Thursday, June 30, 2011

bethesda magazine proves, once again, they don't ever leave bethesda

We've long assumed that people in Bethesda don't come to Silver Spring, whether out of fear or merely ignorance. Now, there's proof in the July/August issue of Bethesda Magazine, which investigates the vagaries of parking in downtown Bethesda:

“A sign out front would solve the frustration of circling aimlessly in a full garage,” Seely says, “even if it wouldn’t solve the problem of there being no spots . . .”

Installing a car-counting system would enable the county to track the number of spots available at any given moment. But that’s not a simple proposition.

Of course, the parking garages on Ellsworth Drive and Wayne Avenue in downtown Silver Spring (which are rarely, if ever, full) have had a car-counting system since they opened in 2004, as do the parking garages in Rockville Town Square, which opened in 2007 (and can get pretty full). We can excuse the people interviewed for this article, who likely never leave the confines of Bethesda, Chevy Chase or Potomac, save for the occasional trip to Tenleytown to go slumming. But writer Amy Reinink, who allegedly "lives in Silver Spring," should know better.

Hiding Out
Look at all those empty parking spaces in garage on Ellsworth in downtown Silver Spring.

Think of the possibilities, Amy! Bethesda Magazine has already claimed much of downtown Silver Spring as some of their "67 Things We Love About Bethesda," and they could've added "stress-free parking" to the list! How many people in Bethesda only know about Silver Spring because the Purple Line is supposed to go there? How many fine individuals think of Silver Spring primarily as an exporter of black kids? How many Bethesda youth are unaware of the glorious Friday nights to be had in Silver Spring? Turncoat! You could've changed all of that.

Alas, Bethesda Magazine must feel some kind of inferiority complex about their town's parking garages, where each weekend so many midlife-crisis Mercedes coupés and tricked-out swagger wagons are trapped that the streets ring with the screams of Montgomery County's frustrated suburban élite. If only they knew that the parking was easier in Silver Spring! Not only would they find better food, but they'd save time and money as well. What a shame.

Sometimes, I wonder why their staff of Bethesda Magazine doesn't just pour all of their money and effort into something constructive, like battling illiteracy in DC, rather than giving a two-hundred-page-long pat on the back to people with the money and taste to live west of Rock Creek Park. Though I guess Ending Adult Illiteracy in DC Magazine probably wouldn't find a place in the periodicals rack at the Bethesda Barnes & Noble next to all of those trendy art magazines I don't understand (and are not available at the Silver Spring Borders).

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

five years, y'all . . .

Or really five years and two days (and nobody called to wish me a happy blogiversary!) since the commute that led to my inaugural rant and blah blah blah. I like to think there are at least a couple of you who've been reading Just Up The Pike since its inception a half-decade ago and know the story already. It can't be many, though, because my stats show that readership has been tapering off since I left for graduate school last fall. Not surprisingly, it's hard to write about Montgomery County from Philadelphia. And it's proving just as hard to keep this up from Petworth, just three miles from Silver Spring, as I bike back and forth each day to a job that gobbles up most of my time. (The rest goes to my friends, my family, and my boyfriend.)

Anyway. I wanted a space to write about the things I cared about, and I was fortunate enough to get an audience. Not a day goes by that I don't think about the adventures I've had and the people I've met through this blog, and I'm forever thankful. I've got my fingers crossed that you'll stay tuned for my next post when I can muster the time to do it. I'm especially hopeful that you'll see me move from behind the keyboard one day to leave my mark on the place that made me who I am.

Thanks, y'all. As always, I couldn't do it without you.

Monday, June 27, 2011

public art should be rooted in the community

New town centers or urban redevelopment projects are often derided as "sterile" or "soulless." In response, developers and local governments provide public art. While many such works have little relevance to the communities they're located in, some can honor and even create a local culture or identity.

Sculpture, North Bethesda MarketThis sculpture in White Flint, called Alluvium, doesn't say much about the place it's located in.

