Karen Roper is a fierce advocate for the residents and small businesses in East Silver Spring. I’m happy to share her thoughts here.
"If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values,
we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities,
and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric,
one in which each diverse human gift will find a fitting place."
Montgomery County is known for its ethnic and racial diversity and its highly educated populace. The County leads the nation in requirements for affordable housing in an attempt to maintain some of its economic diversity. However, for all of its education and money, Montgomery County is seriously lacking in imagination when it comes to maintaining a diversity of lifestyles. The new CR zones were supposed to allow more flexibility for the developer to respond to the marketplace. In reality, Master Plans and urban projects are becoming numbingly similar – blocks of high rises with a coffee shop or a private community of Townhouses built in a circle to insure residents are separated and protected from the residents in the existing neighborhood. The new commercial areas are predictable facades of retail chains with streets controlled by private owners very similar to the 1970’s mall, but less accessible to innovative businesses and a diversity of experiences.
A few years ago, the Peterson Company employee who managed the downtown Silver Spring “mall” on Ellsworth Drive expressed her concern that the zero sum approach to development would limit and severely impact the success of their investment. She had the stores in downtown Silver Spring track the zip codes of their customers and what she found was an eye opener. The residents in the surrounding neighborhood – the closest and most walkable demographic - were hardly spending any money in the new downtown. Most of the revenue was coming from the Bethesda and Wheaton area. She concluded that if the rest of downtown Silver Spring (Fenton Village, South Silver Spring, etc.) was developed the same way as planned, there would be less revenue for everyone and the tens of thousands of the closest residents would be driving elsewhere. She was instrumental in advertising events in Fenton Village in exchange for Fenton Village advertising events in the downtown, reasoning that this might encourage patrons of the eclectic, funky Fenton Village to venture to the more predictable downtown and vice versa. She was right and the exchange of customers has grown as Fenton Village has become a destination for those looking for a more adventurous experience.
Residents have been somewhat successful in promoting more diversity of options in Silver Spring – preserving industrial areas and studios and artist housing - proving that it is possible for developers to make money while allowing some aspects of the planning area to develop organically and unpredictably. Fenton Village has proved that there is a market for a more “real” urban experience and is attracting the much sought after millennials.
Hopefully, developers and the County will get on board before they kill the vibrancy of Silver Spring and our urban areas become endless enclaves of sameness.
East Silver Spring
Karen Roper of East Silver Spring is a longtime advocate for the local business community and a driving force for Taste the World in Fenton Village, a restaurant crawl to promote the area’s eclectic mix of eateries. I’m happy to have Karen’s contribution here.
What makes independent local businesses appealing? Personal service, convenience and honesty are often the reasons given by patrons of these businesses. Customers cite the benefits of continuity and ease of transactions when using small local businesses. Owners, who overcharge, oversell, condescend to or who ignore patrons’ concerns, soon find that their customer base dries up. But there is often more to it than a simple market quid pro quo.
Fenton Village, a 12-square block area just south of downtown Silver Spring is home to 200 independent businesses -restaurants, cafes, spas, auto repair, markets, etc. Last year when a fire closed three of these businesses, the community rallied. Fundraisers were organized to help the employees who lost wages and to give the businesses whatever support the owners needed to reopen. People new to the Fenton Village area and some media were surprised by the magnitude of support and the financial contributions donated by customers and residents from the local community. Those unfamiliar with Fenton Village were having trouble comprehending this kind of loyalty and often asked me what it was that made these businesses so special. It was difficult to describe to those who have never experienced this kind of bond between business owners and their customers.
Zed Mekonnen, owner of Zed’s Café in Fenton Village, captured this relationship best when he told me this story last year.
A woman came into his café with a dog. She explained that she was a veteran and this was her service dog. She then asked if it was okay to bring the dog into the café. Zed replied, “Yes, of course.”
She had her meal and left. The next day she returned with twenty veterans, each with a service dog. Although Zed knew that it would be a challenge to accommodate 20 people and 20 dogs in his intimate café, he welcomed them with, “We will figure it out. Come on in.” Fortunately, it was a nice day so some of the veterans sat in the outdoor the patio with their dogs and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.
Two days later Zed received a telephone call from the Dept of Defense. The official wanted to know if Zed would agree to let the Dept of Defense do a film about him and his café which was so welcoming to the veterans. Zed said okay. However, when he relayed this story to me later he was perplexed. “I said yes, but I don’t understand what the big deal is. They [the veterans] are the community. It is the same thing when customers bring their children. My business is to serve the community whoever they are. I don’t expect the community to conform to my business.”
Thank you, Karen. And thank you Zed.We are a better community for efforts and attitudes like these.
Watching recent and imminent sector plans play out, I see the role of planning boards and elected officials, and wonder where residents fit in. I remembered an article written by Karen Roper of East Silver Spring Citizen’s Association describing how her neighborhood negotiated directly with a developer and with some horse trading, won a better design. Micro to Macro cooperation puts the effected residents right at the table, rather than downstream of county departments who may feel they ‘know best’. It’s easy to see how the egos of developers, or the needs of elected officials can turn residents into bystanders in the very places we call home. Read ESSCA's story below:
Click here: Including citizens in government decisions
I’m very proud of my neighbors for showing up at this week’s Planning Board meeting on the proposed Greater Lyttonsville Sector Plan (GLP). Residents and business owners testified on what they loved and wanted to preserve about their neighborhood. While many liked some concepts of the plan, the overwhelming majority came to speak out against the cost, a concession to accept huge increases in density. It's the latest in a one-size fits all mentality from the planning department. But with no plan to correct or even acknowledge overcrowding in schools, congested traffic and very poor road conditions right now, how can anyone think that doubling or tripling the households in western of Silver Spring is acceptable? Let's forge a plan for Greater Lyttonsville, before we wake up in Pottersville.
The Feb 11 GLP Public Hearing can be seen at approx 09:50:00 here
In the late 80s, I wore a button on my jeans jacket that featured Frank Sinatra and the phrase “It’s Frank’s world. We just live in it”.
In thinking about Real Life 20910, a Shakespeare quote comes to mind. “ All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.” In calling our attention to the drama that is day-to-day living, the Bard makes no mention of leading or supporting actors. We are all doing our thing, striving to make it work for ourselves, for our families. We can do this in many ways, but not at the expense of others. Seems like a simple rule. So if you find yourself expecting star treatment over your neighbors just think of Ol’ Blue Eyes. It’s not your world.