Sunday, December 30, 2007

Maybe I didn't treat you quite as good as I should have...

The one thing I'll say about Bun Penny...

It should move to Oakland Mills.

With two cats in the yard...

Hey, look! My neighborhood gets profiled by the Washington Post!

In April 1972, Better Homes and Gardens featured the Pacesetter model home in Columbia in a glossy multipage color spread.

Focusing on its contemporary look, sliding-glass doors, interior courtyard deck, wall-to-wall carpeting and $27,000 price tag for a three-bedroom, two-bath house, the magazine presented the Pacesetter as the best in modern living for young couples on a limited budget. An even less expensive model featured two bedrooms and one bath.

Today, the single-level, 850- and 1,220-square-foot Pacesetter houses that line Encounter Row and the four courts that extend from it define the enclave and remain a distinctive alternative to the large Colonial-style houses more common in the region.
Both on the blog and in real life, I extoll the many virtues of my house at every opportunity, so I'll resist the urge to do so here (but you can find copious virtue-extolling easily in this blog's archives). 

However, I would like to reiterate a major point of the Post's story, one that Encounter Row resident and Oakland Mills village board member Phil Engelke and his house exemplify: namely, the ease with which these houses can be personalized has really allowed the neighborhood to evolve in ways that most suburban enclaves could only dream of. (By the way, Engelke really should win some kind of award for the amazing things he and his wife have done to their house.)

After 35 years of pleasant living, a neighborhood that started out with only two home types has become one where no two houses are the same. 
Single-family houses such as these would never be built today because they are too small and too unboxlike to be economically feasible, Engelke said. Now people build townhouses, which limits how they can adapt them, he said.

In contrast, Encounter Row homeowners have personalized the Pacesetters. Some have added large two-story additions. Others have converted the central interior deck to a sunroom or family room. Some, like the Engelkes, have added a foyer to connect the carport to the house and have turned the carport into a family room, study or studio.

"They're a canvas you can project yourself onto," Engelke said. "This house is not intimidating. It's easy to adapt."
Despite the supposed strictness of Columbia's covenants, individuality and personal style have managed to thrive in our little corner of Stevens Forest. And there is, I think, a lesson planners, developers, builders and, well, all of us can learn from this. 

Communities are dynamic places, shaped and defined by the residents who live there more than anyone or anything else, something many seem to know intuitively (or by way of Jane Jacobs) but may have trouble seeing in relation to the hyper-planned and -controlled environment of suburbia. 

Naturally, where this evolution begins is certainly a major factor in how the neighborhood evolves, and on Encounter Row, we're lucky to have started with small, affordable, adaptable, well-designed and thoughtfully placed houses. But the fact remains that construction, while the end of planning and development, is only the beginning of a community. 

Like grass growing through concrete, individuality will find a way to push through the built environment, no matter how seemingly impenetrable its design, and a community will flourish. If my neighborhood is any indication, perhaps that's something we should welcome.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Just nod if you can hear me...

It's that time of year…

The time when we get inundated with year-end lists. Last year, I offered two totally-made-up lists of awards (one, two)that each generated a lot of discussion.

But those were different times for me and this blog, times when pushing buttons was fun and (usually) without repercussions. Since I now try to avoid pushing buttons (at least, officially), a set of snarked-out awards probably isn't the best idea. Job security concerns shouldn't stop you, however.

So, here's your chance to generate some content on your own. (How's that for a sales pitch? "Do my work for me!") In the comments, let's see if we can put together a list of snarky, sarcastic or otherwise funny HoCo awards. Note: there's a fine line between this goal and meanness. Please try to avoid the latter.

Here are a few I thought of to get this party started:

Biggest Blog Letdown: Me, proprietor of two all-but-worthless blogs nowadays

Biggest Blog Surprise: Still can't say

Biggest Columbia Story of the Year: Strangely, the Poinsettia tree

Least Conclusive Columbia Story: The Tower

And…that's all I got for now. But if we get something going, perhaps I'll chime in again in the comments.

In case I don't get a chance to write again over the next week, everyone have a safe, happy holiday.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

I dreamt I saw you walking up a hillside in the snow...

Nothing like the regenerative power of snow to cure what ails...

The Husky's been a little slow to recover from last month's surgery. He's still very hesitant to use the repaired leg, largely, we believe, because he's kind of a baby and is just scared of re-injuring it. Our belief was all but confirmed yesterday when the maniac couldn't stop himself from running around in the snow yesterday. I know Marylanders are often conflicted about snow, but for the sake of my dog, who really needs to start exercising the leg more, let's all pray for a snowy winter.

In other snow news, Little Duke and I booked our tickets last night for the Big Sky Snowboard Extravaganza in February! Woo-hoo! I sure hope my sister's house is ready by then -- given the cost of plane tickets to Bozeman, I don't think we'll be able to afford commercial lodging.

Interestingly, Bridger Bowl, my sister's local ski hill and one of the stops in our southwestern Montana winter adventure, opens for business this weekend, the same weekend as our Big Three local resorts -- Liberty, Roundtop and Whitetail. The commonalities end there.

Hail victory...

On the way to the Ravens game Monday night, my friend (and blog tipster) came up with another idea: a comparison of the stadium experiences of Maryland's two professional football franchises – the Baltimore Ravens and the Washington Redskins (of Landover).

This seemed like a great idea. After all, how many chances does one get to attend two NFL games on consecutive days? Starved for decent blog content as I am, how could I refuse?

As I thought about writing this post over the past couple days, however, I realized I couldn't do the idea justice. In the span of 35 hours, I sat through two "est" games, both of which failed at providing a truly representative example of what most events at the stadiums -- FedEx Field and M&T Bank Stadium -- are really like. I would be comparing extremes that were, in some ways, opposite and, in other ways, painfully similar.

