Friday, July 30, 2010

this week in wheaton: no gas station for you

It's been a big week for Wheaton, where talk of redevelopment has been ignited despite the sluggish economy. New proposals loom on the horizon, though not all of the news is good to local residents who feel that they're still getting the short end of the stick.

Wheaton Bus Turnaround
The Wheaton Metro station and bus turnaround. Wheaton Plaza is in the background.

- Wednesday, County Executive Ike Leggett announced that developer B.F. Saul would get to redevelop an 8.2-acre area around the Wheaton Metro station, bounded by Veirs Mill Road, Georgia Avenue, and Reedie Drive.

The project would include up to 1.7 million square feet of development - for comparison, Wheaton Plaza currently has 1.4 million square feet of space - including offices, residential units, and definitely a hotel. There won't be many stores, though. "Retail is not going to be the dominant use of this project," Gary Stith of the county's Department of Economic Development told GlobeSt.com.

Sara at Wheaton Calling looks at B.F. Saul's website and isn't impressed. "Apparently all they can say is, 'We love to build large boring buildlings without any distinguishing characteristics. Yay. Go us,'" she writes. It's unclear how much mixed-use development they've done, and their biggest contribution to East County so far is the White Oak Shopping Center.

Fortunately, the county's also tapped Silver Spring-based architects Torti Gallas and Partners to design the project. Torti Gallas - where I sent many doomed resumes during college - is nationally-renowned for this kind of development. Locally, they designed the newest phase of Bethesda Row, the redeveloped area of Columbia Heights in the District, and the Village at Shirlington in Arlington.

Hecht's
- And at Westfield Wheaton Wheaton Plaza, mega-retailer Costco will do without a gas station alongside the store they'd like to build at the former Hecht's (above), which closed in 2006. In January, the county offered them $4 million to locate at the mall and an sped-up approval process, royally pissing off the Kensington Heights Citizens Association, which sits behind the mall, and setting Adam Paguncco of Maryland Politics Watch on a weeks-long shit-fit the likes of which we'll never see again.

Now, they'll submit separate applications for the store and the gas station, says the Gazette. "Costco views opening in Westfield Wheaton as 'a good deal without the gas station, and a great deal with it,'" Erich Brann, director of real estate development at the company, told the Kensington Heights Civic Association. But neighborhood groups are still unhappy with the proposed gas station, which would sit at the farthest edge of the mall's parking lot.

Richard Layman at Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space would rather see the entire mall razed and rebuilt as an urban neighborhood tying in with the rest of downtown Wheaton. "It's pretty clear that Wheaton Mall isn't all that successful," he writes.

Visiting Wheaton Plaza last month, I counted no fewer than four shuttered wings or entire buildings on the site, not to mention years-long vacancies inside the mall itself. However, Westfield claims that Wheaton's one of their most profitable shopping centers nationwide, and that they're not seeking any big changes.

That may be the case - the mall retains a number of high-end stores from its renovation in 2005, though Lydia at Snoburbia pointed out a few months ago that well-heeled customers still tend to avoid the place, even if it's closer than Montgomery Mall or the Mall in Columbia.

County Parking Lot 13, Wheaton
The Wheaton CBD Sector Plan proposes turning Parking Lot 13 into a town square.

- Yesterday, the Planning Board allowed developer Centex, who's putting the finishing touches on Leesborough, a subdivision of townhomes and condos on the site of the former Good Counsel High School at Georgia and Dawson avenues, to get rid of a recreation center they'd initially promised to have on site.

According to the report (PDF!), they'll replace the Rafferty Center, a gym once attached to the high school before it was razed, with a larger green space and four additional homes. The building was supposed to become a county-run recreation center but funding no longer exists to operate it.

- Plans have also been submitted for a new apartment complex on the site of the First Baptist Church of Wheaton, located at Georgia Avenue and Veirs Mill Road. Like Good Counsel, the church is relocating to greener pastures in Olney. This is a different project than the redevelopment of the First Baptist Church of Silver Spring, who plans to build apartments next to a new sanctuary, allowing them to stay in their neighborhood.

- Tying all of this together is the Wheaton CBD Sector Plan, which would set guidelines for revitalizing the downtown. Last night, the Planning Board held a public hearing for the plan, which if approved will then go before the County Council. Some of the plan's proposals include allowing buildings up to 200 feet tall along Georgia Avenue (like the new apartment tower and Safeway going up at Georgia and Reedie Drive) and turning Parking Lot #13 at Reedie and Grandview Avenue into a town square.

what's up the pike: good neighbors turn the music down after 9pm

Channel 5 Reporting On Broken Stoplight at 29 and Tech Road
- From the Gazette: the County's revised plans for the new Third District police station in White Oak, scooting it away from existing homes and swapping out some low-income housing for an as yet-undetermined office building. It just goes to show that if you scream loud enough and invoke environmentalist Rachel Carson, you'll keep poor people out of your neighborhood. Congratulations, North White Oak Civic Association!

- From the Examiner: You might blanch at the high rents in downtown Silver Spring, but residents there pay less on transportation than anyone else in Montgomery County, according to a new report from the Planning Department. Silver Spring residents spend an average of $9,419 a year on transportation costs, 50% less than their counterparts in downtown Bethesda and half as much as people in semi-rural Potomac.

- Locally-bred but nationally-renowned singer-songwriter Olivia Mancini will play at Fenton Street Market at 1pm tomorrow. Better catch her now, because she might be going to graduate school at Columbia in the fall, according to this profile in the Post from last month. As always, the market's located at Fenton Street and Silver Spring Avenue and runs from 9am to 3pm every Saturday.

- From the listservs: residents in East Silver Spring say their political yard signs have been defaced and found notes, claiming to be from Montgomery County, stating they're being displayed illegally. The Department of Permitting Services didn't leave the notes, say neighbors who contacted the agency - in fact, they say, you're allowed to display campaign signs in your yard without a permit and as long as you'd like, so long as they're not "illuminated."

Last, but not least:

- The Appalachian Great Pyrenees Rescue, a Richmond-based group that finds homes for lost dogs, is having another adoption event on Ellsworth Drive this Saturday from 12 to 3pm. It's co-sponsored by Downtown Silver Spring and Living Ruff pet boutique.

