Wednesday, June 30, 2010

what's up the pike: tilt and hurl

The carnival's back at Wheaton Plaza and friend of JUTP/awesome photographer Chip Py took this lovely shot of the Tilt-A-Whirl. If you'd like a ride, bring your barf bag to the parking lot outside JCPenney on Veirs Mill Road any day this week through Sunday.


- Yuppie moms everywhere are seething at Devouring DC's declaration that Pacci's Pizzeria is better than 2 Amys in Cleveland Park, but most of them probably don't even know where Silver Spring is.

- County planners are getting ready to draw up a life sciences center in White Oak, and they'd like to talk to you about it first. They're holding an open house today from 4:30 to 8:30pm at the Regional Services Center, located at 3300 Briggs Chaney Road at Robey Road.

- There's two very lovely retrospectives in the Post this week. A sort-of nostalgic look at living in Takoma Park, back when the streets really did smell of patchouli, and a reprint of Carl Bernstein's 1976 commencement speech at Blair High School, where he barely graduated from fifteen years earlier.

Perhaps that's why he's able to give such stirring advice:
"The real world is a lot more tolerant, a lot more interesting, a lot more fun, a lot more sensible really than the cocoon that is high school . . . Now you get to be your own person, not what your teachers want you to be, not what your parents expect you to be."
Last, but not least:

- If your morning commute yesterday sucked, you've got a broken air conditioner to blame. No, seriously.

- At The Straight Line, county planner Elza Hizel-McCoy celebrates the "majestic" parking garage at Fenton and Cameron streets.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

plan proposes science center in white oak

The eastern side of Montgomery County hasn't always enjoyed the fruits of its prosperity. It doesn't have Bethesda's shopping or Rockville's jobs, and it wasn't too long ago that downtown Silver Spring was largely abandoned. Until recently, many of our community leaders actively opposed new development, fearful of traffic, crime or changing demographics.

Westech Village Corner Sign
WesTech Village Corner, a shopping center on Tech Road.

Finally, things are starting to change. Tomorrow, county planners will hold an open house to discuss the East County Science Center Master Plan. It's a document that'll propose creating a new center for technology and commerce around the Food and Drug Administration's new campus and a relocated Washington Adventist Hospital.

In concept, it's very similar to the Great Seneca Science Corridor Master Plan, a controversial proposal for dense, mixed-use development west of Gaithersburg that the county passed earlier this year. Though civic activists and smart growth advocates criticized that plan for being too large and too far from transit, they've expressed support for creating a life sciences center here.

But like Great Seneca, the East County Science Center can't just be about doctors and lab coats. It'll hopefully bring more shopping, more housing, and other amenities. If done right, this plan could give East County a town center like people in Germantown or Rockville already enjoy.

east county science center plan
Major landmarks in the master plan area.

However, planners won't put markers to trace paper for a while. Right now, they're developing a "scope of work" describing what the plan will include. So far, all we know is that the plan could cover a 1,200-acre area bounded by Route 29, Cherry Hill Road, New Hampshire Avenue, and the Prince George's County line.

Today, that area contains a mash-up of residential, commercial, and light industrial uses. It's divided by the Paint Branch, which feeds into the Anacostia River. More than half of it is taken up by the Federal Research Center, home to the FDA and other government agencies. Though most of the 710-acre campus is undeveloped, local civic associations have opposed adding commercial or residential uses there.

As a result, the plan will focus on re-imagining older commercial and industrial parks in the study area. Local developer Percontee proposes redeveloping its concrete recycling plant on Cherry Hill Road and an adjacent sludge treatment facility called Site 2 into a mixed-use community called LifeSci Village. When completed, the 300-acre development could contain four million square feet of offices and retail, a conference center, and as many as four thousand new homes.

LifeSci Village Center
Rendering of LifeSci Village courtesy of Percontee.

Another candidate for redevelopment is the 1960's-era White Oak Shopping Center, located at New Hampshire Avenue and Route 29 and filled with a mix of chains and mom-and-pop stores. Its proximity to major roads and transit make it a good place for a mixed-use town center, but the mall's suffered from a reputation for crime.

If built out, the plan could revitalize East County, providing the kind of amenities residents have long clamored for. But it could also create new problems, like increased traffic. As a result, there are a few things planners will have to consider as they begin work.

The East County Science Center Master Plan must address transportation improvements. Though the InterCounty Connector will open in 2012, the area will need a network of new, local roads to improve circulation. It'll need to create connections to surrounding neighborhoods, parks, and the Paint Branch Trail, which is inaccessible east of Route 29. And we'll need sidewalks and bike paths to tie all of it together, enabling people to get around without driving.

The Food and Drug Administration's campus under construction in White Oak. Photo by Evan Glass.

The plan will have to address the need for rapid transit as well. In its long-term transportation plan (PDF!), Montgomery County proposes building a "Purple Line Spur" between Langley Park and White Oak, while Councilmember Marc Elrich's bus rapid transit plan would have multiple lines serving the East County Science Center. Both of these proposals should be vetted as the planning process begins.

The biggest challenge, however, will be reaching out to the area's diverse population. For far too long, the public discourse in East County has been dominated by a small but vocal minority who doesn't represent the whole community. For this plan to truly consider the wants and needs of everyone in East County, we'll have to listen in new ways.

Come out tomorrow for the open house, to be held from 4:30 to 8:30pm at the Eastern Montgomery Regional Services Center, located at 3300 Briggs Chaney Road.

Monday, June 28, 2010

what's up the pike: return of the water tower house

Return of the Water Tower House

(Ah, those were the days.) Anyway:

- Reader Terry in Silver Spring asks if somebody else wrote last Friday's post on super-conservative gubernatorial candidate/yummy cake proprietor Brian Murphy. Yes, I wrote it. What, haven't I expressed my love of dessert before?

- East County eight-piece swing band Swingtopia returns for their last show of the summer at Greek Village Restaurant in Colesville. It all starts at 8pm tonight at the restaurant, located at New Hampshire Avenue and Randolph Road.

- Sprung on the Spring celebrates a smart-alecky Ride-On bus driver on the "Silver Spring-Takoma route," though we're not sure which one they mean. (There are four of them, and the bus-riding public wants to know where to find him.

- The blog War Is A Crime reports that supporters of Palestine staged a protest Saturday afternoon at the Ulta Cosmetics store in Downtown Silver Spring for selling products made in the contested West Bank.

That said:

- Historian for Hire David Rotenstein writes a paean to his neighbor, the endangered Porta-John in South Four Corners Park.

- Good Eatin' celebrates the yummy empanadas at Caramelo Bakery on Georgia Avenue in Wheaton.