Montgomery County's planning department often requires developers to place public art in new projects, especially in urban areas like downtown Silver Spring and downtown Bethesda. At North Bethesda Market, a new complex of apartments and shops in White Flint, developer JBG Companies hired artist Jim Sanborn to create a sculpture he called Alluvium. Located in the middle of a plaza, the bronze cylinder is embossed with quotes from John Muir and Thomas Jefferson and set in a waterfall meant to represent the Chesapeake Bay.

Though the sculpture is named for the white quartz that White Flint gets its name from, it doesn't feel like a product of its place. Alluvium's narrative about the power of nature says nothing about the history or culture of White Flint as a community, nor does it provide an opportunity to create a new history or culture in White Flint. Not only does it resemble the artist's other works, but Sanborn admitted that the piece was largely inspired by the geography of Montana. If anything, Alluvium is an expression of JBG's ability to lavish money on the public spaces in its developments, which is important if they want to draw tenants to apartments renting for nearly $5,000 a month.

Tai Lam BrickA brick with slain teenager Tai Lam's name was placed on Ellsworth Drive in downtown Silver Spring.

Other urban centers in Montgomery County use public art to commemorate tragic events. In downtown Silver Spring, friends and family of fourteen-year-old resident Tai Lam created a memorial to him after he was murdered on a Ride-On bus. The impromptu assemblage of photos, notes and flowers sat at the base of a streetlight on Ellsworth Drive for several months before the Peterson Companies, which manages the public street on behalf of the county, laid a brick with Tai Lam's name on the sidewalk, smaller, more permanent tribute to the teenager.

Meanwhile, in Bethesda, yoga-wear store Lululemon Athletica turned their storefront into a tribute to employee Jayna Murray, who was murdered by a coworker three months ago. In place of the store's name, the façade bears a stained-glass window with Lululemon's logo and the word "LOVE."

Stained Glass Window (Tribute to Jayna Murray), Bethesda AvenueThe stained glass window at Lululemon's Bethesda store honoring former employee Jayna Murray.

Neither Tai Lam's brick or Jayna Murray's window were commissioned by the Planning Department. Both of them were relatively cheap to make and didn't involve renowned artists. You could argue that neither of them were public art, as Tai Lam's brick is part of an existing sidewalk and Jayna Murray's window was paid for by a store to be used in that store. Yet both pieces can be seen and interacted with by everyone who passes through the streets they're located on, making it a public intervention. And as tributes to members of the Silver Spring and Bethesda communities, both pieces are already more significant to that community than a commissioned artwork.

Meaningful public art doesn't have to come out of tragedy. Those who commission, pay for and create an artwork should look at the place where the piece will be located and find some reference to draw inspiration from within that community, whether it's a significant event, person, or cultural oddity. Grand statements are nice, but they don't make a unique place. Public art that can celebrate the little things is the way to create local character.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

lipstick on a pig

Signs Along Route 198 (There Are So Many)
Façade improvements are helpful, but Burtonsville needs a lot more help than that.

A few stores along Route 198 in Burtonsville are receiving new façades as part of a neighborhood improvement project sponsored by the county's Department of Housing and Community Affairs:

From the Gazette:

The county will spend up to $250,000 total on the facade improvement project, but it will probably not cost that much, Mahmud said . . .

“You need to take a long-term view,” [property owner Yoav] Katz said. “You cannot take a short-term view. We have been in the area a long time, and we are committed to the area, so we are taking a long-term view.”

Very few who shop or live in Burtonsville would say that Route 198 is an attractive street, so perhaps this project will help the community's image. And it's not surprising that property owner Yoav Katz, who once offered his land for a new Dutch Country Farmers Market when they were evicted four years ago, has agreed to participate.

I believe that small design interventions can have a big effect on a community. "The Turf" in downtown Silver Spring was an exceedingly simple design that dramatically improved its neighborhood. But I'm disappointed that three years after the big community charrette which was supposed to get people excited about Burtonsville again, all we'll have to show for it are minor aesthetic improvements.

