Monday, August 30, 2010

what's up the pike: blast off!

Woodside Park New Space Ship
- Big Acorn is a new website proclaiming to be the "seeds of democracy in Silver Spring," with blogs and forums where residents can discuss the latest issues of the day. Not surprisingly, skateboarding is one of them. Event producer Eric Cathcart submits this entry in support of lifting the skating ban in Veterans Plaza.

- You know how I feel about it, but reader/Towson University economics professor Seth Gitter wonders what would happen if we applied the rules of the market to public space.

- This is a couple of weeks old, but speaking of economics: Matt Yglesias suggests that restaurants on Ellsworth Drive are crappy because they work to keep competitors from opening there.

- The University of Maryland wants to be considered a "Public Ivy," but the way they've handled - or mishandled - the trial closure of Campus Drive couldn't make them look less deserving. Of course, they've declared it a success, but hopefully new president Wallace Loh will know better. Rethink College Park points us to a survey for students, faculty and staff affected by the trial.

- Historian for Hire David Rotenstein continues his study of the Veterans' Plaza drum circle with a video look at how it's set up each week.

- Rockville Central says a local rapper filmed a music video on a rooftop overlooking Rockville Town Square, which is a pretty swanky place if you haven't been up there. You might've never heard of Adam-Bomb or his "Do That Michael Phelps," but a music video does lend Rockville a little bit of street cred, doesn't it?

Friday, August 27, 2010

what I like about you, new home in west philadelphia

Tomorrow, I'll have lived in West Philadelphia for two weeks. While there are occasional moments of serious homesickness - like when I try to use the subway - I am often overwhelmed with how lovely and charming my new home is. It is almost enough to make me say "Silver what?" Almost.

How do I love you, West Philadelphia? Let me count the ways:

Pine and 44th (4)
All streets look like this here. All of them.

I love the farmers' market in Clark Park, whose barbeque chicken fresh from Amish Country has, in fact, made me forget about the Burtonsville Dutch Country Farmers' Market.

I love that my neighborhood isn't just boisterous college kids but parents pushing strollers, doctors and nurses, professors and painters, yuppies, hoods and everything in between.

I love the white-haired guy at 43rd and Baltimore who screams poetry at passing cars. And the guy I biked past at 44th and Locust today, wearing dreadlocks and Tripp pants, singing about love and Satanism in a deep bass.

34th & Walnut (2)
There are old building and new buildings, and they don't always get along, but it all seems to fit together.

I love that there can be a Gap and Urban Outfitters on one block and a record store and bookstore on another.

I love the skaters in the parking lot outside the CVS at 43rd and Locust. They're far nicer than the surly staff, and even though they have to contend with cars and bicyclists like myself, no one's kicked them out. As far as I know.

I love that people can see a bunch of black teens on a bus and don't react in horror.

I love that I can live in a house, albeit an attached house, and still be a block away from a coffee shop, two bars, three restaurants and a major bus stop.

I love that old Ethiopian men gather in the decidedly hip coffee shop on the corner to read the paper and shoot the shit for hours on end.

RX, 45th & Locust
A restaurant in the first floor of a house. I have never seen it open, though.

I love the trolleys, which run every ten minutes and don't mow people down. They share lanes with cars, which isn't an ideal arrangement, but everyone seems to get along. And the property values do just fine when trains clatter past your house.

Speaking of property values: I love that for less than the price of a one-bedroom in downtown Silver Spring, my roommate and I have two bedrooms, a formal living room, a big sunroom and a backyard.

I love my house (ca. 1904), which has survived two world wars, nineteen presidents, decades of urban decay, and a mayor who'd bomb his own city.

I love all of the other old houses too. This is, by far, the prettiest place I have ever lived. (Sorry, Georgian Towers. You did not make the cut.)

No Sidewalks, Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore
Ardmore in Montgomery County has some posh, Bethesda-y shopping areas, but sidewalks are lacking and people will look at you strange for using them.

It is not without its faults. Many shopping trips, even to Target for a rice cooker, require leaving the city, but only after driving for miles down streets still lined with busted windows and broken dreams. They take you to posh suburbs in Montgomery County, which doesn't look too different from our Montgomery County save for the diversity and the sidewalks, and I wonder how this unhappy juxtaposition has lasted for so long.

