Is Montgomery County Planning tainted by racism?

Montgomery County, Maryland, goes to great lengths to promote its communities as diverse and progressive. Yet, actions by such institutions as the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission undermine those assertions with racialized land use policies and historic preservation plans that omit, marginalize, and alienate the county’s communities of color. Patterns apparent over the past 20 years suggest that the agency, which was founded by a white supremacist real estate developer and Democratic Party boss, structurally hasn’t moved very far from its 1920s origins as a machine for building suburbs where power and authority remain concentrated among the white middle and upper classes.

Framing Structural and Institutional Racism

In September 2016, a historic preservation planner with the Montgomery County Planning Department’s Historic Preservation Office approached a group of residents from the  Lyttonsville community in the lobby of the Montgomery County Council Building in Rockville. The planner and the residents of the historically African American community were there to attend a hearing for the Greater Lyttonsville Sector Plan.

The planner began speaking enthusiastically about her research in a neighboring community that had been developed by Jewish developer Sam Eig: Rock Creek Forest. She told the Lyttonsville residents that in her research on Eig and the subdivision she found that Eig did not attach racial restrictive covenants to the properties.

The following morning I emailed the planner and asked her about what she had told the Lyttonsville residents. She replied:

What I was telling [Lyttonsville resident] was that Sam Eig developed Rock Creek Forest, without restrictive covenants. He also donated land there for two churches and the Jewish Community Center (?and maybe for the Red Cross). MCHS has  information on Sam Eig.

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Orthodox desire lines

Suburbia is inherently automobile oriented.  It is a cultural landscape dominated by strip malls, subdivisions, and clogged transportation corridors that demands deference to cars. The people who moved to the suburbs brought with them cultural traditions that included a wide array of religious beliefs. As ranch houses and more immodest dwellings sprouted in residential neighborhoods after the Second World War, churches, synagogues, and other houses of worship were built for the people who lived in them.

Suburban intersection, Dunwood, Ga., near an Orthodox synagogue.

Suburban intersection, Dunwoody, Ga., near an Orthodox synagogue.

Orthodox Jews, like their Reform, Conservative, and non-Jewish neighbors, rely on cars to survive in suburbia. Trips to the grocery store, to work, to school, to summer baseball games, and to the mall all require getting in a car to make the trip. Unlike their neighbors, however, Orthodox Jews must hang up their car keys for the weekly Sabbath and for other high holy days because of religious laws prohibiting certain activities that include work, carrying objects, pushing and pulling things, and operating vehicles. Continue reading