Monday, July 28, 2014

in white oak, the region's east-west divide becomes an urban-suburban one

The DC area has long faced an east-west divide, with more of the wealth going to the west side. Increasingly, investment is also heading to urban areas over suburban ones. For struggling suburban areas on the east side, the only answer is to take on more urban features.
White Oak Shopping Center
The White Oak Shopping Center. All photos by the author unless noted.

One of those places is White Oak in eastern Montgomery County, where the County Council will vote tomorrow on a plan to create a new town center. Local residents are eager to have more jobs and amenities close to home, but civic and environmental groups want to limit the amount of density in White Oak because it's several miles from a Metro station and roads are already congested.

But the kind of compact, dense development proposed for White Oak could allow residents to access jobs, shops, or other amenities by walking, biking, or simply driving a shorter distance than they would otherwise. It would generate less traffic than the alternative: more of the sprawling, car-oriented development that's currently allowed in White Oak, plus additional sprawl farther out.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

see the lives of physical therapists at walter reed in "run, don't walk"

Annoying commutes, scribbled-down phone messages, baked goods: it’s just another day in the office for Adele Levine. Her workplace is just like any other, except completely different. She’s a physical therapist at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, tending to wounded veterans returning from America’s conflicts abroad.

In her new memoir, Run, Don’t Walk: The Curious and Chaotic Life of a Physical Therapist Inside Walter Reed Army Medical Center, published this April, the Wheaton resident describes the final days at the military hospital in Northwest DC before it closed in 2011 and relocated to Bethesda. (You might remember her blog Life in Scenic Wheaton, which often covered the same material before she pulled the plug in 2009.) Through a series of loosely-connected episodes, Levine takes us inside a place that at once feels very strange and very familiar.

The real stars of the story are her patients, who carry not only physical scars but emotional ones as well. We spend a lot of time with Cosmo, a chain-smoking, foul-mouthed 22-year-old double amputee who sneaks off-campus shortly after arriving to catch a Metrobus downtown to see the White House. Levine doesn’t spare us any detail in describing their injuries or the long and disheartening path to recovery.

She also doesn’t hesitate to illustrate the often surreal experience of working at the nation’s premier military hospital, where regular visitors include famous actors and openly weeping congressman. Levine notes that the job has given her a unique perspective on the outside world, which especially shows in her side gig doing physical therapy for well-heeled civilians in Chevy Chase.

But Run, Don’t Walk is also a story about work, and all of the office politics that it entails. You don’t have to be a physical therapist in a military hospital to relate to stories about chatty coworkers or about half-baked office bonding activities, like one supervisor’s idea to take everyone on a day-long retreat at Mount Vernon.

It’s also a story about Levine’s own personal transformation, one that parallels what she does with her patients. When the story opens, she’s a directionless twentysomething whose classmate in physical therapy school gave her a datebook after being late one too many times, and forced her to update it. We see her fall on her face a lot, whether it’s in trying to motivate soldiers who saw their best friends get blown up, or a spontaneous attempt to renovate her condo in a weekend that culminates in stealing a rug from Home Depot.

But over time, Levine gains confidence in both her work and herself. It’s these stories, about Levine’s world outside the hospital, that left me wanting more. We catch fleeting glimpses of it, like her relationship with her ailing father, or a budding romance with the woman who’s now her partner, but only near the end of the book.

I can imagine how easy it would be to write about being on the receiving end of the War on Terror and ending up with either 300 pages of snark and cynicism or a political rant. But Levine manages to take what could have been a very heavy, difficult read and make it accessible and often quite funny. Yet Run, Don’t Walk still is an emotionally resonant story about a woman tasked with repairing others who ended up fixing herself.

Monday, July 21, 2014

mysterious signs appear around the silver spring transit center

While repair work continues on the Silver Spring Transit Center, the entire block around it remains roped off. Friday morning, big signs appeared asking to turn the space into a temporary park.

"Move This Fence" Sign at Silver Spring Transit Center
Photo by the author.
Six black-and-white posters hang from the fences around the transit center on Colesville Road and Wayne Avenue, reading "Move the fence? Let's use this space." On them are photos of different activities that could happen around it, like outdoor movie screenings, musical performances, and festivals. In the bottom-right corner is the hashtag #DTSS, meant for people to respond on social media.

Two Silver Spring residents placed the signs early Friday morning. They asked not to be identified to keep the focus on the message, not the act itself.

