Friday, May 27, 2011

"all the people I know saved their money to go buy houses in suburbia"

On Monday, I wrote about former Councilmember Rose Crenca, who was quoted by the Examiner as saying that people who don't want to live in a suburb should leave Montgomery County. The other day, a friend of JUTP (who wished to remain anonymous) suggested we watch her testimony at a recent County Council hearing on the CR (Commercial-Residential) Zone, where she first made the comment, and this exchange afterwards between her and sitting Councilmember George Leventhal:

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Councilmember Leventhal: This [question] is for my neighbor Rose Crenca. You've given so much to the county over the years, but I wanted to make sure I understood you correctly. Did you say that people who disagree with you on a zoning issue should please leave the county?

Rose Crenca: (Laughs.) Did I- Did I disagree with what?

Leventhal: (He repeats the question.)

Crenca: Only if they want to live in an urban area. Montgomery County is defined as suburban. All the people I know saved their money to go buy houses in suburbia, the perfect suburbia, Montgomery County. Now somebody's decided we're not suburbia anymore, we're gonna be urbia. And I'm saying no, we're gonna be suburbia. If you want to live in urbia, there are plenty of those places around. And there's some good ones. Go.

Leventhal: You're part of the tradition and history of this county, but civility and respect for people's opinions is also part of the tradition and history of this county.

Crenca: True. But I'm talking about is change - changing what is here. And I'm saying that we din't have any process to vote on changing what is here. This being a democracy I thought there'd have been a plebiscite or something. I don't recall that and I've been here since 1949.

Councilmember Nancy Floreen: (Interrupts.) I think Mrs. Crenca was using her pulpit to make a point, and she made a point.

It's kind of tragic to hear this woman lament a world that doesn't really exist anymore. I always wonder if, after a certain age, people lose their capacity to accept new information in their lives and just revert back to whenever they decided they were happiest.

"Parking Space," Silver Spring Advertiser, Nov. 1952
Downtown Silver Spring has been an urban center for over a century, drawing people for shopping and jobs since before Rose Crenca was born.

In the 1940's, when much of Montgomery County was farmland, some people were probably upset to see their communities transition from rural to suburban. Others might have been excited at the prospect of new amenities, new neighbors, and the county's emerging reputation as an affluent bedroom community. But no one really voted for that change to happen. It happened because of market demand for new housing, a lack of buildable land in Washington (and the declining status of the inner city), and a county government who, much like today, saw that people were coming and wanted to accommodate them appropriately.

Sixty years later, Montgomery County is a very different place. It's a majority-minority county now. The Post did a story just yesterday about the gigantic Asian community in Montgomery County. Though many of those Asian immigrants have settled in so-called "suburban" places like Rockville or Germantown, studies show (PDF!) that they're interested in a greater sense of community. For people who grew up in dense Asian cities, Montgomery County is the "perfect suburbia," but not in the same way that Rose Crenca describes it.

Not to mention, of course, that Rose Crenca is 85 and part of a growing population of senior citizens in Montgomery County and the region as a whole. Many of these retirees will want to stay in their homes and communities, but those who can't drive anymore are essentially trapped in the "perfect suburbia." That's one reason why retiring Baby Boomers are flocking to urban neighborhoods.

A Porch In Silver Spring
Suburban and urban, old and new. Why can't we have our cake and eat it too?

That raises a bigger question, though: if retirees are going to live in Montgomery County, how do we pay for the services they need? If they're not working, the county doesn't get their income tax revenue. And if we send away all the people who'd want to have an urban lifestyle in Montgomery County - young professionals, immigrants, retirees, and so on - then we're losing that money as well.

Montgomery County became the "perfect suburbia" because people were invited in. We could turn people away who don't look like us, who don't think like us, who want to live in apartments, who make less money than us or get around on foot or by bus. But we wouldn't suddenly go back to 1949 as a result. In fact, the county that would result would be far, far worse than what we have today.

Many people worry that plans to encourage urban development in Montgomery County is "imposing" a way of life on them. In fact, the opposite is true. Those, like Rose Crenca, who still cling to a "perfect suburbia" which may or may not have existed, are the ones telling other people how to live.

13 comments:

Patrick said...

Dan,

There really isn't much to say about this. Her viewpoint is retrograde and offensive. I'm sure all the 80+ people she knows agree with her, and when everyone you know thinks identical it's a pretty good sign that you have a very narrow base of contacts..

The world she grew up is no longer here, and her and her ilk will fight desperately to perserve it. We cannot allow that to happen. This country cannot afford to be bullied by the past.

I can only hope that her viewpoint isn't taken too seriously. Montgomery County has never been stuck in a moment. When she first bought here, it was one community. 10 years later it was another. Today it is different. 100 years ago it was much different. 25 years from now it will be much different as well.

People who are against change are against reality. Communities are constantly influx. New people and new generations have different tastes and mores. In addition, this country is much, much more populated than it once was.

The year she was born there were under 120 million people in the US. Now there are 330 million. This country has changed. It is becoming more urban, especially counties that border major cities.

The world she wants doesn't exist. And while this is terrible to say, it's true: Montgomery County will be a better place once she moves on.

She's fighting for a world that doesn't exist and a world that cannot exist anymore. We cannot go back to that perfect suburbia of only car-centric living that "worked" in a much less populated country.

~Patrick Thornton

Patrick said...

Dan,

You nailed the ending of this post. Zoning, particularly restrictive zoning, is really about imposing a way of life on people. Rose Montgomery County to be her perfect suburbia and nothing else, whatever that is.

Thayer-D said...

