Friday, July 29, 2011

anti-curfew rally tonight

Super Traffic, Ellsworth and Fenton
The National Youth Rights Association is hosting a rally tonight in protest of County Executive Leggett's proposed teen curfew. They're asking people to come to the Majestic 20 at Ellsworth Drive and Fenton Street at 9pm. I'm hoping to see some law-abiding youth enjoying some fun, legal activities tonight.

before "shitty place" or "black flint" . . .

It was called City Place, and upon opening in 1992, local boosters called it the savior of downtown Silver Spring. Of course, we remember what happened next: anchor tenants leaving, vandalism, the occasional shooting and, more recently, the mall's sale to a new developer, who may or may not embark on a massive expansion in the works for over twenty years.

But the idealism (and the 80's-era excess! Look at all the chrome and neon!) that City Place represented can still be found in these twenty-year-old photos from the website of McLean-based firm ACG Architects, who designed the mall. Their more successful projects include the renovation of an office building at Wayne and Georgia avenues; the Silver Spring Innovation Center at Georgia and Blair Mill Road; and Turnberry Tower in Rosslyn, the tallest condominium building in Greater Washington.

I'm hopeful Shitty Place Black Flint City Place gets a second (third?) act, but for now its imagined glory lives on in these very dramatic images. (We don't take architectural photos like this anymore, either.)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

my testimony on the proposed youth curfew

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On Tuesday, roughly 120 people (my count) came to a public hearing on the proposed youth curfew at the County Council in Rockville. Our friend Whitney at Colesville Patch says of 27 speakers, those who opposed the curfew outnumbered supporters two to one. The Post suggested that controversy over the curfew is closely tied to how people see the redevelopment of downtown Silver Spring, which County Council President Valerie Ervin called an "experiment . . . on the precipice now of failing." (I'd like to know what she means by that.) And today, the Action Committee for Transit came out in opposition to the curfew, arguing that the success of Silver Spring requires "strenuous efforts to ensure safety, but not a safety achieved by excluding one segment of the population."

Following is my testimony. You can watch the entire hearing, and save clips of it (as I did above) by going to this website and searching for July 26.

Good afternoon. My name is Dan Reed, I'm twenty-three years old, and I'm opposed to a curfew in Montgomery County. Most of you behind the dais already know me because I used to work here. It's nice to see you again.

Growing up in Silver Spring, I led a wild life. I stayed out after midnight at my friends' houses playing board games, swing dancing at Glen Echo Park, and once I even snuck into an R-rated movie at the Majestic 20. I had two doting parents who were fine with me being out as long as they knew where I was. Somehow, I survived. And I'm sure most teens in Montgomery County, and quite a few in the District and Prince George's, do as well. And i refuse to believe or take seriously the hyperbolic assertion that our neighborhoods are under siege by "teens on the loose."

While the stabbing that occurred in downtown Silver Spring three weeks ago was unfortunate, we should not forget that it was an anomaly. As many of the speakers today have pointed out, gang and youth violence in the county have been dropping and arrests of youth under 18 have been dropping. Yet County Executive Leggett and the police department have been quick to scapegoat our youth and youth from surrounding communities for a rare incident. A county police officer even called into the Kojo Nnamdi Show last week and said he should be able to approach any young person and demand to know their business whether or not they're suspected of any wrongdoing.

I am a young black male. I have been racially profiled. I was pulled over in Virginia two years ago and had my car searched for narcotics. I do know that this is not rural Virginia, but i don't trust our police officers to have any better discretion when they're dealing with young people in our county.

And that's not the only reason I oppose the curfew. the fact of the matter is that if we want to create lively urban districts like Silver Spring, like Bethesda, like we're going to do in White Flint, we want people on the street. We should not be sending law-abiding people home. That's the parent's job. We should be encouraging people of all ages to be out at night enjoying the places that you are spending money to create in this county. The best crime deterrent we have is not a line of cop cars on Fenton Street in downtown Silver Spring but having simply "eyes on the street." The two thousand people that will come for a show at the Fillmore are two thousand additional pairs of eyes out there enjoying themselves, but also ensuring that anyone who wants to do something wrong has two thousand additional witnesses to come after them.