Friday, June 25, 2010

come for the family values, stay for the cake

Bill Hale for Brian Murphy, New Hampshire Avenue at East Randolph Road
This is Bill Hale of Colesville. He's a lawyer by trade, but he's spent this week - the hottest week of the year so far! - at the corner of New Hampshire Avenue and East Randolph Road, waving a sign for gubernatorial candidate Brian Murphy. Most people you see at this intersection are panhandlers, so naturally I pulled over and took a picture of him.

Bill's very friendly. The sign is for Brian Murphy, he says, who's running for governor. My son and I met him at a meeting of our group, the Maryland Society of Patriots. Bill hands me a card with a picture of a snake draped in the American flag.

Brian Murphy's pro-traditional families, anti-immigration, and he respects the sanctity of life, Bill explains. And we said, Shoot. Bob Ehrlich's pro-gay, he's pro-abortion, and he hasn't said anything about illegal immigration. We'll take this guy.

Where's this guy from? I ask.

He grew up in Easton, Bill explains, but he lives in Chevy Chase now. (I wonder what his opinion on the Purple Line is. Does he play golf?)

He's pro-business, too, Bill continues. A Wharton grad. You ever heard of Smith Island Baking Company? Bill asks. Brian Murphy co-founded it.

brian murphy
Brian Murphy with a box of yummy Smith Island cake.

If you haven't tried it before, Smith Island cake is the state's official dessert, named for a place so isolated that its residents have their own dialect. The cake is made with nine very thin layers baked individually and slathered with frosting. It is very good. In fact, it is the best cake you will ever eat.

I'm conflicted now. I have eaten Brian Murphy's cake. It's the kind of food that would make you vote for someone. On the other hand, my boyfriend doesn't like cake very much.

I went home and I looked at Brian Murphy's website. There, he's presented as a candidate anyone would like. His platform? Job creation. Lowering the cost of health care. Improving education for low-income students. Preserving the Chesapeake Bay. Energy independence. I can't imagine a candidate - liberal or conservative - in the state of Maryland who wouldn't campaign on those five issues, though perhaps with different solutions for each one.

He's got a lovely family - a wife and four young children. There isn't much mention of them living in Chevy Chase, but a lengthy bio on his website says that they "[worships] at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Bethesda." He even bears an uncanny resemblance to Will Forte on Saturday Night Live.

Would I vote for Brian Murphy? Probably not. I love that cake, though. And despite the fact that we might disagree on who I go to bed with, I was impressed by how nice and respectful his supporters are. This is what Bill wrote on the Maryland Society of Patriots' blog:
Over the past few nights . . . we campaigned for Brian Murphy, the only real Conservative running for Governor, and for M.S.O.P.

At each locale, we were nervous about walking into a group of strangers, and we wondered how we’d be received, because none of us are career politicians, nor do we want to be–and because the Republican “insiders” have already decided to support Ehrlich before the voters get the chance to give their opinion on Primary Day. But, just like our Moms always told us to do, we smiled, said “Hi”, and shook hands with everybody we could reach–and we were warmly received at each spot.
Kill 'em with kindness, as they say. One thing I like about East County is its diversity: different ethnicities, different religions, different walks of life, and different political beliefs, too - and that we all seem to get along. At least, most of the time.

what's up the pike: foods I don't recognize

Filmmakers Cocktail Reception

Special thanks to @MaiaKG for inviting me to a Silverdocs cocktail reception for filmmakers hosted by Investigation Discovery and Planet Green at Discovery Communications' headquarters yesterday evening. Not only did I get to rub elbows with Real Documentary Filmmakers and eat strange Hollywood foods I didn't understand, but I also got to schmooze with some of my favorite Silver Spring bloggers, including Jessica from A Parent in Silver Spring and Sligo from the Singular.


- Silver Spring-based STROyKA Theatre stages the musical Bye Bye Birdie, starring local filmmaker Walter Gottlieb (whose latest work we wrote about last fall) through the end of June. The show closes this weekend with performances tonight and Saturday at 8pm at the Burke Theater, 701 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in the District. For ticket information, check out STROyKA's website.

- The Appalachian Great Pyrenees Rescue, which rescues dogs and offers them for adoption, is holding an event in Downtown Silver Spring on Saturday from 1 to 4pm. "If you have not seen these wonderful dogs, you should stop by – they are way cool," writes group member and friend of JUTP Mike Diegel.

- The Silver Spring Historical Society opens a time capsule from 1969 found inside the former Moose Lodge before it was demolished this year to make room for the new library. The box will be opened for the first time at 3pm Saturday in the B & O Railroad Station, located at 8100 Georgia Avenue.

Last, but not least:

- The carnival returns to Wheaton Mall Wheaton Plaza Genericized Westfield Shopping Facility. (I'm so tired of these name changes.)

- A blogger called Diner Hunter uncovers the history of the Tastee Diner.

- This is on the D.C. side of Takoma, but it must be said: just because you produce crappy plays doesn't mean you get to knock down the theatre. There are talented playwrights who deserve that space far, far more than you.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

bold, engaging urban design at unither's new plaza

It's rare that a company can save lives while revitalizing a neighborhood. But that's just what United Therapeutics is doing with their boldly designed new headquarters at Spring and Cameron streets in downtown Silver Spring. Not only are they making medicine, but they're giving the community a place they can be proud of.

UniTher Pocket Park
Founder Martine Rothblatt started United Therapeutics in 1996 to find a cure for her daughter, who was suffering from pulmonary arterial hypertension, a disease that creates difficulty in breathing. The company licenses, markets - and will eventually produce - three drugs that improve blood flow around the heart.

As the company grew, they've built two new buildings across from their original offices on Spring Street, the second of which opened earlier this year. The new building contains corporate offices, research and development facilities, and space for manufacturing medicines. Together, the complex could employ as many as 150 people.

County planners are already big fans of the development. "In all, the entire space, including well-integrated plantings, water feature, seating, artworks, and architecture, is an exemplar of design excellence that we – as a county – should emulate," wrote Joshua Sloan on the Montgomery County Planning Department's blog, The Straight Line.

UniTher Building, June 2010 (2)
The plaza with the Cameron, a new apartment building, in the background.

Most people won't ever have a reason to go inside, but they'll catch glimpses of United Therapeutics' work in a spectacular new plaza along Cameron Street. There, designers at Schick Goldstein Architects have created something hard to find in downtown Silver Spring: an attractive pocket park.

Two weeks ago, I visited the complex when it played host to a "Community Conversation" hosted by my boss. There, I saw Paul Mahon, UniTher's Executive Vice President for Strategic Planning. "We wanted to provide a lot of surprises to make it as exciting outside as we think what's happening inside is," he explains. "We wanted to give back to the community with an interesting building and great public spaces."

