Wednesday, February 23, 2011

have you used the ICC yet?

ICC at Route 29, March 2010
The ICC under construction last spring.

After fifty years of debate, the first phase of the InterCounty Connector finally opens to traffic today. Though I spend a lot of time on this blog writing about public transit or bicycling or walking, it's hard not to be excited about the ICC. Dr. Gridlock drove back and forth on the highway several times this morning and revealed that it takes just six minutes to get from Shady Grove to Norbeck.

Six minutes! That sounds revolutionary, and for people who travel across the county for work (as I did last year), it is revolutionary. Even if traffic doesn't always move this fast on the InterCounty Connector, it's possible to see how the road will change the way we perceive places in Montgomery County. Suddenly, trips that seemed very far will become a lot shorter, and you can imagine people making different choices about where to live or work than they would have before the road opened. That should benefit East County, which hasn't always shared in Bethesda or Rockville's prosperity because of a lack of good connections.

Any good transportation project should make that possible. Much of the justification for the Purple Line, whose opening we'll hopefully celebrate within the next few years, is that it will bring places that currently feel far apart, like Silver Spring and Bethesda, closer together. The difference is that a highway can collapse much longer distances, which is either a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you look at it. After all, one of the ICC's touted benefits was that it would make it easier to travel from upper Montgomery County to BWI. But do we want people regularly commuting from Germantown to Baltimore? Wouldn't that make traffic throughout the state, not just on the ICC, much worse?

LifeSci Village CenterThe ICC could bring new development, like the proposed LifeSci Village in Calverton, to East County.

Groups like the Sierra Club say it will cause suburban sprawl, but I wonder how much outward development the highway will cause when the area it runs through is largely built out. After all, entire neighborhoods have been built either next to or around the highway's right-of-way. Where the road's original route was shifted, dozens of homes had to be bought and razed.

Of course, there's still lots of potential to build around the ICC - at Konterra in Laurel, Aventiene in Gaithersburg and even a housing development where the highway crosses Norbeck Road. But it could also help revitalize Burtonsville's village center or bring offices and shops around the FDA in White Oak.

Either way, I'm looking forward to taking the highway for the first time when I come home this weekend. If you're curious to see it on a map, you're out of luck: so far, the only online map that has the ICC on it is OpenStreetMap, the Wikipedia of travel. Also, you can check out live feeds from traffic cameras along the highway, courtesy of the State Highway Administration.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

"blair boulevard" gives high school a main street

This Kid Will End Up On The Hood Of My Car (edited)

SilverChips, Blair High School's student newspaper, posted on their website this time-lapse video of "crowd movement" in the school throughout the day. It looks not unlike the busy sidewalks of a city, but that's exactly how the administrators and designers of Blair's current campus, which opened in 1998 in Four Corners, wanted it to be.

Each of Blair's hallways is named like a street: Silver Spring Avenue, Sligo Creek, and so on. There's also a "Main Street," called Blair Boulevard, which winds its way across the school and connects the cafeteria to the auditorium and gymnasium. Three stories high, over five hundred feet long, and done up in bright blues and reds, it's more than a hallway. It's the main street for a city of some 2,788 students.

Architects SHW Group of Calverton, who designed the current Blair High School in 1998, created Blair Boulevard to fix a major problem from the school's former campus, built in 1935. Composed of several, disconnected buildings, the Old Blair was ideal for students who wanted to skip out between classes but frustrating for administrators. The new Blair High School would have everything under one roof, but there had to be a way to organize everything.

SHW intended for Blair Boulevard to work like a "Main Street in a small town in that it is the primary way to access all major storefronts of that town." Looking at a floorplan of the school, you can see how all of the school's parts are arranged along Blair Boulevard, which runs diagonally. Smaller streets branch out from it into classroom wings, while another street runs parallel to the Boulevard, giving students alternative ways to move throughout the school.

In short, it's a city plan. After Blair opened, Post architecture critic Benjamin Forgey refers to it as a "shopping mall surrounded by a sea of asphalt," but he speaks fondly of the Boulevard, noting that it allows "casual get-togethers among students." A simple idea, but a powerful one. I don't remember a lot of my classes in high school, but I remember talking to my friends during our open lunch or during passing time. These times are as important as science or English: they taught us how to interact with people, how to act in public, how identify with something greater than ourselves.

