Friday, October 28, 2011

a new name isn't enough for east county science center

East County Science Center Open House
Admiring a map of the now-renamed White Oak Science Gateway.

Area residents and businesspeople wanted a new name for the East County Science Center, an area bounded by New Hampshire Avenue, Columbia Pike and Cherry Hill Road where county planners seek to draw research and development firms seeking to be near the new campus of the Food and Drug Administration.

The new moniker? Welcome to the White Oak Science Gateway.

The name first appeared a month ago, when members of an advisory committee for the plan raised concerns about how vague "East County Science Center" was. From the Gazette:
“What’s East County?” Stocks [Jere Stocks, president of Washington Adventist Hospital] said. “It could be anywhere. ... The name really didn’t fit. I think what we have now, it puts us on the map in terms of national perspective.”
I've long used "East County" to describe the communities I talk about on this blog, because they're all unincorporated (meaning they lack their own government or strict boundaries) and there often isn't a better term. Many people in this part of Montgomery County (we'll define it as "everything east of Rock Creek Park") say they live in Silver Spring, and I support that, though people who live closer to downtown Silver Spring have other ideas. Of course, this doesn't work if you live in Burtonsville or Olney or Takoma Park, which all are generally recognized as places in their own right, or in a place like White Oak, which has a much weaker identity.

If we want to draw companies from around the country and around the world to a science park which right now exists only on paper, it has to have a compelling name. Everyone recognizes Cambridge or Silicon Valley or the Research Triangle. "East County Science Center," as Jere Stocks points out, could be anywhere in the world.

This isn't the first time that MoCo's tried to rename a place. While working for Councilmember George Leventhal last year, I got to help think of a new name for the Gaithersburg West Master Plan, another area where planners want to create a home for research and development. The problem with the name "Gaithersburg West" was that the area it covered wasn't so much "west of Gaithersburg" as it was a bunch of unincorporated areas surrounding the City of Gaithersburg with no connection or relationship to each other.

My suggestion was to call it the Great Seneca Science Cluster, because Great Seneca Highway ran through at least some parts of the master plan area, and it was a name that ordinary people would recognize. It stuck, even though "Cluster" became "Corridor." The name isn't perfect, but it sounds like it could be a place, and if everything goes as planned the Great Seneca Science Corridor will actually be a place.

Harvard Square
Cambridge, Massachusetts: A great name for a place, but also a significant destination for scientists and researchers around the world.

Will the White Oak Science Gateway be so lucky? I worry. I wouldn't have picked the word "Gateway," personally, because it suggests something that you enter or pass through, not a place that you go to. More significant is the issue that Montgomery County will now have two science parks, each sort of in competition with each other. Consultants hired by the Planning Department to look at the White Oak Science Gateway's merits concluded that the plan will fail unless there's a substantial reason for companies to consider locating there instead of at Great Seneca or somewhere else entirely. 

Names have a powerful ability to give places character - or in the case of "East County," to take it away. But while it's important to ensure that Montgomery County's new development areas have compelling names, it's worthwhile to ensure that they also become places worth naming. Planners are holding an open house on the East County Science Center White Oak Science Gateway Master Plan tonight at

Monday, October 24, 2011

councilmembers propose anti-loitering bill as curfew alternative (updated)

UPDATE: Our friend David Moon at Maryland Juice has a nice write-up on the anti-loitering bill and his latest initiative to bring Bob's Big Boy back to MoCo.

Kids On Ellsworth Drive
It's better than a teen curfew, but how would an anti-loitering law respond to scenes like this? 

In response to mounting opposition to a proposed teen curfew, MoCo Councilmembers Phil Andrews and George Leventhal will introduce an anti-loitering bill tomorrow modeled on ones used in Florida and Georgia. They call it a "better tool" for fighting crime because it targets actual troublemakers, not just youth.

"A loitering and prowling law wouldn't discriminate based on age, wouldn't be limited to late-night hours . . . and would target criminally suspicious behavior by anyone," writes Andrews, who represents Rockville and Gaithersburg, in a memo to Council staff.