Outside the meeting, I ran into Jill Schick, principal of Schick Goldstein Architects. She was there with a professional photographer taking pictures of their new building and showed me around the plaza. Stools with geometric patterns or the names of elements on them litter the space. (They glow different colors in the dark.) A flat, round fountain drowns out the din of traffic, while discreetly placed speakers play New Age music.

Argentine Benches
The benches.

But the most compelling part of the plaza are the benches, which came from Argentina and form concentric circles. Jill explains that they're made out of concrete, but you wouldn't know it from their smooth, black finish, giving the impression of a much softer material. Pressing your thumb against the bench, you expect it to give a little as if it were made of plastic or rubber.

The finish is already worn in some places. "You can see the skateboarders have already gotten to them," Jill laments.

It's likely that kids came here to skate because no one else is around. On Saturday, I return to the plaza and run into John Wetmore, a Bethesda resident who hosts Perils for Pedestrians, the nation's only TV show about pedestrian issues. He asked me what I was taking pictures of, and I explained how much I like the new plaza.

"What's it look like at lunchtime?" he asks. "Is it full of people?"

Other than a plastic cup someone left on one of the benches, there isn't much evidence that people come here to eat. Much of the new building's first floor has been set aside for stores and restaurants, though it's vacant. (UniTher's currently using it as an "Education center" to give the public a first-hand look at what they do.) When the space is filled, Jill says that a portion of the plaza has been set aside specifically for outdoor dining.

UniTher Roofline
The façade is compelling, but leaves much to the imagination.

Earlier this week, George and I took a tour with Pat Poisson, Vice President of Manufacturing and Facility Operations. He's worked for other pharmaceutical companies before, and notes that it's "very unusual" for one to locate in the middle of a city. "It's a unique approach and it's great to be a part of it," he says. "We don't have to get in the car and drive to lunch."

Inside, what's most exciting are the spaces you can't see. We can't say much about what happens there, as a lot of the equipment is proprietary and pending FDA approval so they can actually start making medicine. But I can say that the opaque glass walls that cover much of the building's street frontage hide mundane things, like offices and mechanical rooms.

As is the case downstairs, the most compelling part of the building is outside. The sixth and seventh floors, containing the company's corporate offices, open onto roof decks with panoramic views of downtown Silver Spring. They're covered in lush vegetation, making them feel less like a roof and more like a garden.

UniTher Green Roof (2)
United Therapeutics' sixth-floor roof deck.

From the deck, you can see Spring and Cameron streets, which today look pretty quiet but could become much busier in coming years. The Cameron, a new apartment building across the street, has its own pocket park and ground-level retail space as well.

And UniTher's third building, set to replace their old offices along Spring Street, will include even more room for shops - not to mention, of course, a bridge over Cameron Street connecting it to the rest of the campus and a multi-story video screen. It will start construction "soon," say county planners.

Former Washington Post architecture critic Benjamin Forgey once said "There are so many bad buildings in Silver Spring, it’s a hard place to do good." He might be due for another visit, because we've got some pretty great buildings to show him.

Check out this slideshow of United Therapeutics' headquarters, inside and out (but mostly out).

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

what's up the pike: tragedy towers

The Rooftop Pool
- Was there a suicide at The Georgian apartments at Georgia and Fenwick last week? At least three commenters at Georgian Confidential report seeing a man - allegedly a lifeguard at the building's rooftop pool - jump to his death in the courtyard below last Friday evening, though the local papers haven't reported anything yet.

- Mid-County Director Natalie Cantor re-caps meetings on the future of "downtown" Sandy Spring in preparation for a charrette this fall. On the boards: more housing and offices above stores; a village square where "grandparents can bring their grandchildren down for an ice cream cone," and parallel parking on Route 108 to slow traffic.

- Wheaton High could be merged with Thomas Edison High, the county's only vocational school, to become a "high-tech" school, says the Examiner. Parents worry it'll shortchange kids who aren't planning on going to college.

Briefly noted:

- A sophomore at Northwood High planned to bomb her school, says the Gazette.

- Good Eatin' continues to mourn the loss of the Wheaton Safeway.

- We get a lovely heads-up from Lydia over at Snoburbia.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

east county dining wish list includes crabcakes, meatballs

Friend of JUTP and Burtonsville resident Dr. F e-mailed me yesterday to lament the closing of Moe's Southwest Grill on Tech Road. "We dug it over Chipotle because they had more veggie options for me (tofu as a 'meat') and [my daughter] liked the free guacamole," Dr. F explains.

My only experience with Moe's was with their Rockville location, which would shower the employees of neighboring stores (including the one where I once worked) with coupons to get them to come in. I went once and discovered why they have to give away their burritos. Today, that space is now Carbón, easily one of my favorite Peruvian places.

Burtonsville Town Square under construction. Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

Whether or not you like Moe's, or any of the chains that dominate the culinary landscape of East County, you can't deny that people here are always hungry for something new. Later this summer, we'll get a new Wendy's and a Chick-Fil-A (whose owner Erik Amick we interviewed last month). But there's still lots of space for new eateries - especially in the new Burtonsville Town Square shopping center - that is, where they haven't already swiped stores from across the street.

What restaurants would be nice to have at Burtonsville Town Square? I asked my brother Tyler, recent elementary school graduate and member of the Movie, Popcorn and Candy Committee, what he'd like to see there and throughout East County.

His suggestions included "somewhere that you can get crabcakes," (he's partial to Bobby's Crabcakes in Rockville); "the restaurant we went for Daniel's 21st birthday," also known as the Olive Grove, an awesome Italian restaurant in Linthicum Heights (best described as "out by BWI Airport"); and "a place where you can get meatballs." (Rarely a week goes by that he doesn't beg me to take him to the restaurant inside Ikea in College Park.)

Listen for yourself:

I hope you're listening, Chris Jones. Unlike me, this kid has seven more years in East County to patronize your lousy shopping center.

Miss you, Amish Market (1987-2009). Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

Monday, June 21, 2010

adam pagnucco steps down from maryland politics watch

This morning, blogger Adam Pagnucco announced that he'll stop writing at Maryland Politics Watch:
So long as I have both a very demanding job and a very demanding blog, I cannot be the husband and father that my family deserves. So I have to choose. And right now, I am choosing the job that puts food on my son’s table. That, of course, is not the blog.

Some may wonder why I don’t simply “cut back.” It is not my nature to do anything without giving it 100% effort. I’m just not made that way and I can’t change.

Nearly four years ago, when Just Up The Pike was still very young, I got an e-mail from a guy in Forest Glen who'd transcribed a debate between then-County Council candidates Hans Riemer and Valerie Ervin on Channel 8. I didn't believe that anyone actually read this blog, let alone wanted to write for it, but I posted what he had anyway and went on with my life.