Thank you for your time. I'm sure that the council is not going to give in to the irrational fears of a small minority and find a solution that keeps both our communities and our civil liberties safe.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

more and varied nightlife can make downtown silver spring safer

Sunny Days & Starry Nights

For many communities, the closure of Borders means one fewer place to read books, hear music and drink coffee. For downtown Silver Spring, whose branch anchors the redeveloped area around Ellsworth Drive, Borders was one of the neighborhood's few nightlife options. That's especially relevant right now as residents discuss imposing a curfew on Montgomery County youth due to fears of late-night crime.

Like many of Borders' other locations outside of shopping malls, the Silver Spring Borders was open until 10pm during the week and 11pm on weekends. In many of the suburban communities where these stores were located, it may have been the only place open that late. In downtown Silver Spring, where you can count the number of bars on two hands, Borders gave people another place to go, making the streets livelier and safer.

Borders didn't just function as a bookstore. It's what sociologist Ray Oldenburg would call a "third place," a sort of gathering space like bars or coffeehouses where people can go solely to socialize. In downtown Silver Spring, Borders stood in for other "third places" like mega-coffeehouse Mayorga, which closed two years ago. On top of that, the store drew people in from Ellsworth Drive seeking something to do between other activities, like shopping or watching a movie. It's likely that the symbiotic relationship between Borders and the rest of downtown Silver Spring helped it weather the first round of store closings.

Last week, while writing about Montgomery County's proposed teen curfew, I was criticized for suggesting that the county provide more activities for young people at night. Many commenters here rightly pointed out that troublemakers aren't going to be deterred by a Battle of the Bands down at the teen center. That's true, but potential criminals will be scared off by seeing more people of all ages out in downtown Silver Spring doing legal, socially acceptable things. After all, if you're going to commit a crime, you want as few witnesses as possible.

The discussion over unruly youth in downtown Silver Spring has been going on for years, and back in 2007 I advised people who are fed up with it to keep spending time and money in the area. But people need places to spend their time and money, and the loss of Borders means there's one fewer reason for them to visit downtown Silver Spring. The Peterson Companies, which owns the Downtown Silver Spring complex at Ellsworth Drive and Fenton Street, could fill the Borders space with any store, but they'd do well to find tenants that stay open late, keeping the area busy at night.

Borders Is ClosedBorders in downtown Silver Spring during store liquidation.

The prevailing mindset among many community leaders in Silver Spring is that more nightlife means more crime. During a discussion about the proposed curfew on the Kojo Nnamdi Show last week, civic activist Tony Hausner argued that the 2,000-seat Fillmore music hall, which opens in September, will bring gangs to the area. (Yeah, because members of MS-13 love Cheap Trick.)

But the venue can only make downtown Silver Spring safer, because on a given night it'll bring 2,000 additional people to the area. Even if some concertgoers might be noisy or a little intoxicated, they serve as 2,000 additional pairs of "eyes on the street" to see what's going on and deter potential criminals.

The current discussion over a teen curfew for Montgomery County revolves around what young people do late at night and whether they should be at home. But the curfew was proposed to deal with crime, and should be judged on those merits. In downtown Silver Spring, where the county has spent decades trying to create a lively urban district, the best way to deal with crime is not to send law-abiding young people home but, rather, to ensure that more law-abiding people of all ages are out.

To do that, we need to have activities in the area throughout the day and into the night. The success of Borders shows that they don't have to involve alcohol or loud music. But they should give people lots of reasons, and lots of different reasons, to spend their time and money in downtown Silver Spring.

Monday, July 25, 2011

learning from baltimore's curfew

From the Sun:

Want to drive down teen crime? The curfew — along with a supportive center modeled after Baltimore's — may just help. But so would greater investment in summer jobs, recreation programs, drug and alcohol treatment for youngsters, anti-gang programs, and crisis intervention hotlines. Admittedly, passing a law is much cheaper.

We know the county's strapped for money and will squeeze pennies out of anywhere they can be found. For instance, Leggett deploys speed cameras in the name of improving pedestrian safety but doesn't work to change the way roads are designed, ensuring that cars will continue to speed and that pedestrians are still in danger. But being cheap isn't good policy.

As the Sun's editorial says, a curfew like the one in Baltimore can be prone to abuse and won't have a huge effect on its own. Montgomery County would be better off focusing on other, more transformative solutions rather than a "quick fix" that doesn't cost anything to implement. After all, you get what you pay for.