I always break down at City Avenue, where West Philadelphia meets the snoburban Main Line. I live in a miracle of integration and gentrification - Silver Spring on the Schuylkill - but it seems like a fluke compared to everything around it.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

what's up the pike: excess links

'Stop Emo,' Plyers Mill Road and Metropolitan Avenue, Kensington
Though I've been away from the area for over a week now, I still have a number of items of interest floating around the JUTP inbox. Here's a look at what's happening around East County:

- Unless you've been living under a rock for the past few weeks, you know that new online news venture is up and running. I've been absolutely blown away by the quality and the breadth of the site's local coverage in Silver Spring, especially from former Gazette reporter/friend of JUTP Elahe Izadi. She's done a great job covering news in downtown, especially the ongoing controversy over skaters and public space.

They'll soon be joined by Patch, an AOL-funded venture with over a hundred outlets in suburban towns across the country. A brief look at their website shows no fewer than twenty branches set to open in Maryland alone, including Silver Spring, Wheaton, and Takoma Park. Patch already has online papers in College Park, Hyattsville, University Park and Riverdale Park in Prince George's County.

Their coverage method seems confusing - one paper each for Kensington (pop. 1,955) and Silver Spring? A branch in Colesville but not Burtonsville? However, with so little local reporting from the Post and Gazette today, this area needs all the coverage it can get. It's worth noting that like TBD, Patch has a substantial Twitter presence in Montgomery County before even going live.

- Burtonsville singer-songwriter Barry Louis Polisar appeared on the cover of this month's issue of Songwriter's Monthly magazine. Though he's been making music for over thirty years, Polisar may be best known for his song "All I Want Is You," which appeared on the Grammy-winning soundtrack to the 2008 movie Juno. Click here to read the article, and the whole issue, for free online.

- Cavan at Greater Greater Washington writes about the fate of the Glenmont Shopping Center, which continues to languish despite the presence of a Metro station. Meanwhile in Burtonsville, the Gazette reports that the Burtonsville Crossing shopping center continues to suffer at the hands of the new strip mall across the street, which is totally not news if you've been reading this blog at all over the past three years.

The solution for both? I say it's time to knock them down and start over, an idea that I'd like to expand upon more fully in the future.

- Also at GGW, Geoff Hatchard looks at the "non-circles of Washington," including the one at 16th Street, Colesville Road and Eastern Avenue where a pedestrian was killed last year. According to commenter Mike, the circle is actually called Montgomery Blair Portal. It may not be apparent to anyone who visits it in person, but it does appear on Google Maps.

As a gateway to Silver Spring and Maryland as a whole, the circle lays out a lousy welcome mat, at least compared to others in Montgomery County like Chevy Chase Circle (Connecticut Avenue and Western Avenue) or Westmoreland Circle (Massachusetts Avenue and Western). After all, it's not even shaped like a circle.

Monday, August 23, 2010

and we're back.

Looking Back Towards Ellsworth
My desk is assembled, our cable's on and finally, I've been able to get back on the blog again. Given that I now live three hours from the place where I spent the first twenty-two years of my life, it seems appropriate to take Just Up The Pike in a new direction. There'll still be generous helpings of Silver Spring, but with a side of something new.

In this world, there are cool places and there are lame places. There are places that attract people, are lively and vibrant, and feel unique and special. And there are others still that repel visitors, and are dead and boring.

What makes a cool place? The reason why I started this blog four years ago was because I care about cool places, and I want to make more of them. I could rattle off facts and figures and make diagrams and maps about how this happens, but not everyone will understand or, more importantly, care.

And that's my new goal for this blog, while I'm living in Philadelphia and going to planning school and unable to be directly involved in what happens at home in Silver Spring: I want to make the making of a cool place as exciting as going to one.

It's something I've been thinking about ever since I worked for Councilmember George Leventhal, where one of my many tasks was to study master plans. I broke down all of the jargon and diagrams within these documents and make them legible to my boss, who in turn explains them to his constituents.

The most controversial plan I worked on was the Great Seneca Science Corridor, which proposed creating a research center around Johns Hopkins University's campus in Gaithersburg. George and I met several times with Hopkins' representatives, who were struggling to sell the plan to a very skeptical community. They had lots of data - projected traffic counts, revenue totals, and so on - but not much else.