- My going away happy hour is next Thursday from 6 to 8pm at Jackie's Sidebar, located at Georgia and Sligo avenues. Hope to see you there!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

tech road chick-fil-a opens to adoring fans

The First 100, Tech Road Chick-Fil-A
The new Chick-Fil-A on Tech Road opened its doors at 6am this morning, welcoming fans of the Georgia-based fast-food chain who camped outside to be one of the "First 100" in the door, each winning a year's supply of chicken sandwiches.

Two hundred people were in line at 6am Wednesday morning for the "First 100" promotion, coming from as far from Oklahoma, writes publicist Cindi Pickett in an e-mail to JUTP. "Even the recent Sunday storms and potential for more severe weather won't deter these diehards," she adds.

110 people and their family members were selected from a raffle to stay, waiting out the next twenty-four hours in a tent city erected in the parking lot of the WesTech Village Corner shopping center. Passing motorists were stunned by the spectacle, stopping in the middle of Tech Road to admire the crowds.

First 100 and WesTech Village Corner Sign
150 people waited in tents along Tech Road to be first in line at the new Chick-Fil-A.

"It's just so wonderful to see all these people out here," says real estate agent Cammie Reed, who lives in Calverton. (Yes, she is my mother. -ed.) "Families together playing cards and walking around, right here in our community."

Some eighty people attended a sneak preview Tuesday night, among them friends and family of employees - dubbed "team members" and parishioners of several local churches. Owner/operator Erik Amick, who moved his family from Georgia to Cloverly in March, said the people he's met here are as friendly as they were back home.

"We went to downtown Silver Spring and brought our eighteen-month-old Lydia with us to eat dinner," Amick explains, "and were really amazed by how friendly people were, coming up to us on the street and talking to us."

Erik, Christine and the Cow
New Chick-Fil-A owner/operator Erik Amick, his wife Christine, and the chain's cow mascot.

Chick-Fil-A's opening hasn't been without issue. When the county refused to let Amick set up a trailer outside the still-unfinished restaurant to hold job interviews, Rainbow Family Christian Center, located across the street, offered him space to use, he says. And Sunday's violent thunderstorm knocked out power to the restaurant, causing employees - dubbed "team members" - to worry that it wouldn't open on time. The lights came on at 3am Monday, just hours before a mandatory health inspection.

As there wasn't enough room on the site for a drive-through window, the store will seat 161 people inside and an additional 30 customers on an outdoor patio, making it one of the chain's largest, says owner/operator Erik Amick. The chain's first location without a drive-through, which opened in 2004, is located just six miles away on Ellsworth Drive in downtown Silver Spring.

rodriguez defends skateboarding ban in veterans plaza, seeks new venues

About forty people met at the Civic Building in downtown Silver Spring last night to discuss the new "No Skateboarding" policy in Veterans Plaza that took effect Monday. Though the meeting seemed to be productive, no sooner had it ended that two skaters had their boards confiscated in the plaza.

Rodriguez talks to police officers who confiscated two teens' skateboards. Photo by Chip Py.

Reemberto Rodriguez, director of the Silver Spring Regional Services Center, organized the meeting after an earlier one last Wednesday to which local skaters hadn't been invited. Signs went up Monday listing several prohibited activities in Veterans Plaza, including skateboarding, vending without a permit, or drinking alcohol without a permit.

Rodriguez repeatedly insisted that the skateboarding ban was decided by County Executive Ike Leggett's office and that skaters shouldn't wait for it to be lifted. "Please look forward at possibilities beyond the plaza," he says. "It behooves you."

The thirty local skaters who came, organized by Takoma Park resident Maryam Balbed - also known as Sk8ter Mom - were frustrated about being left out of the process. "Why did you make this decision without someone to represent us?" asks 17-year-old Adrian, a Takoma Park resident who says he picked up skateboarding last week.

Echoing a statement on the policy he made earlier this week, Rodriguez argues that skateboarding has caused damage to the plaza. Just a few hours after the plaza's grand opening July 8, he saw damage to handrails from grinding, he says. "The decision had been made . . . on what had been evidenced, the damage caused."

16-year-old Alexander Terc of Silver Spring questioned the county's budget priorities. "You wanna spend $22 million on this building, but only $75,000 on our park?" he asks, referring to the Woodside Park skate spot at Georgia Avenue and Spring Street, which will open on Friday.

Over thirty local skaters attended the meeting. Photo by Chip Py.

Balbed and the skaters say the spot will be harder for them to reach, as many of them - those living in Silver Spring and in surrounding areas like Takoma Park, Chevy Chase and Kensington - come to the area by public transportation. They're also worried that they'll "overwhelm" the 3,000-square-foot space, which lines up with a formula from Skaters for Public Skateparks that JUTP crunched last fall that says are over 900 skaters in Silver Spring alone.

"If you're not gonna give us Veterans Plaza," she says, "you have to give us something more than Woodside. We need a piece of a street. A park. An alley."

Those in the room threw out ideas for creating new spaces for skating in Silver Spring. Casey Anderson, a bicycling advocate and resident of Woodside, suggested creating special "skating hours" in Veterans Plaza, which might attract spectators. Many of the skaters suggested building a skatepark themselves on an underused parking lot, specifically the one behind the Park and Planning Commission on Georgia Avenue.

'K-Town,' Summit at Knowles, Kensington (Cropped)
Skaters built "K-Town," a skatepark in a parking lot behind the offices of the Housing Opportunities Commission in Kensington.

It's already been done twice in Montgomery County, behind a county-owned office building in Kensington and at a police station in Germantown. When Rodriguez asked how many of them had built skating apparatus before, twenty-one kids raised their hands.

Jewru Bandeh, program manager for the Silver Spring Regional Services Center, was working in Germantown when the skate spot there was being built last winter. "We had a very similar experience," he says. Shopkeepers were upset about skaters disrupting business in Germantown Town Center, and so they worked with the police and the skateboarding community to find a solution.

Non-skaters were excited about the possibilities. "It's a tremendous waste to leave parking lots unused," says David Rotenstein, a Four Corners resident who writes the blog Historian for Hire. "We have an opportunity to take advantage of them."

Skaters demanded that he hold Leggett accountable. "Can we trust you to go out tomorrow, talk to your upper command, and tell them about this?" asks Adrian.

Anderson was upbeat about the meeting's results, and even offered to help skaters reach their elected officials. " I think there are a lot of people . . . who recognize that skaters are long overdue for some adequate space to do what they love," he says. "Some way, we gotta accommodate these kids."

One Sweet Jump
Skaters in Veterans Plaza in July. Photo by the author.