Friday, July 22, 2011

mary j. blige to open fillmore silver spring

Check out the Fillmore Silver Spring's schedule at

The Silver Spring branch of the vaunted Fillmore chain of music halls opens September 18 with a concert by R&B singer Mary J. Blige. And they'll have a pretty eclectic lineup for their first month of business. On the 19th, DC's hipster clique Brightest Young Things hosts a Underground Rebel Bingo (which is, in fact, bingo), followed by screamo bands (Bring Me The Horizon), country (WMZQ's Homegrown Country Music Showcase), classic rock (Cheap Trick) and, of course comedian Lewis Black, Silver Spring's native son.

I notice that, for the most part, the first shows at the Fillmore are decidedly adult-oriented, perhaps allaying (unfounded) concerns raised by residents of the surrounding neighborhoods about noise and crime. I imagine there is a market for acts with a younger audience (like Bring Me The Horizon) in Silver Spring, especially as parents might be more comfortable with their kids coming to a show here rather than going into D.C. or Baltimore. I'm hopeful that, no matter who plays at the Fillmore, the venue will bring customers to surrounding business, furthering the revitalization of downtown Silver Spring.

Yet I can't help but ask: where on the schedule is the most adult of adult contemporary artists, one Michael Bolton? We know County Executive Ike Leggett likes the singer, and he's basically paying for this venue. If I were Leggett, I'd throw all the subsidies I can find at Live Nation until Michael Bolton does a three-night run at the Fillmore.

community roundtable on youth at fenton street market tomorrow (updated)

UPDATE: Tomorrow's community roundtable was cancelled due to the heat. We'll let you know when it's rescheduled!
Kids On Ellsworth Drive
Teens engaging in non-gang-affiliated activities in downtown Silver Spring.

Just a reminder that I'm hosting a "community roundtable" at Fenton Street Market tomorrow afternoon on the issue of young people in Silver Spring and throughout the county. Unfortunately, I didn't hear about (so I wasn't able to tell y'all about) this meeting on the proposed teen curfew, which would ban youth under 18 from being out in Montgomery County after 11pm during the week and midnight on weekends. Youth issues are never far from public debate in downtown Silver Spring, particularly during the summer months, and I'm looking forward to talking to whoever stops by to talk about it.

Come on by from 12 to 1pm tomorrow afternoon to Fenton Street Market (which, as always, is open from 9am to 3pm) in Veterans Plaza at the corner of Ellsworth and Fenton.

Also: if you haven't heard, the county also plans to dramatically raise the fees they charge Fenton Street Market, potentially putting it out of business next year. County officials are surprisingly blasé about the market's usefulness, but hopefully they can be convinced otherwise. You can sign this petition to let them know how much Fenton Street Market means to you and to Silver Spring.

And if you'd like to see the county seek better solutions to dealing with our falling crime rate other than a curfew, check out the "Stand Up to the MoCo Youth Curfew" Facebook group, now over 5,300 strong, or come out to the County Council's public hearing at 100 Maryland Avenue in Rockville, on Tuesday, July 26 at 1:30pm. For more information or to testify, check out the Council's website. You can also sign this petition opposing the curfew.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

guest blog: give teens empowerment, not a curfew

Play Ball, Bethesda Avenue
Teens enjoying fun, wholesome activities in downtown Bethesda.

Last week, County Executive Ike Leggett proposed setting a curfew for young people under 18, preventing them from being out in public after 11 during the week and midnight on weekends. Though Leggett says the measure will curb gang violence, police statistics show that crime in Montgomery County has been dropping for years. Not surprisingly, the public is skeptical: the Gazette ran an editorial saying there are "too many questions" about the curfew to implement it now, while a "Stand Up to the MoCo Youth Curfew" Facebook group has 4,777 members as of this morning.

The following is a guest post from Abigail Burman, one of the group's four organizers who's also appearing on the Kojo Nnamdi Show today. She grew up in Silver Spring, attended from Richard Montgomery High School, and has some alternatives to dealing with youth crime that don't penalize all teenagers. Take it away:

I understand that people are upset. There are bad people in the world, and we hear about the bad things they do. We hear about gang violence, and delinquent youths, and damaged property. And I understand that this fear may make curfews seem like a good idea. But we can’t give in to fear. Because the final sign that criminals have beaten us is when they manage to convince us that we should confine a large segment of our population for no reason other than their age. At that point they’ve gotten us to shut people out of their own communities.

And communities are a powerful, powerful thing. As Dan pointed out, creating more gathering spaces helps teens turn their attention to constructive and safe pastimes, and public spaces create social pressure to act within the law. But there are other ways the community of Montgomery County can engage teens. Although elected officials and adults are constantly worrying about gang activity and delinquency among kids, they almost never involve the actual kids in these discussions.

