Hometown Holidays is one of Rockville’s biggest events and spreads out among several streets in downtown with artists, restaurants, music, kiddie rides, businesses, and local organizations. For a few hours today I joined the volunteers in the food ticket booth in a wonderful location between Oro Pomodoro and Bombay Bistro, two great Rockville restaurants. Oro Pomodoro brought their wood burning stove and prepared the pizzas next to me, which was fun to watch (and I ordered a pizza al funghi when I finished my rotation in the booth). Strolling the artists’ booth, I encountered Charlie Barton of Baltimore, who creates stunning silkscreened images that merges high contrast panoramic photography with the boldness of 1960s psychedelic art. If you collect contemporary art by local artists, he’s one to watch.
This Wednesday, May 16, I’ll be leading a tour of 20th-century planned communities for the American Institute of Architects’ annual convention. We’ll start with 1930s Greenbelt (one of a handful developed by the federal government to demonstrate how communities could be intentionally planned, not just haphazardly developed) and then visit two other nationally significant planned communities, both in Rockville: 1960s-70s New Mark Commons and 2000s King Farm. I’ll be joined by Dr. Elizabeth Milnarik, Dr. Isabel Gournay, and Jim Wasilak (Rockville’s Chief of Planning). By the end of the day, participants will have a nice overview of “community making” in the 20th century, all very different responses by some of the best minds of their times.
I love sharing Rockville with anyone who’s interested but unfortunately, this tour is limited to members of the AIA. But you can easily explore these neighborhoods yourself and if you want more details, Greenbelt has a museum in one of the original residences and Dr. Isabel Gournay at the University of Maryland has written a scholarly essay on King Farm (and Woodley Gardens) in Housing Washington: Two Centuries of Residential Development and Planning in the National Capital Area , edited by Richard Longstreth (2010). If you’d like a guided tour, suggest it to Peerless Rockville and perhaps they’ll put one together in the near future.
New Mark Commons and King Farm are hailed as idealistic suburban communities, but it wasn’t true of all neighborhoods in Rockville. In 1956, John Keats criticized the monotony and isolation of the suburbs around Washington, DC in his popular novel, The Crack in the Picture Window. He follows the lives of Mary and John Drone, a young family trying to get established. They move up from a small old apartment in northern Virginia and move to a new house in suburban Maryland, supposedly based on Rockville’s Twinbrook neighborhood:
[John Drone counted his blessings and said,] “Great. I have a wife and two swell kids, a new split level with everything in it, a new car with all the extras, and I got myself not one but three jobs. I’m meeting all my payments, every month.”
As for Mary’s life, the first few weeks were spent in the charming exhilaration which new surroundings always bring. Gaily, she explored the cellar bedroom which had been added to her domain. She liked the little thrill of going up two steps to the living room, and then up another two into the bedrooms. She was as happy as a squirrel in a new, three-ring cage. This light mood persisted through nearly two months, until at last there came that day when her new world suddenly became only too familiar.
It was the day she stood looking out her picture window and for the first time became completely aware of the picture window across the treeless street. For a horrid moment she stood there, staring. The she ran to her door and tore it open, looking up and down the block. And everywhere she looked, she saw houses exactly like her own, row on row of them, the same, the same, the same…
The “summer” farmers markets began this weekend in Rockville and Olney, providing a fun day for families and foodies alike. On Saturday mornings, the Rockville Farmers Market is held in the Jury Parking Lot at the corner of Jefferson and Monroe. On Sunday mornings, the Olney Farmers Market is held in a park on Sandy Spring Road and Prince Philip (about 3 blocks east of Georgia Avenue). Both sell vegetables, fruit, bread, pastries, cheese, meat, fish, flowers, and plants and there’s perhaps a 20 percent overlap in vendors. Olney is perhaps twice as large because it also includes arts and crafts, food, and live music. I like Farmers Markets so much that I often wind up visiting both and if you’re foodie, you can stay informed through my tweets on any new or unusual products I encounter. Right now, strawberries and lettuce are at their peak but you’ll also find early hothouse tomatoes and last fall’s apples.