Out in Veterans Plaza, two skaters leaving the meeting had their boards confiscated by Montgomery County police officers, which have been increasing their presence in downtown Silver Spring after a man was assaulted there two weeks ago.

Mark Spencer of Petworth says he was sitting on his board in the plaza when the officers approached him and demanded he hand it over. "I have no idea why he took my skateboard," he says. "I can call my [guardian] and get it back. I just want to know why."

Officer Brian Nesbitt, one of six cops standing at the corner of Fenton Street and Ellsworth Drive at the time, tells the story differently. "After the meeting, they all came and skated out," he says.

"It doesn't matter," grumbles Officer Chad Bleggi, pointing out that a group of skaters had congregated a few feet away, outside Baja Fresh. "As soon as we leave, they'll start skateboarding again."

Rodriguez, who followed the skaters outside and stayed for nearly an hour to listen to them, remains confident about the evening's progress. "The meeting wasn't in vain," he says. "It wasn't a show. There were some legitimate ideas in the room."

"I think our police did what they are here to do. I want to commend them for it," he continues. "If this incident overwhelms the idea of a group of skaters coming together and coming up with ideas, that would be unfortunate."

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

what's up the pike: hippie-crits?

Chompy and Hippie Guitarist
- William Smith at Montgomery Sideways "just didn't have the time" to participate in the years-long design process for the new Silver Spring Library, but somehow can piss everyone off by knocking those who support a proposed pedestrian bridge to the library AND the Purple Line, who he calls "Hippie-crits."

"People are willing to spend almost $2 Billion on a train, but don’t care about the community’s ability to walk there," he says. I think people who support public transportation would support more sidewalks. Don't you? William might want to check out our three part series on the new library's design before making further comment.

- The County Council's approved the Purple Line Master Plan, which lays out how the 16-mile light-rail line will travel across Montgomery County. This brings the Purple Line one step closer to a projected completion in 2016.

- Tonight at 6:30, there's a meeting to discuss the new ban on skateboarding in Veterans Plaza at the Civic Building, located at Fenton and Ellsworth.

- And tomorrow, the new Chick-Fil-A on Tech Road opens at 6am.

Last, but not least:

- Good Eatin' reviews Italian subs in Wheaton and beyond.

- From the Gazette: Discussion begins on the redevelopment of Glenmont Shopping Center. Scroll down to read local residents' two cents, thanks to the paper's brand-spanking-new commenting system. (It's about time!)

- Speaking of which: say goodbye to hyperlocal news at the Gazette, according to this internal e-mail posted at Maryland Politics Watch.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

skateboarding banned in veterans plaza



With a new skate spot opening in Woodside Park this Friday, the Silver Spring Regional Services Center decided this week to ban skating in Veterans Plaza after complaints about noise and property damage. The Regional Services Center made the decision after a meeting last week in which local residents, community leaders and skateboarders discussed uses of the three-week-old plaza.

"We want our skateboarding community to embrace Veterans Plaza," writes Reemberto Rodriguez, director of the Regional Services Center, on his blog. "However, the activity of skateboarding itself is simply not an acceptable activity on the Plaza."

Skateboarders have been unceremoniously shuffled around downtown Silver Spring for the past fifteen years, though Rodriguez was initially open to allowing it in the plaza, which has already become a popular gathering spot. Here's what he told JUTP just two weeks ago:

"Definitively an issue," writes Reemberto Rodriguez, director of the Silver Spring Regional Services Center, in an e-mail to JUTP. "It is a balancing act between how to be welcoming of all activity that brings the Plaza alive with the charge to keep it clean, safe, and in good condition." He notes that he's seen a "very positive reception" to skaters from other people in the plaza . . .

"I am in conversation with the skaters - and many others - to see that we do this in a way that is respectful of all," writes Rodriguez.


Skaters and Construction
Skaters in Veterans Plaza last week.

The assault of a 32-year-old man next to the plaza two weeks ago led many to point fingers at skateboarders. Though one of the individuals charged in the attack, Dante Chriss of the District, is seen with a skateboard on his Facebook profile, there's no proof that Silver Spring skaters who use Veterans Plaza on a regular basis were involved.

With the new policy in effect on Monday, the plaza was eerily quiet despite the nice weather. Anyone entering the space with rollerblades or a skateboard was turned away by a security guard. Even young kids with toy skateboards were forbidden from using them.

While in the plaza, I spoke to Gwen Haney of the Silver Spring Regional Services Center, who says that reality stifled their good intentions. "We tried," she laments. "In the beginning, we were sympathetic to them and their need for a place to go. It didn't work out."

"I've heard some complaints," she says. After spending time in the plaza, she began to see what people were saying. "I came out and sat. It can get irritating," Haney notes. "I heard the thumps."

There was also considerable damage to the plaza caused by skaters, she claims. Haney points to multiple handrails that have been marked up. She suggests that the open concrete area where an ice rink will be installed this winter was also harmed by skateboarding, though there weren't any visible impacts she could show me.

The Extent of Skater Damage at Veterans Plaza
Handrail damaged by skating in Veterans Plaza.

Local skaters say that it's kids from outside the area messing things up in Veterans Plaza. Last week, skater Alexander Terc left this comment on Greater Greater Washington:

I was told that skaters were allowed to skate there as long as we just skated the ice rink and we didn't grind or mess up the benches and what not. i complied with that and so did many other skaters who usually skate down in dtss. but now it wasn't until all these other people came and started skating and decided that it was a good idea when others and myself told them not to.


In a flyer being handed out by security guards in Veterans Plaza, Rodriguez suggests that skaters start using the new skate spot in Woodside Park a half-mile away, set to open on Friday. While it will be the first dedicated space for skating in the area since the East of Maui skatepark closed in 1998, figures from advocacy group Skaters for Public Skateparks suggest that it won't be nearly large enough to accommodate the local skater population.

Nonetheless, Haney says, that doesn't give skaters the right to use Veterans Plaza. "This wasn't designed as a skatepark," Haney explains. "It has to be regulated. There has to be a way to prevent any danger."

The Regional Services Center will hold a meeting to discuss the new skateboarding policy and "where we go from here," as Rodriguez states it, tomorrow night at 6:30pm at the Civic Building, located at Ellsworth Dr and Fenton St in downtown Silver Spring.

Monday, July 26, 2010

photos from yesterday's storm

High winds, heavy rain and a possible tornado in White Oak tore up East County yesterday, causing considerable damage and putting thousands of people in the dark.

