just loud enough so the whole room could hear. "Have you actually gone there and asked the builder if the development has stalled? Because you've been saying a lot of things this evening, and it doesn't sound to me like you . . ." my voice trailed off before I could say "know what you're talking about," because I realized I was in a room with many other people and now I, too, was hijacking the meeting.

"No I haven't," the man boomed, "but I saw that they haven't been building houses! Have you gone there?"

I say yes. He throws his hands up and addresses the room. "Then tell me! See this? They're keeping secrets!"

"Have you considered that the houses have already been sold and haven't been finished yet?" I ask. "There are eight thousand jobs coming into the FDA, and you're telling me the market is stalled?"

"Who are you and where are you from?" The man yells. I hand his wife a card. "I live at 29 and Musgrove," I say, "for ten years. For the past three years, I've written this blog."

"We live in Sherbrooke," the woman replies, as if to make a point. She takes the card and shows it to her husband. "Look," she says, pointing to my address. "Hawkshead. He doesn't live here."

This stuff surprises me every time. I don't understand how people can turn a regional issue, like a police station or the cost of housing, into one that only seems to affect their street. I don't understand how someone who demands a "better quality of people" in their neighborhood can't see the prejudice in that statement. The people who can afford to take three hours to attend a community meeting ARE NOT the ones who really are being screwed over. East County has a problem, and it's not "affordable housing." It's talking about affordable housing and crime and schools and the kind of people we don't want in our "established residential neighborhoods."

That's the town hall meeting I want to have: "Why do we think we're better than them, and what are we going to do about it?"

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

why we need a skatepark on fenton street

Kid Falls Off Board, Everyone Laughs
This photo of a kid tripping over his skateboard on Ellsworth is hilarious every time I look at it.

As a kid, I used to walk by the East of Maui Skatepark on Ellsworth Drive (currently the site of Silver Plaza) with apprehension, fearful of the Bad-Ass Skater Kids and the Dangerous Skater Moves they perpetrated there. While it's long gone, the skaters haven't gone away, but the County hasn't been too good about accommodating them. They quietly killed plans to build a skatepark on Fenton Street and re-opened a block of Ellsworth Drive that, while closed to car traffic on weekends, was quickly becoming known as a place for skaters to see and be seen.

There's a dearth of places to skate in this area, and in no other sport save for maybe Frisbee golf have I seen as much organization among its participants to create more. My seventeen-year-old cousin, who lives in the District, has organized a petition with his friends to have a new skate park built in the city. (The city's existing skate park in Shaw is "mediocre," he complains; besides, for many in the city it's just easier - and safer - to travel to MoCo to skate.) They've collected some two hundred signatures both from fellow skaters and people who merely sympathize.

But when activism doesn't finish the job, where does a bored skater kid go? In Woodside Park, they look for houses whose occupants are at work. Comments on the listserv over the past week mention kids "skateboarding on a neighbors' nice slate walkway and grinding the edges on the steps." Many residents I contacted declined to talk more about the recurring incidents, saying it was an issue for the residents and the kids' families. But one who did respond suggests that the problem goes much further than that:
"It is tough with different types of teenagers. They don't have anywhere to go, but they like it like that. They don't want to go somewhere that has been approved or provided. They want to not belong."
Kids want a sense of "ownership" to a space, not one that has been handed to them. When you're sixteen, you live in a house that belongs to your parents and go to a school that's only yours so long as you're attending classes there. That I think is the reason why there's such a push to create new skate parks in the region, or even to preserve "the Turf," the ultimate "un-approved" space. The fact that "the Turf" was ripped up despite calls to save it only heightens the legend.

In another e-mail, the resident proposes a way to fudge a skate park by disguising it as something more benign - so it can be "discovered":
A basketball court, half soccer field, and a 'fake' skate park made to look like a regular sitting areas with extra curbs and ledges and stairs built into it without saying anything overtly about it. Made of materials that would be easy to clean. Maybe an area with a slight bowl to it. Then have them join a group to take care of the park 'suddenly' take shape after it is discovered kids are skating in it.
That sounds like "K-Town," the makeshift skate park in Kensington maintained by the people who use it. Talk about "ownership." You know why kids would deliberately harm someone's front walk? Not because they're inherently destructive. It's not theirs, so they're not held accountable for it. They don't care. They have nowhere else to go, nothing else to do. You have to give them a sense of responsibility.

If Woodside Park wants to keep kids off of their front walks, it should lobby to have a new skate park built in Downtown Silver Spring. It's not right for young skaters to willfully engage in the destruction of private property, but worse still if there's no perceived alternative.

daily snapshot: next stop, hecht's

School Buses Behind Former Hecht's, Wheaton Plaza
Private schools park their buses in the lot outside the former Hecht's department store at Wheaton Plaza.

When I was in high school, I remember watching some ridiculous video about teenage driving, featuring students from Walter Johnson in Bethesda. We cheered when the video showed us pummeling their football team at Homecoming and quietly booed when the kids in the movie drove (in their cars!) to lunch at Montgomery Mall each day. The point of the movie was driving safety, but it was the concept of open lunch we found most galling at Blake, floating in a sea of farms and McMansions miles away from so much as a McDonald's.

Looking back, I realize my parents would've never given me the money to buy lunch at the mall every day. Would've helped if I had a car, too.

what's up the pike: sooner than you think

Acorn Market
The Acorn Market at last year's South Silver Spring Block Party.

Good morning. The Red Line is still out of commission after Monday's tragic accident, but as BeyondDC points out, Metro remains hundreds of times safer than driving as a means of getting around. Here's a look at what's happening today in East County:

- Organizers of the South Silver Spring Block Party have announced that this year's event will take place October 3rd. Last year's Block Party, which was in May, featured live music, food, and booths with dozens of local vendors.