Bill 35-11, as it's officially called, would prohibit certain kinds of "loitering or prowling," defined as being "in a public place or establishment at a time or in a manner not usual for law-abiding persons." (
The bill will be posted online tomorrow, and I'll post the link
Here it is.) It also specifies that police only take action when they "reasonably [believe]" an individual's behavior "justifies alarm or immediate concern for the safety of persons or property in the vicinity."

Police must ask people suspected of loitering to explain themselves, and they also have to give a warning. Those who don't obey an officer's warning would be charged with a misdemeanor. The bill strengthens the county's existing anti-loitering laws, which were last amended in 2006 to remove the words "loiter" and "loitering."

Curfew supporters are skeptical of the anti-loitering bill. Councilmember Craig Rice, who represents the Upcounty, tells the Examiner that not having a curfew told kids it was "OK for you to be out there at 2 in the morning" and causing trouble, while County Executive Leggett worries that the loitering bill was "overly broad" and could encourage racial profiling.

Ironically, Leggett's concerns are the same raised by curfew opponents. Both curfews and anti-loitering laws have been criticized for being hard to enforce and subject to abuse. Chicago's anti-loitering law was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1999 for violating the First Amendment right to peaceful assembly, while Newark and several suburban towns in New Jersey revoked their anti-loitering laws for using vague terms like "no loafing." And in the District, repeated attempts to ban gatherings of more than two people have failed.

Nonetheless, Leventhal is confident that Montgomery County's bill, as drafted, would be less intrusive. "I think it raises far fewer civil liberties concerns than a curfew and I prefer this approach," he writes in an e-mail to JUTP. "I think it responds to the concerns that have been raised by the Police Department," who say current laws don't give them "necessary power to prevent harm to persons or property."

Crime, including youth- and gang-related incidents, has been dropping in Montgomery County since 2007, as Andrews points out. And just as Lt. Robert Carter of the Montgomery County Police predicted in August, crime fell in downtown Silver Spring when more cops were placed on the street

Given these circumstances, it's reasonable to say our police are doing fine. But Leggett and Police Chief Thomas Manger have put considerable effort highlighting youth crimes to build the case for a curfew, making the public fearful. As a result, the burden's on opponents to produce a more palatable alternative that still shows we're Doing Something About Crime. It's an imperfect solution, but far less imperfect than a curfew. What Councilmembers Andrews and Leventhal have done, however, is say what we've needed to hear all along: crime isn't limited to late nights and it certainly isn't limited to young people.

If this is what it takes to get Montgomery County off the backs of its teenagers, I'm curious to hear more.

The Montgomery County Council will hold a public hearing on the proposed anti-loitering bill on Tuesday, November 15 at 7:30pm in the Council Office Building, 100 Maryland Avenue in Rockville. To testify or for more information, visit the Council website.

Full disclosure: I used to work as a legislative aide for Councilmember Leventhal.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

rumors of fenton street market's death are greatly exaggerated

Fenton Street Market, May 22
Fenton Street Market in May 2010.

A week after it seemed Fenton Street Market was gone for good, the well-loved flea market in downtown Silver Spring's received a stay of execution. The following comes from Hannah McCann, East Silver Spring resident and Fenton Street Market's creator:
We have heard your rallying cry, Silver Spring! And we’ve heard that Montgomery County is ready to make some constructive amendments to its RFP for a public market on Veterans Plaza. With better hope of securing a future, Fenton Street Market will renew its efforts to win a contract to come back next year. Thank you to FSM project manager Megan Moriarty, who has volunteered to work pro bono on drafting a proposal in response to the RFP. There are some easy ways that you too can help.  
Fenton Street Market’s proposal will be supplemented with testimonials from the community on why the market is an asset to Silver Spring. If you haven’t already, please add your comments to our online petition at And please consider forwarding those comments to Ike Leggett (County Executive), David Dise (Director of the Department of General Services), and your local Council representative. They’re listening! And for that we’re grateful. 
The staff, vendors, and customers of Fenton Street Market are also tremendously grateful to Megan for bringing new energy to our fight for a future. A resident of downtown Silver Spring, Megan exhibited as a jewelry artist at the very first Fenton Street Market in 2009. Many know her from her community organizing with Impact Silver Spring; recently, in addition to working for Fenton Street Market, Megan has been coordinating the start-up of Blessed Coffee, another Montgomery County -based Benefit Corporation. “I love the intersection of community-building and entrepreneurship,” says Megan. “I feel like the experiment Fenton Street Market started is worth trying to continue and grow.”  
For more information on Fenton Street Market’s negotiations with Montgomery County, or to offer assistance, contact
Megan Moriarty saves the day! She's an East County native and recently graduated from the University of Maryland's city planning program. Since then, she's kept herself busy working with IMPACT Silver Spring and serving on a committee of the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board, among other endeavors. I'm glad to see she's offered to help Fenton Street Market stay in business.

