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February 08, 2011


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That 'debunking' article is from the Cato Institute. They hate regulation on principle.


Where is that organic grocery? How can I have missed it all these years????
I would hate to see the character of this area disappear. The new Safeway turned out okay but I was worried for a while.


We recently got a Five Guys, a Chipotle, and a Greene Turtle in Olney. I love to go to Greene Turtle for good bar food and all the sports on a television in my own booth. A Harris Teeter is opening soon. It's been a while since we had the Olney Inn (which I miss a lot) and the Olney Store (which I don't--dark, narrow aisles, poor selection). If I had to choose, I'd take the way Olney is now. I always know what to expect, and I don't like surprises.


The problem (in my opinion) is one of scale in time and space-- e.g., Georgetown is big enough and has been around long enough that different parts of it can have different local histories-- you can rebuild the waterfront area while little shops on Wisconsin Ave. aren't affected. But smaller and newer urban areas will tend to be 'revitalized' all at once, in one fell swoop.

CF Oxtrot

Nothing screams "I live in a unique interesting place" like a series of chain restaurants and "landscape treatments" that can be found in hundreds of thousands of other places.

I'd like to see the euphemism "development" be restated as "blight."


Unique interesting places are fine, but I'd rather have restaurants I can count on and stores that sell what I need and places to have fun (I miss the Olney (movie) Theater) and a hospital. If you want unique, move to Takoma Park or Ellicott City.


My county begs for the table scraps from your town center blues.

Queen of the Weezils

If the market can support both, we'll have both. Certainly in this area there is no shortage of customers to keep all sorts of restaurants in business. If the mom-and-pops can't compete, they'll go under. If they are good, they'll thrive, like Mi Rancho in oh-so-generic Germantown. It's right across the street from the "Town Center" and doing just fine.

Vote with your dollars. Developers and restaurants alike are in it for the money and they will pay attention.


Ugh, I hate the developments and lack of authenticity. How can a mom and pop place compete against a mega corporation, whether it's a grocery store, clothing store, restaurant or otherwise? At this rate our country will be one big image of chain restaurants which is so sad.


It doesn't have to be all or nothing. I grew up in Frederick, which has a vibrant downtown scene with plenty of mindless chains on the periphery. Some even in the faux-urban design. You go downtown for one reason, to the chain restaurants for another. But everyone knows you'll get the best food and drinks and have the most fun downtown.

I'm OK with the new-urbanism design when it's replacing actual blight. But not such a fan when it's not. And the most important aspect of the new-urbanism design is walkability. Which, of course, walkability is walkability no matter who owns the restaurants and shops.


Your post was snoburban indeed.

Developers love it because that's what the market wants. Professionals under 35 (40?) prefer to live in a place where you see other people and don't have be stuck in car traffic half the day. Places where you can pay car expenses or not rather than being trapped into car slavery. Places where you don't really know the price of gasoline or an oil change because you don't ever purchase them.

They're popping up because so many real estate customers happily pay good money to live, work, and play in them. There aren't enough old urban place like Georgetown or Silve Spring meet market demand. That's why you're seeing more New Urban places. We spent 60 years only building one kind of housing product. That made a scarcity of urban real estate product. The new town centers are the first steps towards addressing the segment of the market who wants nothing to do with a car-dependent life.

On top of that, smart growth is more fiscally responsible for the government, has fewer externalities, and is better for the environment.

Not The Person You Think I Am

The choice is between Pre-fab and Fab.

I live in an insanely overpriced small town. It has a real town center - people sit on the lawn of the county hall at lunch time. (It tried a mall once, currently known as The Dead Mall.) We figured out long ago that we had to choose between chain stores and community, and made our choice. As a result, our smart growth plan includes providing support for entrepreneurs and encouraging small business owners to build into the density of the town center. According to the recent census, after greying for a decade, we're having a spike in young couples with kids moving in.

So, I agree with Cavan's description of what the market wants, but not how to get it. How are you gonna keep up down at the mall, now that they've seen a real community?


Do you seriously think a Macaroni Grill would set up shop next to Johnson's? Thats a big leap and it's not going to happen. The fact is that this nameless town you are referring to is a very small town. An old school cummuter town, bedroom community. And it's tiny commercial sector is in need of a facelift. There has to be a balance. The town center area tucked in the neighborhood needs some revitalization. Many of the existing small businesses you write about in fact need that influx of capital around them to prosper (i.e. survive) moving forward. There is nothing authentic about the portion of the town on the busy road that travels through it. Ok maybe the pizza place you refer to. It has a great history of serving the community and it's a cool little joint but don't forget that you can't really even walk there especially with kids without the genuine worry of being struck by a speeding car. This portion of the town is not the "place" you are waxing poetic about. That area is actually just an eyesore and dangerous because of a constant stream of cars driving North and South, stopping only to pump gas at six or seven beater gas stations or to stop and pawn off some gold.

Oh and it will finally be nice to be able to by beer (albeit warm beer )at the market. That's "place" in my mind.