- If there's one thing I've never done before, it's sing karaoke at the bar of a chain restaurant. Luckily, there's Silver Spring's Friday's Idol, hosted by the T.G.I. Friday's on Tech Road every Wednesday night at 9pm. You know how hard it is to find a decent watering hole Up The Pike, so I'm taking it for what it's worth.

- But, if that's not your thing: Tonight, the Police Department unveils their plans for the new 3rd District station to be built on Milestone Drive in White Oak. They'll also talk about proposals to build mixed-income housing on the twelve-acre site, which haven't been finalized yet. That meeting is at 7pm at the Eastern Montgomery Regional Services Center on Briggs Chaney Road.

- I.M.P. Productions, the local promoter who tried to circumvent MoCo's deal with Live Nation to open a Fillmore music hall in Downtown Silver Spring, sued the international booking agency, arguing they prevent touring acts from playing in venues they don't own. Best known as owners of the 9:30 Club in the District, I.M.P. also manages Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, which competes directly with Live Nation's Nissan Pavilion in Northern Virginia for shows during the summer concert season.

- Ocean City institution Fractured Prune will be opening in Downtown Silver Spring . . . soon, with signs appearing in its future storefront next to Men's Wearhouse on Fenton Street. Known for its menu of hand-dipped donuts, the store currently has locations in Cloverly and Rockville Town Square; a store in College Park closed last year due to a lack of summer business. (Ironic for a chain that began in a beach town, huh?)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

daily snapshot: the meadow

The Meadow House, Calverton (1)
This house across from my brother's school looked like the end of a sad story. Empty driveway, recycling bins turned over, and a lawn that had grown into a meadow. I assumed it was a foreclosure, a short sale, some family that got kicked out of a home they'd put much time and effort into after slipping on their bills. And every day when I drove past, the grass was longer. So it goes on a street where three other houses have had "FOR SALE" signs hanging out front for weeks.

When I drove by on Friday, there were two emergency vehicles blocking the road. When I stopped I saw they were in front of that house, paramedics swarming around a man on a stretcher slowly being lifted into the ambulance, his face contorted in pain and fear. He looked otherwise healthy: thin, middle-aged, newly-graying beard.

When I drove away, I could see in the rearview mirror that the lawn had been freshly mowed.

fatal collision at fort totten metro yesterday

I wake up late during the summer, but not after a few false starts. Yesterday, the first time was around 8 a.m. or so. I heard my mother trying to explain to my father how to use the Metro. He works at Union Station, but usually drives there. I like having control over my commute, he says. He drove even when he lived in Wheaton for three years, literally on top of the Metro.

But this week his car is in the shop. I'll take you to Glenmont, I heard my mother say. At the bottom of the escalator is the farecard machine. Buy one and go through the turnstiles to the platform.

She ended up driving him to work instead. In the afternoon I drove him home. I've taken the train to work exactly twice, my father says, in the twenty-five years I've lived here. The first time, in 2000, was after he rode MARTA, the subway in Atlanta, on a business trip. His coworkers laughed at him for having never taken Metro before, so this was his way of shutting them up.

After I heard about the Metro collision yesterday afternoon on the Red Line at Fort Totten, I imagined what could have happen had my father taken the train to work today. But the train was going into the city; I don't know where that would have put him while going out.

My condolences go out to the families of those who lost loved ones in the accident. The scariest thing, I think, is saying goodbye to someone in the morning and not knowing that it's the last time you'll ever see them.

Monday, June 22, 2009

sligo creek closure opens debate about diversity at golf courses

A bridge in Sligo Creek Park. Photo by Jimski.

Downcounty residents are livid over the potential loss of Sligo Creek Golf Course, which will close October 1 after the county's Revenue Authority returns it to the Department of Parks, who says they're legally and financially unable to compete with other public golf courses. The resulting outcry suggests it's not just about golf - it's about playing in a place free of the elitism it's normally associated with.

Located on the Capital Beltway at Sligo Creek Parkway, the 65-acre course has nine holes and connections to the entire Sligo Creek Park system, which stretches from Takoma Park to Wheaton. Together, they're a respite from the surrounding city, a place where everyone from congressmen to busboys are able to enjoy the outdoors. (It was in the park that my parents tried unsuccessfully to teach me to ride a bike at age seven.)

The Department of Parks says they made an agreement with the Revenue Authority to not compete with its courses, which include Hampshire Greens in Cloverly and Northwest in Layhill. They've concentrated on finding new uses for the site, from turning it into a soccer complex to a "disc golf" course - which custom-home builder Bethesda Bungalows, noting the popularity of the Frisbee-based sport, has offered to partially sponsor.

But the community's made it clear that they want Sligo Creek to remain as it is: a place where anyone can play a few holes of golf cheaply and without looking like they just rolled out of the exclusive Chevy Chase Club. In the past month, supporters of the course have started a Facebook group and a website to build awareness and, they hope, get the County Council to intervene.

The website is filled with testimony from local golfers who say they don't always want to make the trip to bigger or more prestigious courses and don't feel welcome there to begin with. "Me and my lady friends do not feel comfortable playing at bigger and longer golf courses," writes "Susan I." of Silver Spring. "The only people of color I see are the Hispanics mowing the grass" at other Montgomery County courses, says "JT" of the District. "Juan," who plays with his friends from Wheaton High School, writes that "we are totally cool with Sligo because a lot of golfers there look like us and don't have real golf shoes neither but love to play golf like we do."