The Mayor and Council just closed public hearing on the upcoming $65 million budget and about twenty people had comments (mostly community service groups, such as Community Ministries, Sister City, Jefferson House, Scholarship Foundation, and Bike Advisory Committee). Out of nearly 70,000 residents, that doesn’t seem like very many people and I’m not sure if that means that residents don’t care, don’t understand it, or didn’t know about it, but considering it’s all about how their money is used, it’s surprising. The public record stays open until 5 pm on May 17 so there’s still time to submit comments before the budget is adopted on May 21 (although some members of the Council admitted they are drowning in budget information).
As many of you know, I’ve had ongoing concerns that there’s been a trend that revenues aren’t keeping up with expenses and although the Council has so far kept those lines from crossing, it may be impossible to avoid in the next couple years without some serious consequences. Of course, the City can’t run a deficit, so that means either increasing revenues (typically taxes) or reducing expenses (fewer city services). No politician likes that situation because voters don’t like those options. We prefer an imaginary world of more services and fewer taxes believing it’s possible by following platitudes like cutting fat, working smarter, and thinking outside the box (and incidents like the recent GSA conference only confirm those feelings). What really happens is that politicians will avoid tax increases on those who yell the most and the loudest (usually seniors because they understand the system and have time) and cut services to those don’t complain (people who don’t understand the system or don’t have time, such as children, families with kids, renters, recent immigrants, and the poor).
For the Council’s deliberations on the budget for fiscal year 2013, rather than look at ways to cut expenses, I urged them to consider new or expanded sources of revenue to maintain and enhance existing city services (particularly the parks and recreation, historic preservation, and public art programs) that make Rockville a distinctive place to live and work. Of course we need good roads, a responsive police department, regular trash pickup, and clean water–those are basics but they don’t make Rockville distinctive and prevent the monotony that’s so much the norm of suburban living. A comparison of the top five revenue sources among the city, county, and state suggests Continue reading →
On May 3, 2012, Councilmember Bridget Newton joined the the quarterly Rockville Community Coalition meeting at the Unitarian Universalist Church to discuss various issues facing the City of Rockville, including:
Charter Review Commission: she supports opening the commission membership to applications from citizens and at the last Council meeting it was decided that each Councilmember could appoint one person and that together they would appoint another five, plus the Mayor would appoint the Chair. She doesn’t have any problems with the current charter, although she noted that a few years ago there were some discussions about whether to continue the Manager-Council form of government, but she had no issues with that. She also had no preconceived outcomes, such as a 7-member council, and wants the commission to be an independent group who would do their own research. She’s committed to holding a referendum on any changes to the Charter before Council makes a decision.
Council conflicts: she stated that her goal is to work together and there would no major/minority divisions. It’s not productive to have a divided Council and she looks forward to more 5-0 votes. Newton mentioned that when she first moved to Rockville, it seemed that despite the diverse perspectives and opinions, people got along but now discussions seem to be mean-spirited. She would like things to Continue reading →
Get to know your city a bit better through the upcoming Homes and Hospitality Tour on Saturday afternoon, May 12. Peerless Rockville organizes this special one-day exploration of a neighborhood every two years, and this year’s focus is East Rockville. Most people don’t realize that this neighborhood east of the tracks not only has one of the densest collections of historic houses, but also some award-winning contemporary homes. Once directly connected to downtown Rockville via Baltimore Road, after the streets were rerouted in the mid-20th century, East Rockville became hidden and forgotten, with many of the houses being cut up into apartments or falling into disrepair. During the last couple decades, however, young couples and entrepreneurial investors saw the potential of this derelict neighborhood and began restoring the historic houses or building new ones on rare empty lots. Interest in this neighborhood continues to grow given its long history, its architectural diversity, and its proximity to Metro, MARC, and downtown.