Downed Tree, Veterans Place & Ellsworth Dr
Newly-planted trees around the Civic Building and Veterans' Plaza in downtown SIlver Spring were toppled. The storm's heavy winds kicked up dust left over from construction, causing a rush of people out of the plaza before the rains even began.

Traffic at 29 and Burnt Mills Dam
I felt serious deja vu discovering that the bridge on Route 29 at Burnt Mills Dam was once again flooded from the rain, causing serious backups in both directions.

Downed Tree, Stewart Lane & 29
Power lines came down on Stewart Lane in White Oak, causing more road closures. This big tree came down at Stewart and 29 though, fortunately, no one was hurt.

Tree Fell On Our Deck
Back at home, several more trees came down, though the only damage we suffered was a broken window. We won't be grilling for a little while, though.

Big Tree Fell On Our Neighbors' House
Our neighbor's house was similarly lucky. Had that tree fallen a couple of feet to the right, their family room would've gotten a huge skylight.

What'd you see in the storm? If you've got any photos, leave links to them in the comments. (I'd offer to post them, but I'm still sitting in a dark house until I can get to a coffeeshop.

what's up the pike: the morning after

Sunset, Burtonsville Crossing
Good morning, East County! If you're reading this, you're one of the lucky few who has power. Can you do a blogger a favor and lend me your washer and dryer for a load? In the meantime, however, here's a look at what's happening around the area:

- Yesterday's brief but powerful storm caused a fair amount of damage, downing trees and power lines across the region and putting as many as 200,000 Pepco customers in the dark. If you're desperate for electricity and Internet, you might want to follow the laptop-campers to the Burtonsville Starbucks (where I'm writing this now, and where I took a photo of this lovely sunset), located conveniently outside Pepco's service area.

Come back in a half-hour to see photos of storm damage from across East County, but in the meantime:

- Vancouver takes a page from "the Turf" and outfits its major downtown shopping street in green plastic grass, writes the Price Tags blog. (We know they've been to Silver Spring before.)

- A family in Colesville won Washington Post's Mad Men home contest - which sought to find the residence that looked most like something out of the wildly popular TV show set in the 1960's - with their ranch-style house on Midland Road. (WARNING: If you're not a fan of wood paneling, don't click on the link.)

- Reemberto Rodriguez from the Regional Services Center discusses ways to use the new Veterans' Plaza, though I wonder why the square's biggest activity and visitor attraction isn't on the list. Historian for Hire David Rotenstein writes about one event in the plaza, the drum circle started by IMPACT Silver Spring.

And, of course:

- The LA Times finds misleading food labels at the FDA's cafeteria in White Oak.

- Multiple fights and people getting "head-stomped"? This time, it didn't take place in downtown Silver Spring - it was on the platform of the Bethesda Metro station, says DCist.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

skaters crash public space meeting; round house gives up room in civic building

Unfortunately, I missed last night's meeting on "Accessing Public Space in Silver Spring" as I was in Cambridge. If you're reading this, I'm probably on my way home from Massachusetts now, but ace photographer and friend of JUTP Chip Py took these photos of the meeting.

Local skaters came out in force to emphasize their claim to the newly-opened Veterans Plaza, where there's been some public outcry over their presence there. "No one told the Skaters about the Public Space Meeting," writes Chip Py on Facebook. "Kathy Stevens and I went out and rounded them up and invited them in. They were eager to come in and participate in the discussion. They really shined tonight."

Reemberto Rodriguez, director of the Silver Spring Regional Services Center, talks to local skaters. Photo by Chip Py.

Kathy Stevens from the Citizens Advisory Board with local skaters. Photo by Chip Py.

One Sweet JumpThe other big issue at the meeting was an arrangement between Round House Theatre and Montgomery County to use space in the new Civic Building, frustrating other nonprofit groups who don't have permanent offices in downtown Silver Spring. Earlier this week, Round House gave the Gandhi Brigade, a local youth media collective, one of their suites in the Civic Building for the group's use.

The following comes from Tony Hausner, who sent local listservs this e-mail announcing the deal:
Neighbors and friends,

On Friday the Round House Theater agreed to let go of their space on the plaza level for the sake of greater community access to the Civic Building. See Blake's letter below. This is a courageous and inspired step on the part of Round House. Lets make our gratitude concrete by communicating to our circles the knowledge and import of their public spirited action.

You have probably heard that IMPACT, the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board, the Regional Services Center, and PREZCO are holding a public meeting on July 21 [sent to WPCA a few days ago] to address community access to public space. Blake Robison's bold move has set the stage (pun alert) for a constructive conversation that can move beyond our disappointments about how we got here and focus on where we want to go from here. There is much to do.

The severe fiscal constraints on the County's ability to support programming and the disturbing violence in front of Baja Fresh have contributed to a lot of anxiety about the Town Center. These crises can also be the impetus for creative hearts and minds to come together to envision and enact a whole new way of behaving as a community.

There are so many important areas to work on: safety, creating a new model for allocating public space, space for nonprofits, including marginalized voices, creating public space for young people, etc. They are all important and we are all responsible for focusing on our sphere. I am going to focus my energy on activating our new "Community Room." If we can find a practical way to activate this room with youth groups, art groups, cultural groups, empowerment groups, civic groups and whoever I am forgetting, I think we could make this room the model and the precursor for the Silver Spring we have all been working so hard to bring to life.

Blake Robison
Producing Artistic Director
Round House Theatre

Richard Jaeggi
El Jefe, Gandhi Brigade
301-957-0159
richard@gandhibrigade.org
www.gandhibrigade.org
Both very good pieces of news from yesterday's meeting. I'm glad to know Silver Spring didn't burn down while I was out of town, and I can't wait to see y'all when I get back tonight.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

what's up the pike: creepin' up the backstairs

The Stairs Behind 8407
I'm writing this from a bar patio in Cambridge, Mass., where the downtown scene was hopping even on a Tuesday night when the Harvard and MIT kids are away for summer. Busy sidewalks, achingly hip shops and restaurants, all tied together by amazing squares and plazas — what an invigorating urban space. Look out for pictures after I return on Thursday, but in the meantime:

- WUSA9 reports that an SUV drove into the Super Chicken restaurant on Ennalls Avenue in Wheaton. Of course, this is in the same block that nearly burned down entirely after a fire at El Pollo Rico two years ago. Of course, Super Chicken didn't place in our Great Peruvian Taste Test, so it's unclear if this is a loss for fans of pollo a la brasa.