CF Oxtrot

Doris, you should avoid lecturing people you don't know:

If you want unique, move to Takoma Park or Ellicott City.

I moved away from Your Valhalla, a/k/a Plastic Suburbia, or The Greater Washington DC Metropolitan Area, over 20 years ago. I saw it happening back then in Olney. That you prefer present-day Olney to the prior Olney sure says a lot about you.

I'd wonder why you are so frightened by life. I'd have a hard time going on day after day if I was so afraid of not having a Fancy Hospital or ChiChi Eatery within 5 driving minutes of my house, surely I would. I'd probably just pour a hot bath, climb in, and slit my wrists.


CF Oxtrot, I can't believe you would say something like that to someone you don't know at all. What's wrong with liking a Chipotle and preferring a Harris Teeter to an Olney Market? I probably enjoy life as much if not more than you. And considering that one of my daughters was born 1 1/4 hour after I went into labor, it's great to have a hospital nearby. And I lived in a quaint, unique town called Johnstown, PA, which has gone to hades in a handbasket!

The local planet killer

There is no community in the chain joints. The places with local owners are invested in your community -- they sponsor little league teams, their kids go to the same schools, their profits are staying in the community. When a Chili's goes in, those profits, along with all the inputs for the enterprise, are from and for some distant place.

I worry less about things being cute and unique than sustainable. I love pedestrian sections, but the "development" involved in these new faceless places is fundamentally destructive to the type of community that I want to live in. I WANT upscale and downscale choices, not just for me but for people who fundamentally differ from me. I feel like these chains are built for a demographic that is a bell-curve composite of everyone, but really fits no one. And don't fool yourself: it's not green for them to ship in frozen "beef" and battered beer cheese bread that was made cross country. Those "green" pedestrian sections full of chain stores are fed by 18 wheelers by the score.

Scale matters. Addiction to "growth" as an economy is a mark of imbalance and rentier profiteering.


Dear Snoburbia,

As I am sure you realize, you have opened up a real can of worms here, and all the fish are biting. Actually, you opened many different cans of worms at the same time, so I think it is hard to know where to start. In any event, I think you are correct that Kensington will be shaken to its snoburban core, and shaken in a way that, for example, Potomac will not be.

It is too late tonight for me to get into details, but even if there were no planned Town Centre as such, you cannot run away from your MARC station, you cannot undo the looming end result of BRAC, and you cannot prevent the (potentially meteoric) rise of Wheaton. I think there was little or no chance that Kensington could remain just as it was. That said, I don't think you will have to give up your bicycle parades, and even after they put a Trader Joe's in where they tear down one of the self-storage places I think there is already too much Kensington there for too many really bad things to happen.


Hi L - I liked your blog.


I also hate the lack of "authenticity" of outdoor malls and chain restaurants, and I try to support local businesses whenever I can, but I think that, sadly, we get the development we deserve (btw, is de Tocqueville snoburban enough for you?)


What to do?!? When we moved here, we were in an area without any chain stores, and I hated it because I didn't know where to shop. But I certainly don't want to live in a place that looks exactly like...every other suburban the world... We could have moved there, but couldn't bring ourselves to do it! It's a delicate balance between familiarity and adventure! Our small town in Indiana that we moved from had it about right...


Great post, Lydia. The new planned town centers feel like something out of "The Matrix"--artificially created environments that are perfectly pleasing to the vast majority of minds they serve but which nevertheless generate a vague sense of things not being quite right.


The problem is not new urbanism, or revitalizing an area that clearly needs it. (In my humble opinion, kensington really needs it.) The problem is bad implementation. Lazy developers coughing up the same old formula. Lazy planning department letting developers get away with it. Rather than fight revitalization, I recommend fighting developers/planning boards to ensure it gets done right, in a way that fits the character of the surrounding neighborhood.

Al Veerhoff

Has anybody ever been to Sedona, AZ? It's a beautiful but homogenized town. You see the first church built into the a hillside and you think how beautiful! and then you see a second church just like the first one. And the fast-food restaurants look just like each other. You wonder if there is a kind of Beautification Police, and if everyone has the same thought at the same time.
I like the bumper sticker for Pawley's Island, SC: "Arrogantly Shabby."

Thrift Store Mama

Hi there -

New reader. We have lots of mixed use development about 3 hours later than where you are (if you are looking at the clock). Luckily most of them took the place of vacant lots (rather than locally owned businesses) but the weird thing is that most of the retail space is empty.

Lady Grey

Are you kidding me? Kentlands is *exactly* the first thing that came to mind when you mentioned "Town Center". Ugh.

I've been gone from Olney for a year now and am glad to have moved away before its anticipated (or not) Town Center is built. I was happy that it had a California Tortilla (is it still there or did Chipotle put it out of business) and thrilled when Moby Dick came in, and I liked Roots (so much better than driving 45 minutes to a Whole Foods crowded with yoga moms). Despite that, I don't miss that Snoburb one bit.

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