There have been concerns about gang activity and other crimes at nearly every MCPS school I’ve attended, but the only time I remember a teacher talking to the students about these problems is a health class spent listening to a series of bloody urban myths about gang initiations. My classmates and I were left cringing or bored, not engaged in solving a problem that was affecting us just as much, if not more than, the adults.

In California, the Gang Violence Suppression Program helps communities fight crime while showing young people another way. The state-wide program provides grants for local governments to ramp up law enforcement and prosecution, while giving parents, teachers and at-risk youth tools to prevent the growth of gangs. This method was highly successful, because it allowed community leaders to fight gangs while showing young people meaningful alternatives to gang involvement.

The lesson: if you empower teens to make the choice to not break the law, they'll encourage their friends to do the same. Invest them in the community so they’re less likely to want to damage it. And when teens trust law enforcement and government officials, when they care about where they live, the two groups can work together to make the county a safer place to live, instead of enacting a curfew that would alienate all youths in the name of penalizing a few.

With young people and adults working together, it will be much easier to combat youthcrime in a way that, unlike a curfew of questionable legality and efficacy, has been shown to work. Dan mentioned that crime has been going down in Montgomery County. A closer look at police statistics from this year reveals that Part II offenses (which include juvenile crime) have gone down as arrests for Part II offenses has gone up. We don't need a curfew to reduce crime when existing laws are already doing so. It's clear we just need to step up their enforcement.

If you’d like to join us in opposing the curfew, we would love it if you signed our petition. You can also attend a public hearing on the proposed curfew at the Council Office Building, 100 Maryland Avenue in Rockville, on Tuesday, July 26 at 1:30pm. For more information or to testify, check out the County Council's website.

county official cites "competing demands" for veterans plaza

Veterans' Plaza At Night
County officials say the weekly Fenton Street Market prevents other groups from using Veterans Plaza.

We've been patiently waiting to hear Montgomery County's justification for dramatically raising the fee they charge Fenton Street Market to use Veterans Plaza in downtown Silver Spring, potentially forcing it to shut down. A friend of JUTP wrote Ginny Gong, executive director of Community Use of Public Facilities, who rents out county-owned spaces to various organizations. According to Gong, not only must the Saturday-only, volunteer-run market make more than enough money to rent the plaza at $1,200/week, but that Fenton Street Market is pushing out lots of other groups who want to be there as well.

The letter follows (emphasis mine):

Dear [name redacted];

I am responding to your recent email regarding the Fenton Street Market (FSM) asking for special consideration for their business. The Civic Building’ plaza was reserved and permitted to the County’s Silver Spring Regional Center as part of a partnership agreement for which FSM is reimbursing the County a $48 administrative fee. No Facility Use permits were issued to FSM, nor were facility fees charged to FMS for their 10 hours of use every Saturday over a 32 week period. FSM “rents” this space to other commercial entities (usually 60+ vendors) each week at a minimal daily rate of $40 per space (larger spaces are $80). Based on our conservative estimates, the FSM is collecting $115,200 over the span of 10 months of use.

Much consideration and benchmarking went into establishment of the fees. The $125 per hour fee for use of the ½ Veterans Plaza (which we were willing to charge FSM for use of the full plaza in 2012) is significantly less than fees at comparable outdoor venues. Note a similar event in Prince William Community Plaza would cost $3200 per day while for-profit users like the FSM would not be permitted use of the Gaithersburg Concert Pavilion area.

I certainly agree that the market is popular, attracts residents to the downtown area benefiting surrounding businesses, and is a good thing for the continuing redevelopment of downtown Silver Spring. In fact, the value or worth of the FSM has never been an issue, but concerns about fairness have been raised because the arrangement was outside the normal competitive process, and other organizations (both non-profit and for-profit) have not had the same level of access. Other organizations have requested Saturday use of the plaza, but unfortunately CUPF was not able to schedule their use.

During the first year of operating this facility the County chose to experiment with different approaches. The Regional Center did so with the spirit of identifying “what worked” and “what did not” and was cognizant that “Year 2” of operations would be very different and require different approaches.