Meanwhile, it looks like MoCo officials felt the pressure from community residents who support Fenton Street Market and filled a petition in favor of it sticking around. I'm glad they listened. I also hope that the county takes a good, hard look at their approach to programming urban centers like downtown Silver Spring.

It's important to ensure that everyone gets a chance to use Veterans Plaza, but micromanaging how they do so can kill the space's vitality. No one should be surprised that the county's Request For Proposals for other markets in Veterans Plaza didn't get many takers as it was written, because it was too strict. It's probably better to step back and let Fenton Street Market continue doing its thing (supporting local artists and pumping money into the local economy) rather than dictating what a public market should be like and having nothing at all.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

proposed walmart undermines rockville pike redevelopment plans

Rockville Strip Mall
A Walmart could replace several shops at Pike Center in Rockville. Photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.

For years, Montgomery County officials have been trying to remake Rockville Pike's retail strip into an urban boulevard. Yet thanks to a fluke in zoning, Walmart could drop a standard suburban big-box in the middle of everything. 

The new Walmart would be located at Rockville Pike and Bou Avenue, just north of Montrose Road in the Pike Center shopping center. According to the Washington Post, the store would be considerably smaller than traditional Walmarts, with about 80,000 square feet of floor space. By comparison, a typical modern supermarket is about 60,000 square feet, while larger Walmart Supercenters can be as large as 185,000 square feet. Renderings from the Post show the Walmart displacing an existing row of shops in the strip mall, which include national chains like Office Depot and CiCi's Pizza in addition to local businesses like Bagel City.

This would be the third Walmart in Montgomery County, after an existing store in Germantown and another proposed store on Connecticut Avenue in Aspen Hill, which we wrote about last month. But unlike those stores, which are far from Metro, the proposed Rockville Walmart is a half-mile from the Twinbrook station. Despite County Executive Ike Leggett's assertion that the store is "consistent" with the county's goal of building around public transit, this proposal completely undermines those intentions.
View From 14th Floor Balcony, Gallery at White Flint
A new Walmart would undermine plans to revitalize Rockville Pike. 

Plans by the City of Rockville and Montgomery County envision Rockville Pike as an urban boulevard with tall buildings against the street, not behind big parking lots. By bringing shops, housing and offices together near Metro stations along the Pike, planners hope to make it easier for people to walk, bike or take transit to their destination, providing alternatives to driving and reducing congestion.

In order to do so, higher-density development has been approved around the Twinbrook and White Flint Metro stations, the latter of which was written up in the New York Times as a model for suburban redevelopment. Residential and office towers have already begun sprouting up along Rockville Pike. The proposed Walmart, however, sits along a short stretch of the Pike that falls under a completely different plan that was drafted in 1992 and still allows strip shopping centers.

This kind of development is exactly what the community is trying to prevent from being built along Rockville Pike in the future. It'll only encourage more people to drive to Rockville Pike rather than taking advantage of other modes of transportation, creating more traffic. But it's likely that Walmart chose to locate in Pike Center because it was easy to build a conventional store there, without going for a time-consuming zoning change or building in a more expensive, urban format that doesn't just cater to drivers.

