sufganiotBurbs bashing is all the rage these days. It sometimes seems like suburbia has been blamed for just about everything except foreign terrorism. Despite sprawl and its costs to the environment, health, and the economy, there are some positive stories. One of those stories involves doughnuts.

Because of religious proscriptions on work (and driving) during the Jewish Sabbath, Orthodox Jews have carved out niches among strip malls, freeways, and cul-de-sacs. They have recreated and reimagined the small urban neighborhoods common in the 19th century by created walkable and small-scale ecosystems with synagogues, stores, and restaurants catering to the kosher crowd.

Sometimes the goodies created in these places cross ethnic boundaries. Continue reading

Silver Spring through a new lens

Gentrification. Few words and subjects can turn a friendly conversation into an argument faster, especially here in metropolitan Washington.

In early 2011 my wife and I exchanged one suburb for another. We moved from Silver Spring to Decatur, Ga.—an Atlanta inner-ring suburb six miles east of the Georgia state capitol. Less than four years later we came full circle when we returned to Silver Spring. My wife’s job took us to Georgia and gentrification returned us to greater Washington and our old Silver Spring neighborhood.

Moving day, February 2011.

Moving day, February 2011.

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Of cupcakes and dog parks (updated)

Many folks see dog parks, cupcakes, bike lanes, and coffee shops as markers for gentrifying neighborhoods. Once these places begin appearing, many longtime residents think: “there goes the neighborhood.”

Dog Park

Oakhurst Dog Park.

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Racialized land use: Decatur, Ga.

It is a safe bet that few Decatur, Ga., residents know Cotis Weaver and Atef Mansour. Despite their relative anonymity, both men occupy important places in the city’s land use history. In 2003 Weaver and a handful of residents in the city’s Oakhurst neighborhood fired the first shot in Decatur’s 21st century gentrification wars when they sued the city over a proposed rezoning and subdivision. Mansour, in 2005 and 2006, made headlines when he demolished a 1,450-square-foot one-story Lamont Drive home on the city’s north side and began building a 5,000-square-foot two-story replacement. Both cases illustrate one role race plays in Decatur’s hot real estate market and the different outcomes of opposition to new development. Continue reading