Two Men on the Sidewalk, Harvard Square
Harvard Square in Cambridge, Mass.

Crick and Watson discovered DNA while having a beer together, they said. We know that scientists are working all the time - both in and outside of the lab - and we want them to have places to meet and share ideas.

Have you ever been to Harvard Square in Cambridge? They asked me. That's what we want to create here.

I have been to Harvard Square. It's a cool place indeed, where members of two of the world's most elite universities hang out and/or brainstorm. Cafe tables, a busy subway entrance, and the occasional street performer provide people-watching.

It's hard for me to imagine it in Gaithersburg. Armed with a sheaf of Hopkins' own facts and figures, opponents of the Great Seneca plan were able to conjure them into a monster. And Hopkins didn't have any means to fight back.

You have to give people a picture, I told them. They don't understand all these numbers you're throwing at them. You have to show them what this will look like, what this will feel like. Show them what Harvard Square would look like in Gaithersburg. And even if they aren't convinced, they won't be as scared.

Hopkins Rendering of Belward Campus
Hopkins' rendering of their Belward Campus, part of the Great Seneca Science Corridor plan. Image courtesy of Johns Hopkins University.

A few weeks later, Hopkins' representatives returned with two artist's renderings of their proposal. And despite continuing community opposition, there was enough support for the plan to get it approved. Everyone, from neighbors to the councilmembers who represented them, had something they could understand, digest, and form an opinion on.

Will the Great Seneca Science Corridor become a cool place? It could, if done right. I'd like to talk about that, and about other places both lame and cool, in the blog posts to come.

Friday, August 13, 2010

veterans plaza needs fewer rules, not more, to keep it alive

Urban spaces thrive on spontaneity. We might want to impose rules on a park or plaza to make it seem safer or more pristine, but excessive regulations could kill the vibrancy that people go there for. Sometimes, we have to let people police themselves.

One Sweet Jump
Veterans Plaza in downtown Silver Spring.

Millions of dollars of public and private funding have gone into downtown Silver Spring over the past ten years, bringing with it new businesses, new residents and no shortage of programmed events, from an annual documentary film festival to weekly concerts on Ellsworth Drive.

But the most invigorating scenes I've witnessed here were largely spontaneous: Hare Krishnas gathering on Ellsworth Drive; a weekly drum circle; skateboarders doing tricks before a crowd. In recent weeks, I've seen all three take place within the new Veterans Plaza at the same time.

And a funny thing happened: people got along, setting norms for how they and other users should share the space, and enjoyed themselves. That's possible in a safe, well-designed urban space like Veterans Plaza.

Reemberto Rodriguez, director of the Silver Spring Regional Services Center, understands this. He's been tirelessly working to help organize activities in Veterans Plaza, both in meetings and on his blog. "No government initiative can do this. No institution or organization can be expected to solely lead the charge," he writes. "This is something that must grow organically, from within the community, for the community, by the community."

Yet his goodwill is shot by County Executive Ike Leggett's decision to boot skaters out of Veterans Plaza and into the newly-opened Woodside skate spot, located in a quiet residential neighborhood several blocks away. Neighbors are already complaining about noise, trash, and misbehavior, while skaters say the space is far too small for them to use, with over fifty kids there on a normal afternoon.

Cotton Mouth BBQ, Woodside Skate Spot
Over seventy kids attended a barbeque held at the Woodside skate spot last weekend.

Meanwhile, the Regional Services Center hasn't really made a case for the ban, only talking to skaters protest the ban after after it took effect. I spoke to Gwen Haney of the Regional Services Center, who told me that skateboarding "damages" the concrete covering the ice rink, yet last week I saw a concert in the same space with a big, heavy stage and multiple SUVs parked behind it. Couldn't a 3,000-pound truck create more damage than a kid with a piece of wood?

Haney also told me that she "heard the thumps" of skaters in the plaza and was annoyed. But that noise is easily drowned out by rush hour traffic, idling trucks, passing trains, planes flying overhead, sirens, the screams of young children, and loud music from live concerts. This isn't a library, it's a plaza in the middle of an urban area. Noise is to be expected.

And even Rodriguez' own statement on the decision insists that those no way to "consistently and successfully [regulate]" skateboarding in the plaza. Yet I've seen a security guard hustling eight-year-olds with rollerblades out of the plaza, and cops regularly patrol the space. It appears that regulation is possible, so why isn't the county willing to consider it?