However, two of the eight stores Walmart plans to build in Greater Washington will be built in an urban fashion. Their proposed store on New Jersey Avenue in the District will sit at the base of an apartment building, while a new store in Tysons Corner, which is undergoing a transformation similar to Rockville Pike, will be part of a larger complex with a gym and offices. Ironically, those two branches and the one on Rockville Pike are all being developed by JBG Rosenfeld, whose vice president Jay Klug called Walmart "pretty enlightened" about building stores to fit an urban context. 

Walmart has the right to build as they see fit so long as the zoning allows them to do it. Yet their store as proposed is completely inappropriate for Rockville Pike as it tries to become a denser, more urban corridor. Last week, the Montgomery County Council introduced a bill requiring big-box stores to craft community benefits agreements to reduce any negative impacts on the surrounding neighborhood. They might also want to figure out how to make this big-box store fit into the new Rockville Pike before it brings down one of the most ambitious suburban redevelopment projects in the country.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

people on The Other Pike are sensible . . .

Rockville Town Square, Saturday Evening
This picture's from four years ago, but we've been assured Rockville still looks this nice.

Two newsworthy items about Rockville Pike (and environs) this week. The first, from the Montgomery Sentinel:
Turns out, there are others in local government not too thrilled with the idea of a teen curfew in the county.

The Montgomery County Council and Rockville City Council held a joint meeting October 10 to address issues ranging from the controversial teen curfew to parking for patrons of the Rockville library. Both councils seemed to agree that the curfew was not a solution, with City Council members pointing out that there could be problems if the County adopts it and the City does not.

City Councilmember Mark Pierzchala agreed with County Councilmember Andrews that the facts do not warrant the need for a curfew. “I share your views that the data doesn’t support it. I think where Rockville has to be careful is if the county does adopt it and Rockville doesn’t. That could create some confusion,” said Pierzchala.

“I’m not in favor of the curfew,” said City Councilmember Bridget Donnell Newton. “I think we need to find more opportunities for teens to participate in healthy activities as an alternative and not a restrictive solution like a curfew. I hope you don’t pass it because it puts us in a tough spot.”
This isn't the first municipality to express their discomfort with County Executive Ike Leggett's proposed youth curfew. In August, Takoma Park's police chief Ron Ricucci said that city, known for its progressive bona fides, isn't particularly comfortable with telling parents when to let their kids out. "We have control of our kids," said Ricucci.

I've written no shortage of posts on the curfew since it was first proposed three months ago, and opposition remains strong, not to mention there's a serious body of research proving curfews ineffective and a nice list of more effective crime-fighting alternatives that we got straight from a MoCo police officer. I'm hoping Leggett, despite his Rick Perry-like aversion to facts he doesn't agree with, sees the writing on the wall and gives this up for good.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

the magic of jimmie cone (JUTP's top-ten most-read posts, ever)

Jimmie Cone, Damascus
Jimmie Cone, now immortalized in comic form.

Every Thursday I get an e-mail saying how many people have been reading Just Up The Pike in the past week. This morning, I woke up to discover that pages on the blog have been viewed 23,000 times since last Thursday. That may not be a lot to some people, but it's a lot to me. To compare, we get between 25,000 and 30,000 pageviews each month; in July 2009, there were nearly 49,000 pageviews.

How did this happen? I thought. So I checked Google Analytics to see where our traffic comes from. Most JUTP readers who click over here from other sites do so from Silver Spring, Singular or Greater Greater Washington, leading me to assume that we are just part of your daily balanced blogging diet. This week, however, people are coming from another site called Girls with Slingshots.

I hesitated before clicking on it myself, but don't worry. It's just a webcomic written by Danielle Corsetto, a self-described "filthy filthy hippie" who lives in West Virginia and grew up in Frederick. And last Thursday, she ran a comic about Jimmie Cone and even linked to the post I wrote about it in July 2009:
"After little league games, you’d find every member of every team huddled up under the rickety green roof of the Jimmie Cone in Damascus, Maryland. It was the closest you could get to having a local pub setting for elementary school and junior high kids. Which is funny, since Damascus is a dry town."
Over the next two days, Girls with Slingshots sent over 15,000 people to JUTP, one of whom is the co-owner of Charmington's, a coffee shop in Baltimore I mentioned in a post last week. Small world, right?