Can all of the people quoted in this Gazette article truly believe that despite Burtonsville's many issues, this will draw people back, especially when they can take their money two exits north to Maple Lawn? Of course, this is the same Route 198 where shopkeepers insisted that sidewalks were a "waste of time," so perhaps this is the best we can hope for.

At least the façade improvements are going up in the heart of Burtonsville's "Restaurant Row, home to one of my favorite local hangouts, Soretti's. Lipstick on a pig it may be, but hopefully this small project can draw more customers to a business that definitely deserves them.

Friday, June 17, 2011

metro considers new subway, light-rail lines for east county

Transit geeks across East County are certainly salivating over this recently-posted report (PDF!) from Metro's Office of Long Range Planning, which lays out not one but four (!!!) new light-rail and subway lines that could criss-cross the area by 2040.

Well, sort of. As explained on the transit agency's blog, Metro is looking at possible expansions for their Regional Transit System Plan, which will cast a vision for the system in 2040. They've created a Technical Advisory Group that wil l review each of the proposed new lines or extensions for their feasibility. Some of the things Metro is looking for are projects that increase capacity in downtown D.C., where trains are nearing capacity; that connect to "new and emerging markets" not currently served by rapid transit; and improve service along "surface transit corridors," like buses or light-rail lines.

Metro's latest round of proposals include the four aforementioned lines serving East County, some or all of which could make their way into the Regional Transit System Plan and, hopefully, see the light of day. They are:

Metro - DC Streetcar Expansion

An extension of one of the eight proposed DC Streetcar lines, currently slated to end at Takoma, to the Silver Spring Transit Center.

Metro - CCT, Purple Line & Purple Line Spur

The Purple Line Spur, first proposed by County Councilmember Marc Elrich several years ago, which would run from a Purple Line stop in Langley Park to White Oak and Burtonsville via New Hampshire Avenue and Route 29.

Metro - Capital Beltway Line

A Beltway Line, a subway line that would run parallel to the Capital Beltway, with stops at White Flint, Wheaton and White Oak. This was originally part of a study conducted in the 1990's that led to creation of the Purple Line.

Metro - Proposed Brown Line

The Brown Line, an entirely new subway line between Friendship Heights, downtown Silver Spring and Calverton via downtown D.C. In East County, it would run beneath Route 29 with stops at the Silver Spring Metro, Four Corners, White Oak and Cherry Hill Road.

The study also included Montgomery County's proposed Bus Rapid Transit system, which would include sixteen routes, eight of which would serve East County.

Are the proposed lines realistic? Yes and no, but they suggest that Metro is taking East County's transportation needs seriously. We'll take a further look at the report, and its findings, next week. In the meantime, what do you think? Would you want to catch the "Brown Line" to White Oak?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

tale of two newlywed couples

Montgomery County's at a strange crossroads now. As an older suburb, once-pristine neighborhoods are starting to look worn out and suffer from disinvestment. Meanwhile, other areas are turning into urban enclaves, but they don't provide all of the amenities that traditional city neighborhoods offer. The result? MoCo's fighting a battle on two fronts.

An example: In the past year and a half, three of my friends from high school have gotten married. Both couples (two friends married each other) are a demographic any place would kill for: twentysomething, educated, high-earning couples, eager to find a place where they can put down roots, at least for a few years. Both couples like going out, seeing new places, and trying new things. And though we all grew up a few miles apart, both couples are moving out of Montgomery County, which no longer provides the lifestyle they want.

One couple just married in March and are already expecting a child. She works in Baltimore; he works at Fort Meade. Currently, they're living with her parents in Calverton, but they're looking for a house in Howard County. Why? It's closer to their jobs, closer to shopping in Columbia, closer to Korean BBQ in Ellicott City.

Big Houses, River Hill (1)
Is Howard County a better deal than Montgomery for those seeking the ultimate suburban experience?

