Monday, September 27, 2010

whither walter reed?

The closure of Walter Reed Army Medical Center on Georgia Avenue may be a loss for the District, but it's also a loss to Silver Spring, which has long benefitted from the business of visiting soldiers and their families, who eat, shop and stay downtown. Though the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, which will merge with Walter Reed, is only five miles from Silver Spring, it's unlikely that guests, employees and visitors will continue going there. For the time being, it's unclear what will replace the hospital complex, but there remain possibilities for downtown Silver Spring to benefit from any future redevelopment of the 116-acre site.

The entrance of Walter Reed along Georgia Avenue. Photo from Google Street View.

Woodside resident and friend of JUTP Casey Anderson looks at Walter Reed's potential for Silver Spring on the blog of the Citizens League of Montgomery County, a nascent civic group that is way cool:

In fact, DC has ambitious plans to redevelop the Walter Reed campus. Ideas for reuse include some combination of residential housing, offices, retail, space for non-profits, a WMATA bus garage, and recruitment of one or more new federal government tenants to replace the Army. The District government also has been working for several years to refashion Upper Georgia Avenue (which they define as the 2.6 mile stretch from Decatur Street to the Maryland line) into a more inviting, vibrant corridor. These improvements would be good for both DC and MoCo.

Now might be a good time, though, for MoCo leaders to devote some thought to how we might cooperate (and in some cases compete against) the District to make sure we are prepared for the loss of Walter Reed.

Among the issues Casey brings up are the need for better transit between Silver Spring and Walter Reed, like the Georgia Avenue streetcar (which as planned would only go as far as Takoma); opening up the complex to the surrounding neighborhoods, and marketing Silver Spring as a desirable place to live for people working in upper Northwest D.C. (It could be argued this is already the status quo, as upper Georgia Avenue hasn't yet gentrified the way Petworth or downtown Silver Spring have yet.)

Meanwhile, Richard Layman from Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space has another take on the issue, pointing out that for many parts of Northwest, Silver Spring is already their "downtown" so long as neighborhoods within the District can't provide them with the amenities they want or need, like shopping or entertainment venues.

A site as large as the Walter Reed campus doesn't come along every day, and its redevelopment presents loads of possibilities for upper Northwest and for Silver Spring. Hopefully, it'll get done in a way that gives people on both sides of the District line more amenities and more reasons to stay in their neighborhood.


Dan said...

It's still more likely that visitors of patients will find more affordable places to stay in Silver Spring than Bethesda.

In addition, according to wikipedia, the Walter Reed Annex, which is actually in Silver Spring, is slated to become the National Museum of Health and Medicine

If that museum has a bit more space and is no longer located in a secure facility with restricted access, it could become another destination to attract people to the area.

Casey A said...

Funny that you would mention the museum -- since writing the post for the MoCo Citizens League blog, I have heard from a couple of folks who are unhappy that the museum is going to be at the army annex near Forest Glen, tucked back in the neighborhood near the Seminary. They say the museum will bring tons of traffic, and correctly note that there are few services or amenities in the immediate area (such as restaurants). I think they are right to argue that the museum should have been relocated to downtown SS, but the Army apparently was unwilling to do that.

Dan said...

I really don't know much about this specific issue, but there are currently quite a few people driving to the large parking lot on this site every day to work (see the satellite view on Google maps). I'd be shocked if the total number of drivers to this site goes up when an active work place becomes a museum.

The site is also near both the future Purple line stop and the RideOn Bus lot where dozens of empty buses travel each day. It's in the fork between the Purple line and the CSX line and also next to a row of construction related business (and what will be the purple line maintenance facility) so this isn't exactly a quiet neighborhood street.

I'd love such a museum right next to the Silver Spring metro stop, but where's the space? This isn't that far away. From a D.C. tourist perspective, will anyone plan to go to Silver Spring to see this museum and be unwilling to travel an extra 2 miles?
I agree this isn't ideal, but the land is ideal and I haven't heard better ideas.

historian4hire said...

The museum thread is something that is worth exploring a little more. Downtown Silver Spring has a lot of cultural and historical space, some of it is being interpreted for the public.

Notable examples are the displays in the AFI Silver Theater and in the shopping center space linking Georgia and the Ellsworth plaza. The new Civic Building has a small gallery with contemporary arts displayed, yet there is no sense of history conveyed in this space.

Besides the idiosyncratic Meditation Museum, there really isn't any formal museum space in downtown Silver Spring. It seems to me that as Silver Spring continues to redefine itself, a museum would be a wonderful amenity.

Terry in Silver Spring said...

Employees at Walter Reed also live in Silver Spring. I know several who rent at Summit Hills.

When I was a little kid in southern PG, Walter Reed was legendary for being home to the Gross Museum aka the Army Pathology Museum. Anyone who got to go came back with wild tales that of course got embroidered over time. By the time my sister and I convinced Dad to take us, we had heard that live people with various bizarre conditions sat there and talked with visitors. We learned, of course, that that wasn't true. Facinating place, even for a kid. I think Dad got squeamish before we did.

WashingtonGardener said...

Walter Reed is a VERY easy walk from downtown Takoma and the Takoma metro. Much closer than downtown SS. Feel bad for those eateries on Georgia Ave like Ledo's Pizza that wilreally suffer after WR moves.
Also the army runs shuttles from WR to downtown Silver Spring and sends blue-ish school buses up Georgia Ave to the Forest Glen annex and the extra army housing they have in Wheaton. Wondering if all that will shift when the WR moves?

Speaking of museums - whatever happened to that fire safety museum promised as part of the new SS Fire Station #1 - what is taking its place on the 2nd floor? can the community rent/use that empty space?