Then I looked at what the top ten most-read posts at JUTP are. The results surprised me, and they'll surprise you too: 

6) ode to a stolen bike Oct 12, 2010

Not everyone thinks skateboarding is important, but it seems many people who read this blog think differently. Or I write a lot about kids and skateboarding and the sample's skewed. 

Either way, I never got to go to Jimmie Cone this summer. Lame.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

when MoCo wants to draw big businesses, it's "pay to play" (updated)

Busboys and Poets
This won't be coming to Montgomery County any time soon.

It looks like the former Borders on Ellsworth Drive will be empty a little longer: Andy Shallal, owner of local restaurant/performance space chain Busboys & Poets, says he won't consider opening a new one in downtown Silver Spring because the Montgomery County Council dipped out on a resolution asking Congress to cut defense funding. He and other peace activists held a press conference at the County Council building this morning to protest their decision.

Why did Montgomery County, renowned for its progressive politics by both the Daily Caller and Utne Reader, back down? While local businesses at Fenton Street Market are getting put through the wringer by Montgomery County bureaucracy, defense contractor Lockheed Martin got a direct line to the County Executive to express their offense. From the Examiner:
After months of lobbying by county peace activists, several members of the Montgomery County Council drafted a resolution calling for the Pentagon to drastically cut military spending and "end wars abroad." But that measure has been spiked after the county's largest defense contractor made its displeasure known and Virginia began courting that contractor . . . 
County Executive Ike Leggett asked the council to table the resolution because it is "a dagger pointed directly at the heart of Montgomery County."
Montgomery County has long watched the cranes rising over Tysons Corner with anxiety, openly wondering how it compares to Fairfax County and seeking to draw and keep large companies on their side of the Potomac. Aware that they can't beat the lower tax rates in Fairfax, MoCo works hard to show corporations that they're welcome here by throwing lots of incentives their way in a process that friend of JUTP David Moon compares to extortion.

Fillmore Sign
Live Nation is one of the large corporations receiving public money to locate in Montgomery County. 

And there are plenty of examples. Big-box retailer Costco will get $4 million to open a store at Wheaton Plaza. The county and state each put in $4 million to build the Fillmore music hall, which is operated by Live Nation. The county cleared four city blocks and closed several streets in downtown Silver Spring to assemble enough land for Discovery Communications to build its headquarters. When Marriott threatened to leave Montgomery County ten years ago, they got $44 million in grants, low-interest loans and tax credits to stay. Maybe Choice Hotels should've done the same: they received a paltry $4.3 million from MoCo, the state and the city of Rockville to move their headquarters from Silver Spring. (Meanwhile, Walmart just announced plans to open up in Aspen Hill without any public help at all, it appears.)

Lockheed Martin is perhaps the county's biggest coup: it's their largest employer after the federal government and county government, with 7,000 jobs, contributing $7.1 billion to the local economy each year. Nonetheless, they represent just 1.46% of the county's 509,000 jobs. By comparison, the 2007 Economic Census says that there are 8,000 employed in religious or non-profit organizations, 12,000 employed in "janitorial services," 15,000 employed in real estate, 23,000 employed by MCPS and Montgomery College, 26,000 employed in restaurants, 30,000 in "computer systems design" (which includes defense-related work, among other things), 48,000 employed in retail, and 54,000 people employed in health care (Adventist HealthCare and Holy Cross Hospital, the county's two main hospital systems, are among its ten largest employers).

Certainly defense spending is important to Montgomery County and Maryland, but not as much as it is in Virginia, which receives twice as much funding from the Department of Defense, according to this analysis from Maryland Politics Watch. But it's not the dominant industry in the county by a long shot. Not only that, but even if Congress spent more money on health care and education, the county would still benefit due to the presence of government installations like NIH, Walter Reed and the FDA.

Sensory Garden Towards Wayne Avenue
Montgomery County condemned four streets to provide land for Discovery Channel's headquarters.

