The Rules

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Where do you park your car? Of course, in front of your house. What would your neighbors say if you parked in front of their house?

How quickly do you shovel your sidewalk after it snows? Do you shovel your steps and the elderly lady’s next door?

If there is garbage on your street, do you pick it up, even if it’s not yours, even if it’s not in front of your house?

Remember why the big fat Greek wedding family was embarrassing? Not because they cooked a lamb on a spit (though that’s a little weird), but because they cooked it in the front yard. They broke the unwritten rule of suburbia, cookouts happen in the backyard!

The … Continue reading

Strange Maps

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Here’s some inside baseball for you—planners love maps. Mention letraset and T-squares to older planners and they’ll start squirting tears for the good old days and bemoaning the cold computer line.

Maps, no matter how they’re made, have tremendous expressive potential and we planners argue long and hard about their content and style. Everyone has a different idea about land use colors, boundary lines, and north arrows.

Here’s someone else who cares about maps and I think two of them are of particular interest to planning in Montgomery County.

Entry 441 is a map of San Francisco’s privately-owned public open spaces (POPOS). Montgomery County has its share of these and master plans recommend more. Will these public amenities, negotiated … Continue reading

Walking the Walk: Philly’s Northern Liberties Taken

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As I do every year, I took off my birthday yesterday (38 Special!).  This year I drove up to Philadelphia’s Northern Liberties and Fishtown neighborhoods to check out some architecture.  A developer called “Onion Flats” has been putting up some cool contemporary constructions, and I went to investigate.  What I found was that MANY developers are working on smaller and larger sections of these older residential communities, where the module is overwhelmingly the brick rowhouse, and every other block seemed to feature a new intervention.

Enter Liberties Walk, Tower Investment‘s mixed-use development designed by local architect Erdy McHenry, features a pedestrian-only walkway that runs for 3+ blocks.  According to Plan Philly, the 4-acre site accommodates 25 galleries, restaurants, and shops … Continue reading

Edible Estates

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We have a Greek cousin who tried to explain our front lawn to his friends.

“Do they park their cars there,” they asked?  “Do they grow food, do they sit there?”

“No, it’s just grass,” he said. “They don’t do anything with it.”

And when our Greek uncle built a little villitsa by the seashore, in true lord of the manor style, he fronted it with a lawn. But he couldn’t let the rectangular grass strip alone and planted shrubs right down the middle, a somewhat confused aesthetic.

In Edible Estates: An Attack on the Front Lawn , Fritz Haeg unpacks the front lawn—why are we mowing instead of growing?

In various essays, landscapers, designers, and gardeners point out … Continue reading

Beyond “The Mayor”: Fenton Village Character

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On the rare occasions that the words “architectural character” and “Fenton Village” are used in the same sentence, they are usually also joined by the words “lack”, “dearth”, and “paucity” (ADMIT IT!).  (For the uninitiated, the Fenton Village is centered one block east of Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring, north of the train tracks.)   These exclamations are not without foundation: Silver Spring Towers, Safeway, and 8120 Fenton Street are not doing the street any favors.  Nor do the converted and expiring bungalows and four-squares suggest a Village with a unique character (cf. Forest Hills Gardens, et. al).

But the dedicated observer (thank you!) will notice that, scattered about its ten or twelve blocks, Fenton Village has many buildings … Continue reading

Food Truck Update

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Los Angeles continues to encourage a street food scene with a street food fest. And though conflicts are bound to arise, there are ways to deal with them.

Suburban Food Trucks

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Mohamed Elrafal is a native of Egypt and a former antiques dealer who runs the Ali Baba Falafel cart at the Bethesda Farm Women’s Market. By allowing a complementary use to lease space, the market gains income to stay viable in the midst of redevelopment (the market is zoned CBD-1).

Elrafal serves falafel, gyro, and his mother’s recipe for ful medames, a traditional Egyptian street food of stewed fava beans that is so good, it will make you rethink your relationship to legumes. The guy is really cooking. His falafel is spiced with whole cardamom seeds and accompanied by distinctly seasoned red cabbage, banana peppers, and vinegary lettuce. It’s wrapped in a thinner pita than the gyros, which get … Continue reading

The Form of Georgia Avenue to Come?

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DC-based Division1 Architects are stepping up with some cool contemporary design on the Avenue in Silver Spring. Their ALC, Inc., headquarters building at the corner of Georgia Avenue and Ripley Street (just a few doors down from the new home of Joe’s Record Paradise!) transforms a shuttered Italianate-ish pawn brokerage into a multi-layered bit-of-the-other, with planes and masses sliding along and above each other and peek-a-boo window slot.

The use of the wood slats brings warmth to the crisp white brick and dark slate and adds a new color (no disrespect to the meineke or Pyramid Atlantic!) to the maroons and grays of the district. As it moves deeper into Ripley Street, the building also features the best addition … Continue reading