Wednesday, October 9, 2019

after 15 years, downtown silver spring is getting a big update

A lot of things happened in the summer and the fall of 2004, when I was starting my senior year of high school. What sticks out most is the night in August I stood with three of my closest friends at the entrance of a new parking garage in downtown Silver Spring, yet to open, daring each other to go in.

The plaza on Ellsworth Drive will be totally rebuilt, including the removal of the popular "splash pad." Image from Foulger-Pratt.
The concrete was still clean and smooth as we strode up the big ramp, our voices bouncing around seven empty floors as we ascended. At the top of the garage, we walked out onto the sun setting over the then-brand new development called Downtown Silver Spring: a 20-screen movie theatre, a Whole Foods, a hotel, a brightly-colored tile plaza with a fountain.

It felt especially surreal for the 16-year-old me, having lived in little-D downtown Silver Spring, land of boarded-up buildings and empty storefronts, until 5th grade. Now there were signs saying “Silver SprUng” (as in, Silver Spring had “sprung”) and even a TV commercial.

At the moment, the only sound came from some whirring generators in a corner by the elevator that would take us back down, and my friend Sean looked over his shoulder as he slid over, unzipped his pants, and took a piss. We had christened this place and made it ours.

Fast forward 15 years

A few weeks ago, at 31, I sat in a crowd of about 50 people in the Silver Spring Civic Building listening to Bryant Foulger of Foulger-Pratt, the developer who built Downtown Silver Spring, explain how he was going to renovate the place. Foulger-Pratt and property manager Peterson Companies will bring in new tenants like wine bar Locavino and bowling alley The Eleanor; commissioned murals by DC creative agency No Kings Collective, and will permanently close part of a parking lot and the development’s spine, Ellsworth Drive, to cars.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

we moved to rockville pike and if you're surprised by that, I am too (13 years of JUTP)

Today marks 13 years since I started writing a blog about Silver Spring and East County. And until recently if you'd told me that I would move out of Silver Spring, I wouldn’t have believed you. I grew up there, I moved back there as an adult, I bought a home there, I work there, and I even helped start a neighborhood association there. Now, if you’d told me that my partner and I would move to North Bethesda - well, I definitely wouldn't have believed you.

rockville pike rainbow
Home, for now. All photos by the author.
So last November, we signed a lease for an apartment off Rockville Pike. It’s been a real learning experience! Let’s break it down:

Monday, June 17, 2019

here's what montgomery county planning board candidates think

Next week is the biggest election in Montgomery County you can’t vote for. County Councilmembers will vote to appoint new members to the Planning Board, which oversees parks, reviews development proposals, and creates long-term transportation plans. Here’s what each of the candidates have to say about the big issues facing the county.

Two Bicyclists on Woodglen Cycletrack
Bicyclists on Woodglen Drive in White Flint. Photo by the author.
There are two seats coming up for a vote this month. One is for the chair, who serves full-time and basically sets the agenda for the Planning Board. It looks like the County Council will probably reappoint Casey Anderson, a longtime bicycle advocate who’s been chair since 2015 and served a term on the board before that. County Executive Marc Elrich says he’s “not a fan” of Anderson and can veto the council if they reappoint him, but insists he won’t interfere.

The other opening is to replace Norman Dreyfuss, a developer from Potomac who’s stepping down due to term limits. The council picked six finalists (out of 24) to succeed him, and interviewed them last Thursday, which you can watch online. Those six finalists also filled out questionnaires from the Montgomery County Sierra Club, and five of them participated in a forum hosted by the LGBTQ Democrats of Montgomery County (which I livetweeted). The candidates have some pretty big disagreements on how the county should grow, and the Planning Board's role in that.

Most candidates prefer transit over more highways

The biggest transportation fight in Montgomery County right now is Governor Larry Hogan’s plan to widen the Beltway and 270, adding up to four toll lanes. Most Planning Board candidates say they’d oppose giving up part of Rock Creek Park and several other county parks in the Beltway’s path, which could hold up the project.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

these 1970s plans show the silver spring that could have been

Today, many people might think of Silver Spring as a pretty prosperous place, with a steady stream of restaurant openings, cranes everywhere, and busy sidewalks. But not that long ago, Silver Spring’s future was highly in doubt. These 1970s-era plans from Montgomery County show just how far we’ve come.

We don't do graphic design like we used to in the 1970s. All images from the author’s collection.

During the mid-20th century, Silver Spring emerged as one of the region’s first suburban downtowns. It’s home to one of the nation’s first strip malls, built in 1938. Hecht’s department store opened its first location outside of DC here in 1947, and other retailers like JCPenney soon followed.

It wouldn’t stay on top forever. The opening of Wheaton Plaza in 1959, the Capital Beltway in 1964, and new suburban developments further out attracted people who could afford to move away, leading to waves of white flight. By the 1970s, Silver Spring inside the Beltway was losing population, and much of downtown was boarded-up and vacant. Several local schools closed due to falling enrollment; by the late 1970s, MCPS was planning to close Montgomery Blair High School.

However, there were also positive signs. The area had a growing minority and immigrant population, who were opening businesses and restaurants that attracted people from across the Washington region. The Silver Spring Metro station opened in 1978, and anticipating the people it would bring, developers built offices, apartments, and hotels around it.

Meanwhile, the Montgomery County Planning Department was working on “master plans” for downtown and adjacent neighborhoods, in the hopes of keeping people from fleeing for the suburbs. Some of the ideas in these plans are things we’d do today, while others might seem really strange. And since some neighborhoods were doing better than others, the county’s approaches for them varied widely as well.