It was a beautiful day to explore New Mark Commons, the exceptionally well-designed mid-century neighborhood west of downtown Rockville. Hosted by Peerless Rockville, a standing-room only crowd of about 60 people gathered in the Clubhouse to hear an illustrated lecture by Dr. Isabel Gournay of the University of Maryland. Rose Krasnow, a longtime resident and former administrator of New Mark Commons, provided the introductory remarks. Afterwards, about half the group walked the neighborhood to visit a single-family house on Radburn and a townhouse on the lake–plus a surprise invitation to visit a second townhouse. Two more neighborhoods will be visited in the next month–the Americana Centre and King Farm–so if you’d like architecture and local history, these are a perfect way to enjoy both.
In a series of illustrated presentations and walking tours this spring, Peerless Rockville will explore several of Rockville’s modern neighborhoods, including Twinbrook, New Mark Commons, and King Farm.
Free and open to the public, the series will highlight five neighborhood communities from the early postwar housing boom to mid-century planned development to the “new town” movement popular at the end of the century. The series will culminate in an evening lecture and panel discussion at Rockville City Hall on the factors that influenced modern development, the significant elements of each time period, and the special features of each community that have contributed to its success and left lasting imprints.
The schedule for the upcoming series:
Building Houses, Creating Community: Joseph Geeraert and Twinbrook, featuring professor Dr. Richard Longstreth of George Washington University, Saturday, March 23, 10 am at the Twinbrook Community Center Annex.
Woodley Gardens: A Traditional Red Brick Neighborhood with a Modern Feel, featuring Continue reading →
It’s been a month since the powerful thunderstorm–a derecho to be specific–knocked out power to most of Rockville and the Mid-Atlantic. But let’s call a spade a spade–it was a massive power outage, a blackout, during the hottest days of summer. Most lost power for days, some for a week. As we discovered, if you lose the internet, you’re back in 1979; if you lose electricity, you’re back in 1879. Anger boiled over in the days that followed, but now it seems nearly forgotten. Before our memories fade, what did we learn? Here’s my list, culled from talking with neighbors, reading the newspapers, and scanning the listservs:
1. Pepco doesn’t know your power is out unless you tell them. Don’t assume they have some fancy computer system that notifies them automatically that you’ve lost power, assume that your neighbor has called, assume it’ll fix itself, or assume that they’re busy and you don’t want to trouble them (poor dears!). Call them at 877-737-2662. Write this number down and put it on your fridge–another power outage will occur and you’ll want this handy. Many people said they called but Pepco thought their power had been restored, so call daily to ensure they have the correct information. David Greene noted that he used his mobile phone to, “monitor the Pepco outage map, and they marked our power as restored several times during the week when it was not actually restored. I called them many times to get us back on their map.”
2. Pepco prioritizes work based on the number of outages. That makes sense–first tackle the jobs that will benefit the most people–if they have the correct information. But if you and your neighbors don’t call Pepco, they will assume everything is okay (see #1 above). You might want to visit your neighbors and check to see if they’ve called.
3. If you have FIOS, your “landline” phone won’t work. How disappointing to have the latest technology and discover it’s useless in a power outage. My FIOS system came with a battery backup, but Continue reading →
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…
This Saturday, April 21, from 10 am to 12 noon, join Peerless Rockville for a tour of The Alaire at Twinbrook Station, the beginning of a significant, New Urbanist community called Twinbrook Station being developed by the JBG Companies and WMATA. It’s the first Gold Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) plan in the Washington metropolitan area, has been designated a Smart Growth project by the Washington Smart Growth Alliance, and received the International Charter Award for Excellence from the Congress for the New Urbanism. So if you want to know what all the fuss is about, staff from JBG will discuss their approach to development around a transit station, view an apartment, and find out more about their future plans and on-going projects, both at Twinbrook Station and on adjacent properties. Tour starts at 10 am at 1101 Higgins Place (the entrance to the Alaire apartments) and costs $7. Space is limited and reservations are recommended. Two-hour free parking in the Alaire garage (and the adjacent Metro lot is free on weekends). For more information, please visit PeerlessRockville.org or call 301-762-0096.
And just in case you didn’t catch my previous tweets, it appears that the nearby Walmart project at the Rockville Pike and Bou Avenue has been temporarily postponed: Bagel City recently signed a two-and-a-half year lease. A few doors down, the Office Depot is closing but it’s unrelated to future developments of the site (btw, everything is on sale at 10-30% off but is non-returnable).
In other related news, a couple of Rockville’s communities will enjoy national attention in May when I co-lead a tour of New Mark Commons and King Farm for the annual convention of the American Institute of Architects. We’ll be looking at cutting-edge planned communities in Montgomery County, starting with 1930s Greenbelt and ending with the 21st century King Farm. Lunch will be in Town Square, which has turned up as the poster child for the Congress for the New Urbanism. If you thought Rockville was just a little sleepy suburb, it’s time to change your mind.