Local Hustler: Dan Reed

This interview has been edited for length and readability.

Please introduce yourself.

Dan Reed Headshot
Photo courtesy of Marvin Mansilla.

My name is Dan Reed. I live in Silver Spring. I work as a blogger for my own blog, Just Up the Pike, and for Greater Greater Washington, where I’m an associate editor. I also work part-time at a transportation planning firm called Nelson/Nygaard.

How did you end up in Silver Spring?

I was born in DC. When my mother finished high school, she was living in DC and she got a job working at a bank where the Walmart’s going to go in Ft. Totten. When she was 23, she got to buy a house, which I think is the coolest thing ever because I think a lot of people that age now can’t afford to do that. She bought her own house in Suitland, which is where I lived until I was 3. My mother decided to go back to college at U of M and she wanted to live closer to College Park and she heard about this place called Silver Spring where the taxes were lower and it was quiet. So we moved to downtown Silver Spring when I was 3. We lived in Georgian Towers and it was quiet and it was close to College Park. We lived in Georgian Towers from ’91 to ‘98 and then we moved to Colesville out by New Hampshire and Randolph Road. In ’99 we moved to White Oak and I went to Blake High School there. Other than that I went to college in College Park. I lived in Philadelphia for a couple years in Grad School, and now I live near downtown Silver Spring.

Can you tell me about Just Up The Pike?

I’ve always been really rooting for Silver Spring growing up because I was living in this downtown where there weren’t a lot of people and there wasn’t a lot of activity and there were a lot of abandoned buildings. Whereas most people would be alienated by that, I felt like I had my own personal city. Living on the 14th floor, I was able to make up these stories and imagine what was happening on the street below. I went to a magnet school in Rockville for elementary school and I would tell people I live in downtown Silver Spring, and they had no idea what I was talking about or they thought I lived in the ghetto. Naturally, I developed a bit of a chip on my shoulder. That lasted through growing up and I never really thought about doing anything about it until 2006. I started reading blogs about Silver Spring and it seemed stupid at the time. I didn’t really know who would want to read a blog about Silver Spring because when I thought of blogs, I thought about Xanga and LiveJournal, and I thought about all of my friends and classmates in high school talking about high school stuff and it didn’t seem worthy of anyone’s time. The summer after my freshman year of college, I was living at home in White Oak and working in Bethesda, and I had this awful commute every day, two buses in each direction, an hour and a half each way. There was one morning when I was out waiting for my bus, and it never showed up. I was out there for 45 minutes, and I didn’t know what happened. When I was able to get a ride to work, I realized that the bridge that carries Columbia Pike over the creek in Burnt Mills had flooded from a big storm. I thought about it, and that bridge was my only connection to downtown and the rest of Montgomery County. I thought about all the psychological barriers that had existed between where I lived and the rest of the county, which is perceived as this prosperous, affluent place, but a lot of that never quite made it to where we lived. That evening, when I got home, I sat down and I started writing the blog. Eight years later, I’m still doing it.

How has Silver Spring changed?

A lot of the changes we’ve seen in Silver Spring are parallel to what we’ve seen in DC. After decades of flight and divestment, people rediscovered the city and they rediscovered DC and they rediscovered Silver Spring. It’s changed dramatically. When I was growing up, it felt like this personal, intimate thing because there weren’t a lot of other people around and downtown felt very desolate and empty. The landmarks of my youth were that abandoned building or that store that’s been boarded up my entire life or that vacant lot. I got to see all those things change beyond recognition, and sometimes I’ll be standing at Fenton and Ellsworth, and I’ll try to put back together everything as I remember it when I was a kid, and I can’t. That’s a good thing. I was skeptical at first when the revitalization first started happening. I thought the houses were too expensive. When the movie theater at Ellsworth Drive reopened, I saw all of my High School friends who lived in Olney and Burtonsville. I was going to Blake High School, coming to Silver Spring and at first I was like, “You posers. You weren’t here when it was bad. How dare you?” Then I realized there was something cool happening here. The sense of community that I’d always felt only became stronger. The desirability of where I lived grew, and now it’s just exciting to see all of these things happening. There are so many great businesses in this community. There are so many amazing people who are excited about their community and eager to make it better. I feel very fortunate to have grown up in such an interesting place and see all of these changes happen. There are challenges. I wonder a lot if I’m going to be able to afford to continue living here and grow here and raise a family here as I’d like to do, but I can’t wait to see what will happen next.

What do you love about Silver Spring?