- From Vanity Fair: "Mazel tov, residents of Washington, D.C., and its environs: your area tops off a new regional property earnings index . . . This would explain Washington’s triumph: its suburbs include the Maryland hamlets of Bethesda, Chevy Chase, and Silver Spring, which are all overrun with professionals and creative types."

Not to mention:

- From our bureau of No Shit, Sherlock: A woman in Bethesda thinks the Purple Line is stupid. She's probably lying about the part where she takes the J4 bus instead. How would she know where College Park is unless her help lives there?

- The Post profiles a Latino comic who daylights as a banker in Wheaton.

- Also in Wheaton, cops entered a man's house to serve him with a warrant and broke his 65-year-old mother's hand, says Fox 5.

- Volksmarchers - recreational, non-competitive walkers - stormed downtown Silver Spring last month and wrote about it in the Post.

Thanks to the Fratellis for today's post title.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

video of veterans plaza, and words from a skater

Veterans Plaza's officially been open for two weeks now, and I've been out there with my camera going all William Whyte on the space. It looks like the space is being well-used at all times of day and night, meaning it could easily be declared a success.

And it's safe, too. When I took the nighttime shots at 11pm last Wednesday night, I saw two young women on benches using their laptops. Women alone using expensive electronics at night? Sounds like a safe space to me. People are certainly shaken by the assault that happened next to the plaza last week, but aren't too afraid to continue going there.

Of course, there were skaters in the plaza each time I was there, but they appear to be sharing the space with everyone else. In the video, you can see teenage skaters taking turns using a space with much younger kids on scooters. In another scene, skaters have taken over the ice skating rink (covered up for the warmer months) as a sort of arena and spectators have gathered to watch.

Ellsworth Drive has a history of random crowds forming around skateboarders, which makes me wonder if these kids are really the nuisance they're made out to be on listservs or a pretty raucous comment thread on Greater Greater Washington. I wonder: do non-skaters consider spontaneous displays like skating an attraction to downtown Silver Spring?

The Extent of Skater Damage at Veterans Plaza
A damaged handrail in Veterans Plaza is the only visible sign of damage from skateboarding.

But good things aren't what Reemberto Rodriguez - director of the Silver Spring Regional Services Center, whose new offices are in the adjacent Civic Building - is hearing. I asked him if "No Skateboarding" signs will be going up in the plaza, as Sk8ter Mom suggested in a comment here the other day.

"As of now, they are not banned," he replied. "There is increasing evidence of destruction to property and disruptions of others sharing the space by skateboarders." It appeared that my fears of conflicts arising over skating in the plaza had become a reality.

But what damage was Reemberto talking about? I gave the plaza a thorough looking-over Friday afternoon and found very little. The wood slats on the benches aren't chipped. The pavers look fine, and the concrete pavers have tire tracks on them - signs of construction vehicles, not skateboards.

Of the several handrails in the plaza, a few of them appear to have been skated on. But just one (pictured above), located next to the ice rink, has been seriously marked up, suggesting that the skater kids have picked a favorite.

Skaters and Construction
Skaters and construction workers in the ice rink.

And what do skater kids think? Alexander Terc, a 16-year-old Silver Spring skater left this comment on GGW last week about why he goes to Veterans Plaza. It's very rare that we hear anything straight from a skater's mouth, so I was interested to hear his rationale (emphasis mine):

it's the safest and best spot that all of us have skated and all us skaters know that it wasn't meant for that but i mena come on now, it should've been known from the start. now last week when it first opened up and i went to skate it, I was told that skaters were allowed to skate there as long as we just skated the ice rink and we didn't grind or mess up the benches and what not. i complied with that and so did many other skaters who usually skate down in dtss. but now it wasn't until all these other people came and started skating and decided that it was a good idea when others and myself told them not to . . .

don't let the actions of others overshadow the actions of many. in which in this case don't blame all skaters for what one did. if you're gonna ban a group of people ban the people who choose to fight there or rob people in that area not the skaters.

Note the concept of "ownership." "It's the safest and best spot that all of us have skated," Alexander says: these kids appreciate the plaza. They were given guidelines and are following them: only once did I see kids away from the ice rink, and even then, they didn't do anything to the benches. "Others and myself told" kids from "outside" their peer group not to screw around there.

This is what public space is supposed to be about, y'all. As I wrote last year, "Give these kids a prominent place in the community and they'll show it respect. Push them aside and they'll act out." It sounds like these kids are doing exactly what they're supposed to do - exactly what you or I or anyone should do with a public community space.

Those who complain about damage and misconduct in Veterans Plaza might want to go down there themselves before they speak next time.

Monday, July 19, 2010

an invitation, and what I'm going to do about the blog

The most frequently asked question I've been asked since my big announcement last April - after "Haven't you left already?" - is "What are you going to do with the blog?" Until now, I haven't given any real answer.

First, I'm going to have a party. Come join me Thursday, August 5 at 6pm for a special happy hour/going away party at Sidebar, next to Jackie's Restaurant at 8081 Georgia Avenue. If you haven't been (as of this writing, neither have I), DCist describes it as a classy dive with "a solid beer list, good choices for wine and cocktail lovers, tasty bar snacks, amazing music, and a chill atmosphere," which sounds right up my alley.


Second, in three weeks I'm going to load all my things into a big moving truck, unpack them on the first floor of a gorgeous Victorian rowhouse in West Philadelphia (pictured), and start a new chapter in my life.

This work over the past four years has been filled with spectacular highs and frustrating lows. For every new development, crazy interview or protest I've written about, there have been many times when I seriously considered giving up. Blogging can be easy - find a topic, make fun of it, and slather it in a thick layer of snark to sound witty - but done well, it can be challenging, stressful and time-consuming.

But I kept it up, because I love this place I grew up in and I firmly believe that things can and will be better. I'm excited to leave. I've lived in Maryland my entire life and in East County since I was three, and naturally I can be parochial and defensive of it as a result. I know it's time to get out and see something new.

So third, I'm going to continue writing a blog, because I've been doing it - both here and previously on an angsty personal blog - for six years. Posting won't be as frequent or as topical as it's been in the past. But I'll keep my eye on East County, while writing about other cool places that I come upon. Call it a "fact-finding mission," if you will.