The county was stung after pulling out all the stops for Northrup Grumman and Hilton Hotels, both of which are now in Virginia, and doesn't want Lockheed to do the same. But it should be clear by now that Montgomery's getting played. Everyone knows they don't have any say in congressional funding. But now that Lockheed knows Leggett got spooked their opposition to a symbolic gesture, they know he'll throw everyone and everything under the bus to keep them in the county.

Talk about a great bargaining position!

I enjoy Busboys & Poets and I agree with Shallal's argument that our federal government need not spend so much on blowing up foreign countries. Nonetheless, I think Andy Shallal's posturing is a little silly. As one of our intrepid commenters on JUTP's Facebook page pointed out, Shallal has a Busboys & Poets in Arlington, home to the Pentagon. And by threatening not to locate in Montgomery County unless they meet his demands, he's doing exactly what Lockheed Martin did. But unlike Lockheed Martin, MoCo isn't going to capitulate to Andy Shallal.

Which raises a new question: should Montgomery County be focusing less on a few large corporations, particularly those who work to blow up foreign countries, and giving more attention to smaller businesses who'd actually benefit from a few million dollars in aid?

fenton street market (2009-2011)

Fenton Street Market, May 22
Fenton Street Market in May 2010.

Fenton Street Market, which served as an outlet for artists and craftsmen, a stage for musicians and performers, a venue for civic engagement and a boost to the downtown Silver Spring economy, died today after a long struggle with bureaucracy. It was two years old.

Started by local resident Hannah McCann, the market has been located at Veterans Plaza in downtown Silver Spring since last fall. This past July, Montgomery County's Office of Community & Public Facilities, which manages the plaza, decided to charge Fenton Street Market their standard fee. As a result, the market, which is entirely composed of local businesspeople, would go from paying $48 a week for the space to $1,200 a week.

Ginny Gong, director of the Office of Community & Public Facilities, argued that the market was preventing other groups who'd pay the full fee from using Veterans Plaza, despite being in the space for just eight hours each week. "Concerns about fairness have been raised because the arrangement was outside the normal competitive process," she said. "Other organizations (both non-profit and for-profit) have not had the same level of access."

Not surprisingly, local residents were upset. Nearly 800 people signed a petition in support of letting Fenton Street Market stay in the plaza at a reduced rate. "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," wrote Evan Glass, president of the South Silver Spring Neighborhood Association.

County Councilmember Hans Riemer, who lives in East Silver Spring, sought to find a workable solution. "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," Riemer told JUTP in July.

The county responded by releasing a Request for Proposals (RFP) for public markets in Veterans Plaza, the details of which are explained in a post on Fenton Street Market's website. Among the requirements are that the market provider must agree to move if another event wants to use the plaza; they must pay for trash pick-up and employees to staff the Civic Building, even though they wouldn't be allowed to use it; they must provide a portable toilet (despite the presence of bathrooms in the Civic Building); and they aren't allowed to have food vendors. In addition, the county must approve any signs or marketing materials used for the market, along with having full access to their financial records. For McCann, that was the last straw.

The RFP's requirements are "at odds with a diverse, community-based market establishing a presence on the Plaza," she writes. "Fenton Street Market delivers a dependable, safe, and welcoming place to come together, and a homegrown authenticity that can’t be manufactured—or micromanaged."

Hannah McCann and Baby McCann
McCann and her then-newborn daughter at Fenton Street Market last fall. 

McCann, a writer for Architect magazine who lives in East Silver Spring, often walked past an empty parking lot at the corner of Fenton Street and Silver Spring Avenue and dreamed of opening a flea market there. After working with the lot's owner, Ulysses Glee, to "borrow" it each Saturday morning, McCann held a test-run of the Fenton Street Market over two weekends in the fall of 2009. "There are so many people here who do art," she told me at the inaugural market. "It's bringing our community together to show what we do."

