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Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Years Resolution

With the new decade upon us, I have decided to make on very important New Year's resolution: Eat at fewer chain restaurants. Recently I've been discovering local hole-in-the-wall joints like Dumm's in Riverdale Park. Want a decent half-smoke but you're in Silver Spring? Try Quarry House Tavern. When i'm hankering for a sub at work in College Park, do I go to Subway, Potbelly's or Quiznos? How about Jungle Grille on Route 1 instead? Need a quick late-night meal in South Arlington? Try Bob and Edith's Diner.

Apart from the fact that you are likely to get much better customer service and more/better food for the dollar at locally owned establishments like these, they keep money in the community. Panera might be great, but nothing beats the sandwiches at the Parkway Deli in Silver Spring.  And better yet, the define a sense of culture unique to a very small area, like my old haunt the Corner Pub in Four Corners, or the Stained Glass Pub in Glenmont.

The punk rocker in me likes to think that I am keeping my hard earned cash out of the pockets of "the man", but the fact of the matter is it is an economically sound decision, and it enriches my sense of local culture. Ben's Chili Bowl on U Street is a hyperbolic example of how a food restaurant can capture the character of a neighborhood. Some places are late night joints for bargoers, like Tastee Diner in Silver Spring and Bethesda and Steak and Eggs in Tenleytown. And what UMD student has never spent a late Saturday night at Plato's Diner?
Plato's Diner in College Park. Photo from flickr by Steve Snodgrass

I tend to move about the entire region so if anyone has a favorite watering hole, lunch counter, or grease pit that's not of the ilk of McDonalds, Chipotle, TGI Fridays, or Panera, by all means share with me and the rest of our readers. So for one of your resolutions this new year, I encourage you to forgo Starbucks for your morning coffee, and instead patronize a more local institution and keep the money flowing around your neck of the woods.

And of course, Happy New Year, DC!!!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Snow Emergency: Don't Walk

Having experienced many of my Christmases as a youth in Buffalo, I'm generally nonplussed by big snow storms. This one has confined me to my house, however, and I've been watching the madness unfold on News Channel 8, where they are warning us not to venture outside our houses if we don't have to do so.

Route 1 in Laurel, taken from the front of the Greene Turtle. Plenty of cars were out despite warnings, making pedestrian conditions hazardous. Photo by the author.

Generally, that's very good advice. However, they were showing footage of pedestrians crossing streets and dismissing it as wildly dangerous behavior because, hey, cars gotta use those streets! Certainly driving conditions merit warnings, but why are we chiding the pedestrians instead of the people driving non-emergency vehicles? How are pedestrians expected to stay out of the streets when public services are focusing efforts on clearing roadways while ignoring sidewalks?

Prince George's County Executive Jack Johnson declared a state of emergency because so many county residents failed to heed warnings not to drive. I saw a few of those obstinate drivers on my walk to the Safeway in my neighborhood... which of course was closed. In fact, the only things open in Laurel Lakes Shopping Center were a nail salon (?) and a liquor store. Eventually I found an open 7-11, but suffice to say there was a lack of healthy diet staples. The proprietor, Pankaj, had walked to his store this morning to make sure Laurel Lakes could at least purchase Hot Pockets and yogurt smoothies if nothing else. This really made me wish my neighborhood had live-work units. Not to mention sidewalks.

Despite my lack of healthy food, open shops, and decent pedestrian facilities, at least I wasn't threatened with a gun during a snowball fight. A public gathering in the public realm at 14th and U NW was broken up because... wait for it... a car was hit by a couple of snowballs. The man brandishing the weapon was an off-duty policeman. The message: People don't matter in a snow emergency. Cars do.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

PG Stands for Poor Growth

Now, I like to stick up for my county. I believe that in many ways, Prince George's County has been dealt the short end of the smart growth stick. But the fact is that the county government isn't even trying, and it seems that any smart, transit oriented growth that does occur happens by accident or coincidence.

What puts me over the edge was this Washington Post article in Greater Greater Washington's Breakfast Links. A concrete plant has been approved near Sheriff and Cabin Branch Roads near Fairmount Heights.The Post article points out the multitude of other industrial plants near this site, surrounded on all sides by middle class residential zoning. GGW highlights this concentration, pointing out that the region in majority black. Pushing around non-wealthy minorities is not a new thing Prince George's County.

Cheverly Metro Station. Photo by Genista from Flickr

But what the Post doesn't point out is that the site where this concrete plant has been approved is less than a mile from Cheverly Metro station, one of the most underused stations on Metro. And it's on the same side of US-50 as the Metro station, meaning that useful growth could potentially occur in that area if Prince George's County wasn't treating it as a dumping ground for undesirable industry. It's a location inside the Beltway with easy access to the city and multiple forms of transit, including two Metrobuses that directly serve the site, five Metro stations within two miles (Cheverly, Landover, Deanwood, and Capitol Heights, and Addison Road-Seat Pleasant), and an Amtrak and MARC station at New Carrollton under three miles from the site. This is not the first, but only the latest controversy where PG County has throw its citizens under the bus and tried to drop an industrial plant in residential areas near Metro stations.

This site could be used for transit-oriented development at Cheverly station. It could be a crossroads between Cheverly and Capitol Heights. Instead it is home to an asphalt plant, a recycling transfer station, and a clay mine. And now, coming soon, a concrete plant. These uses would be far more suitably placed along US 50 outside the Beltway just a few short miles away, alas those areas have been blanketed with very low density McMansion developments. Byzantine laws promoting sprawl in PG will continue to force industrial growth in inappropriate places, including Fairmount Heights, one of the oldest black settlements in Maryland.

Prince George's County will not continue to prosper as it runs out of agricultural land while continuing to neglect its valuable inner ring suburbs. Transit investment will continue to be difficult to justify, making it more difficult to fund. And PG will continue to mean poor growth until the county's planning begins to take a look towards the future with regard to land use economy.