A few weeks later, Adam e-mailed me again with an entire post ruminating on the significance of the teachers' union on Montgomery County politics. It got eighteen comments. Then came another post, and another. If I wrote something, Adam backed me up with some research, sometimes unsolicited.

I wouldn't meet Adam until a year after I'd started publishing his work, but when we did it was like seeing an old friend. He told me I was the reason he'd started writing, but I came to look up to him as both a journalist and an activist. His knowledge of the inside baseball within our local and state government and ability to spin a good yarn lent Maryland politics an intriguing and almost glamorous air.

When I started planning my "Purple Line Diaries" series, I went to Adam for ideas. When offered my current job, I called Adam first to ask whether I should take it. Or, perhaps, Adam called me to say I'd been offered it. I don't remember. He had eyes and ears in many, many places.

Upon joining Maryland Politics Watch in 2007, Adam turned it from a diary of goings-on in Chevy Chase into the state's premier political blog, well-read both inside and out of the halls of power. Here in the Council Office Building, rarely does a day go by that I don't hear someone say, "Did you see what Adam just wrote?"

Adam's departure leaves a huge gap in the local blogosphere. I don't know anyone, and I mean anyone, who could work as hard and write as thoroughly and fairly as he did.

If blogging was Adam's hobby, I can only imagine what he's done at his day job. But I know he'll be a spectacular father. As the man said himself, he always puts in 100%.

what's up the pike: we found this in bethesda row

Sandwich Board on Bethesda Lane
- Supporters of the Fillmore music hall have launched a campaign on Facebook to boycott the 9:30 Club, whose owner Seth Hurwitz has sued the state of Maryland for giving $4 million to the venue's operator, international promoter Live Nation. According to Facebook, among those boycotting 9:30 is former state Senator Ida Ruben, who has a District native has likely been to her share of harDCore shows there.

The Montgomery County Planning Board approved plans to build the Fillmore on Colesville Road two weeks ago and construction was scheduled to start this fall.

- East County eight-piece swing band Swingtopia returns to the Greek Village Restaurant in Colesville for another month of Monday shows. It all starts at 8pm tonight at the restaurant, located at New Hampshire Avenue and Randolph Road.

- And you know what I forgot starts today? SilverDocs, at the AFI Silver Theatre and other downtown Silver Spring venues through Sunday. Check out the schedule and film information here.

Last, but not least:

- William Smith at Montgomery Sideways wonders if his advocacy for pedestrians makes him a civil rights activist.

- Organizers of last April's Human Rights Art Festival say they're raising money for another one.

Friday, June 18, 2010

what's up the pike: lowercase letters

langley park
- Sad news in Takoma Park today: SoCo Eats reports that Udupi Palace, the Indian vegetarian restaurant on University Boulevard, has lost its lease and will soon close.

Seriously? Not only was this one of the best Indian places in the region (and an excellent place to take my vegetarian friends), but one of the few classy restaurants in an area known more for pupusa trucks than tablecloths. You want to revitalize Langley Park? You start with nice places to eat. Shame on whatever unscrupulous landlord would let such a great tenant go.

That said, if you'd like to join me for a trip to Udupi's location in Schaumburg, Illinois, buy your plane tickets soon!

- Silver Spring-based STROyKA Theatre stages the musical Bye Bye Birdie, starring local filmmaker Walter Gottlieb (whose latest work we wrote about last fall) through the end of June. There'll be performances tonight and Saturday at 8pm at the Burke Theater, 701 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in the District, with eight additional performances through the end of the month. For ticket information, check out STROyKA's website.

- The CD-Game Exchange will sponsor a live music stage with local bands and DJs at Fenton Street Market starting tomorrow. Seems like something good came out of last week's cancelled skateboarding rally. Looking forward to it!

Last, but not least:

- The National Pinball Museum, currently run out of curator David Silverman's Colesville home, could move to Georgetown this summer, says the Post's Local Blog Network.

- Sprung on the Spring finally visits 8407 and is not at all pleased with the service.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

the great peruvian taste test: my favorites

The JUTP Facebook page isn't maintained as well as it should be (though I encourage y'all to "like" us!), so it took me two weeks to notice this plea from Sardi's Pollo a la Brasa to "TRY OUR CHICKENNN."

Oh, Sardi's. If only I hadn't given away all my big JUTP buttons (from the ill-fated JUTP store) to small children in Briggs Chaney. Then, I could have worn them when I came to your restaurant - one on each side - and proudly told the cashier, "I HAVE TRIED YOUR CHICKENNN, AND IT IS SO GOODDD."

I basically abandoned our Great Peruvian Taste Test two months ago, stopping short of reviewing the #1 reader-selected favorite pollo a la brasa, El Pollo Rico.

There are a few reasons why this happened. For one, you can't get plantanos at El Pollo Rico, which are my favorite Peruvian chicken side dish. Second, I started dating a vegetarian, one who lives in Virginia and can cook really well, eliminating most opportunities I'd have had to eat heavily-flavored meat.

But the real reason is that we've all already eaten at El Pollo Rico, and those who are really into pollo a la brasa have long since dismissed it for the next great chicken. I know I have. My favorite Peruvian places never made the top five, but I figured you'd rather hear about them than anything else.

So let's bring an end to the Great Peruvian Taste Test:

Sardi's Pollo a la Brasa
Multiple locations; we tried the one at 10433 Baltimore Avenue, Beltsville.

I first learned about Sardi's in college, when a friend ordered food and I was stunned to find the delivery man brought not pizza or Chinese but delicious rotisserie chicken. Located on Route 1 in a former Pizza Hut, Sardi's is particularly convenient to those living Up The Pike who don't feel like going into Downtown Anywhere. Unlike many of its hole-in-the-wall counterparts, Sardi's has a nice, big, clean dining room. But don't let the non-Wheaton location and cleanliness fool you: This shit is good.

Meat and Flavor. Juicy, strong chicken. The meat falls right off the bone. The skin is nice as well, for those of you who do that. Right up there with Inka's in terms of taste.

Sides. A huge variety of sides - and they're generous with them, too. The plantanos don't cost extra and are always golden and just a little crispy. Meanwhile, the white rice is soft and fluffy. Together, they support the chicken well.

Sauces. The standard yellow sauce and green sauce. But you won't really need either of them.

Chicken, Carbon in Rockville
Carbón Peruvian Chicken & Grill (above)
100 Gibbs Street, Rockville

You might worry that a pollo a la brasa joint in Rockville Town Square might dilute the quality of its food to please diners who'd otherwise take their business next door to Five Guys or Jerry's Subs and Pizza. But Carbón's doesn't compromise, mixing trendy décor - a menu with prices in whole dollars, posters from an obscure Andean potato ad campaign on the walls - with solid food.