Though there's been a lot of talk about letting spontaneity rule in Veterans Plaza, Montgomery County has firmly led the charge on how this public space is being used. It's a very suburban response: if we don't like something, we'll send it somewhere else. While it hasn't necessarily made the plaza a less vibrant place - as Cavan Wilk pointed out yesterday, people continue to flock there - it sets a bad precedent for dealing with future conflicts in the space.

Rodriguez talks to police officers who confiscated two teens' skateboards after a meeting last month. Photo by Chip Py.

The great challenge of Veterans Plaza, its predecessor "the Turf," or any urban public space is that people will do things in it you do not like, and we still have to accommodate them. This area is vibrant, sometimes messy. Of course, no one wants to see people getting hurt or robbed there. But concerns about crime shouldn't prompt us to try and control how our public spaces are used.

Ever since the revitalization of downtown Silver Spring began, I've had to defend it from people who complain that it feels "fake," "sterile," or "commercialized." As I always say, "the buildings are fake, but the people are real." Public spaces like Veterans Plaza allow us to create our own culture, drawing people who aren't interested in places like Bethesda and Clarendon where redevelopment has made them less diverse, not more so.

To me, skaters are a representation of Silver Spring's local culture. In downtown Silver Spring, skaters from affluent Chevy Chase and Kensington rub elbows with skaters from poor Langley Park and Petworth. Like the filmmakers who come here for the SilverDocs festival each summer, our skaters have built a pastime for themselves and those who watch them. The skaters I've met are smart, well-spoken and trying to become engaged in the community, which sounds right in line with Silver Spring's history of liberal activism.

Yet County Executive Ike Leggett's sent a message to them, and to all of us, that it's not worth fighting for something you care about. Those in charge won't listen to you, and they won't give you good excuses, either.

A good square is a democracy - it gives people a place to call their own, but hopefully gives them a conscience about how their actions affect others. Users of Veterans Plaza deserve a chance to show they can take care of it. So far, they haven't been given one.

take a deep breath, y'all

Okay, good. Now:

"I can't believe how much ink (or bits and bytes, as it were) has been expended on Silver Spring skateboarders lately. I guess August is just a really slow month."
Silver Spring, Singular

Just because you don't care about something doesn't mean that it's not important. I imagine it's hard for Sligo to sit behind a keyboard and launch snark attacks, but it's harder still to actually get out and be involved in our community for more than one day a year.

But seriously. People are worked up and a potentially fruitful discussion - online and in real life - has been sidelined. Certainly, we can do better than than the personal attacks and name-calling witnessed in the comments following Wednesday's post. We can disagree and still be civil, or at least not derisive to one another.

I'm posting my last thoughts about skateboarding later this afternoon, and then after that, I'm out of here. I hope y'all have this worked out by the time I come back in two years.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

skaters discuss woodside skate spot, need for more places to go

After a meeting last month with neighbors and Reemberto Rodriguez, director of the Silver Spring Regional Services Center, local skaters were asked to write a letter detailing their concerns about the new Woodside skate spot and the need for more places to skate in the area. Instead, they produced this video, featuring interviews with local skaters.

While the county hasn't done a great job working with them before, I hope this will be the beginning of a more positive relationship.

Monday, August 9, 2010

iPhones repaired here - but no photos, please

With just a few days until I move away, I've been trying to do things and go places I haven't been before. On Saturday, I learned that some stones are better left unturned. One of them is Cellphone Repair Solution, located on Colesville Road at University Boulevard in Four Corners.

Steps Up To Colesville Road
Colesville Road in Four Corners has to do double duty. It's a state highway that passes through a neighborhood shopping district, and it's obvious that the highway won out. The stores lining it - a Peruvian restaurant, a couple of hair salons, a check-cashing place, a bar - were probably at street level many decades ago. Today, they and the sidewalk are sunk below the road.

Cell Phone Repair Shop 2
I drive past this block almost every day and have never stopped in, but I've long admired the painted windows at Cellphone Repair Solution. Painted windows aren't unusual around here - the ones on Telvis Restaurant and Bar in Wheaton are probably my favorites - but they seem ironic for a store devoted to modern technology.