As former principal Phil Gainous, who presided over the nine-year design process for the new school, puts it:
"The main hallway, dubbed Blair Boulevard, was named and designed by students. This idea for an area where kids could come together and congregate came from the students. We all had input into the process. We’re really proud because it’s our building."

Proof positive that a good public space can make a stronger community, whether it's an ice cream shop, an actual plaza, or a school hallway.

is ellsworth drive keeping borders open?

Sunny Days & Starry Nights
You've probably already heard that Borders is declaring bankruptcy and has released a list of store closures. Thankfully, the branch in downtown Silver Spring has been spared, though I was fully prepared to engage in some speculation as to what could replace it.

Yesterday, State Delegate Heather Mizeur (who represents Silver Spring and Takoma Park) tweeted that the Borders will stay open because of "how great and vibrant Ellsworth Drive is." She's right. Bookstores have an important role in urban places. They bring activity, in the form of foot traffic and customers, but they also feed off the area's energy. You're walking down Ellsworth Drive for some reason - dinner and a movie, coming back from the Metro, going to work - and find yourself killing ten minutes in the bookstore. Sometimes, you'll buy something. Other times, you won't. But there are enough people doing this that they survive.

Not so at Borders' locations at White Flint Mall, Bowie Town Center or the Boulevard at the Capital Center in Largo, all three of which will close within the next few weeks. Unlike downtown Silver Spring, these three places are all solely shopping centers. And they're all struggling, though for different reasons: White Flint is is showing its age and losing out to more upscale shopping areas like Friendship Heights, while both Bowie Town Center and the Boulevard have struggled with the economic downturn and fears of crime. These three places draw people intentionally. You may not be going to White Flint for Borders, and you might stop in on a whim, but you're only at the mall because you're there to shop. Already, you've lost potential customers.

Of course, this theory doesn't explain how Borders' branches in Dupont Circle and Friendship Heights are also closing. Blogger Bossi created these charts showing how much foot traffic there is in Silver Spring and Friendship Heights, and they're roughly equal. And it's likely that there's much less foot traffic in Silver Spring than there is in Dupont Circle. I'm not sure why their only remaining stores in the District - the one on 14th Street in Metro Center closed last summer and will become a Clyde's restaurant - aren't busy enough to stay open.

Meanwhile, downtown Silver Spring just got itself another draw for people across the region. After the store closures, the next closest location in Maryland will be Columbia, 23 miles away. (Of course, they'll still have their Pentagon City store, but that's in Virginia.)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

plan preserves kensington's assets while fixing its problems

10400 Connecticut Avenue, one of several unloved buildings in Kensington's town center. Photo by Jomo on Flickr.

For the past year, Kensington Town Councilmember Lydia Sullivan has been making fun of snobby suburbanites with Snoburbia, a T-shirt company and blog. But she's not laughing at plans to allow redevelopment along a stretch of Connecticut Avenue that's seen better days.

Sullivan and some of her neighbors have written up a website, called, to oppose the Kensington Sector Plan, which is currently working its way through the Montgomery County Planning Department for a second time. Planners and town officials say it'll bring much-needed amenities to the area while making it more attractive, but Sullivan's concerned it'll allow too many apartments, ruining Kensington's "sense of place."

“We are just battling for the soul of a place that *already* is different from the surrounding area," she writes in one of many e-mails we exchanged over the past month. "Seriously, how many more generic, developerville town centers do we need in Montgomery County?"

7:50am at Hardware City
A local hardware store, located in a strip mall in Kensington. Photo by MoHotta18 on Flickr.

The Sector Plan seeks to give Kensington something Sullivan says it already has: small-town character. They propose adding trees and wider sidewalks to Connecticut Avenue in the hopes of slowing cars down; by creating new parks and plazas were people can gather, and by using the new CR or Commercial-Residential zone, which will allow a mix of housing, shops and offices.