Of course, that implies that I'll be back after graduation in May 2012. If you want me back, you'll have to hope I'm not too excited about what I find in the outside world.

what's up the pike: I don't think it's a fixie

Shirtless Guy and Bike, Route 29 at Musgrove Road
- We've got a groundbreaking date for the Fillmore music hall on Colesville Road: September 11 at 11am, says the Facebook page of FillmoreNow. The Planning Board approved plans for the venue and an associated hotel and office development. If the date sounds familiar to you, it's also the same day of the 7th Annual Silver Spring Jazz Festival, with headliner Aaron Neville.

- They may call it the People's Republic, but there's nothing liberal about Takoma Park and alcohol, says the Gazette. I didn't know that breastfeeding-rights advocate Lorig Charkoudian (quoted in the article) was the head of the local co-op as well.

- Spring Center, the strip mall at 16th and Spring streets, is up for sale, says the Business Journal. It'd be a nice site for redevelopment, just a few blocks from the Metro and adjacent to a future Purple Line station.

And:

- Good Eatin' discovers that the Gazette regularly reviews more restaurants in Rockville and Bethesda than in East County.

- A Post reporter made it out to the JokeFest at Fenton Street Market last weekend just to point out that children aren't funny.

- William at Montgomery Sideways is happy an SUV driver didn't hit him while crossing Silver Spring Avenue.

- I'm having a going-away party! Come by around lunchtime to find out more. And tomorrow, check out the world premiere of the very first movie about Veterans Plaza.

Friday, July 16, 2010

meeting next wednesday on public space

Silver Spring Civic Building, Inaugural Weekend
I'm feeling some serious deja vu from the public outcry after a man was assaulted in downtown Silver Spring on Monday. It feels just like the weeks after "riots" broke out during a concert on Ellsworth Drive last year.

There's a lot of nasty accusations, a lot of "I-told-you-so" from people who opposed the redevelopment and perhaps want to see it fail, and lots of grumbling on the listservs about "why can't we be like Bethesda" or "see, this is what the Metro brings." (The woman who made that comment had a "sent from my really cool iPad" signature, which was appropriate given the level of ignorant elitism she showed.)

But there's also a meeting on "Accessing Public Space in Silver Spring," sponsored by the Citizens Advisory Board, Silver Spring Town Center, Inc., IMPACT Silver Spring, and Presidents' Council of Silver Spring, also known as Prezco. It's not specifically about what happened this week, but I imagine that the unanticipated uses of public space here will probably get a lot of attention, which is a good thing.

The recent opening of the Silver Spring Civic Building has increased awareness of and heightened interest in the opportunities for and challenges of accessing public spaces in Silver Spring.
 
• Learn about and ask questions about existing arrangements between the county and nonprofits and/or community organizations.

• Provide information about need for administrative, programmatic, and meeting space

• Begin a dialogue about availability and costs

 
The purpose of the meeting is to:
 
• Define more succinctly the needs of the community

• Inform the community about how to access public space

• Understand the needs of organizations and the fiscal challenges to accessing space

• Hold ourselves accountable for constructive follow up on identified issues and next steps

• Gain a mutual understanding about the roles and responsibilities, limits and opportunities, restrictions and capacity of both the community and government


The meeting is this Wednesday at 7pm in the Silver Spring Civic Building - which, if you don't already know, is located at the corner of Fenton Street and Ellsworth Drive.

what's up the pike: love is pain

- You'll see more police officers in downtown Silver Spring this weekend after a man was assaulted on Tuesday and several other recent crimes, says the Gazette. "There's a recognition in the police department and the county executive's office that Silver Spring has quickly become an urbanized area and policing in an urban area is different than policing in a suburban area," Lt. Paul Liquorie is quoted as saying.

Lt. Liquorie also notes that nine of the sixteen kids arrested for Tuesday's assault are actually from Montgomery County and five of them from Silver Spring, hopefully throwing out the idea that only "P.G. and D.C." kids commit crimes here, and that none of them were skateboarders - though some of them are in go-go bands, which opens the door for a whole new round of stereotyping.

Also, reader pago dat sent us these photos of graffiti in the Georgia Avenue underpass:




- MPW reports that the Gazette will combine its Silver Spring, Takoma Park, Wheaton and Burtonsville editions. But who'll notice? They already ran the same stories in all four "papers" anyway. Silver Spring and Burtonsville are ten miles apart, so by their logic, do the Rockville and Bethesda editions get merged too?

- Wayne at Silver Spring Trails laments how Purple Line opponents in Chevy Chase are depriving people in the historically black and under-represented neighborhood of Lyttonsville of good transit.

- Meanwhile, the 16-mile light-rail line between Bethesda and New Carrollton could cost $40m more than expected, says the Post. And five houses on Talbot Avenue in Rosemary Hills could lose part of their front yards to it, says DCist, though Silver Spring Trails says it's a worthwhile compromise.

- At Fenton Street Market this week, kids "ages 1 through 12" can share jokes at first-ever JokeFest, and there's a scavenger hunt for olive oil kitchen soap. As always, you can find the market at Fenton and Silver Spring Avenue from 9am to 3pm.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

"silver springs" mentioned in TED talk on suburban retrofits

Retrofitting Suburbia is a book about readying suburban places for the social, economic and environmental problems of the future. Last fall, I got the chance to lead author June Williamson on a tour of downtown Silver Spring - a place that she and co-author Ellen Dunham-Jones consider a prime example of suburban redevelopment.

Twenty years after my mother moved here to be somewhere "quiet," we have a vibrant, bustling town center. There's some grumbling about the quality of the buildings and the traffic and a few very unfortunate incidents, but if you think what we've done here is a failure, you're quite mistaken. Silver Spring has the makings of a great place, and it's no surprise that places all over the D.C. area - and all over the nation - look to us as an example.

Prof. Dunham-Jones gave a TED talk earlier this year on the book and places like "Silver Springs." (I know. Hopefully Prof. Williamson knows better.) During the photo rights protest in 2007, our new downtown gave us a chance to see "democracy at work," she explains.

Fast-forward to about 17:00 to see a picture of friend of JUTP Chip Py (or at least, the rear of Chip Py), whose protest on "the Turf" three years ago is still making waves. Here's what Prof. Dunham-Jones had to say about it:
"This is a protest that's happening in a retrofit in Silver Springs, Maryland, on an astroturf town green. Now, retrofits are often accused of being examples of "faux downtowns" or "instant urbanism," and not without good reason. You do not get much more phony than an astroturf town green . . .

They are new, but trying to look old, they have urban streetscapes but suburban parking ratios. their populations are more diverse than typical suburbia but they're less diverse than most cities . . . they are public places that are managed by private companies . . .