At the same time, the County has had to balance this approach with the Community Use of Public Facilities (CUPF)’s mission, which is to ensure fair and equitable access to public space for all groups as outlined according to policies and guidelines. CUPF was established as a non-tax supported agency in 1978 by County and State law with the formation of the Interagency Coordinating Board (ICB) as its governing body. The ICB establishes policies regarding priority of placement and variable fees consistent with Council Resolution 12-595, User Fee Policy, which addresses allocation of limited resources, benefit to the community, ability to pay, and includes a statement that the user fees should “cover the ‘privilege’ costs of having a facility available, and to cover the costs of reserving a facility. User fees should be charged which are proportional to the individual benefit. The starting point should be that 100 percent of the full cost should be reflected.” Additionally, while we appreciate the degree to which the FSM claims to be self sufficient, a number of incidents requiring intervention by CUPF staff, County Security, and Fire Rescue staff have been required.

Thus, the County wants to ensure that the FSM’s use of County facilities does not constitute a violation of equitable access or provide a subsidy in the form of free space to a private enterprise outside the competitive procurement process. To avoid compromising the ICB’s mission, CUPF is not able to provide a benefit to FSM that would not be available to all user groups.

While the placement of FSM is certainly a possibility for the most effective use of the space in 2012, competing demands have surfaced that require us to take a close look at how we can maximize the use of the Plaza within our established framework, policies and protocols. The County may wish to consider an RFP process to evaluate a variety of options for activating the plaza. I’m sure you join me in striving for fair and equitable allocation of public spaces and consistent treatment of all groups.


Ginny Gong, Director
Community Use of Public Facilities

It's disappointing how indifferent Ginny Gong seems to Fenton Street Market's significance to downtown Silver Spring. (Though, as a Gaithersburg resident - we looked it up - it's likely she's never been to Silver Spring outside of work.) I'm aware that CUPF is not the same agency that basically gave away the basement of the Civic Building for free to Round House Theatre, shutting out other local non-profit groups, but the county can't just turn around and say that letting Fenton Street Market pay discounted rent is wrong.

That said, is a market that uses half of Veterans Plaza for six hours each Saturday really keeping other groups out of the space? What about the other half of the plaza? What about the rest of the week when the plaza's empty? Hell, what about the rest of Saturday? If we want to draw people to downtown Silver Spring at all times, we should encourage organizations to use Veterans Plaza throughout the week.

Veterans Plaza is a busy urban space, serving both as an informal hangout, a stage for festivals and performances, and an everyday draw for nearby businesses. It is not the same as Gong's comparison, the Prince William Community Plaza, which is a park in the middle of a government office complex next to a highway, where nothing happens unless it's scheduled to. Fenton Street Market would fail in an isolated location like that. The market works in Veterans Plaza, and the plaza works for the market. The value of Veterans Plaza as a place, not just a revenue stream, and community that Fenton Street Market creates there, somehow goes unnoticed by a county that would fill the space with putt-putt golf to raise money.

To show your support for Fenton Street Market, sign this petition, or why not e-mail Ginny Gong at ginny.gong at and tell her what you thought of her response.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

fenton street market update

Looking Towards Civic Building

As many of y'all know, the popular Fenton Street Market could close due to dramatically higher fees imposed by Montgomery County for using Veterans Plaza in downtown Silver Spring. The county would go from charging $48 a week to over $1,200 a week, the going rate for other groups or individuals who would like to rent the plaza, effectively forcing the market out of business. If you haven't already, sign this petition in support of the market. Rather than go through all of the reasons why Fenton Street Market should stay open, I'll let the petitioners do it for me:

Evan Glass, president of the South Silver Spring Neighborhood Association:
"The county seems to have forgotten that the purpose of the civic building and its plaza is to serve the public interest. When a member of the community organizes an ongoing event that positively activates a public space and annually contributes $6.6 million to the local economy, she should be applauded and her efforts encouraged. That is what the greater Silver Spring community has done to support the Fenton Street Market. Now it’s the county government’s turn."

"Having people USE downtown Silver Spring reduces crime, increases quality of life for the residents and vendors and makes this area of the county a better place to live and thus brings in revenues through more sales, higher property taxes (as homes go up in value), more successful businesses, etc."

Ellen Levy:
"Since the Fenton Street Market opened at the civic center, i have made it a point to shop there and the farmer's market (and not the Takoma Park farmer's market on Sunday, like I used to) nearly every Saturday. I usually end up spending money in nearby stores as a result of the proximity and convenience. I love the fact that it draws so many people out and feels like a real event every Saturday. Why on earth MC wants to now ruin the community that is building as a result of the market is beyond me . . ."