Everyone says this, but it’s a fantastically diverse place. Chris Leinburger, who is a researcher and professor at George Washington University and writes a lot about Real Estate and about a larger trend toward urbanization in this region and the nation, has held up Silver Spring as an example of how a community can attract new investment but retain a socioeconomically and racially diverse population. That is a good thing. I feel so blessed to have grown up in a place that I could have been exposed to so many different people, ways of living and seeing the world and I think it has made me a better person. I love that there are so many people who are passionate about their community and educated about their community and willing to engage in it. That’s a really powerful thing. I don’t always agree with many of them, but I am blessed to know them as well, and we are better for having them. I like that Silver Spring is a mindf**k for people who have a certain idea of what a suburban place is supposed to be, and when you stand on Eastern avenue and you see all suburban houses on the DC side and all of the tall buildings and activity on the Silver Spring side, it’s a really interesting play on what different places are supposed to be.

When you’re out in Silver Spring, where would people typically find you?

Usually on the bus going to work. I like to hang out at Kefa Café. I like to go to Zed’s and all of our other great coffee shops. I’m trying to work Kaldi’s into the rotation, but it’s further from my house. I like to go to the hot bar at Whole Foods. I get dinner there more than I’d like to admit. I’m probably going to be at some community meeting at the Civic Building. I’m trying to get more exercise in 2014, so you might find me running or looking like I want to run, maybe, on Sligo Creek Parkway.

What do you dislike about Silver Spring?

It really sucks to walk around in downtown Silver Spring. The roads are too big. The cars are going too fast and it’s not as safe and as welcoming as it could be. People sometimes think of walkability as “Can I put one foot in front of the other?” and yes, you can, but what is that like? When people talk about places in DC or in other American cities that they like to be in, it’s because they’re great places to walk. The sidewalks are comfortable and wide and have trees and landscaping. There are storefronts facing them and you can see inside the shop windows when you walk past. There’s outdoor seating. People are outside and it feels good. You want to spend time there. In many parts of downtown Silver Spring, it doesn’t feel like that at all. It just feels like you have to get through this place. When I walk home on Wayne avenue leaving downtown Silver Spring, the sidewalks are narrow, there’s garbage cans and power lines in the way. There are no streetlights. It’s not fun, and if there was one thing I would want to change it would be to put a greater focus on Silver Spring as a place for being in and hanging out and walking in and bicycling in and making it less of a priority for people to drive through really fast. My parents live in White Oak, I go to White Oak, and drive there and I go to Wheaton and Olney and all these other places, often in a car. That’s nice, but we don’t need to sacrifice our urban neighborhoods for the convenience of that.

What does Silver Spring need to get even better?

Walkability and placemaking. We need to get serious about creating an urban realm that is nice. If we want to encourage people to walk more and bike more, we have to make places worth doing that. We have to get in the weeds of design at the street level. There’s that space on East West Highway where the Gallery night club was and then it was Babe’s Sports Bar and then it was Fajita Coast and hopefully soon it will be Denizen’s Brewing Co. Why has that space failed so many times to produce a good retail? The retail that’s been in that space has been an issue, but it’s also on a big, fast wide street that’s miserable for walking on. There’s no retail near it and the retail that’s near it has been designed in a way that’s unattractive to retailers. Even though there’s lots of density and people that could presumably walk to things there, you’ve created a place there that’s hostile to walking, which makes it hard to make good retail. Seriously dealing with things like that could make the area a lot better.

Any hidden gems in Silver Spring?

I live across the street from old Blair High School*, and I am continually amazed at what a beautiful building it is. It’s no secret; it’s been there for 70 years, but it’s interesting to think about it. When it was built, there wasn’t anything around it. Silver Spring had not yet extended that far, but we built this school, we put it on a hill, a prominent place, and it’s a beautiful building. It says a lot about how we thought about public buildings, how we thought about schools – making them a prominent place in the community. We think about all the big buildings in DC with the columns, and the Greek pediments, and we did that with the old Blair because the building was that significant to our community. I love thinking about the history and memories that building has had. I never went there, but it is one of those things that make me feel like I live in a neighborhood.

*Now Silver Spring International Middle School

Wheaton Plaza T-Shirt
Photo Courtesy of Dan Reed

Interviewer’s note: Dan has also created a unique t-shirt with a design that incorporates the old Wheaton Plaza Sign. You can purchase them here.

Pete Tan
A DC Native, people say I'm rude and abrasive; I say I'm passionate. I've been working in marketing since 2005. My brothers and I paid Geppi's rent through the 80s and 90s. My relief at an indoor wavepool never materializing in Silver Spring is balanced by my disappointment that City Place has dozens of shuttered storefronts. I love what you've done with your hair.

2 COMMENTS
  • James Short
    Reply

    Are you the Dan Reed that was mentioned in a Gazette article about the New Hampshire Avenue Kirkland Center?
    I wish to learned the current status of the 47 acres. My web searches are leading nowhere. First it was Transwestern in search of a buyer. Then the church purchase that somehow did not happen. The a Monument Realty offer that seems to be dormant.

    Who is actively involved with the property now?

    Thank you.

    1. Pete Tan
      Reply

      Hi James, this is probably the Dan Reed who you’re seeking. You can reach him by email at justupthepike [at] gmail.com or check out his website at http://www.justupthepike.com.

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