I'm glad that the urbanism is doing its job. The fact that a protest is happening really it does mean that the layout of the blocks, the streets and blocks, the putting in of public space, compromised as it may be, is still a really great thing. But we've got to get the architecture better."
Hopefully, the authors will get a chance to see our new Civic Building and Veterans Plaza - a real public building and a real public town square in the middle of a suburb.



Thanks to GGW for the heads-up.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

what's up the pike: it's about time.

New Bus Stop, Fenton & Ellsworth
- The Post profiles William Smith, a legally blind East Silver Spring resident who writes about pedestrian issues on his blog, Montgomery Sideways. Last month, he mentioned the new bus stop on Fenton Street that no one could actually enter - and last week, the MoCo Department of Transportation finally replaced it. Did it only take a month for transportation engineers to realize how badly they'd screwed up?

- In celebration of the return of Chompy to their headquarters, the Discovery Channel's joining forces with the Express Night Out to hold a photo contest. Take photos of the inflatable shark, give it a funny caption and send it to @Discovery or Shark_Week at discovery dot com between now and July 26. Finalists will be announced on July 30 and a winning photo printed in the Express on August 6.

- I was initially impressed by the somewhat-trendy decor, sleek website and friendly owner of the newly-opened Siu's Asian Bistro on Tech Road. I tried the Chinese/Japanese/Thai restaurant yesterday and was terrifically underwhelmed by the food. I'll have to try again in a few weeks when they get their act together, but in the meantime it's back to Rockville for Chinese food. (Miss you, Michael's Noodles and Sichuan Pavilion.)

- If you haven't already heard, fifteen people were arrested after a man was assaulted in downtown Silver Spring Monday night, but don't go making stupid generalizations about it.

Last, but not least:

- Check out these lovely photos of the new Civic Building, though I'm not sure who took them.

- Greater Greater Washington has its monthly happy hour tonight at Biergarten Haus, located at 13th & H streets NE. If you haven't been to H Street in the past few years, you're in for a big surprise. (A hint: it involves hipsters.) The GGW happy hour moves around the region each month - if you're not willing to travel far for alcohol and idle chatter with transit nerds, I'm trying to get them to have the next one in the Hyattsville area.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

don't let fifteen bad apples spoil the bunch

Spectators
Yesterday's post on the newly-opened Veterans Plaza at Ellsworth and Fenton received a number of nasty comments equating kids who skate in the plaza with criminals. As David from Greater Greater Washington points out, many people carry a bias against skaters and young people in general. Unfortunately, a violent incident last night in downtown Silver Spring could only make it worse for them.

From the Gazette:
Fifteen people were arrested Monday evening after a group of teenagers harassing pedestrians in downtown Silver Spring slammed one man to the ground, breaking his face and drawing the attention of several eyewitnesses.

One man from that group was approaching random pedestrians as they walked by the outdoor eating area outside the Baja Fresh restaurant. About 15 different people were accosted by the man, who was standing inches from the victims' faces and "verbally harassing" and "making crazy sexual comments" to passersby, said Chris Wilhelm, a Silver Spring resident who was reading a book nearby.

One middle-aged man tried to ignore the teens and walk past them, but as he walked toward the intersection of Fenton Street and Wayne Avenue, the teen who was accosting pedestrians slapped the man in the back of the head, Wilhelm said. When the man turned around and showed his frustration, at least one other member of the group punched or hit him in the side of the head, according to witnesses and Montgomery County Police.

The man fell, and his head slammed against the red brick sidewalk.
Absolutely heartbreaking. An innocent man was seriously injured by some dumb fucking thugs who clearly had nothing better to do than to harass people. Because of their actions, some people will want to write off every well-meaning, innocent kid who comes to downtown Silver Spring - every kid with a skateboard, every kid of color - as a hood. Because of their actions, well-meaning, innocent adults and families will think twice about coming to downtown Silver Spring.

Oh, this won't happen in Bethesda, they'll say.

Perhaps it doesn't. (Of course, the overprivileged teens of Bethesda can engage in some pretty depraved behaviors themselves, but they have the decency to do it in private.) But it's important to remember that events like this, tragic as they may be, are the exception, not the rule.

Downtown Silver Spring is a safe, vibrant, fun place to be. And it's getting better every week, every month, every year. Don't let a few idiots ruin that. Keep coming back. Keep spending your time and money here. Keep being a presence on these streets, because the more good people there are here, the fewer bad we'll attract.

I say throw the biggest book you can find at these thugs for assaulting an innocent man. The beauty of an urban place like downtown Silver Spring is that a lot of different activities can co-exist here - including skateboarding - but that we make it clear what activities aren't allowed.

introducing the citizens league

For decades, local politics were dominated by civic associations representing Montgomery County's oldest neighborhoods and led by a predominantly-white, predominantly-middle class segment of the community. This was okay when the county was mostly white or middle-class, but this model of representation has fallen apart as the area becomes more diverse.

Civic association presidents can no longer claim to represent "the community" when much of it's being ignored. If you're a minority, an immigrant, someone making less than the median income, someone who lives in a townhouse or apartment, a renter, a transit user, or someone under the age of 55, you are likely unrepresented by your local civic activists.

How do we bring these people to the table? Dan Hoffman has one solution. In 2005, he and his family moved in Randolph Hills, a neighborhood of modest 1950's-era houses in North Bethesda. Over the next thirty years, a small city will grow around the White Flint Metro station less than a mile away, and the Hoffmans - like many of the young families that have settled here in the past five years - look forward to the jobs and amenities it'll bring.

View From 14th Floor Balcony, Gallery at White Flint
Rockville Pike in White Flint today.

What they found, however, was a civic association composed of retirees who'd lived there for decades and expected things to remain the same. It didn't make much sense while motels on Rockville Pike gave way to thirty-story towers and the local elementary school's website is in both English and Spanish. So Hoffman and his neighbors staged a coup, throwing out the association's board and bringing the community's new residents into the discussion.

The newly reconstituted Randolph Civic Association is an anomaly in Montgomery County: thirty-something adults, busy starting careers and families, taking time to parse land-use plans and attend public hearings. They walk and bike to the Metro and shopping. They like their yards, but they know not everyone else wants or needs one. They hold monthly meetings like any other civic group, but they're on Facebook, too.

And when the Montgomery County Civic Federation - a once-influential network of community groups whose officers are past retirement age - scoffed at their enthusiasm for plans to redevelop White Flint, they dropped out.