And that's just a sample of opinions expressed by Silver Spring residents who've come to rely on the market barely two years after its inception. Unfortunately, our attempts to reach out to the county officials who proposed and continue to defend the fee hike have gone unanswered. (Diane Schwartz Jones, I hope you'll respond to the e-mail I wrote you a week ago.)

We did, however, hear from County Councilmember Hans Riemer, who opposes the increase in rates.
"We spent tens of millions, hundreds of millions on downtown Silver Spring, and now we're coming up short on a few thousand dollars? It's ridiculous," says Riemer, who lives in East Silver Spring.

Riemer worries that Veterans Plaza, which opened last summer, isn't drawing visitors like its predecessor "the Turf," noting that it's often empty when programmed events aren't going on. "Without the market, it's underutilized," he says. "[The plaza] doesn't naturally generate vibrancy. The market is great and it's worth subsidizing."

After you fill out that petition, come by the market on Saturday for a "Community Roundtable" I'm hosting about youth issues in downtown Silver Spring. From skateboarding to curfews, each summer always brings a new discussion on how kids fit into the revitalized downtown, and everyone seems to have a strong opinion about it. What's yours? Join me from 12 to 1pm at Fenton Street Market (which, as always, runs from 9am to 3pm) in Veterans Plaza at the corner of Fenton Street and Ellsworth Drive.

Monday, July 18, 2011

opposition grows to youth curfew

Kids On Ellsworth Drive
Teenagers enjoying fun, legal activities in downtown Silver Spring.

UPDATE: There are now 3,846 people in the "Stand Up to the MoCo Youth Curfew" group, including Councilmember Hans Riemer (D-At Large).

As of last night, there were 3,648 people signed up for the "Stand Up to the MoCo Youth Curfew" Facebook group, started by four MCPS high school students. The proposed curfew (PDF), pushed by County Executive Ike Leggett after a teenage girl was stabbed in downtown Silver Spring on July 4, would make it illegal for people under 18 to be out after 11pm during the week and midnight on weekends. Though Leggett says it'll help reduce gang violence, the county's own police statistics show that gang- and youth-related crime has been dropping for years.

It surprises me that the county executive would vilify teenagers in a county known for kids who produce films and campaign for world peace and give Bethesda Magazine a reason to exist. Of course, not all teens in Montgomery County are so-called "overachiever kids," but I imagine there are more kids who are out late for study group than for committing crimes.

Yet, in the face of statistics that completely disprove his rationale for a curfew, Leggett sought a quick response to the July 4 stabbing that would show he's Doing Something About Crime. Good job, Ike: you've got a bunch of headlines, but no real solutions. Is that good leadership? Hardly.

Thankfully, there are elected officials in Montgomery County who see the folly in Leggett's proposal. I noticed State Delegate Eric Luedtke (D-Burtonsville) is also a member of the anti-curfew Facebook group. Aged twenty-nine, Luedtke finished high school in 1999, meaning he isn't too far removed from his own teenage years and can remember all of the legal things he did after 11pm back then. (Meanwhile, Ike Leggett can attend his fifty-year high school reunion next year.) Luedtke is also a teacher at Loiederman Middle School in Wheaton, meaning he works with kids who would be affected by the curfew.

"Those few young people who do engage in crime will simply be forced out of built up areas where there is some ability to monitor them and into neighborhoods where there isn't," writes Luedtke in an e-mail to JUTP. "And the vast majority of young people who have done nothing wrong? Well, they are innocent bystanders being punished for the actions of others."

While it's unlikely that all thirty-six-hundred people on the Facebook group will attend the County Council's public hearing on the curfew, it'll only take a fraction of them to fill the Council chambers and make their opposition clear. The hearing will be at the Council Office Building, 100 Maryland Avenue in Rockville, on Tuesday, July 26 at 1:30pm. For more information or to testify, check out the Council's website. You can also sign this petition opposing the curfew.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

teens need things to do, not a curfew

The Skater Mob, Ellsworth Drive
Teenagers could be banned from Ellsworth Drive and other public spaces in Montgomery County under a proposed curfew.

Yesterday, Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett proposed setting a curfew on teenagers under 18, raising concerns about how young people are treated here and around the country.

Expedited Bill 25-11 (pdf) would bar minors from being in public in Montgomery County after 11 pm on weeknights, and after midnight on weekends. Exceptions would be made for young people coming home from work, attending a school or church activity, or those accompanied by a parent or other authorized adult, and anyone caught breaking curfew would be taken to the nearest police station.