Nonetheless, the plan’s been very controversial, particularly its allowance of taller buildings up to 75 feet on Connecticut Avenue and 45 feet on adjacent blocks. KensingtonDevelopment is especially concerned with the number of apartments that could be built. “Montgomery County wants density and more moderate-income housing in downcounty areas like Kensington. (But is this good for people in and near Kensington?)” asks one page. “For the first time in many decades, developers could build apartment buildings in sought-after Kensington,” says another. “The Plan could add between 501 – 1,410 multi-family units to a historic, single-family Town,” reads the homepage.

To Sullivan, who's lived in Kensington for 18 years, the town is "Mayberry," she says, where its "tone of small-town friendliness" has been unchanged for over a century. In an e-mail, she told me a story about running errands with her 11-year-old son one Saturday morning. “I was out maybe an hour – and saw 10 people I knew – because that is what it is like to live here,” she writes, adding that she doesn't "expect me to understand."

View Larger Map
The intersection of Connecticut Avenue and University Boulevard in Kensington.

Actually visiting Kensington, meanwhile, tells a different story. The century-old railroad town, laid out by Brainard Warner in the 1890's and named for a fashionable district in London, has become one of the most sought-after suburbs in Greater Washington. Yet in the 1950's, two state highways, Connecticut Avenue and University Boulevard, were rammed through the town, bringing with them a mess of strip malls and office buildings that's started to look quite shabby. Though both roads see thousands of people each day, they're a distraction from the gorgeous, intact Victorian homes that sit just a block away.

You can see it in the pictures people take of Kensington: search for "kensington md" on Flickr and you'll find pictures of the Mormon Temple, not of the town's adorable Antique Row. The Planning Department held a a photo contest for Kensington residents to find what they liked about their community, and almost all of them are of kids or flowers.

Mayor Pete Fosselman, who supports the Sector Plan, is eager to see the Connecticut Avenue corridor fixed up. "With our six gas stations and now a pawn shop, zero night life, lack of pedestrian connections, automobile dependent state, deficient open space, and no architectural oversight, Kensington is due for a makeover," he writes in an e-mail to JUTP. Fosselman has the support of other councilmembers, local businesses, and town residents, who say Sullivan's part of a "vocal minority".

Recently, Sullivan's taken the fight to Snoburbia's blog, where she wrote about how places develop character:

Think about some of the places that are revered, that have been for many years. Think: Georgetown, Rhinebeck, Telluride, Santa Barbara, Athens, Burlington and many others like them. They don’t need “mixed use town centers” or manufactured “green space” and "pocket parks." We don’t know why, but we feel at home in these places. We walk on uneven sidewalks. We walk by imperfect windows filled with objects arranged (without a chart!) by local owners who know their customers. The downtowns were built slowly, over time, by locals.

That's not the whole story, however. Places like Georgetown were built over time, but they’re also very dense, urban places. Georgetown has a street grid. It’s easy and pleasant to walk there. There are shops and offices, apartments and mansions, 19th-century factories and 21st-century embassies, all mixed together. You can live there if you’re a student or a Kennedy. This community formed because people live close together. But the urban form also allowed Georgetown to weather two hundred years of social and economic changes.

M at Wisconsin, Maybe
Georgetown isn't just the way it is because it was built over time. It's a dense, urban, walkable place as well.

Kensington's had over a hundred years to age, but it lacks the urban form, the density, or the diversity of a Georgetown. Sullivan doesn’t like “generic developervilles” like Downtown Silver Spring or Bethesda Row, but they’re a lot closer to Georgetown than Kensington is. Beyond the chain stores and new buildings are all of the things that Georgetown teaches us about how to make a unique, pleasant place. They put lots of people and activity in a small area. They mix different classes and incomes as much as possible. And they, too, have grown over time. Silver Spring has been an urban center for nearly a century, and tall buildings have been sprouting up since the 1960's.

Allowing development in Kensington won't automatically turn the town into a lifestyle center. But restricting development will keep out the people and activities that could make Kensington an even more unique and interesting place. Even if everything that gets built in Kensington under the Sector Plan isn’t affordably priced (and not all of it will be), adding supply will still make it cheaper than it is now to live or work there. Creating a plan for Kensington won't automatically turn it into a lifestyle center. If anything, it lets people already living and working in the community invest there rather than being forced to go somewhere else.