If there's anything that Silver Spring represents to me, it's a tolerance of differences and a lack of patience for the pretention that Montgomery County has a reputation for. But one of the running threads in East County over the past few years - whether it's shutting down youth concerts in Four Corners, targeting "undesirables" in Burtonsville, or dealing with rowdy kids on Ellsworth - has been the issue of who's "welcome" in our community. It seems like Sligo Creek Golf Course is a place where that's never been a problem. All of these people who come there, regardless of their background or circumstances, are united by a love of the game.

We should be working to preserve the Sligo Creek Golf Course, if only to make it clear that we're committed to embracing the diversity in this community, especially in a setting where diversity isn't always cherished.

Tomorrow, Tuesday, June 23rd, the Department of Parks is hosting a town hall meeting to discuss future uses for the Sligo Creek Golf Course, which may cease operations this October. The meeting's from 7:30 to 9:30pm at the Margaret Schweinhaut Senior Center, at 1000 Forest Glen Road.

daily snapshot: the rainbow

Many Colors Of Butts, American Apparel (Fenton and Colesville)

Having an American Apparel is an important thing for any aspiring city to have. It says, "We are cool and hip! We believe not in sweatshop labor! Bow to us, Bethesda, for the unshaven indie kids come not to you for their fashion but to here!" But, in order to even attract the hipster element, you must have a bit of controversy, and it's not surprising that when this store at Colesville and Fenton first opened three years ago neighbors complained that the models in their storefront advertising weren't clothed enough.

Would they take offense from a display that involves fully dressed mannequins, but in rather provocative poses? Or can we all agree that the rainbow motif is a metaphor for Silver Spring's diversity?

what's up the pike: bet it'll rain today

Sad Rainy Traffic Jam, 29 at Industrial
The new Growth Policy proposes approving development based on transit capacity, not just highway capacity.

- It's a big week for public meetings: Tonight, the Planning Board holds a hearing for the Annual Growth Policy, which seeks to create incentives for more compact, transit-oriented growth rather than linking growth to traffic counts and school capacity, as has been the case previously. The hearing's at 7:30pm at the Park and Planning Commission's headquarters at Georgia Avenue and Spring Street.

- Tuesday, Councilmember Valerie Ervin and representatives from several county agencies meet with Wheaton residents to discuss the fate of the former Maryland College of Art and Design on Georgia Avenue. A local developer has proposed building twenty-seven townhomes at the site of the old school, which was folded into Montgomery College's Takoma Park-Silver Spring campus, but neighbors argue it would violate their subdivision's covenants and increase traffic. That meeting will be at 8pm at the Capital View-Homewood Recreation Center in Kensington.

- Also, the Department of Parks is hosting a town hall meeting to discuss future uses for the Sligo Creek Golf Course, which may cease operations this October. That meeting's from 7:30 to 9:30pm at the Margaret Schweinhaut Senior Center, at 1000 Forest Glen Road.

- And Wednesday, the Police Department unveils their plans for the new 3rd District station to be built on Milestone Drive in White Oak. They'll also talk about proposals to build mixed-income housing on the twelve-acre site, which haven't been finalized yet. That meeting is at 7pm at the Eastern Montgomery Regional Services Center on Briggs Chaney Road.

- The town of Somerset (motto: "too good for Bethesda, not good enough to be Chevy Chase") is asking Pepco to install LED lights in their street lamps, saying their higher cost is offset by their low energy use. Can't think about LED lights now without remembering former County Council candidate Andrew Padula's plan to bring jobs to East County by building a factory to manufacture them, so I figured I'd mention it.

Friday, June 19, 2009

daily snapshot: spot the poor people

Where's the MPDU (Gatestone, White Oak)
Thinking of Gatestone, the White Oak subdivision whose residents fear a new rec center will bring crime to the neighborhood, I'm reminded of Stonegate, the similarly-named neighborhood a little further up New Hampshire Avenue that's also known for being more than a little stuck-up. In middle and high school, it was "where the rich kids lived," a place with big houses, big parties and even their own swim club.

And just like Stonegate, Gatestone's required by the county to set aside some housing for lower-income residents. Can you spot the subsidized units in this photo? Would the neighbors know that they're there - and, if they do, would they say it's bringing crime to the cul-de-sac as well?

what's up the pike: moving around

Rendering, White Oak Rec Center
The new rec center on April Lane in White Oak could start construction as early as next year.

- D.C. United is polling fans to see if they'd prefer to see the soccer team build a new home in the District, Loudoun County or "lower Montgomery County," reports the Post. Plans to move from RFK Stadium to Anacostia and later Greenbelt fell through, and now the club is quietly considering locations in "Rockville, Wheaton and Silver Spring," among others. While a new soccer stadium on the east side would be exciting, one question remains: where would you put one?

- On Wednesday, the Police Department will unveil their plans for the new 3rd District station to be built on Milestone Drive in White Oak. They'll also talk about proposals to build mixed-income housing on the twelve-acre site, which haven't been finalized yet. That meeting is at 7pm at the Eastern Montgomery Regional Services Center on Briggs Chaney Road.

- Residents of the recently-built Gatestone subdivision on Stewart Lane is complaining that the White Oak Recreation Center, which could start construction next year, will bring crime to the neighborhood. They "have spotted drug deals in the area's tot lots and are concerned that more illegal activity will take place when the center is complete," writes Gazette reporter Robert Dongu. Previously, Gatestone's HOA has said the rec center will hurt the property values of their $400,000 townhomes; that it will cause more people to walk through their neighborhood; and that the County hasn't done enough to address either concern.

- Takoma Park resident Elihu Eli El is considering challenging Delegate Tom Hucker for his District 20 seat next fall, says Adam at Maryland Politics Watch. Eli's bid seeks to "revive that feeling of community and connection" in local politics, according to his press release. "We knew there was an opportunity to change politics, to make it about hope and a shared passion for our common future."