While it's true that curfews in other cities have sometimes successfully reduced crime (pdf), many feel they are unnecessarily restrictive and discriminatory against teenagers. They also don't address what may be the root cause of teen crime, which is a general lack of things to do.

After dark, there isn't much to do in Montgomery County after dark, which contributes to the problem. Many of the county's movie theatres and bowling alleys have closed in recent years, so teens often end up in urban areas like Rockville Town Center, downtown Bethesda and downtown Silver Spring, where some of them get into trouble and harm others. If there were more legitimate nighttime activities for teens, that would deter some of the illegitimate activities from happening. Parent groups often organize post-prom parties to deter drinking after school dances. Perhaps the Recreation Department or other organizations could set up similar events on other nights.

Play Ball, Bethesda Avenue
Teenagers play ball on a sidewalk in downtown Bethesda.

It's unclear whether a curfew in Montgomery County is actually necessary. Though Leggett's spokesman, Patrick Lacefield, claims that Montgomery has become a magnet for gang members coming from the District and Prince George's, police statistics show that youth crime in the county is decreasing. The number of youth under 18 arrested each year has been steady for the past ten years and, in fact, fell for most of the decade. Meanwhile, the number of juvenile offenses recorded each year has fallen by 36 percent since 2001. According to the Washington Post, gang-related incidents in the county have dropped by more than half since 2007.

It could even be that the increase in public spaces such as downtown Silver Spring available to teens in Montgomery County may even be contributing to the decline in crime, since such places are effectively chaperoned by the general public. Cutting troublesome teens off from public spaces would only send them "underground" and out of sight.

Whether or not the proposed curfew would be effective, it may also be illegal. Teen curfews have faced many court challenges, often finding them to be too restrictive. In 2007, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the city of Lake Oswego, Oregon on behalf of four high school students, stating that a teen curfew there "criminalizes all youth" whether or not they had done anything wrong. Two years ago, a state appeals court in California struck down a teen curfew in San Diego that had many of the same provisions as Montgomery County's proposed curfew, arguing that the ban was too broad to be enforced.

Ellsworth Drive Is Alive (I Saw No Emo Kids)
Creating more reasons to hang out in downtown Silver Spring can serve as a crime deterrent.

There are better solutions. We can reduce crime and provide more activities for people of all ages in Montgomery County by creating more nightlife options in urban centers like downtown Silver Spring, putting eyes on the street and giving teenagers legitimate places to go. The Fillmore music hall, which opens this fall, will do just that, putting two thousand ticket-buying people on the streets multiple times a week. More housing downtown will also keep the area populated and patrolled after the diners and concertgoers have left.

Teen curfews, like last year's county-imposed skateboarding ban in downtown Silver Spring, just punish all young people for the misdeeds of a few. What's next, mandatory summer school for everyone because a few kids flunked English? With crime decreasing and the possibility of judicial challenge, a curfew in Montgomery County is a solution looking for a problem. There are more substantial ways to combat crime and boredom, so long as we're willing to find them.

The curfew bill goes before a vote by the County Council at a public hearing on Tuesday, July 26 at the Council Office Building in Rockville. For more information, check out the County Council website.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

rebuilt wheaton high could give community a new face

High schools can form the backbone of community life. They serve as a place of learning, but also as the local sports arena or performing arts center; a polling place or town hall; occasionally, a house of worship. So it makes sense that a high school should occupy a prominent location in the community as well.

This proposed plan from Grimm + Parker Architects shows a new Wheaton High (left) and Edison High (right), with Randolph Road running along the bottom. Image courtesy of Wheaton Patch.

That seems to be the thinking behind plans to build a new Wheaton High School, which is one of Montgomery County's oldest, having opened in 1954. A few weeks ago, the Board of Education looked at options for rebuilding Wheaton High and the adjacent Thomas Edison High, which has a part-time vocational program. The favored scheme, according to Wheaton Patch, is one that places each school in its own separate building, one on either side of the building both schools currently share. Not only does this allow construction to take place while classes are in session, minimizing disruption, but it puts Wheaton High School in a more prominent location.

Today, Wheaton and Edison's shared building backs to busy Randolph Road. As cars speed by, all they see of the schools are the football stadium. The county and Calverton-based architects Grimm + Parker, who will design the new campus, propose building a new Wheaton High where the football and baseball fields are today, placing the school right on Randolph Road. This move emphasizes the school's significance to the community, putting it in full view of the thousands of people who come through Randolph each day.

