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One of the first things I did when I moved recently was to find the local library.  When I lived in Rockville, I had gotten used to being able to walk to the Twinbrook library and was hoping that my new place was equally library accessible.  It turns out that Long Branch library is about 6 blocks away – across from my two grocery stores, bank, and various other shops and restaurants that I am beginning to explore.  If it hadn’t been nearby, I still could have used the Silver Spring library near my office, but for weekends – why take the bus into Silver Spring … unless I’m going to the gym….

When I got to the library, … Continue reading

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Fitting “contemporary” design into existing neighborhoods and development can be a tricky business, especially where the existing character is strongly defined and fairly uniform.  As new projects fill in holes in our more-developed areas of Montgomery County, designers will mount these challenges with greater and lesser success.

A good case study is the Split-Level House in Philadelphia.  Designed by local architect Qb, it has been featured in several design magazines and websites (including the fantastic  But seeing the buildings close-up and in context (which is often conspicuously absent in much architecture coverage) is the real test for how the design works.

So here’s the shot down 4th Street.  The height is in the right place, but I think … Continue reading

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The Coalition for Smarter Growth came out today with its Cool Communities report, that is, places that are mixed use and walkable, generating fewer auto trips and lower greenhouse gas emissions. The report has found a way to quantify diversity and local design, characteristics that are essential to community function and character, but often overlooked in more technical discussions.

Based on recommendations in the executive summary, Montgomery County seems to be doing a few things right—focusing development at Metro stations and making infill development and infill transit top priorities.

Another recommendation is to “create urban street grids” that support “walk and bicycle access to transit.” In Montgomery, all projects in most urban and suburban area include sidewalks, and outside urban … Continue reading

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Brooklyn continues to reclaim its waterfront for public use.  The Brooklyn Heights Promenade, perched atop the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, offers a delightfully open place to…promenade…and has great views of Manhattan (even in the rain).

The newest piece of this collection of public spaces will be Brooklyn Bridge Park, an extensive redevelopment of the Brooklyn waterfront south of the Brooklyn Bridge.  Pier 1, the only completed section, opened while we were there.  Our lads, while not tots, gave it a thorough going over.

Portions of the riverwalk had also been completed and were open.  With the rain that bedeviled our time in the borough, however, only park maintenance staff and people whose kids had been cooped up and needed exertion were about.

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Over the first rainy weekend of Spring Break 2010, lads in tow we trundled up on the Amtrak to spend a few sodden days in Brooklyn.  Having only really been to Brooklyn in a couple of three-hour sittings, we looked forward to digging the scene, as it were.  Our “Nu”Hotel, situated directly across Smith Street from the famous Brooklyn House of D (at left), is on the northern end of the Boerum Hill neighborhood south of downtown Brooklyn.

The streets were lined mainly with older 3-4-story brick walk-up apartment buildings and rowhouses, with ground-floor retail on the north-south Smith Street and Court Street (with the latter moving into the adjacent Cobble Hill).

As you would expect, the shops featured a … Continue reading

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The ReThink Montgomery speaker series began last night with a panel of five area bloggers discussing how they began, cultivated, and use their sites to disseminate knowledge and spark conversations. The panel, moderated by Community Planner Fred Boyd, generously gave us their time – when I’m sure they would have rather been writing – to talk about how individual sparks of interest led them to the relatively new platform of blogging as a value-added news and editorial medium. Like most blogs, these writers use their sites as collaborative spaces, political soapboxes, breaking-news outlets, and link depositories allowing people to pursue interests deeper throughout the web. What’s key to differentiating their sites from general topical blogs is the focus on … Continue reading

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Straight Line Blog Post

The Planning Department’s Rethink effort started last night with a blogger panel featuring David Alpert of Greater, Greater Washington; Dan Reed of Just Up the Pike; Barnaby Zall of Friends of White Flint; Cynthia Cotte Griffiths of; and Eric Robbins of

Two ideas in the discussion struck me. The first was Dan Reed’s passion for his community and the sense of justice that prompted him to start blogging. His reporting recounted Maryam Balbed’s some success in connecting the Silver Spring skater kids to the planning process through his blog. This is the kind of outreach planners know that must do to create a valid plan, but don’t always achieve.

Connecting to a larger … Continue reading

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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

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The updated version of Fritz Haeg’s book, Edible Estates, An Attack on the Front Lawn, releases today with a discussion at WNYC’s Green Space with gardeners and politicians. If you can’t make it to New York, maybe you can visit the Baltimore Regional Prototype Garden.