Housing isn't necessarily cheaper. After all, HoCo is the fifth-wealthiest county in the United States. But though the house in our old neighborhood might cost the same as similar house in Columbia, the schools are likely better, the massive Columbia Association's maintaining the common areas, and Route 32 won't get as congested as 29 or the Beltway (at least, not yet).

In short, Howard County has out-suburb'd Montgomery.

The other couple married last winter. He's a graduate student at the University of Maryland; she works for an IT company in Old Town Alexandria. For the past two years, they lived in an apartment in Hillandale. Neither of them are keen on driving, so living in the shadow of the Beltway made it hard to get around. Much as they enjoyed hanging out in downtown Silver Spring, they were attracted to the wider array of bars, restaurants and shops in Alexandria, not to mention the ability to travel exclusively by foot, bike and transit.

Last month, they moved to an apartment in Carlyle, a new neighborhood being built around the Eisenhower Avenue Metro. They can literally see the trains from their window. A block away is a complex of shops, restaurants and a movie theatre. One stop on the Yellow Line takes them to a really good Thai place on King Street, and another stop to their favorite taqueria in Del Ray.

Mix massing mixed-use Carlyle Alex
Alexandria's Carlyle neighborhood provides a stronger urban experience than anywhere in Montgomery County currently offers. Photo by faceless b on Flickr.

In this case, Alexandria has out-city'd Montgomery. You'd expect this, because Alexandria's been a center of commerce for over a quarter-century. But would you expect Montgomery to lose its much-treasured status as the "perfect suburbia" to Howard County?

Montgomery's older suburban neighborhoods are losing out to newer communities on the fringe, which have more money to invest in schools and infrastructure and less to spend on maintenance and social issues. Meanwhile, urban centers like downtown Silver Spring and downtown Bethesda can't always compete with their counterparts in Arlington, Alexandria and the District, which offer more activity, more housing choices, and more transportation options. Montgomery County will compete with both of these places for residents, businesses and tax dollars, and it has to compete with both if it's going to survive.

It's easy to demand the status quo. But let's look at where the next generation is going. Are we creating a place where young professionals and new families want to live? And can we actually offer a compelling alternative to new suburbs and old cities alike? If we can find the answer, I've still got plenty of single friends looking for a place to live.

bicycling/urbanism advocate casey anderson appointed to planning board

I was glad to hear that friend of JUTP/bicycling advocate/civic activist/fan of urbanism Casey Anderson was appointed by the County Council to the Planning Board. (I tweeted that he got "elected" because the councilmembers do vote for Planning Board candidates.) A resident of Woodside, Casey knows firsthand the benefits of living in an "urban" place, because his neighborhood, like much of Silver Spring below the Beltway, was built under the assumption that people would need to walk places. As the county starts going back to that pattern, we need people like Casey Anderson to explain why that's not the end of the world. Or, as he was quoted in the Gazette:

When a council member asked if he is an "urbanist," Anderson replied: "Urban is a five-letter, not a four-letter, word."

A Porch In Silver Spring
"Woodside" may be urban, but it's not a four-letter word, either.

Sounds right to me. Good luck, Casey! I'm looking forward to the next four years.

Monday, June 13, 2011

east county science center should be an community center, too

For years, local boosters have said that the Food and Drug Administration's new campus in White Oak would bring jobs and prosperity to East County as companies flocked to work with the government agency. Yet a new report commissioned by the Planning Department suggests that it'll take a lot more to revitalize the area.

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

Last year, county planners began work on the East County Science Center Master Plan, which will propose creating a new community for research and technology on some 1300 acres around the FDA campus on New Hampshire Avenue currently occupied by strip malls, office parks, and a few apartment complexes. Already, the area has drawn Washington Adventist Hospital, which would move from Takoma Park, and a proposed, county-funded business incubator. The Planning Department's brought on Partners for Economic Solutions, a Takoma, D.C.-based consulting firm, to produce this 55-page report (PDF!) detailing how much more development the Science Center could attract.