In its place, Dan and a group of forward-thinking Montgomery County residents started the Citizens League of Montgomery County, a new group seeking to involve anyone and everyone who cares about making this place better. Here's a statement Dan sent me:
The Citizens League of Montgomery County (CLMC) is an individual membership organization seeking to bring new ideas and perspectives to the attention of County leaders. For those who care about positively participating in the development of policies that will shape our County for decades to come, it offers a vehicle to get involved on your terms. Using technology to its fullest potential to reach untapped pockets of activism in the County, CLMC hopes to facilitate the civic process for thousands of County residents.

The goal is to help influence County leaders towards balanced, common good solutions. The League is not ‘pro’ or ‘anti’, right or left, but rather we seek to help individuals find that elusive third option, and bring it to the surface. The Board of CLMC is made up of individuals from all walks that believe in this and are looking to you and your guidance. Join the League today and become a Member Citizen. Being a member of the League is free and open to everyone. We’re excited about the potential ideas every individual in this County has to offer!

By making memberships open to individuals, the organization allows people to join who aren't already part of a homeowners' or civic association. And eliminating dues means that money won't be a barrier for people of limited means to join. Being a part of any community group does require a time commitment, however, which may deter otherwise interested people from joining.

These two features enable the Citizens' League to have a far more diverse membership - and with it, a far greater diversity of opinion - than any group like the Civic Federation could manage to assemble. That said, the group's current make-up could be more diverse, as its eight-member board contains just one woman and two people of color.

Nonetheless, this group is an exciting development in local politics. I'd join if I wasn't moving in the next month, but I encourage you to become a part of the Citizens' League. Giving a voice to people who weren't being represented by our current community activists was one of the reasons I started this blog, and I'm glad to see a countywide movement to do the same.

Monday, July 12, 2010

crowds and skaters already filling veterans plaza

Silver Spring Civic Building, Inaugural Weekend
Fresh off its inaugural weekend, the new Veterans Plaza in downtown Silver Spring appears to be a success, mobbed with people despite the ongoing heat wave. But residents who protested a deal giving much of the adjacent Civic Building had been to Round House Theatre might be equally surprised to find their new town square's become a de facto skatepark.

Designed by Boston-based architecture firm Machado and Silvetti Associates, the building and adjoining plaza put a fresh, modern face on two very traditional functions - a community hall and town square. On a visit Saturday evening, it's clear that Silver Spring residents have taken to the space as they had to "the Turf" before it was ripped up in 2008 to make room for the plaza.



Veterans' Plaza At Night
Veterans' Field At Night

Left: Veterans Plaza today. Right: "The Turf" in 2006.


Instead of plastic grass, people lounge on fresh sod covering the wide steps that lead down from Fenton Street. I saw couples and friends alike eating on concrete benches with wooden slats matching the Civic Building's cladding, and walking down an allee of nice, leafy trees. Little kids run across the ice rink with its striking canopy just as they did on "the Turf" five years ago. (Of course, the rink has been decked over for the summer months.)

Up on an elevated walkway between Fenton Street and the Whole Foods parking lot, a row of shoppers-turned-spectators admire the whole scene. Their eyes are fixed on the Civic Building, where a dozen teenage boys are making the skatepark Silver Spring has yet to give them. They line up in the wide portico holding their skateboards, taking turns as they did jumps off a couple of steps a hundred feet away.

"Looks like they've already turned it into a skatepark," I hear a middle-aged couple grumble as they walk past.

One Sweet Jump
Skaters line up to do tricks in the plaza and spectators gather to watch.

A block away on Ellsworth Drive, it's business as usual: people are crowded around a stage for the weekly summer concert series, and a security guard is lecturing a kid on rollerblades. Except ten minutes later, I see him in Veterans Plaza, making a slalom course out of a line of benches.

The Downtown Silver Spring complex on Ellsworth Drive has always had a tortured relationship with skaters, who flock to the street despite being harassed by security guards. Are they directing skaters off their property and into the public plaza? If so, would Montgomery County kick them out as well?

"Definitively an issue," writes Reemberto Rodriguez, director of the Silver Spring Regional Services Center, in an e-mail to JUTP. "It is a balancing act between how to be welcoming of all activity that brings the Plaza alive with the charge to keep it clean, safe, and in good condition." He notes that he's seen a "very positive reception" to skaters from other people in the plaza.

Looking Back Towards Ellsworth
Looking south through the plaza towards Ellsworth Drive.

The need for a skatepark in downtown Silver Spring has been known for years. Kids are often kicked out of otherwise-unused pocket parks and on Ellsworth Drive and elsewhere, though planning for a temporary skate spot in Woodside Park is underway. It's not surprising that they've taken to Veterans Plaza with their skateboards. The question is how they'll get along with everyone else who'd like to use the space and how to handle potential conflicts between them.

On his blog, Rodriguez has drafted a "code of conduct" for the plaza - what he calls a "statement of our desires, expectations, and commitment for public behavior." He's looking for suggestions from the community to make it better.

For now, at least, the county wants to make everyone welcome in Veterans Plaza. "I am in conversation with the skaters - and many others - to see that we do this in a way that is respectful of all," writes Rodriguez.

what's up the pike: belated blogiversary

Music Man, Fenton & Ellsworth
On June 26, 2006, I started Just Up The Pike after an unusually difficult bus ride to work. How could I forget our fourth anniversary? Because I'm busy planning a going-away party. Stay tuned for your invitation, but in the meantime:

- After four years in captivity, the inflatable shark Chompy has returned to One Discovery Place to mark the return of the Discovery Channel's Shark Week, which starts August 1. Pictures and more from A Parent in Silver Spring and the Singular.

- Dayton, Ohio discovers downtown Silver Spring and wonders if it's an example for their own beleaguered city. Unfortunately, they discovered us on the day former governor Bobby Haircut came by to do some clandestine campaigning.

- Montgomery County planning director Rollin Stanley has a new blog featuring his thoughts on "community planning, urban design, environmental and transportation issues." Check out his breakdowns of great urban parks in Paris vs. Ellsworth Drive in downtown Silver Spring.

- The Happy Cloud Moments blog, written by a woman from Germantown, reviews dim sum at the recently-opened Asian Delight in White Oak and is very impressed.

- Reader and friend of JUTP Dave Dildine sends us this surprisingly dirty ad for Westwood Gardens, a condo conversion in Wheaton.