Thursday, June 18, 2009

daily snapshot: the spin zone

Man Waving A Sign, 355 at Old Georgetown
I should've used this photo, taken at Rockville Pike and Old Georgetown Road, with Hans Riemer's guest blog on White Flint (which you should check out, if you haven't already.) Nothing says "new condos" like the sign spinner, a usually young, usually male (for the truest show of manhood is lack of shame) person charged with three difficult tasks: to a) show excitement about real estate while not appearing on an HGTV reality show; to b) to make a personal connection with the harried, oblivious driver; and c) to not cross the turf of the panhandler who also works this intersection.

If you haven't figured it out by now, I take a lot of photos while in the car, only some while driving. But if you have any photos (taken from behind the wheel or not) that you'd like to see here, shoot me an e-mail at justupthepike at gmail dot com.

b'ville singer-songwriter gets tribute album

The following is a press release from Burtonsville resident/singer-songwriter/friend of JUTP Barry Louis Polisar, whose thirty-year career was recently encapsulated in a tribute album soon to be released. You may remember Polisar from my posts about the Burtonsville charrette last summer - or, more likely, his appearance on the Juno soundtrack.

We're Not Kidding: A Tribute to Barry Louis Polisar

After achieving "overnight" success and fame when his 30 year old song "All I Want is You" was featured in the opening credits of the film JUNO, Barry Louis Polisar has clearly had an interesting year.

Polisar describes his music as "songs for children and smart adults" and has been performing concerts at schools and libraries since 1975. His performance of his song during the animated opening of JUNO has reunited him with fans who had his vinyl recordings as kids, and the soundtrack to JUNO has sold over a million copies, won a Grammy award, and earned Barry a lifetime achievement award from the Children's Music Web.

But now comes the best part. The Radioactive Chicken Heads, an alternative band from Los Angeles has been recording their own versions of Barry's songs for years, even doing an animated video of one of them. Lead singer Aaron Cohen has put together a group of singers and musicians to record covers of Barry's songs and has selected 60 songs by about 45 different artists from around the world. He plans to release a 2-CD Tribute album of Polisar's songs later this Fall.

"The best part for me," Polisar says, "is that most of these artists had my albums as kids and many claim me as an early influence. I can't begin to tell you what that means to me...and how deeply that touches my soul."

The songs on this album cross many genres and Polisar has posted some of the songs on his web site.

Though originally created as children's songs, the album will feature Polisar's songs in genres as diverse as rap, hip-hop, folk, jazz and rock. There is even a Klezmer version of Barry's song "Don't Put Your Finger Up Your Nose" sung in entirely in Yiddish--and three totally different versions of "All I Want is You" from JUNO--including one sung in French from a singer from Brittany.

For additional information, feel free to contact Aaron Cohen at snailsounds@yahoo.com or Barry Louis Polisar at Barrylou@Barrylou.com.

68 things we love about east county (part four)

part FOUR of a series adapted from Bethesda Magazine's "67 Things We Love About Bethesda" list. Got something you love about the east side? Leave me a comment or shoot an e-mail to justupthepike at gmail dot com.

We did it! 68 things we love about East County. (Take that, Bethesda!) Check out parts ONE, TWO and THREE - but before that, your submissions with limited commentary from yours truly:

Trader Joe's on 29 at Burnt Mills. [Dr. F] "I've become a regular after finding to my surprise that a number of items are routinely less costly than at Giant Foods. Guess I thought TJs would be 'Whole Paycheck' expensive. I just wish they carried wine the way they do in DC (I've heard great things about their Trader Joe's 'two-buck Chuck' wine.)"

Cheeburger Cheeburger in Burtonsville Crossing. [Dr. F] "The fries are great, the onion rings even better, and as a vegetarian, the veggie burgers and Portabello melts are great too."

Brookside Gardens. [Cyndy, WashingtonGardener] It's like Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown, but it doesn't cost eight dollars to get in. Come for the butterfly garden, stay for the peace and quiet - it gets harder and harder to come by.

Pho Real (Great name!) in the shopping center at Briggs Chaney and Old Columbia Pike. [Cyndy] "I like it better than any of the places in Wheaton. It's clean. My favorites: eye of round pho, summer rolls, and homemade soda limeade."

The AFI. [Cyndy] "It's pretty cool, especially if you are into the old movies they show in the big auditorium." [One word: Silverdocs. If MoCo could work the same magic with the Fillmore, we might have a mini-Bonnaroo in our backyard, too. -ed.]

The National Capital Trolley Museum. [WashingtonGardener] It's cool you get to ride an old streetcar, but kind of boring because it feels like you're in someone's backyard. Either way, here's hoping that this museum will get people excited about transit - we'll need that when the ICC comes through.

The carousel at Wheaton Regional Park. [WashingtonGardener] Hell, why not the entire park? Nothing made me happier at age six than going to Wheaton Regional and flying down the big slides until I wanted to puke. Shame I probably can't even fit in them now.

Mrs. K's Tollhouse (and wine bar) on Colesville Road. [Cyndy] "A Silver Spring tradition." [Plus, it looks like a boot. I bet if this was still a tollhouse, Route 29 would have a lot less traffic. -ed.]

Mizell Lumber in Kensington. [Cyndy] That's still far enough east right? [I guess so. I should also say I like Strosniders, but Home Depot in Calverton is far more convenient. -ed.]

Han An Reum grocery store. [Cyndy] "On Georgia Avenue near Glenmont. THE place to go for cheap and fresh (and sometimes weird) produce and seafood."