The proposal is also more convenient for students who walk or take public transit to Wheaton High.
That's especially important at a school whose catchment area extends as far as Takoma Park and Aspen Hill and where four-fifths of the student body is on free or reduced lunch. People coming from Randolph Road, served by multiple Metrobus and Ride On bus routes, or the Glenmont Metro station a mile away, would now be able to walk right into the school rather than circle around the entire campus. Making it easier to reach Wheaton High without a car will give students a greater sense of independence and reduce their reliance on rides from parents or friends with driver's licenses who aren't allowed to carry passengers.

Speed Cameras, Randolph at Wheaton High
Speed cameras on Randolph Road. Wheaton High School's football field can be see at far left.

Bringing Wheaton High up to the street could also help with the issue of speeding along Randolph Road. In 2007, the county placed speed cameras on Randolph behind Wheaton High, arguing that it would improve pedestrian safety. Currently, the only thing motorists see along Randolph Road are trees and the school's fence, the kind of featureless environment that encourages speeding. Grimm + Parker's plans show a new Wheaton High located just a few feet behind the sidewalk, close enough to make drivers more attentive of their surroundings and encouraging them to slow down.

The design for a new Wheaton High isn't perfect. Though the building would be located on Randolph Road, the entrances would face away from the street, allowing buses and cars to drop students off without stopping traffic. But shouldn't a school that's supposed to give a "new fresh start" for Wheaton present itself to the community rather than turning its back on them? There are few examples of other high schools in Montgomery County that actually face the street, and those that do, like the old Blair High or Bethesda-Chevy Chase High, have been altered so that you enter on the side. Still, I hope that the architects can do things differently at Wheaton.

A new Wheaton High School will be a place to learn and a destination for the community. And by placing the building on one of Wheaton's busiest streets, and creating a prominent entrance on that street, it'll become a treasured landmark as well.

Monday, July 11, 2011

county's rising fees could boot fenton street market from veterans plaza

Looking Towards City Place
Fenton Street Market, shown last fall, may have to leave Veterans Plaza in downtown Silver Spring.

Two years ago, East Silver Spring resident Hannah McCann saw an empty parking lot near her house and sought to make use of it with a flea market. Today, the weekly Fenton Street Market has dozens of vendors and a new home at Veterans Plaza. Yet the market's success may come to an end as Montgomery County wants to collect higher fees for using the plaza - as much as $35,000 a year, reports the Examiner.

The county's Office of Community & Public Facilities has other, more profitable uses in mind for Veterans Plaza, McCann writes on the Fenton Street Market blog:

We have prided ourselves on being excellent tenants, using the space responsibly and leaving it better than we found it at the close of each market day. I live in this community, and I’m personally invested making our neighborhood shine. The Fenton Street Market has activated a formerly empty expanse of concrete in our downtown with a vibrant, community-based enterprise that stimulates the local economy (read the results of our 2011 economic impact study showing we bring more than $1.9M a year to downtown Silver Spring).

And yet, it has been suggested to me by the county personnel charged with contracting the space that the community might benefit more from the Plaza being used as a putt-putt golf course next summer.

Check out the market's website for more information, and watch this space for updates.



"A suburb only for the most discriminating of marihuana smokers, located just two miles from the Silver Spring stoplight." - Weedmoor advertising brochure, ca. 1936

The twelve-year-old in me burst out laughing when I passed this sign at Route 29 and Woodmoor Circle yesterday evening. What can I say? I enjoy puns.

Nonetheless, it's a shame that this particular sign has been defaced. I wonder how hard it'll be to fix, or why the vandals couldn't have gone after a less attractive (though less punny) sign, this one for the ill-defined "South Manor Neighborhood" off New Hampshire Avenue in the District.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

our loss is gaithersburg's gain . . .

Commenter adelphi_sky made a really good point in this post about the East County Science Center:

"For the life of me I don't understand why people block development that would make their lives easier. traffic is the main concern, but NIMBYs are willing to sacrifice increased property values, jobs, tax revenues, and a sense of place for the opportunity to hop into their cars and hit the beltway to shop and eat on the west side of the county."

If only the issue were framed this way. All too often, the discussion over development boils down to talk about crime or traffic congestion. Rarely do opponents mention the amenities a new project might bring, and when they do, they're also portrayed as undesirable or "inauthentic".

But does a new development really promise these things? It might mean you get a Whole Foods or a community park or something else nice. Yet we'll never know if we keep pushing investment away. East County's community leaders are slowly (very slowly) coming around to this idea, and I'm glad they have.