Kensington today is a prohibitively expensive place to live. A search on real estate website HomesDatabase reveals three houses for sale in the town today, ranging in price from $489,000 to $959,000. KensingtonDevelopment points out that homes in the town sell for "an average of $150,000 to $200,000 more than equivalent houses" elsewhere, while a Post article on Snoburbia says Sullivan's own house is assessed at $675,000. She tells me the town already has “200+ moderately priced apartments” in a 1960’s-era high-rise just across the town line called Kensington House. But rents there range from $1220 for a studio to $1725 for three bedrooms, placing them out of reach for many working-class people.

World Cup Fever On Ellsworth
This is a "generic developerville"? Again: girl, please.

On Snoburbia, Sullivan frequently explores the issue of privilege in her life. She’s mourned the departure of blue-collar families from her street and thoughtfully examined the separation between race and class in her kids' high school. In her latest blog post, she asks, “What happens to the small local pizza joint that has been here since 1967, where all the firefighters and police officers hang out? Will the Greek father and son owners be able to afford the rent in the shiny new building?”

These people are being pushed out of Kensington already by high housing prices due to a lack of supply there and throughout Montgomery County. Sullivan has an ideal of small-town life, but the version she wants is inherently exclusive.

Nonetheless, she’s willing to admit that Kensington could use some sprucing up. “I want to see a cleaned up commercial area as much as anyone, and would welcome some apartments and new people. That's kind of exciting," Sullivan writes. Yet she also sees it as a zero-sum game, asking on Snoburbia, “Will my town's uniqueness, its sense of place, be lost?“

For Fosselman, the costs of not doing anything are much higher. “If we simply “spruce” up the Town and go for status quo, Kensington will continue to deteriorate as other communities around us rejuvenate,” he writes.

A great place is always changing. If Lydia Sullivan really wants to preserve Kensington's "sense of place," she should let the town grow as it naturally would.

Friday, February 11, 2011

the densest neighborhoods in montgomery county

Falkland Chase (7)
Apartments in downtown Silver Spring: Falkland Chase (foreground) and Lenox Park (background).

"Density" is one of those words that gets tossed around a lot with little care for what it actually means, kind of like "scale" or "quality of life." However, the word only refers to a number representing the proportion between an amount of something (like people) in a given space, and that number is meaningless without any context.

What does density look like? Or, more specifically, what does a dense neighborhood in Montgomery County look like? The 2010 Census results are slowly trickling out, but I looked at the 2009 American Community Survey for MoCo to see where the county's ten densest census tracts were. While census tracts don't always conform to accepted neighborhood boundaries, they can show us where people in MoCo are concentrated.

When I reached out to commenters earlier this week, many of them suggested that the county's densest places were all in downtowns, like Wheaton, Bethesda or Silver Spring. Much to my surprise, they're far more diverse than that. Some are in urban centers like downtown Silver Spring, while others are farther out, miles from a Metro station. Some are several decades old, while others are still being finished today. Not all of them have tall buildings, and not all of them look like the traditional idea of an "urban" place.

This creates a number of challenges, namely what we do with the thousands of (often low-income) people who live in dense neighborhoods far from jobs, shopping or other amenities they need. If you look at a list of the ten fastest-growing places in Montgomery County (which we'll talk about next week), you'll see that most of them are well outside the Beltway. This isn't a good thing. In fact, it only means that many of Montgomery County's current problems - traffic, the jobs/housing divide, and so on - will only get worse.

Anyway. Here are the ten densest census tracts in Montgomery County, all to scale and taken from Bing Maps. Scroll down to see them in a nifty slideshow:

10) Clifton Park, Silver Spring
10) Clifton Park, Silver Spring

Census Tract 7020
Land Area: 0.38 square miles
2000 Population: 5,275
2000 Density: 13,808.90 people/sq.mi.
2009 Population: 4,927
2009 Density: 12,897.91 people/sq.mi.
Population Change: -7.06%
Nearest Metro: Takoma (2.2 miles)
Place in 2000: #7

9) Briggs Chaney/Greencastle, Silver Spring
9) Briggs Chaney/Greencastle, Silver Spring

Census Tract 7014-16
Land Area: 0.54 square miles
2000 Population: 6,819
2000 Density: 12,698.32 people/sq.mi.
2009 Population: 7,191
2009 Density: 13,391.06 people/sq.mi.
Population Change: 5.17%
Nearest Metro: Glenmont (6.4 miles)
Place in 2000: #11