The Royal Mile Pub in Wheaton. [Cyndy] I tried meeting Thomas Hardman here when I first interviewed him in 2008. Unfortunately, it didn't work out . . . so I can't really attest to the food. I hear it's a Scottish bar, though, which is way cooler than all these annoying Irish bars.

The Sandy Spring Museum. [Cyndy] Best Bar Mitzvah party I ever went to. What better way to celebrate your manhood than by hosting a lunch in a history museum that most of your thirteen-year-old friends will only appreciate because they serve espresso? (I do love the building itself, designed in part by Brookeville architect Miche Booz, who also worked on the proposed Ashton Meeting Place.)

Fairland Recreational Park. [Dr. F] "It's our East MOCO version of Rock Creek Park . . . the park is crisscrossed by paths paved and unpaved so it is extremely accessible for hikers, bikers, joggers, wheelchairs, and strollers . . . [it's] home to the beautiful Fairland creek, which I believe feeds into the Anacostia rather than the nearby Patuxent river."

Fairland Aquatic Center. [Dr. F] "Olympic-size pools, pools for children, and a pool for aqua aerobics. Kayakers use it to learn and practice their 'Eskimo rolls.' And there is a well-equipped, affordably-priced exercise room. One can exercise and swim laps as early as 6 in the morning."

Sligo Creek Parkway. [Chuck] "What a great drive from Silver Spring to Wheaton [it goes to Takoma Park, too! -ed.] without all the hassles of traffic and driving fast. Just a relaxing cruise thru the park. I burnt many a gallon of gas driving this road when life just needed to be figured out."

The graduating class from the old Blair High School painting 'Class of...' on the roof of C building. [Chuck] "Here's something from the archives that I miss about East County . . . it was something I always looked forward to. I still don't know how they did it." [I know both Walter Johnson in Bethesda and Woodrow Wilson in the District have similar traditions. More high schools should definitely follow suit . . . at Blake we could paint the derelict old barn that sits on our campus for no reason other than pressure from historic preservationists. -ed.]

Woodmoor Bakery. [SwitchedOnMom] ". . . in fact the entire groovy streamlined-ness of Woodmoor Plaza." [Between Woodmoor and the former Silver Spring Shopping Center at Georgia and Colesville, you really wish shopping-center designers still did it like they used to in 1938. Bringing back the neon would be a nice start. -ed.]

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

strengthening community through smart choices about growth (guest blog)

Rockville Pike Looking South From Twinbrook Pky
Rockville Pike as it currently is north of White Flint.

These days, it seems like everyone's talking about White Flint, the sprawl of office parks and strip malls that planners envision as a new downtown for MoCo. But while most discussion here and nationally centers around traffic, density and just how do you unmake fifty years of suburban development, no one's really mentioned the possibility of building a community. Friend of JUTP Hans Riemer talks about the White Flint sector plan, which the Planning Department is currently working on, and the people helping to make it a reality. Even if this doesn't affect the east side now, its success could affect how we build here in the future.

Urbanist thinker/planner Richard Layman proposes that, as advocates, we should focus on how transit-oriented development "helps us achieve community-strengthening objectives." Richard knows the state of play in development policy and politics, and I think he is on to something.

I agree that smart growth should be viewed as community-strengthening, rather than narrowly as a transportation or even an environmental issue. I was inspired to write something along these lines last weekend after spending my usual weekend share in downtown Silver Spring, at the Hand Made Mart. [Having an easier commute would always be nice, and a cleaner environment is the end goal, of course -but the biggest benefits of "smart growth," or whatever you'd like to call it, is seeing the creation of places where people like to gather and hang out. -ed.]

The "paseo" at North Bethesda Market, one of several new mixed-use developments being built in White Flint. Courtesy of Friends of White Flint.

Of course there are many different benefits to sustainable, smart growth: Having a commercial tax base means you can pay for your schools and public safety. Planning jobs, housing, shopping, and community facilities around transit, walking and biking helps prevent global warming, by reducing the miles that people must drive. More walking means better health, higher building standards can protect water quality, and so on.

But like Richard, I would like to see advocates of these smart choices put more emphasis on the community-building concepts. A good place to focus is White Flint, where the County's planners are now nearing conclusion of an amazing new plan to remake that community. The plans really show the way to a better future for Montgomery County. The White Flint proposal would remake an area around Rockville Pike, which today is dominated by auto-oriented malls and offices, into a walkable, urban area, served by transit, walking, biking and cars, all getting their proper place.

What is particularly interesting about White Flint is that community groups have been active participants in the redesign, along with business interests and land owners, and everyone seems to be on the same page about the possibilities - which they describe as "an innovative spectactular, inviting, green, transit-oriented urban destination."

North Bethesda Center is one of several new mixed-use developments being built in White Flint.

Friends of White Flint, a non-profit group that has come together to support the new vision, regularly blog about the process as it moves forward. I'd be interested to hear more about what Barnaby Zall and the group have to say about community building for today's, and tomorrow's, White Flint residents. Perhaps these arguments could help sell the vision to the public more effectively than our usual discussion of transportation alternatives.

One of the reasons that smart growth can be such a challenge is that these projects require current residents to make a short term sacrifice or investment to build a better future. That's always one of the most dicey propositions for a political system, and its why we have delayed national health reform, climate change protections, and so on.

You can see that tension playing out in the debate over White Flint and the County's new growth policy. Some activists and elected officials are criticizing the plans because "urban" areas would have to tolerate higher congestion. In fact, its probably impossible to create a successful urban and community destination without tolerating higher levels of congestion. We certainly have that in downtown Silver Spring, although I don't know how many people would rather go back to the way things were.

