Wednesday, May 6, 2020

guest post: a silver spring's trip through (an article about) greenwich forest

Andrew Lindemann Malone is one of the OG Silver Spring bloggers. He grew up here, and as early as 2003 was writing about the then-early stages of downtown's revitalization. Today, he still lives here and offers this live reading of the Washington Post real estate section, known for its over-the-top profiles of the area's bougiest neighborhoods:

Screenshot from the Washington Post I tweeted the other week -ed.
For wanna-be urbanists such as myself, the recent Post real estate section article about Greenwich Forest, a neighborhood in Bethesda, is structured like a horror movie: You read through it and everything sounds creepy in a normal Bethesda way, but a shocking twist at the end upends your assumptions about the narrative. So to make fun of the article properly, I am going to quote the end part first.

Living there: The neighborhood is bounded by Huntington Parkway on the north, Overhill Road and Moorland Lane on the east, Wilson Lane on the south, and Hampden Lane on the west.

There are two listings on the market: a four-bedroom, six-bathroom house for $3.6 million and a six-bedroom, six-bathroom house at $2.7 million.

Last year, the average price of homes sold was just under $1.3 million. The lowest-priced was a four-bedroom, four-bathroom house that sold for $825,000. The highest-priced was a five-bedroom, five-bathroom house that sold for $2.4 million.

Ah, Bethesda real estate, full of large numbers. But nothing surprising here.

Schools: Bradley Hills Elementary, Thomas W. Pyle Middle School and Walt Whitman High School.

Transit: Greenwich Forest is served by several bus routes and is about a mile from the Bethesda Metro station on the Red Line. The nearest main thoroughfares are Old Georgetown Road and Bradley Boulevard.

Wow, so this neighborhood is single-family homes and so close to transit? I hope they are tightly packed to maximize use of our precious existing infrastructure.

Now, back to the beginning of the article:

At a time when many older homes in Montgomery County are being torn down and replaced by behemoth beacons of modernity, Greenwich Forest stands in stark contrast to the McMansionization of neighborhoods that surround it.

This small Bethesda enclave, composed of 94 houses, takes pride in its historic homes hidden among large oak trees.

These houses are not shacks. They sell for high prices and seldom go on the market. But the value of these homes is more than their square footage.

Yes! It’s the land! They’re going to talk about how to maximize this precious resource of land close to the Metro station and almost adjacent to the J2 bus! Or…

“When I saw Greenwich Forest, I was just taken with how charming it is,” said Christine Parker, a longtime resident who wrote a book on the history of the neighborhood. “I have more of a European sort of taste. I’m not someone who likes things big.”

I am sure all the four-bedroom, four-bathroom single-family houses are somehow not big, just like all the similar single-family houses that you can find in Europe, located a mile from heavy rail.

When the teardown, build-over mentality threatened to turn the neighborhood’s Colonial and Tudor Revivals into oversized villas and modern boxes, the neighborhood sprang into action. The Greenwich Forest Citizens Association applied for a historic designation for the original lots in 2011. […]

Now Greenwich Forest, first imagined by the builder and developer Morris Cafritz and architects Alvin A. Aubinoe and Harry L. Edwards, and built between 1926 and 1949, is protected by Montgomery County’s Planning Department and Maryland’s Historic Trust.

Such a Bethesda move to successfully petition the government to enshrine your aesthetic preferences in law when they are threatened by outsiders.

There are no sidewalks here. Wide roads curve gently around the U-shaped perimeter of the neighborhood, and people often stroll the sloping streets.

“You walk around, it still looks like you’re in the 1930s or ’40s,” [David] Schindel [,former president of the Greenwich Forest Citizens Association], said.

An idyllic time in our nation’s history for those people who were white and had money! More on this topic later.

Since the designation was granted, the drama over the neighborhood’s future has subsided.

“It’s been pretty quiet here, but that’s why people move to the forest, right?” Schindel said.

You live a half-mile from Old Georgetown Road. That’s not the forest. You live in an urban neighborhood with a lot of trees.

Greenwich Forest’s quaint setting is in contrast with its darker history. When the neighborhood was first marketed, the advertisements made clear not everyone was welcome, particularly African Americans. […]

“Sadly, restrictions by race and ethnicity through deed covenants were common in early 20th-century subdivisions,” said Kelly.

That’s awkward! Good thing we eliminated de jure segregation, which ensured the end of de facto segregation as well, right?

Even though Greenwich Forest now welcomes anyone who can afford to live here, its demographics haven’t changed much.

“We don’t have any African American owners,” Schindel said, adding the neighborhood attracts an international community.

So, I must acknowledge that it is impossible to tell from the article in what tone these remarks were made, and perhaps it was the reporter’s fault that Schindel appears to be contrasting African Americans with “an international community.” Nevertheless: OH NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

Greenwich Forest is an enclave for people who like historic houses and nature.

And who have boatloads of money and don’t mind not living near any black people.

“You don’t really need a huge house to be happy,” Parker said. “Better to have a place that has charm and is respectful of the Earth.”

I have never visited Greenwich Forest, so perhaps it is indeed charming. But here “it has a bunch of trees I like” is being confused with being respectful of the Earth overall. Rather than plopping single family houses down on huge lots near downtown Bethesda, thus forcing thousands of workers to drive ‘til they qualify, fouling the air and adding carbon dioxide to the upper atmosphere, we could raze this subdivision, pop in some damn sidewalks, and build garden apartments three stories high around the trees, creating attractive workforce housing that would result in many fewer car trips overall.

So here you have a neighborhood that was segregated at its creation and has preserved not only its layout and architecture but also its segregation to the present day; a neighborhood composed almost exclusively of million-dollar homes that its residents claim are modest somehow; a neighborhood designed for the emissions-belching automobile that purports to be environmentally friendly; a neighborhood where it would literally be illegal to knock down a house on an enormous lot and, I don’t know, build two houses, not just because of the zoning but also because the Montgomery County Council has determined that it would transgress our collective cultural heritage to do so.

In other words, Greenwich Forest is peak Bethesda.

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