On Saturday, I stopped by to take a photo of the sign. While standing outside the store, I was approached by a African man in a Diesel shirt. Not surprisingly, he was waving an iPhone. "What is this about?" he demanded. "What is this picture for?"

"I like your sign," I replied. I tried to explain that I thought it was ironic, but he wasn't buying it.

"Did you ask permission?" he barked.

No, I said. I don't have to. "Taking photos is protected free speech."

"Whether or not it's free speech," he said, "You can't come into private property and take photos without asking permission," the man responded.

Sunken Sidewalk, Colesville Road at University Boulevard
The public sidewalk in question.

"I never went into your store," I said, "and I'm standing on a public sidewalk."

"This is not a public sidewalk," he replied.

"Yes, it is," I said.

He continued to argue with me before I cut him off. "This is a public sidewalk. Taking photos is protected free speech. You do not have a case, sir," I said, before I walked away.

The man followed me to my car, blabbing away on his phone about how he has to "take care of me." He watched me from the public sidewalk as I pulled out onto Colesville Road. "Have a nice day!" I called out to him.

Cell Phone Repair Shop 3
The store in question. Do not bring your business here.

It's been three years since photographers marched on downtown Silver Spring in protest of a policy that prevented people from taking pictures. Yet many people still aren't clear about the law. The blog Photography is Not a Crime quotes Bert Krages, an Oregon lawyer, who wrote the following:
"The general rule in the United States is that anyone may take photographs of whatever they want when they are in a public place or places where they have permission to take photographs. Absent a specific legal prohibition such as a statute or ordinance, you are legally entitled to take photographs. Examples of places that are traditionally considered public are streets, sidewalks, and public parks."
I was standing on a sidewalk the whole time, meaning I had the right to photograph this shopkeeper's window. Unfortunately, I could've just taken the photo and written a nice post about a quirky sign. Now, I'm going to tell you not to patronize this man's shop. From the way he spoke to me, I can't imagine how he must treat his customers.

After all, he couldn't even get off the phone to yell at me.

what's up the pike: museum of idiots

They Might Be Giants Lyrics In Veterans Plaza
- The Post profiles Woodside Park, the neighborhood bounded by Georgia Avenue, Colesville Road and Sligo Creek Park, and includes quotes from local folks - many of whom have appeared in the pages of this blog, including Jennifer Pasenelli and historian Bob Oshel, whose starkly modern house appears in the article. (Bob, if you're ever looking for someone to it off your hands, look no further.)

- Blogger John at Bensozia can't see the forest for the trees in Wheaton: "Its downtown has the worst of everything -- it is densely built up with masses of ugly concrete, but even though there is a Metro station one can't walk anywhere and there is no life on the streets," he writes. There are people on the streets of Wheaton. They just happen to be Hispanic. And they make wonderful food. Perhaps you won't be so bitter after you've eaten there.

- Speaking of Wheaton: Sara at Wheaton Calling celebrates a year of living there with a declaration of love. Also, she offers a recap of last week's going-away happy hour.

- D.C.-area real estate blog UrbanTurf wants you to help Nioke, a 32-year-old physician on her search for a new home in Silver Spring or Takoma Park. You can put your two cents in by telling her which one you like more, and that the house in Brookland she's expressed a preference for is a bad choice.

- If you were around in the 90's (I know I was), you might remember R&B/dance singer Crystal Waters, best known for her chart-topping hits "Gypsy Woman" and "100% Pure Love" (shown above). But did you know she's 100% East County as well? The Philadelphia-born singer moved to the D.C. area to study at Howard University before starting her recording career, an today she lives in Colesville, just off New Hampshire Avenue. (Thanks to Alexis Reed for the heads-up.)

Today's post title - and the lyrics I found chalked in Veterans Plaza last Saturday - come from "Museum of Idiots" by They Might Be Giants, which you can hear here.

Friday, August 6, 2010

what's up the pike: my brother painted a snake

It was great seeing everyone at my going-away happy hour last night. I wish you all well and, judging from the success of this one, I might consider having JUTP "reunions" in the near future, ha ha ha. Thanks so much for supporting me over the past four years.