The Tour includes six different places to visit at your own pace and in any order: three historic houses, two modern houses, and one public building. All have remarkable stories (one of the first electrified houses in the city, another linked to a typhoid epidemic, and another that stands on a former “laboratory to prepare for Armageddon”–wow!) and by exploring them together, you’ll leave with a new appreciation for your community and be inspired by the care of your fellow residents (several have won awards). Unlike most home tours, however, the event is staffed by many community leaders (so you may greeted by your Mayor, Police Chief, or State Delegate), many local restaurants provide refreshments (such as Carmen’s Ice Cream and Tower Oaks Lodge), and music is provided by local artists and students. For $25, it’s a bargain for a special afternoon in your own town (and a great gift for Mother’s Day!) but if you buy in advance or if you’re a Peerless Rockville member, you can get a discount of up to 25% off. Get your tickets in advance at PeerlessRockville.org or on the day of the event at the Pump House at 401 South Horner’s Lane.
When Rockvillians are looking for live music, their tendency is to look south towards Silver Spring, DC, or, heavens! across the Potomac. Well, those are great places–who can argue with the concerts at the Kennedy Center, The Fillmore, 9:30 Club, Wolftrap, or the Birchmere. But there are plenty of great places for seriously good music in and around Rockville if you know where to look and when to show up. In no particular order, here’s my list of concert venues and presenters of good live music:
- The Institute of Musical Traditions may be based in Takoma Park but it holds a concert series of Celtic, folk, bluegrass, and Creole music at St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church (they call it Rockville, but it’s south of White Flint on Old Georgetown Road, so perhaps North Bethesda or South Rockville). Takes a break during the summer. Tickets run $15-20.
- Unplugged on the Rooftop, a Tuesday night concert series in Town Square featuring a mix of established and undiscovered local bands, such as The Digits and Meredith Seidel. Admission free, cash bar.
- Wine Down is a Thursday night series from June through August that features live acoustic music while sampling wine and food from the nearby restaurants. Free.
- Friday Night Live starts the weekends from May through September with free outdoor concerts (mostly rock from the 80s and 90s) in Rockville Town Square on Friday nights.
- Focus Music presents concerts of acoustic traditional and contemporary folk music at three locations around DC, including the Unitarian Universalist Church in Rockville.
- Folk ‘N Great Music hosts intimate house concerts every other month on a Saturday evening (yup, in houses around Rockville and it’s the very first unionized house concert series in the US). Next concert in June. Reservations required, donations encouraged.
- Maryland Summer Jazz Festival, now in its eighth year, includes public concerts and a jazz camp in July. Not exactly sure of the location but I suspect it’s somewhere in the south end of Rockville judging from the list of sponsors.
- Rockville Concert Band, Potomac Valley Youth Orchestra, and other musical groups perform at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theater in Rockville’s Civic Center Park throughout the year. Admission fees vary and most recommend reservations.
- Also in Civic Center Park, Glenview Mansion hosts monthly concerts on Sunday afternoons in its conservatory. Admission free.
- Music Center at Strathmore is certainly of the region’s crown jewels and just ten minutes from my house. It has two venues: the large new concert hall and the intimate music room in the historic mansion. Both present amazing performances by some of the leading artists in the country as well as being a home for the National Philharmonic (Rockville’s own Piotr Gajewski is conductor), Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and Washington Performing Arts Society.
- Hometown Holidays, a regional event hosted by the City of Rockville, takes place over Memorial Day weekend with something like forty free concerts on eight stages (this year’s headliner is country singer Easton Corbin), along with lots of food, craft booths, and of course a parade.
Wow, there’s plenty here in Rockville to keep your feet tapping all year but I’d love to make it a dozen. If I missed a local concert venue or presenter (local means within two miles of the Red Brick Courthouse), please share it in the comments below.