In this world, there are cool places and there are lame places. There are places that attract people, are lively and vibrant, and feel unique and special. And there are others still that repel visitors, and are dead and boring.
What makes a cool place? The reason why I started this blog four years ago was because I care about cool places, and I want to make more of them. I could rattle off facts and figures and make diagrams and maps about how this happens, but not everyone will understand or, more importantly, care.
And that's my new goal for this blog, while I'm living in Philadelphia and going to planning school and unable to be directly involved in what happens at home in Silver Spring: I want to make the making of a cool place as exciting as going to one.
It's something I've been thinking about ever since I worked for Councilmember George Leventhal, where one of my many tasks was to study master plans. I broke down all of the jargon and diagrams within these documents and make them legible to my boss, who in turn explains them to his constituents.
The most controversial plan I worked on was the Great Seneca Science Corridor, which proposed creating a research center around Johns Hopkins University's campus in Gaithersburg. George and I met several times with Hopkins' representatives, who were struggling to sell the plan to a very skeptical community. They had lots of data - projected traffic counts, revenue totals, and so on - but not much else.
Crick and Watson discovered DNA while having a beer together, they said. We know that scientists are working all the time - both in and outside of the lab - and we want them to have places to meet and share ideas.
Have you ever been to Harvard Square in Cambridge? They asked me. That's what we want to create here.
I have been to Harvard Square. It's a cool place indeed, where members of two of the world's most elite universities hang out and/or brainstorm. Cafe tables, a busy subway entrance, and the occasional street performer provide people-watching.
It's hard for me to imagine it in Gaithersburg. Armed with a sheaf of Hopkins' own facts and figures, opponents of the Great Seneca plan were able to conjure them into a monster. And Hopkins didn't have any means to fight back.
You have to give people a picture, I told them. They don't understand all these numbers you're throwing at them. You have to show them what this will look like, what this will feel like. Show them what Harvard Square would look like in Gaithersburg. And even if they aren't convinced, they won't be as scared.
A few weeks later, Hopkins' representatives returned with two artist's renderings of their proposal. And despite continuing community opposition, there was enough support for the plan to get it approved. Everyone, from neighbors to the councilmembers who represented them, had something they could understand, digest, and form an opinion on.
Will the Great Seneca Science Corridor become a cool place? It could, if done right. I'd like to talk about that, and about other places both lame and cool, in the blog posts to come.