"The Montgomery County election has just happened, people have gotten reelected," they said. "This is an issue a lot of people ran their campaigns on, but not a lot has happened."

shepherd park residents tell car2go users from silver spring to stay out

While car2go is mostly limited to the District, more and more users live in surrounding areas, and often leave their cars at the edges of the city. One resident of an adjacent DC neighborhood warned car2go drivers to stay away in this note:
Photo by George Branyan.
Reader Roya Bauman found this handwritten note on a car2go in Shepherd Park, a DC neighborhood that borders Silver Spring. It reads:
This street is NOT a garage for these ugly little cars! Be more considerate. Do not park in front of a private home. It is rude and a breach of residential etiquette. We do not care what the owners of this car company tell you. You Silver Spring transients are ruining our neighborhood.
Car2go users can can park the vehicles anywhere within the "home area," which includes all of the District (except the National Mall) and two small areas outside of DC, at Tysons Corner Center and National Harbor. As a result, many people who live in neighborhoods just across the District line, like Friendship Heights, Silver Spring, and Mount Rainier, often park their cars in DC and walk home.

Map showing car2go vehicles lined up along Eastern Avenue between DC and Silver Spring. Screenshot from the author's phone.
It's not illegal to park in front of someone else's home, but whether it's "rude" varies from neighborhood to neighborhood. In denser parts of the region, where the number of residents exceeds the available parking spaces, cars belonging to other people might constantly occupy the curb in front of one's own home.

In low-density areas such as Shepherd Park, on the other hand, many people have come to expect that except for the occasional party, only their own family and visitors will park in front of their own houses.

Residential parking regulations stop residents of Silver Spring and similar border communities from parking private cars for long periods near the border, but car2go creates a new legal use that doesn't fit into the established etiquette as residents of those neighborhoods see it.

The ideal solution would be for car2go to expand its home area to include these surrounding communities. Company representatives have previously said they're planning to expand into Arlington and Alexandria. Expanding to closer-in parts of Maryland as well would allow car2go users to leave the cars in their own neighborhoods, and maybe even in front of their own houses. That's something that neighbors on both sides of Eastern (and Western and Southern) Avenue could agree on.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

casey anderson is montgomery county's new planning board chair

Montgomery County's new Planning Board chair will be Casey Anderson, a strong advocate for growing the county's urban areas and improving its transit network. The County Council voted 8-1 to appoint him this morning.

An attorney who lives in Silver Spring, Anderson has been a community activist on smart growth, transit, and bicycling issues, previously serving on the board of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. He stepped down to join the Planning Board in 2011, and can be seen walking or biking to meetings there. The council will have to find a replacement for his old seat.

Councilmembers appeared to rally around Anderson last week over four other applicants for the position. "Anderson comes closest to holding the vision I have for our County's future," wrote Councilmember Roger Berliner in a message to his constituents. "He is a strong proponent of smart and sustainable growth, served by world class transit. These are the key components of a strong future for our county."

Thursday, July 10, 2014

to turn cameron street around, one building owner put in fake stores

For years, the ground-floor shops at the Guardian Building in downtown Silver Spring have sat empty. To lure new tenants, the building's owner brought the space to life with fake storefronts.

The Arkin family has owned this six-story office building, located at Georgia Avenue and Cameron Street, for decades. But as owner Michael Arkin's health declined and he wasn't able to keep the building up, many of the retail tenants moved away, retired, or passed away. After a stroke a few years ago, his sons took over management of the building. "We had our work cut out for us," said son Devin Arkin, who grew up in Silver Spring but now lives in Chicago.

The sons renovated the building and commissioned an sculpture for the lobby of 1950s-era hardware they found in the basement. But they weren't sure what to do with its nearly 7,400 square feet of empty retail space until they read about towns in Northern Ireland who disguised their empty shops with murals depicting open, lively businesses.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

see "led zeppelin played here" for free tomorrow night

Tomorrow night, you can see Led Zeppelin Played Here, a documentary about the rock band's alleged 1969 show in Wheaton, for free at the AFI Silver Theatre. All you have to do is say you read this blog!

45 years ago, depending on who you asked, rock band Led Zeppelin may or may not have played their first show in the United States at the Wheaton Youth Center on Georgia Avenue. In March, the County Council decided to tear down the 1960's-era recreation center, which hosted a number of famous acts we can actually prove.

But the legend lives on in Led Zeppelin Played Here, a documentary directed by Silver Spring resident Jeff Krulik. Best known for his 1986 documentary Heavy Metal Parking Lot, set at the now-demolished Capital Center in Largo, Krulik interviews musicians, writers, and fans who were around at the time, but can't agree on whether or not the concert actually happened. It's an interesting look at the creation of local music scenes, which propelled rock bands from humble recreation centers to massive sports arenas.

This summer, the movie will head off to film festivals in Australia, Montana, and Los Angeles, but not before finishing up a one-week run at the Silver, including a showing tomorrow night at 9:45pm. Tickets are normally $12, but thanks to a gracious offer from the director, you can get in for free. Just mention "Just Up The Pike" at the box office!