But concerns about traffic always dominate Montgomery County debates. And it leads me to wonder, can Montgomery County overcome the politics of "End Gridlock" and its polarized extremes, to find that sweet spot where we can make the right choices, even if they involve short term sacrifices, for our long term success? Is a focus on community-building through smart-growth the answer get getting past these polarized extremes? While Flint, and the new growth policy generally, will be a test.

For more information, check out the White Flint Partnership, Friends of White Flint, or the Planning Board's websites.

daily snapshot: pupusa truck

Pupusa Truck, Industrial Parkway at Tech Road

Guess I can't stop thinking about food today. You hear a lot about pupusa trucks in Long Branch or Langley Park, but you can buy food from a vehicle Up The Pike as well. This pupusa truck is parked on Industrial Parkway, right next to the White Oak branch of the MVA. With few other dining options nearby until recently, the so-called "roach coaches" have been very successful in East County's many office and industrial parks.

what's up the pike: no picture?

- At Planning Place this week: the Board is poised to approve preliminary plans (warning! PDF file.) for a new Wendy's at Randolph Road and Vital Way in Colesville on land formerly approved for an office building. In keeping with Vital Way's designation as a local "Main Street," the Wendy's will be close to the road and feature a sidewalk dining area.

- The Silverdocs documentary film festival continues this week, of course, though I admit I've been too preoccupied to make my fourth attempt at actually seeing a film this year. (This week is also the start of summer for Montgomery County Public Schools, and I have been drafted to babysit my ten-year-old brother.) I feel quite honored, though, that even big Washington blogs like DCist are actually coming here (to suburban Maryland!) to file accounts of the movies shown and the goings-on.

- And, speaking of summer break: all across East County we'll be thrown back into the yearly debate about idle kids and bad behavior on Ellsworth Drive and other local hangouts. Two recent blog posts illustrate the differing schools of thought on how to keep kids safe and occupied.

Up in HoCo, the answer is structured activity. The Howard County Police Department will introduce a roving trailer that Columbia Talk calls the "rolling playground," filled with sports equipment and video games, that will rotate between different neighborhood throughout the summer. "It will provide positive options for youth in their own neighborhoods – and in locations where crime tends to increase in the summer," writes blogger Don Beyers. Meanwhile, Steve at Greater Greater Washington argues that the biggest summertime danger is teen driving, and that creating more pedestrian- and transit-accessible places like Ellsworth could prevent fatal car crashes like the one that killed his teenage niece.

- Silver Spring, Singular explores the history of the Luau Hut, a former tiki bar at Ramsey and Wayne that once was the epicenter of a local music scene in the 1960's. (Of course, there still is a music scene in East County, but one that has little to do with misappopriated Hawaiian culture.)

- You know what's great about Bethesda? Not only that your house number can be considered a "quality of life issue," but that the Post will send a local reporter (one who ideally has more important things to write about, but maybe not) to listen to your sob story about it. I think we're already experiencing that loss in reporting quality ombudsman Andrew Alexander was worried about.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

daily snapshot: asking for change

Christian Charity Change Guy (Randolph at Georgia)

No person earns more ire - or more sympathy - from drivers than the person asking for change at the stoplight. Sometimes homeless, sometimes veterans, but usually trucked in from Iowa to collect donations for an ill-defined charity, this person has to negotiate our biggest intersections on foot beneath the hot sun and car fumes. And they're usually wearing pants, which seems kind of inappropriate if you're going to be outside all day. I can understand the vest, but pants? That's just poor planning.

68 things I love about east county (part three)

part THREE of a series adapted from Bethesda Magazine's "67 Things We Love About Bethesda" list. Got something you love about the east side? Help me get to 68 things by leaving a comment or shooting an e-mail to justupthepike at gmail dot com.

Hampshire Greens. Finally, a golf course community we can call our own. While you'd expect the snobbery of its counterparts in Potomac or Bethesda, the course is actually a public course operated by Montgomery County. No institutionalized racism here, thankfully.

Wheaton Regional Library. I basically grew up in this library, spending each Saturday morning in elementary school collecting a stack of books to tear through so I could get some more the following week. While I don't agree with the arguments against moving it into Downtown Wheaton, the old library still holds a special place in my heart.

The Chick-Fil-A at Ellsworth and Fenton. Without their window ledges, where would kids sit on Friday and Saturday nights - and, without them, who would security guards patrolling Downtown Silver Spring have to yell at?

The Silverton condos on East-West Highway. The only new condos in Silver Spring I kind of like, and only because it used to be a Canada Dry bottling plant. You wonder if anyone lives behind the neon "Canada Dry" sign over the entrance, and if they had to invest in really thick curtains.

Shabbat in Kemp Mill. Observant Jews - among them the large Orthodox community living in Kemp Mill - are prohibited from doing "work" from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, including driving and using electricity. The result is an urban planner's dream: a neighborhood where everyone goes for a walk after services and visits each other.

Upper Crust Bakery in Colesville. Mmm, baked goods. One bright spot in a shopping center dominated by chain stores (save for the adjacent Greek Village restaurant, which is so good that even deer are knocking down their door to get a table.)

Mayorga Coffee Roasters. It may have been a furniture warehouse in a former life, but this place is everything a coffeehouse should be: gigantic couches, a big room for socializing, smaller rooms for studying. (I'd comment on the menu, but I don't drink coffee.) My "artsy" friends in high school would take the Metro here (forty minutes each way, including the ride to Glenmont) to study.

Panera Bread on Tech Road. It's the closest thing to Mayorga we have above the Beltway. With big comfy chairs, [allegedly] freshly-made food and Internet access, Panera - like all of the other restaurants in the recently-opened Westech Village Center - has been a big draw for East County's rising yuppie class.

Duckpin Bowling in White Oak. The Glenmont Lanes have been closed for seven years, leaving this basement alley in the White Oak Shopping Center as the last outpost in East County for Maryland's unique brand of bowling. Of course, I have yet to actually go inside.