"The scale of FDA's impact is much more modest than anticipated by some supporters," says the report, which cites "limited potential for life science business development" as a result of the FDA's relocation from Rockville, which will bring 9,000 workers to White Oak. The consultants say that the biotech and life sciences companies that planners want to bring to East County are drawn to the Great Seneca Science Corridor along I-270, where those kinds of businesses are already located.

east county science center plan
Map of major development sites within the East County Science Center.

Landlords in White Oak have already reached out to biotech companies and received little interest about properties in the area, the consultants say, while a survey of 24 life science companies located along I-270 revealed that firms won't move to be closer to the FDA. Many said that being close to the FDA wasn't as valuable as being near other science and technology firms, which provide opportunities for collaboration with their peers. A quarter of the companies said proximity to the owners' houses was a factor in where their offices located.

The InterCounty Connector will make it easier for biotech firms to take advantage of the I-270 corridor's amenities while still having easy access to the FDA, the study notes. "When coupled with the U.S. 29 corridor’s road congestion and limited transit service, the [East County Science Center] will have difficulty competing for life science companies in any significant number," concludes the report.

Successful research parks also tend to be affiliated with universities, the consultants found, like the University of North Carolina and the Research Triangle, or Stanford University and the Stanford Research Park in California. Though the University of Maryland is only a few miles away from the East County Science Center, and part of the center was once the university's experimental farm, the school is likely to focus efforts on their own research park, located adjacent to their campus in College Park. The consultants recommended that the county seek a major research institution or university to anchor the East County Science Center, much as Johns Hopkins University and the Universities at Shady Grove already do at the Great Seneca Science Corridor.

Yet the most significant recommendations made by Partners for Economic Solutions involve changing the East County Science Center from the spread-out office park it is today into a more well-rounded community. They say that massive investments in public transit, like the Bus Rapid Transit system currently being studied by the county, will be necessary to provide an alternative to the area's congested roads. The consultants also suggest that the East County Science Center incorporate some sort of walkable, mixed-use development, including housing, shops and restaurants, and hotels.

UniTher Building, June 2010
The new model for science development: United Therapeutics' headquarters is located in the middle of downtown Silver Spring. The first floor has shops and a public plaza.

East County is "vulnerable to new and existing competition that offers a superior pedestrian experience," says the consultants. The new model for research parks looks like Cambridge, Massachusetts, home to Harvard and MIT, where scientists live, shop and hang out a few steps away from where they work. Johns Hopkins University, who's planning a mixed-use development in the Great Seneca Science Corridor, has compared their project to Harvard Square in Cambridge. Not only does this put East County in competition with other research centers, but with communities that already offer a walkable, urban environment, like downtown Silver Spring, where pharmaceutical company United Therapeutics is building their headquarters.

The consultants propose creating a mixed-use community at the White Oak Shopping Center, noting that there's an untapped demand for high-end retail and a more attractive shopping environment in East County. However, the shopping center is successful enough now that any redevelopment would have to happen at much higher density to be economically feasible. Instead, the consultants recommend building at LifeSci Village, a complex of housing, offices, shops and a conference center proposed by local developer Percontee on the site of a concrete recycling plant next to the FDA campus. A development at either of these sites would not only would a science center with shops and housing give researchers a place to hang out, but it would serve East County as a whole, which lacks such a place today.

LifeSci Village Center
2006 rendering of LifeSci Village.

For decades, East County's community leaders have sought to bring the kinds of jobs, retail and other amenities enjoyed by the more affluent west side of Montgomery County. Yet this report suggests that high-paying jobs aren't enough to create a better community. Ironically, the one thing that could truly make East County a better place to work is the one thing it's fought off for years, as community activists in different neighborhoods have opposed new sidewalks, new housing, improved retail, public spaces, improvements to local transit. Attempts to place shops and housing on the 710-acre FDA campus, which would've helped to create the kind of environment science and technology workers want, were shot down by neighbors fifteen years ago.