Ironically, urbanizing selected parts of the county will actually help perfect the suburbs unless ones idea of perfection means traffic jambs at all times of the day. She's really not offensive, I know many older folks who reflexively pine for the good old days, and I expect to also when I'm old and grey. I hope someone took the time to explain to her the whole principle of smart growth is not to be dumb about dealing with what we have to.

silverspringtrails said...

We should give Rose Crenca credit for being consistent. She offered a solution to the poblem of where to build to provide for our increasing population - She said we can sacrifice the Ag Preserve and put the new growth there.
So, under her scheme not only would those who want an urban style have to leave Montgomery County, but so would all who want to keep their rural life in the Ag Preserve. I'll take higher density in a few urban centers any day rather than see our last remaining open spaces turned into sprawled subdivisions.
- Wayne Phyillaier

Cilla said...

Dan,
MC retirees do pay income taxes here. If a retiree can afford to live here, she/he must have substantial income other than Social Security. And, of course, we continue to pay property taxes, in most cases. I stay here, as a retiree, because I value the ethnic diversity of my neighborhood, and welcome increased opportunities to walk and/or use public transpotation to accomplish my errands, among other things. I saved my money to be able to afford to buy a house as close to a Metro station as possibe! I also support improved and additional sites for skateboarding (which I enjoy as a spectator) and want Costco at Wheaton Plaza. (Yes, I do use the "old" name for it, lol. That's my version of clinging to the past.)

hockeypunk said...

@ Cilla, I'm pretty sure most people still say Wheaton Plaza, or at the very least Wheaton Mall. If I came across anyone that said "let's go to Westfield Wheaton" I'd have to smack them

retgroclk said...

Rose Crenca was not being mean or rude she was stating an obvious fact.

The era of big backyards, backyard picnics, backyard cookouts, backyard badmitten gaqmes, or just sunbathing in your back yard is gone.

You want a yard to play whiffle ball in- move- you want a back yard where neighborhood kids could hangout all night and party -move
you want a house that could be cooled by cross-breezes - you just needed a screen door .

But the population changes.
It is no longer profitable to spread out- so neighborhoods have to spread up- mid-rises, high rises-

Rose Crenca is right you have to move for that kind of lifestyle----but where do you move to.

Bob Fustero

dan reed! said...

Where do you move to? According to Rose Crenca, it can't be anywhere in Montgomery County. But "urban" places already exist in downtown Bethesda, Friendship Heights and downtown Silver Spring, and the tide has already turned on Rockville Town Center, Wheaton and White Flint.

I grew up on the 14th floor of an apartment building in downtown Silver Spring that was built in the 1960's. I wonder what Rose Crenca would say to that. It's not like we flipped a switch and said the county should be urban - the transition's been happening for decades.

Robert said...

Bob Fustero's comment ... "The era of big backyards, backyard picnics, backyard cookouts, backyard badmitten gaqmes, or just sunbathing in your back yard is gone.

"You want a yard to play whiffle ball in- move- you want a back yard where neighborhood kids could hangout all night and party -move
you want a house that could be cooled by cross-breezes - you just needed a screen door .

"But the population changes.
It is no longer profitable to spread out- so neighborhoods have to spread up- mid-rises, high rises-" ... is just as offensive as Crenca's.

There is room for urban, suburban, and rural in Montgomery County. As Dan said, downtown Silver Spring has been urban for years. And it has lots of land that is developed at a much lower scale than is permitted by the area's zoning.

The problem is that it is more profitable for developers to buy in adjoining residential "suburban" zoned areas and get the zoning changed for higher urban-like density than it is to develop in the downtown urban zoned area. So we get pressure to continually sprawl the urban area into the suburban area. But sprawling urban into suburban is no better than sprawling suburban into rural. Let's fully utilize the urban CBD areas we have before we destroy adjoining suburban areas.

People that bought single family large lot houses (whether 40 years ago or last month) generally want to keep the neighborhood they bought without intrusive denser zoning. And that's a reasonable position, especially since there is plenty of property suitable for denser redevelopment in the urban zoned areas. We don't need to destroy the suburban to build up the urban.

By the way, Dan, your comment "I always wonder if, after a certain age, people lose their capacity to accept new information in their lives and just revert back to whenever they decided they were happiest." is also offensive ageism. It is no more valid than saying all teenagers are thugs. Both old people and young people (and those of us in between, too) need to be treated as individuals and not stereotyped.

Cilla said...

Dan,
I'm afraid that Robert has got you fair and square on the agism matter. I was trying to say the same thing, more indirectly.

dan reed! said...

Cilla,

You're right. There are people who can remain positive and accepting of change throughout their lives, and I shouldn't let one old crank (or a few old cranks, because unfortunately she's not alone) affect my opinion of everyone of a certain age.

I'd argue, though, that people like Rose Crenca usually have a soapbox to spout off on, whereas young people (thug or no) are generally ignored regardless of what they actually have to offer.

D said...

Speaking of ageism...Patrick, your comments about Rose Crenca are about as offensive as I have ever heard.
"The world she wants doesn't exist. And while this is terrible to say, it's true: Montgomery County will be a better place once she moves on."
How would you feel if someone said the world would be a better place once your mother or your grandmother was dead? That is essentially what you are saying. I don't know how old you are but you should be ashamed.

Matthew said...

I recently bought into the "suburbia" version of MoCo. Having had crappy neighbors right on top of me in a more urban setting, I liked the room of 1/2 acre lots as a change. Peace and quiet, and knowing the neighbors is by choice and not because they are above you partying at 3 a.m. So far, so good. I won't say that the idea of more urban centers in the county is a bad idea, but variety is the spice of life. Different people look for different items in selecting where to live.