Pla-Za Art on Georgia Avenue. It's a chain, the prices are too high, and the selection isn't nearly as good as Pearl Art in Rockville. But this store in a converted house with its quirky staff and housecats calls to mind a time when "Silver Spring" and "Takoma Park" meant the same thing. Not to mention, of course, it's the closest art store to the University of Maryland and MC-Takoma Park, so art and architecture majors in a rush have no choice but to come here.

Carroll Avenue in Old Town Takoma Park. You may not agree with their politics, but you'll hopefully find it charming that a town would put a statue of a rooster in its square. You could easily lose a day poking through the concentration of consignment shops along this windy street.

Philly Steak Express in Takoma, D.C. The best Philadelphia cheesesteak you can find without driving to Pennsylvania come out of this literal hole-in-the-wall restaurant (you can probably fit two people standing up between the counter and the door) ran by a Nigerian family I went to church with growing up. Don't bother trying to find parking: it's less than a block from the Takoma Metro station.

Band stickers. If you've ever been to a drive-thru or gas station in East County, you've seen the stickers for local bands like The Spotlight and Lonely are the Brave, gracing the window frame just beneath the glass, invisible to those working inside. It may not win over any new fans, but it's a nice joke for those "in the know."

The "Highway to Heaven." Mr. Caulfield, my high school English teacher, gave this name to the stretch of New Hampshire Avenue north of Route 29 because it's lined with so many houses of worship, from the humble Jain Center to sprawling St. Andrew's. It's largely possible because of zoning that forbids large-scale residential or commercial development, keeping land prices low and within reach for congregations seeking to build a new home.

Lucero's Pizza in Fulton. Locally-owned, fresh ingredients and friendly staff: Lucero's is everything you could want in a pizzeria, not to mention their adorable website. They don't deliver south of Burtonsville, but it's worth driving up to Howard County to carry out or eat in.

The Ashton Meeting Place. Proof that even after years of tension and controversy, a developer and a community can find common ground. Ground hasn't been broken yet, but when completed, the project will create a green for a village that's been around for nearly three hundred years.

The National Capital Curling Center in Laurel. Curling is a sport on ice where skates aren't required, but a broom is, and the only moves are "Sweep!" and, well, just standing around. Stop by Thursdays from October to May for a pick-up game with the Potomac Curling Club; when my friends and I went for the first time three years ago, we ended up playing with writer Stefan Fatsis (of competitive Scrabble fame), who was doing some research before covering it at the 2006 Winter Olympics.

Monday, June 15, 2009

I have a job

Those four words are a miracle in and of themselves, especially in this economy. As of this writing I am the only person in my group of friends who has more than a part-time job.

A week ago, I accepted an offer from Councilmember George Leventhal, who's been reading this blog since nearly the beginning, to join his staff. I'll be doing the standard entry-level stuff, like answering the phone. But Leventhal has also asked me to advise him on land-use issues, taking something that I'm personally very passionate about - and have spent the past three years writing about here on Just Up The Pike. I couldn't be more excited, especially because I'll be working on stuff all over Montgomery County, not just the areas I'm familiar with.

It was a very difficult decision to make, largely because the hand I've been biting for the past three years will now be the hand that feeds me. Not only that, but this job will put me in a fairly public position in the County where jokes about Ronald Reagan and getting mooned probably won't be taken too well. They say you should never blog about work; I don't even start working for a month and it's already too late. The last thing I want to happen is to get fired for something I will write down the road because, I mean, I know my boss is reading it. On the other hand, I don't want You, The Readers - who made this blog worth doing to begin with - to think I'm some kind of puppet for the County. (Keep an eye out for copious amounts of disclaimers stating, in four languages, that I am NOT George Leventhal.)

Just Up The Pike is a project I've put three years of my life into. It's been a huge learning experience and a hell of a lot of fun getting to know my community and the awesome (sometimes awesomely frustrating) people in it. My challenge now is to see, given my new place in life, how far I can keep going with both this job and this blog in hand.

daily snapshot: swim club

Robinhood Swim Club Sign (Randolph at Locksley)

Not everyone can afford the country club, but the local swim club is an excellent way to burnish your snoburban pedigree because it can be just as exclusive, with waiting lists that can stretch for years. Some East County swim clubs have been losing members, but they say it has nothing to do with their membership fees, which can be as high as $500.

what I learned in philly (part two)

Come back later today for a very, very important announcement on the future of Just Up The Pike.

I didn't do it when I went to Montreal, or New Orleans, or Denver. But this time, I promised, I was going to write about my day trip to Philadelphia, like really really write about it. So . . . here's part TWO of What I Learned On My One-Day Summer Vacation to Philly:

Philadelphia Rowhouse, Pittsburgh Porch

That garage doors don't have to kill a street.

The typical East County street - whether lined with townhouses or single-family homes - is a parade of garage doors, which is neither pretty or beneficial to creating an active community. These new rowhouses in the Northern Liberties neighborhood - a rough-and-tumble area immediately north of Center City that's rapidly gentrifying (think U Street in D.C.) have carports that look more like deep porches. And maybe that's how they're supposed to be used, if and when the car isn't there. (My assumption is that, if there's any need for storage, there's either a closet somewhere behind the carport or elsewhere in the house.)

It reminds me of a "Pittsburgh Porch," the tradition presumably started across the state by a group of immigrant neighbors who declared whatever space they could find to congregate a "porch." I'm sure you or someone you know has thrown a party in their garage or driveway because there's nowhere else big enough that can hold guests and is also outside. If we're going to put people in or around the car park, we might as well make it a nice place to be in.