The study by Partners for Economic Solutions confirms existing trends that say companies are less interested in suburban office parks, and if East County wants to draw those businesses, it should follow suit. So far, we've thought of the East County Science Center as a place to work. Yet the plan has even more potential if we consider it a place to live, shop, eat, and gather as well. After all, how can we cure cancer if our researchers are spend all their time in traffic driving to and from work?

Friday, June 3, 2011

it's about damn time

purple line at stamp union

The University of Maryland's strident opposition to running the Purple Line through campus was possibly one of the stupidest things the administration has ever done. Not that they don't have the right to an opinion, but they consistently failed to give a reason why transit couldn't work on busy Campus Drive, the heart of campus. Yet there's good news: new president Wallace Loh says the University will stop fighting the project and start working with the Maryland Transit Administration to make sure that convenient, rapid transit can come to College Park, all the while maintaining U-Md.'s historic campus atmosphere. Now, I say that's worthy of a riot!

There remain challenges, like finding ways to tie the Purple Line in with the new library and transit center in Silver Spring, preventing displacement in Langley Park due to development the project could draw, and dealing with our friends in Chevy Chase who continue to place the demands of a few wealthy people over those of the entire region.

Given all that and, of course, the need to obtain federal funding for the Purple Line, the MTA anticipates that the trains won't start running until 2018 at the earliest. Bummer. Seems like just yesterday the Purple Line was supposed to happen . . . well, yesterday.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

finding ways to encourage local retail in suburban town centers

Sunny Days & Starry Nights
Chain stores draw many people to downtown Silver Spring, but what would it take to bring more locally-owned businesses?

One of the biggest complaints I hear about downtown Silver Spring is that there are so many chain stores in the redeveloped area along Ellsworth Drive. National retailers like Borders, DSW Shoe Warehouse and Red Lobster can cast a wide net, drawing shoppers from across the region who might also patronize the hundreds of locally-owned shops and restaurants throughout the downtown. However, it's worth exploring whether local retailers can be a draw by themselves.

Developers Edens & Avant know that well-heeled customers are interested in a unique shopping and dining experience and are seeking to bring that to the Mosaic District, a mixed-use development going up near the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station in Fairfax County. Popular D.C.-area restaurants like Black's, Sweetgreen, Matchbox, and Taylor Gourmet have already signed leases to open in the Mosaic District, alongside national retailers like Target, an independent movie theatre, and apartments and townhomes. Writing for Washingtonian magazine, Kate Nerenberg notes that these restaurants will be the "anchor" for other shops:

The developer is aiming to keep Mosaic’s culinary options to locally based businesses. Jessica Bruner, vice-president of leasing, says that it used to be that developers went after a chain like the Cheesecake Factory to lure other businesses. She says getting Black to commit was her Cheesecake Factory.

Could this have been Silver Spring? Perhaps, if the revitalization had happened later. The first buildings in the revitalized downtown Silver Spring opened in 2002, nearly ten years ago. At the time, Silver Spring was considered a risky investment compared to more affluent areas like Bethesda and Rockville, and the county's strict liquor licensing laws meant restaurateurs were going to open up over there anyway. Not only that, but there weren't many models for projects like the redevelopment of downtown Silver Spring, so it wasn't clear what kind of stores would succeed there. The end result is a street filled with chains, who could not only pay the high rents demanded by new construction but would also be guaranteed to draw customers no matter what.

Taylor Gourmet
Local restaurants like Taylor Gourmet, shown here at CityVista, another Edens & Avant development in D.C., help give new suburban town centers character.

It's worth noting that later suburban mixed-use developments, like Rockville Town Square and University Town Center in Hyattsville, experimented more with locally-owned businesses and different retail concepts, with varying levels of success. As downtown Silver Spring becomes more established as a place to shop, eat and drink, it's possible that we'll see more smaller, high-end retailers like those opening in the Mosaic District. That requires drawing more people to the area, largely through the construction of new housing both in and around the business district, and the creation of spaces suitable for eateries like a Taylor Gourmet or Matchbox, where the design of the restaurant is as significant as the food served there.

