Archive for August, 2010
I promised in my post about downtown Silver Spring that I also would film in downtown Rockville — at the same time, 9:30 p.m. on a warm Friday. My idea was to get readers to compare what happens in these two great spaces.
A couple of weeks ago my wife and I dined on the edge of the plaza, watching the many things that were happening.
Take a look at the two videos and look for the similarities and differences between the two downtowns. While Silver Spring clearly has a much greater diversity, Rockville surprised me.
Both had the wannabe break dancers. In Rockville, the dancers set up under the band shell, while in Silver Spring they bring their own mat and set up anywhere.
Both settings are anchored by a fountain, with lots of kids playing in them. Silver Spring, however, draws many more for this activity.
The textures of Rockville plaza are varied and interesting — grass, small boulders, pavers and wood. They challenge the senses of people seeking out a different space to sit or lie down.
A big advantage to the Rockville space is the residential upper floors that frame the square and create wonderful proportions. I think if the development of downtown Silver Spring was to happen today, it would have this type of mixed use.
The width of the restaurant patio spaces on the edge of the Rockville space is terrific, and provides a more organized feel to everything. And there is a greater variety in the shop fronts. Even the on-street parking adds a Main Street feel.
That said, the more informal, almost accidental activity along Ellsworth is pretty cool and offers a nice contrast depending on what experience people are looking for.
Who knows, maybe it even defines the character of the north part of the County vs. the south?
While I have a personal bias towards the Spring, living and working there every day, I am somewhat in envy of the Rock’s depth. Walk on any street away from the Plaza, and there is activity happening within one to two blocks in each direction. This is lacking in Silver Spring, with the exception of the walk to the AFI.
Maybe the performance space on the north side of Colesville Road will help, but an important opportunity to connect Fenton Village and the shops and restaurants south on Georgia Avenue was missed.
Checking out the parking garage on Wayne Avenue from my apartment across the street, you can tell when an action movie is opening. Last Friday, hundreds of cars poured into the garage. Heck, they actually reached one level from the top. I had only seen that once and I think it was the Avatar opening. But nobody, and I mean nobody, walked south from the garage into Fenton or down Georgia.
Recent new store and restaurant openings down Georgia are helping, and Jackie’s and the Quarry have their loyal customers, as does Highland Coffee on Fenton. But we have to improve the connections to expand activity along those streets. The new library will draw crowds, and as plans develop for Fenton Village, we can focus on these things.
It is terrific that here in MC we have such diverse places to choose from. Wheaton, Takoma, Long Branch, Kensington, Damascus, Darnestown, all offer something for everyone. We need to build on these strengths, focus on what makes these places unique, and promote our diversity to the region.
And we need to remember something I learned from a guy in St. Louis who revitalized an entire commercial street almost singlehandedly – it’s not just restaurants. There needs to be a mix in activity to ensure there is a reason for someone to be on the sidewalk all day long.
This is an exciting time to be involved with land use in the burbs. The boundaries between urban, exurban, suburban and rural areas are blurring as the connections become more and more varied. Transportation, services, communication, education, health, storm water, energy – think about all the things we use, see and do that are not defined by a geographic boundary.
This fall, we will kick off our annual speaker series to look in more detail at how we can connect the dots between such issues in society at large and, of course, in Montgomery County. Read on for more information and how you can help us plan the series.
Last spring, we held a speaker series based upon what I refer to as the elements of sustainability, nine themes that should form the basis for making decisions about growth.
The idea started to gel back in St. Louis when the HOK Planning Group and I were discussing how sustainable elements could apply there. Since that time, HOK has expanded the elements while planning new communities in India.
For our purposes, we can focus on the core nine:
These elements form the basis of our thinking and how we create the connections between them to prepare for a sustainable future. Take energy. “District heating” is common in older cities like Toronto and St. Louis, where buildings are heated through a network of underground steam pipes from a central steam plant. Very efficient.
In a new landscape, can we explore options for replicating district heating in a more efficient way using sustainable energy? How does this impact air quality – health, infrastructure, economy (costs for operating a building, for example).
That’s just one example of the interrelatedness of the elements – showing that land use is no longer only about land use. In our spring speaker series, we covered affordable housing, bicycle commuting, small-scale retail, new media communications and engaging the community. It was a thought-provoking series. (You can watch any of the presentations in our video archive.)
As we plan our fall series, we need your ideas.
We want to dig deeper into some of the elements to generate concrete ideas about our future. I invite you to suggest subjects and speakers based on the nine elements for the series. Post your ideas on this blog or send them directly to us.
We are working with the Silver Spring Regional Services Center to co-host the series at the new Silver Spring Civic Building. And as part of working with new media, our first session likely will be a Pecha Kucha evening, where presenters will have six minutes, 40 seconds and 20 slides to convey an idea to the audience. I look forward to your suggestions.