8) Rollins Park, Rockville
8) Rollins Park, Rockville

Census Tract 7009-05
Land Area: 0.30 square miles
2000 Population: 3,944
2000 Density: 13,016.50 people/sq.mi.
2009 Population: 4,223
2009 Density: 13,937.29 people/sq.mi.
Population Change: 6.61%
Nearest Metro: Twinbrook (.5 miles)
Place in 2000: #9

7) Woodmont Triangle, Bethesda
7) Woodmont Triangle, Bethesda

Census Tract 7048-01
Land Area: 0.28 square miles
2000 Population: 3,417
2000 Density: 12,160.14 people/sq.mi.
2009 Population: 4,012
2009 Density: 14,277.58 people/sq.mi.
Population Change: 14.83%
Nearest Metro: Bethesda (.1 miles)
Place in 2000: #13

6) Long Branch, Silver Spring
6) Long Branch, Silver Spring

Census Tract 7023-01
Land Area: 0.24 square miles
2000 Population: 3,783
2000 Density: 15,632.23 people/sq.mi.
2009 Population: 4,115
2009 Density: 17,004.13 people/sq.mi.
Population Change: 8.07%
Nearest Metro: Silver Spring (1.8 miles)
Place in 2000: #5

5) Long Branch, Takoma Park
5) Long Branch, Takoma Park

Census Tract 7019
Land Area: 0.17 square miles
2000 Population: 3,218
2000 Density: 18,494.25 people/sq.mi.
2009 Population: 3,350
2009 Density: 19,252.87 people/sq.mi.
Population Change: 3.94%
Nearest Metro: Silver Spring (1.8 miles)
Place in 2000: #4

4) Village of Friendship Heights (part)
4) Village of Friendship Heights (part)

Census Tract 7056-02
Land Area: 0.21 square miles
2000 Population: 3,234
2000 Density: 15,548.08 people/sq.mi.
2009 Population: 4,197
2009 Density: 20,177.88 people/sq.mi.
Population Change: 22.94%
Nearest Metro: Friendship Heights (.1 miles)
Place in 2000: #6

3) Summit Hills/Rock Creek Gardens, Silver Spring
3) Summit Hills/Rock Creek Gardens, Silver Spring

Census Tract 7026-02
Land Area: 0.20 square miles
2000 Population: 4,558
2000 Density: 22,904.52 people/sq.mi.
2009 Population: 4,640
2009 Density: 23,316.58 people/sq.mi.
Population Change: 1.77%
Nearest Metro: Silver Spring (.5 miles)
Place in 2000: #3

2) North Gate, Aspen Hill
2) North Gate, Aspen Hill

Census Tract 7032-13
Land Area: 0.22 square miles
2000 Population: 5,463
2000 Density: 24,719.46 people/sq.mi.
2009 Population: 5,634
2009 Density: 25,493.21 people/sq.mi.
Population Change: 3.04%
Nearest Metro: Glenmont (2 miles)
Place in 2000: #2

1) Falklands/The Blairs, Silver Spring
1) Falklands/The Blairs, Silver Spring

Census Tract 7026-01
Land Area: 0.13 square miles
2000 Population: 4,242
2000 Density: 32,630.77 people/sq.mi.
2009 Population: 4,016
2009 Density: 30,892.77 people/sq.mi.
Population Change: -5.63%
Nearest Metro: Silver Spring (.1 miles)
Place in 2000: #1

Check out this slideshow of the ten densest census tracts in Montgomery County. Click on the "show info" link to find out more about each one.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

new census numbers show a majority-minority montgomery, sort of

On Monday, I promised to tell y'all the ten densest places in Montgomery County. Before I do that, though, here's some more exciting, Census-related news:

Chompy and Hippie Guitarist
Montgomery County's becoming even more diverse, especially in urban centers like downtown Silver Spring. No word on whether the shark population is increasing.

Last summer, I spoke with Rollin Stanley, director of the Montgomery County Planning Department, who said he was looking forward to seeing the 2010 Census results. "I'll bet we'll see Montgomery County becomes majority-minority for the first time," he says.