The market was well received and returned the following April. When Glee began planning to build condos and a hotel on his lot, McCann approached Reemberto Rodriguez, director of the Silver Spring Regional Services Center, and Jennifer Nettles, then-property manager of the Downtown Silver Spring complex, about relocating Fenton Street Market to the newly-opened Veterans Plaza. Recognizing the market's ability to draw customers to the area, the county struck a deal with McCann to rent her the plaza during at a steeply reduced rate. 

Throughout its brief life, the market has been a boon to the local economy. An Economic Market Study conducted by the market's volunteer staff found that over 2,500 people visited Fenton Street Market each week and that its presence brought $1.9 million in added revenues to area businesses each year.

Fenton Street Market will be laid to rest on November 12, but a viewing of the 49-page Request for Proposals will be held at the market this Saturday between 9am and 3pm in Veterans Plaza, located at the corner of Fenton Street and Ellsworth Drive in downtown Silver Spring. It is survived by a weekly farmers' market and whatever else they have planned in the area. Condolences can be sent to hannah at fentonstreetmarket dot com OR ginny dot gong at montgomerycountymd dot gov, who didn't know how to leave a good thing alone.

Monday, October 10, 2011

occupy protests show potential of public space

'Commons Not Capitalism'

In front of Philadelphia's City Hall is Dilworth Plaza, a vast, empty public space that struggles to attract people, even though it's on top of a major subway station. Ironically, it's a few blocks from Rittenhouse Square, one of the city's and the nation's great squares. While the city plans to renovate Dilworth Plaza to make it more vibrant, the Occupy Philly protests (an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street) that began last Thursday are already doing the job.

Over 700 people are camped out in Dilworth Plaza, and when I visited Saturday afternoon, it had an air of organized chaos. There are people milling about everywhere, and like me many of them were just wandering around taking pictures. A wedding party leaving City Hall stopped to admire the scene, and a wedding photographer immediately starts snapping pictures of the bride in front of a group of protest signs. Another runs over to a group of skateboarders, kneels down, and says, "Show me your best trick."

Meanwhile, the protesters have set up first aid tents, information booths, and even a library. A tent city lies between two rows of trees. And the plaza's normally windswept open areas have been given over to a drum circle and a sort of Speaker's Corner, where a guy talks through a megaphone that America's thirty-seventh in education worldwide. "I wanna hear everyone say 'We're number 37!'" he yells, struggling to be heard over the honks of passing cars. (It's unclear whether they're showing approval or being overly aggressive and obnoxious, as is the way of Pennsylvania drivers.) Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter even made an appearance to show his support for a peaceful demonstration.

I really hope Occupy Wall Street and its offspring morph into an actual agent of change. I get frustrated that my generation hasn't found a common cause in the way our parents united around civil rights or protests against the Vietnam War. One idea my friends and I have kicked around is that we haven't united because we can't relate to each other. Even with the Fair Housing Act, many of our communities experience de facto segregation by race and class, isolating us from people who are different.

In order to come together as a generation and a country, we have to know each other first, and we need great public spaces to do so. If Occupy Philly does anything, it shows how important the urban realm as a place for expression and for gathering.

Friday, October 7, 2011

mulligan . . .

Let's be honest: you're probably tired of me writing about the curfew. And I'm tired of writing about it, too.

Much as I think it's ineffective and a way for Ike Leggett to appear "tough on crime" without actually doing anything (except for providing more cops in downtown Silver Spring, which not surprisingly is very effective), I know people have their reasons for supporting a curfew, even people I like a lot. Of course nobody wants to go out and worry that they're going to get stabbed. I certainly don't.

A few months ago, I was arguing with Reemberto Rodriguez about the curfew and he gently reminded me that people naturally get upset about the topic because they were "speaking from emotion." I've been to meetings and seen that emotion coming from curfew supporters, but I see it in myself as well, and I don't think I do my argument any good when I call people names.

After all, there are so many actual facts why curfews don't work. In theory, that should be enough to convince most people without attacking them.

I'd like to do my part and use this space to talk about this very emotional issue in a civil, constructive manner. I'd also like to spare y'all and try to find other things to write about, of which there are plenty. Come back next week and we'll talk about something else for the first time in three months.