Really Really Red Court Bridge

That cul-de-sacs don't have to be cul-de-sacs, and every house doesn't have to be beige.

I think this photo explains it all. You don't have to love the paint colors, but you have to appreciate the chutzpah that turned a block of townhouses into a bag of Skittles. The courtyard between them, while serving primarily as a place for cars to circulate and park, also becomes a sort of mini-piazza for the houses around it - a place for the kind of informal gatherings some cul-de-sacs are good for. It also uses pervious pavers that let plants grow between the tiles, meaning that it'll soak up rainwater rather than letting it mix with chemicals in the street before hitting the sewers.

9th Street Italian Market

That markets don't have to be indoors.

Reader Bossi pointed me to the 9th Street Italian Market, an assemblage of grocers and restaurants in the Bella Vista neighborhood, south of Center City. We were expecting more of an enclosed hall along the lines of Eastern Market or Philly's famous Reading Terminal, but what a surprise it was to literally drive into the place! As you can see in the photo, the market has permanent shops (the existing buildings) and temporary vendors that set up on the sidewalks, making for a very, very intimate shopping experience.

Compared to Bart Blatstein's work in NoLi, the Italian Market looks kinda shabby - and that's the point. It's what you get after over a century of stuff happening in a place. The old rowhouses have been remodeled and added on to and knocked down and rebuilt so many times that historic designation would be impossible. Not only is it cheaper for the merchant to add on rather than move, it makes the place more vibrant. Encouraging this kind of work (sensitive changes, not the character-sapping overhauls) - as a sort of "adaptive reuse" - could be a good approach for keeping the older parts of Downtown Silver Spring healthy while retaining their history.

It seems like most places in Philly don't really start up until 4pm, or so it seemed with the handful of restaurants we tried to eat at. But I would recommend the place we ended up having our only meal of the day at - Ralph's, dubbed the oldest family-owned Italian restaurant in the country. This seems like it would be a very touristy sort of place by reputation alone, but I was more than impressed by the quality of the food and the attentive waitstaff. I usually find waiters who try to be funny obnoxious, but the guy who helped us seemed very genuine.

Check out this photoset of my day trip to Philly on Flickr. And, of course, a special thanks to Bossi for providing so many tips about what to see in his hometown.

Friday, June 12, 2009

what I learned in philly (part one)

I didn't do it when I went to Montreal, or New Orleans, or Denver. But this time, I promised, I was going to write about my day trip to Philadelphia, like really really write about it. So . . . here's part ONE What I Learned On My One-Day Summer Vacation to Philly:

The Piazza and Fountain

Round Building and Rectangle Buildings

Tables Make The Space Feel Overscaled

That traditional urbanism doesn't require traditional architecture.

I've heard the complaint many, many times: places like Bethesda Row, Rockville Town Square and our own Downtown Silver Spring look "fake" or "cookie-cutter," filled with chain stores and trying way too hard to look old. It doesn't have to be that way. Philly developer Bart Blatstein based his Piazza at Schmidt's, the redevelopment of a former brewery in the gentrifying Northern Liberties neighborhood, on the Piazza Navona in Rome.

Schmidt's is the latest phase of Blatstein's plans to revitalize what's already been dubbed "NoLi," a community north of Center City where decaying factories rub elbows with sleek new condominiums. Reading about the project in the Philadelphia Inquirer after it first opened last month was my inspiration for making the trip north.

Despite its ancient precedents, the Piazza at Schmidt's doesn't have a single Doric column - just lots of glass and concrete. Yet even with that combination of materials, you're not looking at your standard suburban office park, either. Suggesting that urban design isn't tethered to a specific style, the Piazza is a space that feels comfortable whether you're with six people or six hundred people. Blatstein, who cut his teeth building strip malls throughout the region, did an about-face with this project, filling it with everything from a 1950's diner to a store that sells clothes for hipster babies.

One Shot Coffee Is The Coolest Coffee Shop I've Ever Been To

Liberties Walk, Evening Time

Big changes come in very small packages.

Blatstein's first project in the neighborhood was Liberties Walk, a four-block-long pedestrian street lined with shops and apartments, and you could say it's the little drop that made a big wave in NoLi. The architecture is simple and the materials are cheap - almost embarassingly so. The retail here swings a little closer to what you might call "useful things" (warning! PDF file): a coffee shop, a bike store, a dry cleaner.

But the investment alone drew attention to the neighborhood - and, even better, it gave locals a place not just to run errands but hang out, putting life back on the street. Acknowledging that some errands require a car, and that visitors from other parts of the region won't be willing to walk five blocks from the nearest metro and streetcar stop, parking is plentiful and free (for now, at least). But it's tucked in back, away from the action.

Liberties Walk could be a very good model for redeveloping (in whole or in part) East County's aging strip malls and office parks. It's a public, urban gathering place, but on a smaller scale than a transit-oriented development like Rockville Town Square, acknowledging that rapid transit may not come to the east side for a long, long time.

That you should never go to South Street, ever.

South Street Kind of Sucks

My friends and I spent maybe an hour on South Street - or two hours, counting the hour we spent looking for parking. It's kinda like Georgetown, except instead of stores like Urban Outfitters you have pawn shops and a place called Condom Kingdom, which was cute when I went there three years ago, but not so much now. Other than its proximity to I-95 - which itself is next to the Delaware River - there isn't much of a reason I found to come back here.

There was a cool record store that seemed to have closed and, of course, the Fillmore at the Theatre of the Living Arts, the much cooler cousin of what we may get here in Downtown Silver Spring.

Come back next week for part TWO; meantimes, check out this photoset on Flickr. And, of course, a special thanks to Bossi for providing so many tips about what to see in his hometown.