Meat and Flavor. While not as cuminy as other places, the birds are far more consistent in quality here. Soft, juicy, and meaty. I'm convinced their chickens are bigger.

Sides. Plantains cost extra, unfortunately, but no complaints about the taste. I always run out of rice before I finish, though.

Sauces. There's the traditional green and yellow sauces, along with another greenish-yellow sauce that I'm told is "extra mild." (This is Rockville, after all.) It's not bad, however.

Chicken on the Run
4933 Saint Elmo Avenue, Bethesda

This is the place that started it all for me four summers ago while doing a miserable internship a block away. If it weren't for Chicken on the Run, I would've quit much sooner. It's a hole-in-the-wall - you might be able to get ten people in here sitting down - but perhaps the only dining establishment (save for mom-and-pop M&N's Pizza) worth your money in downtown Bethesda.

Meat and Flavor. Friend of JUTP Chip Py always jokes that the best Peruvian places are the ones where the chickens have years of old grease and dirt baked into them. It's probably applicable here. This pollo is dark and sumptuous - certainly not for beginners.

Sides. Plantains aren't extra, and they're good. They have a nice lunch special here that's definitely worth taking advantage of.

Sauces. Yellow sauce and green sauce. Perhaps this as a judging category was not a good idea.

And there you have it: the best Peruvian chicken in suburban Maryland. I hope you enjoyed this journey as much as I have, particularly right around lunchtime. If you're smart, you haven't eaten yet - and, hopefully, you're close to one of the eateries on the map below. Happy eating!

View the great peruvian taste test in a larger map

one last look at the civic building

It's been little over a year since the Silver Spring Civic Building first broke ground, but next month, our community's "living room and patio" has its grand opening with a four-week series of celebrations. Over the past year, we've watched the pieces fall into place - windows, an ice rink, and so on. We've even gotten to go inside for a glimpse of the striking, if ill-fitted, spaces within.

Looking at the finished product, I can't believe I called the new Civic Building a "a piece of modernist crap" four years ago and made fun of how snooty its architects seemed. There's often a lot of resistance to modern buildings, whether out of nostalgia or concerns that modern buildings haven't always been done very well.

A lot of modern buildings (like most of the buildings in downtown Silver Spring built during the 1960's) are terrible and mean to be in or around. But some can be pleasant and even uplifting, like the Civic Building. "Finally! Modern architecture in Montgomery County!" exclaimed Rollin Stanley at an event last week. In other words, forget everything you've seen before.

Silver Spring Civic Building, June 2010 (2)
You can see the canopy over the ice rink is largely complete. It looks different than in the renderings - clear glass in a steel frame, as opposed to whatever was originally intended. But it's also a really bold form, one that draws the eye into the plaza.

Silver Spring Civic Building, June 2010 (1)
We can finally see the plaza coming together as well, with a set of wide steps coming down from Ellsworth Drive (at right). I can definitely see those steps filling with people sitting down and hanging out - much as they do a block away in Silver Plaza.

Silver Spring Civic Building, June 2010
We're all seeing paving materials for the plaza and portico as well, though what material it is I can't tell. But the color of the pavers works well with the deep brown of the wood and the red brick.

Silver Spring Civic Building, June 2010 (4)
And as we've noted before, the entrance to the Civic Building is on axis with Ellsworth Drive, meaning you can look from the end of that street right through the front door. Beyond the shoppers and flaneurs of Ellsworth we can see the most important part of the Civic Building has appeared: its name (see close up), written in sleek, sans-serif fonts. Very modern, but very classy as well, not unlike the sign on Northwood High School, which I've always enjoyed.

Silver Spring Civic Building, June 2010 (5)
They've already turned the lights on at night, and the Civic Building's presence in downtown Silver Spring can already be felt. The building glows!

Anyone who's complained that downtown feels too "commercial" or should definitely take note: the public realm's got a marquee of its own, just as bright as the Majestic's. I can't wait for the plaza to open this summer so we can pick up right where "the Turf" left off.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

skateboarding rally cancelled at last minute

Skateboarding Rally Cancelled
Always present but rarely embraced, local skaters would finally get to tell their side of the story at a skateboarding rally last Saturday at Fenton Street Market. However, kids from across the region who came to check it out found an empty tent and a no-show by organizer and activist Maryam Balbed.

"She didn't show, she didn't call," says Hannah McCann, who founded the weekly market at Fenton Street and Silver Spring Avenue last fall. She approached Balbed - who goes by the name Sk8ter Mom - about creating a skateboarding event after reading about her push to build a skatepark in Silver Spring in the Gazette last month.

Over the past three weeks, Balbed assembled an entire program of videos, photos and demonstrations for the Village Square, a weekly workshop inside the market sponsored by Downtown Silver Spring. Previous events in the Village Square have included everything from a screenprinting demonstration to a design charrette.

Saturday morning, McCann says, she e-mailed Balbed after the event was planned to start and no one was there. With a large part of the market sitting empty, she hastily called Sam Locke from the CD-Game Exchange, who was originally planning to display skateboards at the event. Locke got his kids and their friends to skate instead, giving visitors something to watch.

Balbed says she and her daughter were forced to leave a "dangerous" house they'd just rented in Silver Spring. Having spent Friday night with friends in Southeast D.C., she had no way to get to the market - or retrieve her things.

"How much pain, anguish, and suffering does a child have to experience before it gets to take precedence by that child's mother over a skateboarding event?" Balbed wrote JUTP in a Facebook message.

McCann offered the space to Balbed for her event and heavily publicized it - including on this blog - drawing visitors from as far as Reston, Virginia. "We were really disappointed," she says. "We thought this would be a good opportunity for kids in the neighborhood."

"It looks bad," McCann says. "And it makes the skater kids look bad because they couldn't show up to their own event."

"I don't care what Hannah thinks of me," writes Balbed. "If she can't be bothered to understand and respect [my situation], then she simply isn't human."

It's a shame last Saturday's event fell through due to circumstances seemingly beyond anyone's control. Skaters, especially young skaters, deserve a chance to stand up and be heard, and it seemed like this rally was a chance to do that. Here's hoping that the local skater community gets more opportunities like this in the future.

what's up the pike: world cup fever!

World Cup Fever On Ellsworth

- Friend of JUTP Whitney Teal interviews me for her new blog, the Washington Media Project. In it, I talk about how JUTP got
started, the state of local news in East County, and what (if any) impact I think I've had.

- The City of Takoma Park will restrict traffic on Ritchie and Mississippi avenues due to fears that rush-hour road closures in adjacent Sligo Park Hills will further burden their streets. Rather than close public streets to drivers who pay taxes for them but may not live there, good neighbors might want to push for better traffic calming - speed bumps and chicanes - rather than creating more congestion on busy Philadelphia Avenue and other roads.

