Monday, December 28, 2015

here are 12 very silver spring things that happened in 2015

The revitalization of downtown Silver Spring has been going on for over a decade, but it seems like momentum has really picked up within the past year. No less an authority than Bethesda Magazine even called Silver Spring "Montgomery County's version of Brooklyn," noting all of the awesome locally-owned business that have opened here in the past year, from record shops to microbreweries.

Now I've been to Brooklyn, and I don't know if this is an apt comparison (though it's not the first time!). But it's pretty clear that 2015 has been a big, game-changing year for Silver Spring. Let us count the all of the people, places, and events that made it happen (in no particular order):

Denizens Brewing Company
Hanging out at Denizens. All photos by the author unless noted.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

high costs are a big reason people move away from cities. but sometimes, they just want to live somewhere else.

A lot of writing about housing in the District says minorities, immigrants, and low-income people are being pushed out of the city due to high housing costs. That's true for many. But even if DC were more affordable, some may not choose to live there. And that'd be okay.

A street festival in Long Branch. As suburban communities become immigrant hubs, more people move there by choice. All images by the author.
People decide where to live based on a variety of reasons, like housing costs, where they work, the type and style of housing they want, or schools. Another factor is cultural or ethnic ties: people may choose to locate near family or friends, faith communities, or shops and hangouts that serve their community.

This trend isn't new in the DC area. Long before the District's economic boom, the area's minority and immigrant communities had established roots throughout the region: Blacks in Prince George's County; Central Americans in Langley Park; Ethiopians in Silver Spring, Vietnamese in Seven Corners, and so on.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

silver spring's old police station could become new artist housing

Three years ago, Silver Spring neighbors proposed turning an old police station into artists studios. Now, it looks like they might get their wish, along with new housing for artists.

silver spring police station
The police station today. Photo from Google Street View.

Minneapolis-based developer Artspace wants to turn the old 3rd District Police Station on Sligo Avenue in downtown Silver Spring into artist work space, in addition to adding 68 apartments in a new, four-story building and 11 townhomes. Artspace builds artist housing and studio space around the country, including developments in Brookland and Mount Rainier.

In the proposal, a new apartment building would wrap around the old police station, forming an "F" shape. The lawn in front of the police station on Sligo Avenue would become a public, partially paved plaza, while a rear courtyard would give the residents private open space. To the east, eleven townhouses would sit along Grove Street, with an alley and parking lot in back.

The proposed plan. Image from Artspace.

For artists to move in, they need a place to live

Montgomery County vacated the 1960's-era police station last year after a new one opened in White Oak last year. In 2012, a proposal to tear down the police station and build townhouses met opposition from neighbors in the adjacent East Silver Spring neighborhood, which with nearby Takoma Park has had a long history of attracting people in the arts.

Neighbors and architects Steve Knight and Karen Burditt wrote an op-ed in the Silver Spring Voice saying that the building should become an arts center modeled on the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, and that the green space around the building become a community garden.

At the time, I suggested that the arts center idea would only really work if there were also artist housing, since people who make art for a living often have a limited income and may not be able to afford close-in, urban neighborhoods like Silver Spring.

The county eventually did reach out to Artspace, and officials announced the projectearlier this year. While neighbors were initially skeptical of any housing on the site, the East Silver Spring Civic Association unanimously voted to support this project.

mount rainier artist lofts
Artspace building in Mount Rainier. Photo from Google Street View.

It's great that neighbors are okay with building some townhouses here, considering how other Silver Spring neighborhoods fought building them. They're a great option for households who need more space than an apartment but less than a house— especially in Silver Spring, where most housing is either high-rise apartments or single-family homes.

We don't know what the units will look like on the outside, but hopefully they'll incorporate high-quality materials and be designed to look good on all four sides, since the backs of the townhouses will face the plaza.

Overall, the project looks like a great compromise. Neighbors get an arts center that allows them to showcase their work and some open space. Artists get studio space and housing they can actually afford. And the community as a whole gets a new gathering place in the form of a public plaza.

Artspace's plans will go to the Montgomery County Planning Board for review December 17.