That said, here's a look at what's happening in East County:

Galway ES ICC SIgns (Close-Up)

The InterCounty Connector will open west of Georgia Avenue later this year, but here on the east side we'll be stuck with the highway's construction site for a while longer. Luckily, fifth-graders at Galway Elementary School in Calverton did a little beautification project with these panels, newly erected along Old Columbia Pike where it crosses the future toll road. Apparently, my brother Tyler - a new graduate of Galway - painted a snake somewhere on here, but I'm not quite sure where it is.


- Earlier this week, Dan M. at GGW wrote about whether to take the train or the bus to New York City. I generally can't afford/am not willing to pay for the train, so it's convenient that reader Ralph sent me this guide to Northeast bus companies he wrote. Check it out!

- If you're a renter, be thankful you don't hold the title: The Enclave, a three-building apartment complex in White Oak, is now worth half what it was three years ago, says CityBizList, a real estate industry publication. Stellar Management, the Enclave's owners, recently lost ownership of the Georgian apartments in downtown Silver Spring.

- Evan Glass, president of the South Silver Spring Neighborhood Association, defends the conversion of new high-end condo building the Argent to affordable housing. The 96-unit building on East-West Highway will open this fall, with subsidized rents starting at $1069 a month for a one-bedroom apartment - certainly lower than other buildings in downtown Silver Spring, but not exactly a housing project, either.

Last, but not least:

- Flickerer Citizen of Two Worlds posts this photo of four Pakistani men shown in their youth and reunited, forty years later, in Silver Spring. Today, one lives in Canada, the other back in Pakistan, and the other "in USA" - in Silver Spring, we assume.

- The recently-resurrected Silver Spring Daily Photo captures the inside of the new Chick-Fil-A on Tech Road, claimed to be one of the nation's largest with a 160-seat dining room.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

happy hour tonight!

Jackie's & The Veridian
Tonight. Jackie's Sidebar. 6pm. 8081 Georgia Avenue (at Sligo). Come to say hi, have a drink, and say goodbye. I'll see you then!

meet the new strip mall, same as the old strip mall

In February 2008, El Pollo Rico burned down, taking half a block of downtown Wheaton with it. Over two years later, the site - at Ennalls Avenue and Veirs Mill Road - is filled once again. But the new shopping center, called Triangle Park, may not an improvement on what was there before.

El Pollo Rico Burns Down
Triangle Park and Existing Shopping Center

Left: the shopping center after the fire in 2008. Right: Triangle Park today.

Leasing Sign, Triangle Park
Triangle Park was developed by Greenhill Capital and designed by Steven J. Karr. Together, they've built dozens of buildings in Montgomery County over the past thirty years, including sixteen in downtown Wheaton.

Almost all of Greenhill's properties in Wheaton are small retail strips like Triangle Park and Georgia Crossing, located at Georgia Avenue and University Boulevard and where El Pollo Rico relocated after the fire. That three-building, twenty-five space complex has four occupied stores.

Meanwhile, Triangle Park has nine spaces, five of which are also vacant. Many former Greenhill tenants - small businesses like DeJaBel Cafe and Hollywood East, have complained of unfairly high rents and mistreatment, forcing them to close.

Sidewalk, Triangle Park
Triangle Park's parking lot.

There's a serious lack of vision on the part of Greenhill, who had architect Karr design a mixed-use complex for the Georgia Crossing site, then built a strip mall instead, all the while blaming the county and the community for dropping the ball on necessary zoning changes. The economic downturn killed any potential for a more ambitious project, Karr complained.

Regardless of the economy, it seems like Greenhill wouldn't have had twenty-six vacancies in their new shopping centers if there were people living and working on top of them, providing business for stores who otherwise wouldn't have enough customers. And when the market does improve, Wheaton will have lost several prime development sites.

Triangle Park and Georgia Crossing are centrally located at the intersection of three major state highways, dozens of bus routes, and a Metro station. Young, affluent singles and families are moving in - the target audience for the kind of urban center planners are trying to create here. A little foresight could've gone a long way to making these projects an asset to the community, rather than more of what we've had in the past.

Bus, Triangle Park
Boarding a bus next to Triangle Park.

Greenhill holds 41 of 150 properties in downtown Wheaton, according to this Gazette article. With Westfield, who owns Wheaton Plaza, and B.F. Saul, who was given 8.2 acres around the Metro to rebuild, they are one of just three major developers in the area.