- Opponents of a self-storage facility locating in Burtonsville asked if they "were settling" by letting it happen. It turns out we weren't: tomorrow, the Planning Board reviews a proposal (PDF!) to build a mixed-use development right next door. Dubbed Star Pointe Plaza, the three-story building to be located at Route 198 and Dino Drive would have 16,000 square feet of offices and 8,400 square feet of retail on the first floor, enough room for several shops and restaurants. There'd also be a patio for outdoor dining with a view of the parking lot.

Below, a building elevation (from the right side, facing the parking lot) and a site plan, with north facing up:

Briefly noted:

- Jerry McCoy at Then and Again jumps a fence to find Dick and Jane figures playing ball in the lot on Thayer Avenue where Studio Plaza will soon be built.

- Our page on Facebook just broke three hundred friends! Thanks for "liking" us!

- Come back later today to find out what happened at last week's skateboarding rally at Fenton Street Market.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

guest blog: against the generistocracy

Today's guest post comes from Dave Murphy, who writes the blog Imagine, DC. He grew up in Franklin Knolls (off University Boulevard) and offers us this story about coming of age in East County.

Barbarian Window

Fifteen years ago, I was a nonconformist in high school. Like my older brother before me, I sported wild hair and listened to the latest parent-unfriendly rock music. And I loved visiting Phantasmagoria, a (literally) underground record store on Grandview Avenue in Wheaton.

It was an easy walk from my high school, a since-demolished private Catholic school that has, in its relocation, implied that they want to keep lower middle class students like me from ever attending there again. But in 1995, that school was a quarter mile from the Wheaton Metro station where I caught the C2 or C4 home, and occasionally I would stop in at Phantasmagoria or one of the other quirky little off-the-beaten-path shops in Wheaton along the way.

In 1996, Phantasmagoria moved to Elkin Street, next to one of my other favorite Wheaton venues, Legends Pool Hall. "Phantaz", as we called it, added a grill and a stage at their new venue, and all of the sudden Elkin Street boasted two hip venues. The tight streets and nighttime activity created a sort of feral urbanism, an area to walk around and feel natural despite the fact that I was trying to distract myself from the continuing decay of community and the arts in suburbia.

Outside Wheaton Station

Both Phantaz and Legends were places shady enough to be considered cool, but safe enough that my mother would reluctantly approve of me spending Friday nights shooting billiards and going to punk shows. Both were independent businesses, and both were affordable enough for crews of lower-middle class outcasts to seek refuge. In Legends, you were most likely to see Central American or Southeast Asian immigrants on the billiards tables or service industry types at the bar; meanwhile, Phantasmagoria attracted every kind of punk, indie rocker, metalhead, ska fan, or geek rocker you can imagine.

I never got into any trouble there, save for coming home smelling like cigarettes (which I don't smoke now, and certainly wasn't then). Nonetheless, I felt welcome and at home in the shadows and back alleys of Wheaton, not in Wheaton Plaza or fast food joints where my more clean-cut classmates might be found bubbling around after school.

Olney was well represented at my high school. In fact, the shiny new campus is up there, far away from the public transportation that allowed me to attend the Wheaton campus. I was forced to spend a great deal of time in Olney, especially during my junior year when I dated a girl who lived up off Emory Lane.

McMansions, Cypress Hill Drive (1)

The entire town disgusted me. I couldn't quite put my finger on why. I often cited the lack of mature trees and the spread out nature, but my friends would accuse me of being jealous of the affluence. There was no walking around. A seventeen-year-old with a ponytail caught milling around in that neighborhood must have looked like a fly on a wedding cake. The vast cul-de-sac mazes of huge colonials with vinyl siding were built to isolate and exclude, and there were no gritty little holes in the wall or back alleys for kids like me to feel at home.

That’s when I coined the phrase "generistocracy" to describe Olney and many other Montgomery County sprawlburbs. It described the people who lived in those crisp, new, bland neighborhoods that where completely devoid of any stimulation and hadn’t been around long enough to develop any character. Generistocracy helped me separate places like Olney from places like downtown Bethesda, home of one of my favorite underground shops, a second hand boutique called Rerun that specialized in hippie attire and rock memorabilia.

Bethesda was wealthy like Olney, but Olney rubbed me the wrong way. I felt welcome in Bethesda. Olney made it clear that I had no business there. Downtown Bethesda wanted me to come in and walk around. Bethesda didn’t have much to offer a kid like me the way Wheaton did, but it gave me a sense of place that I never got from the generistocracy.

Empty Parking Lot, Olney Town Center

Meanwhile, I'd continue to discover Wheaton outside the mall. There was Barry's Magic Shop and an antique toy store that specialized in trains. There was House of Cards, a baseball card store, and Nick’s Diner, which only served breakfast and lunch. There was a military surplus store where I bought most of the patches that were sewn on my jacket. And there were not one, but two music stores where I would stare enviously at guitars and drum sets.

It didn't sink in that these were independent businesses, the kind that didn't care if a kid with a ponytail would come in and poke around despite being unable to make a purchase more often than not. Shopkeepers in the mall always eyeballed me as if I were going to steal something. But the best part about them, the part that wouldn't hit me until much later, was how accessible they were. I didn't need a car, money, or an agenda. I could just be there and fit in. Had Wheaton gone all Starbucks and Panera back then, I don't know how I would have made it through high school.

My girlfriend's father, a prominent local banker, forbade us to go to Legends, insisting we instead played pool at the billiard room in their house. Wheaton was just too dangerous for him. It was bad enough his daughter was dating a kid who in middle school hung out with his Salvadorian, Ivorian, and Cambodian friends in the garden apartments of Langley Park.

But for my part, I didn't drink, I didn't do drugs, and I didn't even smoke. I wasn't in a gang, I didn't get into fights, and I wasn't vandalizing. I didn't go to edgy venues looking for mischief. I just liked the fact that there was a place for me to be, and in Wheaton I felt like I fit in pretty well.

Wheaton Walkway

I liked walking around. I liked being recognized and treated like a member of a community. I liked that the businesses welcomed me. I liked recommending these places to my friends who might actually buy something. And it made going to the bus station after school an interesting adventure, not a walk of shame for that poor kid whose parents hadn’t bought him a car yet.

I’m thirty now, and I don't go to Wheaton very often anymore. More often I find myself in downtown Silver Spring or Bethesda. As much as Wheaton shaped who I am and how much I appreciate a sense of place, it just reminds me of high school too much, and I wasn’t very fond of my high school. Phantasmagoria closed its doors for good in 2001. Legends is still there, though it's been nine years since I last set foot inside. Many of the other small, independent shops have either gone dark or moved.