In the meantime, there may be hope Up The Pike: Edens & Avant also owns Burtonsville Crossing, the beleaguered strip mall that's been losing many of its chain stores to the shopping center across the street. Though Burtonsville is very different from Merrifield, it does have an affluent consumer base, a growing population, and a small but critically-praised "restaurant row." If there's any place in Montgomery County that would benefit from more unique, locally-owned retail, it's right here.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

we can be happy underground (in garages)

In an article published last week, Post reporter Katherine Shaver suggests that the prevalance of structured parking in Montgomery County signals a "cultural shift" and an "urban turn" for what many claim is the "perfect suburbia." What's missing, however, is that the rise of underground garages means we can still accommodate drivers while making room for other things, including more and higher-quality open spaces.

New Transit Village
North Bethesda Market under construction. Photo by DearEdward on Flickr.

When I used to work at an ice-cream parlor in Rockville Town Square, I'd get phone calls from customers with questions. One thing always seemed to upset my callers: it wasn't about the cost of ice cream, or what flavors we did or didn't have in stock, or even that you had to pay to park there. It was that the only parking came in an underground garage behind the store.

"You mean I have to park in a garage?" they'd ask. "I hate parking garages, and I don't want to shop anywhere where I have to use one."

I don't know how many customers this deterred, but I'm not surprised that people are unhappy parking in a garage to shop at the new Whole Foods in North Bethesda Market, a new development along Rockville Pike in White Flint that also contains the tallest apartment building in Montgomery County. Those used to the vast, free parking lots outside Whole Foods' former location in Congressional Plaza, a few miles away, probably aren't happy about going down a steep ramp and pay $1.50 an hour to store their car. Not only that, but I went there a couple of weeks ago and found the garage crowded and difficult to navigate, though this may be partially due to construction of the still-unfinished shopping center.

Structured parking has been a fact of life in Montgomery County for decades. Silver Spring, Singular found this 1970's-era ad for Bethlehem Steel showing a then-new garage on Ellsworth Drive. There are parking garages, with aboveground and underground portions, in the downtowns of Silver Spring, Bethesda, Rockville and Wheaton. Across Rockville Pike from North Bethesda Market is White Flint Mall, which has had parking garages since it opened almost forty years ago.

I like parking garages because they can keep my car cool in the summer and dry when it rains or snows. However, a poorly designed and poorly lit garage can feel really uncomfortable. They can also give a lousy first impression to people going from their car to a shop, office or apartment building. Underground garages can also make users feel unsafe. When a developer proposed replacing a public parking lot in downtown Silver Spring with a garage to make room for other uses, one neighbor worried it would be a draw for crime.

One way to alleviate these concerns is to bring more natural light into underground parking areas. The garage below Ikea's College Park branch is set into a hill, meaning that two sides are open to the outside. At University Town Center in Hyattsville, underground garages are lit by a shaft reaching to the street above.

View From 14th Floor Balcony, Gallery at White Flint
Parking lots along Rockville Pike are giving away to other uses, like housing, retail, and open space.

There are trade-offs to parking garages. You can't just pull up to a space, you might have to take stairs or an elevator back to the street, and you usually have to pay for a space. But they do conserve land, which can go to other uses. In North Bethesda Market, there are wide sidewalks with lush plantings and lots of benches. The first thing you see when you come out of the garage is an elegant plaza with a fountain at the center and lined with shops and restaurants. Eventually, this will be just one part of a larger network of urban open spaces throughout White Flint, none of which would be possible with the surface parking lots that line Rockville Pike today.

Building up on parking lots is one of the changes that the Post calls a "threat" to the suburban way of life, whether in Montgomery or across the river in Fairfax, which is undergoing similar growing pains. While there are a few special places where parking lots can be a suburban community's gathering space, most are just places to store cars. If done well, structured garages can do that while making room for the places where people gather and form community. That sounds like a way to make suburbs stronger, not eradicate them.