And he was right, sort of. Last Wednesday, the Planning Department sent out a press release stating that a growing Montgomery County means an increasingly diverse one. An excerpt:

SILVER SPRING, MD – Montgomery County’s population has grown more diverse over the last decade, becoming a majority-minority county for the first time, according to recently released 2010 U.S. Census data. The figures are based on 50.7 percent of residents identifying themselves as Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino, Asian or Pacific Islander or an ethnicity other than non-Hispanic White . . .

“Those places in America that are attractive to new people are the places that will prosper,” said Planning Director Rollin Stanley. “The increase in minority population is a solid foundation for our county. Most new businesses will be started by people in the minority community. This will add to the retailing, services and cultural diversity of the county, which benefits everyone.”

Calling Montgomery County "majority-minority" is a little misleading, because the Census doesn't use "Hispanic" to refer to a specific race but, rather, people of any race who identifies as Hispanic. In other words, someone from Portugal could say they're both Hispanic and white, whereas someone from El Salvador could say they're Hispanic. As a result, the 2010 Census figures say that Montgomery County is 49.3% white after taking out people who identify as both Hispanic and white. Keep them in, and MoCo retains a slim white majority.

Pho Comida Tipica
Restaurants in downtown Wheaton illustrate the growth of Montgomery County's immigrant population.

Nonetheless, this should be a big deal to anyone who still thought that Montgomery County is still a lily-white bedroom suburb, because it's totally not. It's especially important to Rollin Stanley, whose push to create more urban centers in the county at places like Wheaton or White Flint is partially founded on the notion that immigrants, having lived in big cities abroad, prefer them to suburban areas. This theory is supported by former University of Maryland professor Dr. Shenglin Chang, who produced a hefty report on the subject back in 2004.

You can visit the Planning Department's 2010 Census page for more statistics. It's remarkable to see that Montgomery County was almost three-quarters white just twenty years ago. Save for Prince George's County, which is 64% Black, Montgomery has a smaller share of white residents than any every other county in the region. At the same time, it has grown as fast as Fairfax County, MoCo's pseudo-twin and occasional competitor across the Potomac. (Montgomery County is growing nowhere near as fast as Loudoun County, which has nearly doubled in population over the past ten years.)

(Much to my satisfaction, Montgomery County, Maryland is far more diverse than its bizarro cousin above the Mason-Dixon Line, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, which in the 2009 American Community Survey was still 84% white. If you've never been, take Chevy Chase and Potomac and imagine that they were an entire county, then put one of the largest shopping malls in the country in the middle.)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

neighbors opposing chelsea school townhouses in the wrong fight (updated)

East County has seen its share of good and bad development. Sometimes, we can build something that respects its surroundings while adding something new. Other times, we can build something that looks unattractive and takes away from its context.

Rendering of EYA's proposed development at the former Chelsea School site from the Gazette.

Unfortunately, many people - particularly those running East County's civic associations, can't tell the difference. In Seven Oaks-Evanswood, blocks from downtown Silver Spring, residents are protesting the development of 76 new townhomes at the soon-to-be-former site of the Chelsea School on Pershing Drive:

"We all love our neighborhood," Spielberg said. "We all love that accessibility. But at the same time we have for many years wanted to protect our neighborhood as well from development that's just too dense."

It never ceases to frustrate me how much people only concentrate on the density of a project as if that's the only important feature. Density isn't destiny - it's how the buildings relate to each other, to the environment, to the neighborhood around it and to the people who use it that matters. If people in Seven Oaks-Evanswood actually looked at this project, and at the track record of developer EYA, who's proposing it, they'd feel better.

View Larger Map
Townhouses in Clarendon Park are designed to mimic the single-family homes across the street.

After all, EYA is probably one of the best homebuilders working in the D.C. area today, particularly in close-in areas like downtown Silver Spring, where they built the Cameron Hill townhouses in 1997. Not only does their work help create the kind of vibrant, walkable communities we want to make, but it does so while respecting existing neighborhoods, like at the National Park Seminary redevelopment in Forest Glen. My favorite EYA project is the Clarendon Park townhouses in Arlington, located between a busy shopping center and a single-family neighborhood. Their solution was to make the end townhomes look like their single-family neighbors, blending the two areas together.