But Wheaton still has a bit of that feral urbanism, set of raw streets with not-so-mainstream shops and businesses that feel a little off the beaten path despite the fact that they’re right in the middle of everything, versus the tame, boring set of chains in strip malls that litter much of the suburbs. As wave after wave of investment pours into the choice real estate around Wheaton Metro, I can only hope that the edgy underground Wheaton I grew up with can survive and thrive.

Monday, June 14, 2010

what's up the pike: flags of the world

Happy Flag Day, y'all. Now, with that out of the way:

- East County eight-piece swing band Swingtopia returns to the Greek Village Restaurant in Colesville for another month of Monday shows. It all starts at 8pm tonight at the restaurant, located at New Hampshire Avenue and Randolph Road. In the meantime, check out this video (courtesy of the band) from one of their previous performances.

- ReadysetDC interviews Silver Spring-based filmmaker Steven Greenstreet, whose documentary 8: The Mormon Proposition premieres nationwide next Friday, June 18. Come to read about the Mormon Church's involvement in passing a gay marriage ban in California, but stay for surprisingly sexy photos of Greenstreet's apartment in the Enclave, a high-rise complex in White Oak better known for its insect tenants.

Briefly noted:

- Hungry in Wheaton? Own an iPhone? There's an app for that or, more accurately, a nifty mobile version of the downtown's existing website.

- What, another Bethesda blog? "Bethesda is a town with a culture, vibrancy, style and economy all of its own," boasts Bethesda Actually. For a more accurate depiction of Bethesda's "culture," you might want to read Snoburbia instead.

- County planners at The Straight Line give an update about the garden they've planted outside their offices in downtown Silver Spring.

Friday, June 11, 2010

what's up the pike: put on a happy face

- STROyKA Theatre is a Silver Spring-based company devoted to "encourag[ing] members of the suburban communities . . . to become an active part of the Downtown DC Theatre Scene." This month, they're putting on a rendition of the musical Bye Bye Birdie, starring our very own Walter Gottlieb (whose latest work we wrote about last fall).

The show opens at 8pm tonight at the Burke Theater, 701 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in the District, with eight additional performances through the end of the month. FOr dates and ticket information, check out STROyKA's website.

- And tomorrow, Fenton Street Market hosts a skateboarding rally from 10am to 3pm. There'll be demos, videos and skateboards for sale, not to mention plans of the new skate spot being built in Woodside Park.

- The Planning Board has approved plans for the Fillmore music hall on Colesville Road and an office and hotel development behind it. If developers can get a site plan approved this summer, they're on schedule to break ground this fall. For more information, check out our previous posts on the Fillmore.

Last, but not least:

- Sandy Spring prepares for a charrette for the Route 108 strip later this fall.

- Richard Layman notes an anti-BP protest that took place just across the District line from Takoma Park and an student-designed pro-Purple Line poster with some unfortunate errors.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

the quotable rollin stanley

View From 14th Floor Balcony, Gallery at White Flint
I've never been shy about professing my planner crush on Rollin Stanley, director of the Montgomery County Planning Department. Last week, I saw him speak before the White Flint Partnership, a group leading the push to redevelop that area, at White Flint Mall.

If you ever get a chance to hear him talk, go. It's inspiring to hear about everything he's done in St. Louis and Toronto (PDF!) and the visionary ideas he has about our county's future. And he's also a great speaker - funny, engaging, and truly excited about the power of people and places.

Rollin's thesis is simple: We have a growing population, especially immigrants and young professionals, who don't always want the suburban lifestyle. So if we build up, around Metro and older commercial areas, we can provide for them while generating revenue AND preserving the suburban neighborhoods that current residents like. On top of that, we can create great urban spaces for people of all kinds to enjoy.

A lot of Rollin's ideas can easily be boiled down into digestible nuggets of planning wisdom, but that doesn't make them any less useful. And so, I present the Quotable Rollin Stanley:

On Parks

"Why are the parks packed in Paris? Everyone lives in smaller space. They don't have three acres of grass to cut."

"These kids [today] don't hang out in big parks. They hang out in small, intimate places where they can mingle, shop and surf the web."

"We put up signs saying 'No Rollerblading, No Skateboarding,' and nobody has any fun."

On Traffic

"The best places to visit have the worst traffic. Who in here has gone on vacation in Houston?"

On Tall Buildings

"If the buildings are articulated properly, you can't tell me how tall they are. It isn't possible."

On Montgomery County Culture

"We're a little uptight here, as are a lot of places. We gotta let things happen. We're a little too worried."

On Silver Spring's Ellsworth "Avenue"

Silver Plaza, Blues Festival
Rollin both lives and works in downtown Silver Spring and misses no opportunity to sing its praises. I'm not sure if there's a public official in Montgomery County - perhaps Reemberto Rodriguez from the Regional Services Center - who better understands and appreciates how and why this place works so well.

"You should go there on a Friday night and watch. It's the most diverse place in the region."

"['The Turf'] was amazing on a Friday night. People of all ethnic groups outside, being out . . . and parents let their kids run forever because there were no boundaries."

"The [Civic Building] itself is astounding. Finally, modern architecture in Montgomery County!"

"Your first perception of Downtown Silver Spring is that it's overdesigned . . . but it works well. They just turned on the fountain last night and kids were already running around in it."

"Forget the $2 million for the bridge, gimme $50,000, and I'll give you the best intersection you can imagine. Won't be a person with a disability who feels unsafe crossing it."

"I could go to Whole Check. I could go to Safeway. But more and more of my shopping gets done in Fenton Village."

On Public Space

"Urban space should be about getting lost."

"Urban spaces are places we can all go."

"Public spaces should be fun."

"Public spaces should lead people to something."

"Public spaces should create discussion."

Tenets of Design

(A list of bullet points, presented throughout the talk and later abridged.)

Design for accessibility. Design for safety. Design for three dimensions. Design for textures. Design for flexibility. Design for festivities. ("You know who does this well? Downtown Silver Spring. They do great programming and lots of stuff for children.")

Design for art and architecture. Design for the kids. ("If we put a mud puddle in the middle of this room, kids will be all over it in five minutes.") Design for the environment. Design for spontaneity. Design for maintenance.

Design for the current medium. Design for the interaction. Design for all day and into the evening. Design for the senses.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

what's up the pike: zen-like forgiveness

Bicycle-mounted cops may be getting exercise, but they're not immune to a little jealousy of their motorized brethren. Friend of JUTP and awesome photographer Chip Py shot this hilarious photo of cops waiting outside President Obama's health care-themed town hall meeting in Wheaton yesterday.

