Silver Spring and Clarendon is an Unfair Comparison

In the Washington Post article written Lavanya Ramanathan titled "Could a new wave of boutique coffee, beer and bao buns remake ‘Silver Sprung’?", Ramanathan writes about what she labels a 'desolate' stretch of Silver Spring  and throughout the article makes comparisons of the area to neighborhoods like Petworth, Logan Cirlce in D.C  and the Clarendon metro stop area in Arlington County, Virginia. According to Ramanthan “It’s clear that the springing of Silver Sprung hasn’t been quite so pat” (a reference to the ‘Silver Sprung’ ad campaign that hasn’t been used in over 10 years).

With all due respect, Ramanathan article affirms the writing of someone who lacks knowledge of the Silver Spring urban district. Here are a few reasons why.

  • Geographically, the area of focus known as South Silver Spring by locals is just one section of a larger urban district that is at least five times larger than Clarendon (to compare an area outside D.C. proper) and the size of Ballston and Rosslyn combined.
  • Most of the buildings in the area of South Silver Spring are only about 8 years old (the residential highrise building with the new coffee shop is about 3 years old and its retail portion is almost fully leased).
  • The retail portion in the building across the street noted in the article as 30,000 square feet is actually only about 15,000 square feet. Issues with leasing at the JBG project could be due to the developer and not the area itself; as the building of focus in Ramanathan’s article hasn’t had problems leasing space.
  • Developers and the planning department of Montgomery County, unfortunately, submitted and approved plans that turned South Silver Spring into a predominately residential area without a balanced mix of Office and retail space, so retail is limited.
  • As noted in the article, the area of focus in Silver Spring has had something of small retail boom with addition of restaurants like Denizens Brewing Co. Nainai's Noodle & Dumpling Bar (bao bun shop never named in Ramanathan’s article), Scion and of course Bump ‘n Grind.

Silver Spring can claim many successes. It is home to a Fortune 500 company and one of the largest biotechnology companies in the D.C. area (something very few neighborhoods in the D.C. area can claim, including those Silver Spring is compared to in Ramanathan's article). Silver Spring has turned into the media epicenter of the region as noted with additions like the Fillmore and AFI, as well as Discovery Communications, Radio One and TV one to name a few. This is an incredible feat for an area that was considered blighted and written off by the region just a little over 10 years ago.

Silver Spring arguably has the most diverse food scene in the region. It has a strong group of Ethiopian and Asian restaurants that provide coffee shops and authentic food despite not being of the emo-hipster variety. Lines are out the door on weekends at places like Society Restaurant & Lounge and Jackies.

But Ramanathan gets one thing right, Montgomery County could do a much better job and cater less to strollers and more to young professionals especially in the urban districts of Silver Spring and Bethesda.

Yes, Silver Spring can improve but Ramanathan’s article depicts failure.  Senator Kirsten Gillibrand described Arlington as a “soulless suburb”. Some would argue that to be an exaggerated statement but with that said it would seem we all have some work to do.

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