That may make redevelopment easier - after all, the land is already assembled. But when that land is tied up by risk-averse owners who'd rather build to make a quick buck than consider the long-term possibilities, a bright future for Wheaton seems more elusive than ever.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

the new woodside park

Several new improvements have just been completed at Woodside Park, including new playgrounds and a skate spot. It's just the first phase of a planned, much larger renovation of the park, located at Georgia Avenue and Spring Street outside downtown Silver Spring.

New Woodside Park Skate Spot
Of course, the star of the show is the new skate spot. Even though it opened several months behind schedule, it must be a record turnaround for the Parks Department - it was proposed last fall, meetings were held with local skaters and the neighbors through the spring, and it opened last Friday.

The skate spot was designed and built by Spohn Ranch, a California-based company that's built some 450 parks worldwide, according to their website. On their blog, they boast about the "diversity of shade-giving trees" in Woodside Park that lend the skate spot a "peaceful ambiance."

With skateboarding officially banned in Veterans Plaza, skaters were already in the park when I visited last Wednesday, two days before it officially opened. Earlier this week, friend of JUTP and awesome photographer Chip Py stopped by to see it in action.

Photos by Chip Py.

Last fall, play equipment in the park dating to the 1980's (not long before a young Dan Reed hung out there) was removed after years of decay and neglect. Broken slides and boarded-up jungle gyms have been replaced by new, brightly-colored pieces.
Woodside Park New Jungle Gym

The new zip line must be for training aspiring mountaineers, though I wonder if it'll give the little ones as much exercise as a set of monkey bars.
Woodside Park New Zip Line

In a nod to the future, the bouncy ducky and bouncy frog have been replaced by a bouncy spaceship.
Woodside Park New Space Ship

I believe this might be the bouncy space station. It took me a minute to figure out what it was. I bet kids will like this a lot.
Woodside Park New Bouncy Thing
Me in Sligo Creek Park. Photo by Kurt Williams.

Some of y'all might remember a time when playgrounds were designed to teach kids via pain - as in, don't jump off the tall metal thing slide, because the woodchips will not break your fall. If I were here any longer, I'd make a map of remaining old-school playgrounds. The other week, I discovered there's a tall metal slide in Sligo Creek Park (enter near Park Valley Road in Takoma Park). How exciting! You can bet I went down it a million times.

what's up the pike: good neighbors don't fix cars at 11pm

Sunny Days & Starry Nights
- You won't be riding Metro over Labor Day weekend, as they're shutting down the entire Red Line in East County for maintenance and rehabiliation, reports DCist. The Glenmont, Wheaton, Forest Glen, Silver Spring and Takoma stations will all be closed from 10pm on Friday, September 3 until Tuesday morning.

Metro will run shuttles between Fort Totten and Glenmont, but you might be better off taking the bus - the 70s or S buses between Silver Spring and downtown D.C., the J buses between Silver Spring and Bethesda, or the Q buses between Silver Spring, Wheaton, and Rockville, among other routes.

- Takoma Park resident Steve Davies has started a new blog about the area. There isn't much on there yet, but he's looking to join up with, a blogging network/news source run by the good folks at Allbritton Communications (you know, Channel 7!)

- And here's the difference between Silver Spring and Oklahoma: "One thing you can expect in Silver Spring is an encounter with a drunk person. Public intoxication is not a crime -- it's a rite of passage here. Walking after dark in Silver Spring is an invitation for a bottle of vodka and a story from a stranger."

- Move over, Bedding Barn. It looks like you've got some competition for best farm-themed bedroom furniture store:

Last, but not least:

- Rockville Central points us to this article about Rockville Town Square and the growing popularity of urban living in the suburbs.

- Samurai_SS, the last remaining original contributor at The Georgian Confidential (the blog of record for residents of The Georgian apartments) is giving up the reins.

- Come to a special going-away happy hour TOMORROW from 6 to 8pm at Jackie's Sidebar, 8081 Georgia Avenue!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

deconstructing the people's republic

U-Md. journalism students Karen Carmichael and Jamie McIntyre try to explain why Takoma Park has so many locally-owned businesses in this ten-minute video, posted to YouTube late last month.