If you're counting, that's the third time the President or First Lady have appeared in East County this year, after a visit to Veirs Mill Elementary School in October and another, more controversial trip to New Hampshire Estates Elementary School last month.

- The Takoma Park/Silver Spring/Kensington/whatever Voice seems to like Fire Station 1, the new restaurant in the old firehouse at Georgia and Silver Spring avenues, while SoCo Eats and most of the commenters on Thayer Avenue (Why don't y'all come over here?) are not impressed at all.

A few months ago, I criticized fellow blogger Nacho Salsa for his mean-spirited review of 8407, but upon reading his latest thoughts on Fire Station 1, I think I've come around. Or gotten the joke. (At least, I think it's a joke.) While he praises the restaurant's staff ("clearly, run by pros"), Nacho's still not impressed and chastises anyone willing to settle for less in the "new" downtown Silver Spring:

"There’s a movement in Silver Spring that preaches a Zen-like forgiveness for places like [Fire Station 1]. Renewal, revitalization, at any cost. But, here’s the thing – Silver Spring is vital. It is alive. A few feet from FS1 is Pacci’s, with amazing pizza and equally comfy outdoor seating. A block south is Jackie's, Sidebar, and Lotus Café. Good food, good drinks. North and you get the best beer and bourbon bar in the state at Quarry House. Go across the street and you get the craziest theme pub I’ve ever seen in Piratz Tavern. Zig-zag across the street again and you get the chains. Faux Irish, yuppieville fucktown, sports hell, and sad southwestern. Wander another few blocks and you get crazy Greeks, or drinks served in coconut shells.

We have the vitality. We have the diversity. And we have gifted restaurateurs. So much so that these middling places are a weeping wound in our sides. A step backwards. Too simple. Too boring."
Last, but not least:

- The snowball stand outside Kendall's Hardware on Route 108 in Clarksville is open!

- Lots of good words about Hollywood East Cafe, newly reopened at Westfield Wheaton Wheaton Plaza, at Good Eatin' and Wheaton Calling.

- Matt at Track Twenty-Nine calls out Park Police for blocking trails in Sligo Creek Park with trail warning signs.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

fenton street market hosts skateboarding rally

Kid Falls Off Board, Everyone Laughs
This Saturday, Fenton Street Market hosts local skaters and activist Maryam Balbed - perhaps better known as Sk8ter Mom - for a celebration of skateboarding and push to build more skateparks in this area.

From their press release:
Local skateboarders step off their boards to greet the public on Saturday, June 12, in the Village Square of the Fenton Street Market in downtown Silver Spring. Stop by anytime between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. for stories of skateboarding for positive change, simple demos on safety and skateboard maintenance, and indie videos and photography of local skateboarders.

Skateboarding is an enduringly popular sport, but communities often battle over where and when it should take place. The June 12 rally is an opportunity to think proactively about the role of skateboarding in Silver Spring. Participants will be invited to sketch their concepts for a dream skatepark and view plans currently on the boards for a park in Woodside and Laurel. Maryam Balbed, locally reknowned as “Sk8ter Mom,” leads the event in cooperation with the CD & Game Exchange, which will be exhibiting skateboards in the marketplace. A petition supporting local skateboard park development will be on hand those who wish to support it.

The program is one of many free educational events taking place in the Downtown Silver Spring-sponsored Village Square at the Fenton Street Market, a new outdoor market happening every Saturday in downtown Silver Spring. More than 60 local artists, craftspeople, collectors, importers, inventors, and more exhibit at the Fenton Street Market each week. Every Saturday features a fresh roster of exhibitors, plus live music and educational events, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the corner of Fenton Street and Silver Spring Avenue. Come see what's new!

What: Skateboarding in Silver Spring—A Friendly Rally
When: Saturday, June 12, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Where: Fenton Street Market, Fenton Street and Silver Spring Avenue, Silver Spring, Md.
Cost: FREE
More info:

It's exciting to see skateboarding get a higher profile in Silver Spring, and it certainly wouldn't have happened without the work of Sk8ter Mom. Of course, kids have been skating here forever, and you can't go downtown without seeing them. But it's important for them, and for us, to recognize that they play a role in the community as well. I wasn't surprised to find that the lack of skateparks was a concern at last month's charrette at Fenton Street Market.

'Skate Board,' California Heritage Museum

Unfortunately, skateboarding doesn't have the cultural relevance here that it does on the West Coast, however. When I visited Los Angeles last winter, I was surprised to find a California Heritage Museum with - what else - a year-long exhibition called "Skateboard: Evolution in Art in California."

It's not quite a museum, but giving skateboarders a day at the market is close enough.

return to the piazza

Last week, I went apartment hunting in Philadelphia and visited one of my favorite places (not just in the city, but in general), the Piazza at Schmidt's, a mixed-use development on the site of a historic brewery. It's probably the best product of a mid-life crisis ever: a frustrated shopping-mall developer visits the Piazza Navona in Rome and decides to bring it home with him, albeit in modern clothing.

Like any good urban space, the Piazza is able to accommodate many uses at once. On a Tuesday night at 7pm, it's not terribly busy, but it still manages to be different things to different people.

Off The Wagon
To a family with kids, it's a big park. Northern Liberties, the gentrifying neighborhood where the Piazza is located, has its share of vacant lots but very, very few parks. These little kids had an awesome time with their little red wagon, though unfortunately, one did a major faceplant on the stage in the background. Tears ensued.

Lawn Chairs
To the people in these lawn chairs, it's a place to relax after a long day. The video screen broadcasts Phillies games, so it's also a place to root for the home team.

2006 Called, And It Wants Its My Chemical Romance Get-Up Back
To our friend with highlights, emo bangs, guyliner, a studded belt, and skinny jeans, the Piazza is a place to pretend that it's still 2006. (Not that I have a problem with that, as the studded belt in my dresser drawer can attest.) Do you know this kid? You probably saw him while he was in high school, stalking and posing right here on Ellsworth Drive.

Remembering Piazza at Schmidt's Is Private Property
Though people treat it as a public space, the Piazza at Schmidt's remains private property, complete with all of the restrictions of one. (Despite the hundreds of photos of the Piazza taken since it opened last summer, I wonder if anyone's ever gotten stopped by security for doing so, as our friend Chip Py in Downtown Silver Spring three years ago.)

Is this a worthwhile trade-off? These spaces are often a major asset to an urban neighborhood, but it's unlikely that the City of Philadelphia - or any municipality, including Montgomery County - could afford to build and maintain spaces like this. And as we try to create places like the Piazza - or Downtown Silver Spring, or Bethesda Row, or Rockville Town Square - here, we'll have to make sure that the public can retain their rights to a space that they don't hold the title to.