In case you live under a rock, the Redskins suffered their first real loss in quite some time when one of their best players was murdered over a week ago during a botched robbery at his house. There is nothing I can add to the Sean Taylor story that isn't just additional noise, so I won't even try.

Despite the emotions and the relative insignificance of it, the Redskins still had to line up to play their game on Sunday against the Buffalo Bills. It turned out to be the saddest sporting event I've ever attended. While Abbzug's the real Redskins fan, I still maintain a strong interest in the team of my childhood. And even if everyone's saying it, Taylor was one of my favorite players. For a fairly laid back guy, I tend to gravitate towards the football players that are ruthless on the field. Taylor, who leveled a punter during the traditionally easy-going Pro Bowl last year, was that guy for the Skins.

So, going to the game was a way for me and Abbzug to pay our respects to the man. As instructed, we arrived early and made our way to our seats for the pregame ceremony, which was far better than what I expected from a Daniel Snyder production. The band's slow rendition of "Hail to the Redskins", played as a dirge, was tremendously moving, as was the video tribute, and by the end of the 15 minute ceremony, I don't think a single "21" towel wasn't soaked with tears.

The game itself was good, right up until the last minute, when a painful series of events led to a Redskins loss that epitomized the idea of kicking someone while they're down.

In the grand scheme of things…I don't think it mattered if they won or lost. They played. They honored their teammate and friend. And the next day, they got up first thing in the morning and flew to Florida to bury him. The game's outcome changed nothing.

Nevertheless, from a fan's perspective, the loss sucked and just added to the sadness.

Undeterred, I made my way to Baltimore on Monday to watch the Ravens play the Patriots, who, in case you're living under a rock, have already been given the Lombardi trophy this year. I hate them dearly. I hate their cheating coach, their womanizing quarterback, and their totally insufferable fans, all of it. (I do kind of like Randy Moss, though – straight cash, homey!)

My only real hope for the game was that it would turn into a blow out by the half and I could leave early enough to get a decent night's sleep.

Instead, I watched the greatest game of football I've ever seen. I'm still so upset that I don't really want to talk about it, but, wow, the play on the field, the wind, the snow flurries, the crowd, everything conspired to make it an amazing night…except for the fact, minor really, that the Ravens, like the Skins the day before, lost in the final minute of the game.

Something about appreciating the journey and not just the destination seems appropriate here. But, as I said, I don't want to talk about it.

Anyway, in what is certainly the cruelest twist of fate ever delivered by the football gods, the Redskins play again tonight (Thursday) against the Chicago Bears. I know there's still a mother and father without a son, a bride-to-be without a groom, a daughter without a father, and a team without a brother – the sad reality that no game will change – but damn, it would be nice if something could go the Skins' way.

Welcome to the machine...

Some people are concerned about the Wegmans coming to Columbia and some of these concerned people have put up a website and sent out flyers to express their concerns and perhaps convince others to share in them.

Actually, cutesiness aside, Responsible Growth for Columbia's main gripe about the Wegmans is not so much the store itself or even its impact on existing grocery stores and village centers, but rather the shoppers who'll junk up our byways. They believe the store -- which, ironically, was praised as the epitome of "responsible development" by others in the past -- conducted a flawed traffic study and consequently proposed ineffectual traffic mitigation measures. I'm not going to argue either side, but if you want to hear my officially sanctioned take, the folks at RGC can, in a roundabout way, put you in touch with me.

I'm more interested in who's behind this fledgling group. Of themselves, their mostly-under construction website says:

We started out as just a couple of concerned neighbors and friends in the Owen Brown Village, and have grown to include small business owners, residents of Columbia from across all Villages.

Hmm. Anyone know anything more about them? I haven't seen their name anywhere except on their limited-run flyer (which didn't come to my house) and website-in-progress. Before you think this is some sinister attempt to silence critics of The Man, let me say that this is purely about my own curiosity and academic interest in the dynamics of community organizing and activism. Trust me, I don't care enough about Wegmans either way to get too wrapped up in it. After all, my grocery store allegiances are clear.

Anyway, what say you about the Wegmans? Good? Bad? Too much traffic? Too much food?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

And since we've no placed to go*...



In my quest to find subjects that I like and can actually write about, snow's probably on top of the list. Actually, not so much snow itself, but how well it was forecast.

That's right: Time for some Weatherman Accountability.

It's been a while since we've done this – obviously, since the last time it snowed – and last night I debated whether I should even bring it out of retirement for today, our fourth snowy December 5th since 2002. (How's that for consistency?)

Because I usually love accountability and weather, you might wonder why I was so lukewarm the idea of bringing WA back for today's "storm." The answer is those quotes. Before it started, I didn't think this predicted low-moisture Alberta Clipper really deserved a full analysis, especially because most meteorologists were in agreement about the outcome – namely, as of last night, 1" – 2" with little real impact. See a collection of predictions at Capital Weather.

But, then, it started snowing. And it kept snowing. And thanks to a burst of heavy snow after dark, we somehow managed to get 5" of snow on the Hayduke Weather Deck by 7 pm.

This surprised even me, a person who always expects snow storms to over-perform.

Unfortunately, it totally throws a (monkey) wrench (gang) in the post I had been mentally composing all day. I, the eternal snow optimist, expected the storm to exceed expectations, but only by an inch or so, just enough to joshingly reprimand the Weather Gillterati for their poor predictions.

As fun as that post would have been, the assessment of the pre-storm weather wisdom is easy: wrong.

Here's hoping they're wrong like this all winter.

*Snow. Christmas lights. I can't help the cheesiness.

Update: Channel 9 Meteorologist Tony Pann admits to being humbled by the storm, which he actually explains was two clippers. Good stuff, indeed...