In the beginning, it sounds like another screed against commercialism. Carmichael calls a CVS in Takoma, D.C. a "chunk of suburbiana" (doesn't she know that making up words is only for English majors?), while McIntyre, a former CNN correspondent (wait, what?) contrasts cutesy Old Town Takoma with Olney, which he claims "could be Anytown, USA" for its many chain stores.

(Certainly, Olney has some local businesses - you can get snooty Belgian food at Le Mannequin Pis, beer at the Olney Ale House, and guitars at Rocketeria - but I digress.)

The video has interviews with owners of local mainstays like Mark's Kitchen and the House of Musical Traditions, though Carmichael and McIntyre can't get them to say why Takoma Park is able to do what it does. "The first thing you notice in Mark's Kitchen is . . . it's not Starbucks," one talking head opines.

Roscoe the Rooster
Roscoe the Rooster, Takoma Park's mascot, sits in the shopping district.

As much as I enjoy a local coffeeshop, I doubt many people outside of Takoma Park walk into to one and marvel, "Wow, what a locally-specific, non-homogenized experience!" What Carmichael and McIntyre don't explain is that Takoma Park can sustain so many local businesses because they're organized into one unified destination. Stores are close enough that people can park once and walk around, meaning they can rely on each other for customers and marketing - not unlike stores in a mall.

And like a mall, Takoma Park benefits from branding - for instance, from its long history of liberal politics. Sometimes, it manifests in negative ways, like vandalism of a Subway franchise on Carroll Avenue six years ago, whose owner is also interviewed in the video. But it also results in a focus on artistic pursuits - a music store, a vintage clothing store, a bakery - and preserved historic buildings that lend it a feeling of authenticity.

But cutesy Victorian storefronts can only go so far. At the end of the video, McIntyre suggests Takoma Park could do better. He goes to Ellsworth Drive in downtown Silver Spring, where he points out that successful business districts often have a high density of people (living there and/or working there) and are easy to walk around.

Carroll Avenue, Takoma Park
Takoma Park's nice to walk around in, but difficult to reach if you don't already live in the neighborhood.

Takoma Park is a joy for pedestrians, but it's not very dense, meaning that businesses cannot rely solely on people who can walk to their stores. At the same time, Takoma Park is difficult to reach by car, and though there's a Metro station nearby, it can be a long, hilly walk to either of its business districts. These impediments will discourage people from shopping there, and no shortage of ad campaigns will fix that.

In the past, some Takoma Parkies have opposed new housing in the area, like this proposed development at the Metro station. But if they'd like to retain its mom-and-pop businesses, they should push to have it built. It's a good lesson for neighborhood business districts in East County and beyond: if you want people to shop in your stores, you have to get them there. And it's often easiest to get them there if they already live in the neighborhood.

Monday, August 2, 2010

what's up the pike: condo canyon

Sculpture Outside Argent Condos
- Built as high-end condos before the economic downturn, the Argent at East-West Highway and Blair Mill Road (pictured above) will be converted to rentals for low-income families, says UrbanTurf. Commenters on that blog are grousing about the switch, but with neighbors including three high-end apartments and several other new condos that have opened in the past five years, the area could use some more reasonably-priced housing options.

- Speaking of UrbanTurf and condos: they've got a lovely profile of downtown Silver Spring, with quotes from some of your favorite local community people. I take issue with real estate agent Debbie Lee insisting that "Everybody hates that stupid mall" called City Place, as there's certainly a large - if not well-heeled - clientele who shops there. That said, I'm looking forward to plans to turn the mall around.


- Jerry McCoy stays in the Courtyard Marriott on Fenton Street and tries to imagine himself as a tourist to Silver Spring.

- Speaking of which: WikiTravel, the travel guide "anyone can edit," has its own page on Silver Spring. "The 'center' is nice and full of happy people, but also rather artificial and full of chains," it says. You know, the Lonely Planet travel writers got paid to make the exact same conclusion.

- A teacher at Kemp Mill Elementary School was fired for allegedly touching a child, but he - and the child's parents - say it's the principal who deserve sexual harassment charges.

- Express Night Out is taking nominees for their Best of 2010 survey, which looks for everything from the best local bar to the best local street musician. We're hoping you'll consider JUTP for "Best (Non-Food) Blogger," though, of course, I'll be on my way out soon.


- Come to a special going-away happy hour Thursday from 6 to 8pm at Jackie's Sidebar, 8081 Georgia Avenue.