In fact, EYA will be doing just that at the former Chelsea School site, in addition to a litany of other moves the firm's Bob Youngentob told the Gazette they're doing to make this project a positive addition to the neighborhood. The houses will be LEED certified, meaning they'll be energy-efficient; they'll all have their own garages and driveways, meaning there's no loss in off-street parking, and a historic house now used by the school will be restored as a private home.

On top of that, two acres will be set aside for a public park. You could argue that providing a park is too much, given that Ellsworth Park and the Silver Spring Library, which could become a new teen center, are already across the street.

Clarendon Park Townhomes
This public park is part of EYA's Clarendon Park development in Arlington.

Some residents of Seven Oaks-Evanswood understand the benefits of EYA's proposal. Last May, JUTP spoke to Liz Brent, a real estate agent who lives one block away from the Chelsea School. "Five acres right next to [Downtown Silver Spring] should be used for higher density," she said. "We'd be lucky to have them, in my opinion."

Certainly, you could build single-family homes on the Chelsea School site that look exactly like the other homes in Seven Oaks-Evanswood, as happened ten years ago in this development two blocks away. But that was before the Downtown Silver Spring complex opened and the area became as sought-after as it is today. Land is more expensive now, and detached houses don't make as much sense in this area, especially when homebuyers would happily take a townhouse in exchange for all of the amenities nearby.

Given these conditions, EYA's proposal is the kind of development neighborhoods should be fighting for, not against. They've shown that you can mix different housing types and make it look good. There are plenty of bad projects being built today, but this is by no means one of them.

Monday, February 7, 2011

what are the ten densest places in moco?

UniTher & Cameron House

What are the ten densest neighborhoods in Montgomery County? The answers might surprise you. Find out on Thursday, but in the meantime, leave your guesses in the comments.

(I'm talking about population density, or the number of people per square mile. You might assume that the places with the tallest buildings or the worst traffic made the list, but you'd be surprised.)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

giving good customer service = slavery?

The Post's Tim Carman profiled chef Gillian Clark of the General Store restaurant in Forest Glen, who recently came under fire for making fun of her customers on YouTube, among other indiscretions. Clark, who grew up in an affluent town on Long Island and has been in the restaurant business for 15 years, says that people who don't understand are just racist:

"I'm led to ask, would you buy less pancakes if Aunt Jemima wasn't smiling on the box?" Clark says. "Is it because a black person that's doing the service industry [and] not smiling is offensive, because you feel that I'm not that much further from a slave? If I'm doing a domestic or a service job and I'm not smiling, is it triggering some impulse?"

Bullshit. No matter how many TV personalities you've met or how many books you've written or how many reviews you get, you work in the service industry. Your job is to please customers and to be polite and courteous to them. Poor service is to be expected at some restaurants, like The Wieners Circle in Chicago, where a predominantly-black staff dishes up hot dogs and racially-charged insults to a predominantly-white clientele. But I'd think that someone who purports to offer fine dining - and has the gall to compare themselves to Beethoven, no less - would know better.

As many of y'all know, I spent a year and a half working as an assistant manager at several locations of a (now-shuttered) ice cream shop in Montgomery County. (Not to compare myself to a semi-famous chef, of course.) I'd be lying if I said there weren't some rude customers with a bloated sense of entitlement, and that my coworkers and I might grumble about them later on. I even worried that some of my customers might look down on me for my youth or skin color or both. But that doesn't stop me from putting on a smile and leaving my problems at the door when I come to work. That should apply no matter what you do.

Almost every job I've ever held has involved some form of customer service, and I've learned that being rude doesn't solve anything. Sometimes, the person giving you a hard time has issues of their own.

Maybe Gillian Clark thinks that being a self-possessed bitch will get more people in the door of her restaurants which, I admit, serve wonderful food. After all, it works for Michael Landrum and, besides, maybe stuck-up diners need a taste of their own medicine. On the other hand, maybe I'll just eat at restaurants where the owners actually care about their customers.

It's not like she's the first woman (or black woman, or black lesbian, and so on) to ever fry a chicken. I'm pretty sure Aunt Jemima has a nice recipe for using pancake mix as breading.