Visiting Washington's Original "streetcar Suburbs" (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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The Week On Metro Connection: Suburbia

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

Welcome to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir. And here's a fact you may or may not know. While Washington D.C., and we're talking the actual district itself, boasts about 600,000 people, with the surrounding suburbs in Maryland and Virginia, the population is more than 5 million. That's why our region ranks among the top ten largest metropolitan areas in the United States.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

So today, we're tipping our hat to the millions of people in Montgomery, Fairfax, Arlington, Loudon and Prince George's County and beyond as we bring you some favorite stories all about suburbia. And we'll kick things off by turning the microphone over to the folks who know the suburbs best, the people who live and work there.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1

The Washington area suburbs are like cities within a city. You don't necessarily have to go down to D.C. because the suburbs offer everything in its own area.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2

They're pretty seamless when it comes to D.C. and the suburbs. When you're in Silver Spring, you still think of yourself as being in D.C.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3

They have good schools. They have some nice people in them, but they tend to have terrible traffic problems and they don't have a strong sense of community. There is just a sense of we live in Washington or maybe we live in the Northern Virginia area, but I've never really felt like I lived in Fairfax as part of an identity.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4

I get to go out in my backyard and actually enjoy a backyard, you know, have some grass, have a place for my dog to be.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5

Traffic has just gotten really tough. Can't go anywhere now, in the morning or in the evening, because of the rush hour so we just stay home and come out in the middle of the day.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1

It would be really nice if it was easier to get around. It's such a nightmare. When I was just driving here, I was coming from Germantown and I, you know, budgeted myself 30 minutes to make it here. It's a two mile drive.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #6

The suburbs are still good, but you realize, people notice now, there's crime everywhere. No place is perfect, suburbs, urban, it's all the same. It's all about the people.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2

I'd say it's different from place to place. You go to different neighborhoods and there can be drastically different environments, very diverse, for sure.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #7

We're just not city people, you know. We like to have our own home and own yard. I love to do yard work so I have to have space.

SHEIR

Those were local residents in Bethesda and Fairfax City, talking with our editorial assistant, Lauren Landau. We move now from the suburban present to the suburban past, back to the era when D.C.'s suburbs were first sprouting up.

MS. JANE FREUNDEL LEVEY

The very first suburb we had in Washington was in Anacostia. It was called Union Town. Mount Pleasant, I believe, is the second one. The third one was LeDroit Park.

SHEIR

Anacostia, Mount Pleasant, LeDroit Park. Definitely not the names that immediately spring to mind these days when we think about the D.C. burbs. But as cultural tourism D.C. chief historian Jane Freundel Levey points out, back in the late 1800s, these places were considered suburban because they were built...

LEVEY

Outside the limits, then, of the city. So if you can visualize downtown Washington going out to Florida Avenue, which used to be called Boundary Street, that was the original city.

SHEIR

And places like Union Town, Mount Pleasant and LeDroit Park are known as Streetcar suburbs because they developed in response to innovations in transportation.

LEVEY

Beginning with streetcars...

SHEIR

I met with Jane near the original end of the line of one of those streetcars which used to run up to Mount Pleasant. It was pretty cold out so we took a seat inside a sweet smelling spot on Mount Pleasant Street, Heller's Bakery.

LEVEY

Which is one of the oldest businesses in Mount Pleasant.

SHEIR

Okay.

MS. MARA CHERKASKY

The oldest, continuous business...

SHEIR

There you go.

CHERKASKY

...in Mount Pleasant.

LEVEY

Don't mess with Mara when it's Mount Pleasant.

SHEIR

Indeed you don't because local historian Mara Cherkasky wrote the book on Mount Pleasant and I'm not just being figurative here, her paperback "Mount Pleasant" was published in 2007. And as both she and Jane will tell you, Mount Pleasant began as its own little village with a horse drawn streetcar on 14th Street.

CHERKASKY

The electric streetcar came up 14th Street in 1893 or so. But in the early 1900s, the city cut 16th Street through from downtown 16th Street, used to stop at Boundary Street, Florida Avenue. They cut that through, up Meridian Hill. And in early 1903, the electric streetcar that came up Connecticut Avenue to Columbia road, that was extended and that came up to here, Mount Pleasant Street and Park Road. So starting 1905, stores started popping up and apartment buildings and row houses. So that streetcar coming up Mount Pleasant Street in 1903 turned this neighborhood into what it is.

SHEIR

Right.

LEVEY

This impact to the streetcar is the same thing that we see today with the Metro. Every place where we've had a new Metro Station, we've had a tremendous amount of the most modern style of building. And that's what happened here in Mount Pleasant, too.

SHEIR

But unlike Metro Station, which you build them and they pretty much stay, the streetcar obviously disappeared. When did that happen and what happened here when that happened?

LEVEY

The streetcar had its last run in 1962 and it was part of a very complicated set of circumstances which really had to do with the advent of the highway lobby in the 1950s where the government was giving huge amounts of money to build roads. And the number of cars just burgeoned. And cars and streetcars were not very compatible. Streetcars were not maneuverable. They had to be on the tracks. Cars were zipping in and out, it got dangerous, it got very dense. Again, there were a lot of forces arrayed against the continuation of the streetcars and the demand to switch over the buses which were considered more modern and more flexible forms of transportation.

SHEIR

Was there a clear point when Mount Pleasant stopped being considered a suburb and people really thought of it as part of the city?

LEVEY

Shall we pick a year, Mara? I think that what you need to remember is that we have generational changes in how we define a suburb. So what was a suburb as in Mount Pleasant, that lasted really, only, a short amount of time until other suburbs developed. So this was a suburb, it pretty quickly took on urban forms in terms of the housing and the fact that they were row houses and it was fairly dense and apartment buildings. So the next rank of suburb is a little bit farther out from Mount Pleasant. So if you can visualize going North from here, I mean, especially going up Connecticut Avenue, you get into a different style of suburb.

SHEIR

And obviously, the D.C. suburbs kept expanding outward and outward and now they're an essential part of what this region is. Why do you think the idea, the concept, of the suburb is such an enduring thing?

LEVEY

The reason we have suburbs is because we had cities. We had cities that were chockablock with industry and commerce and sometimes chickens and pigs in the streets. And the idea that you didn't want to mix that kind of activity with where you lived is sort of the foundation of the suburban style and the suburban thought. And when you consider the reasons that suburbs developed to begin with, a lot of those reasons still pertain for people.

LEVEY

There are still a lot of people who just want to have their house, that's their castle. They want to have land around them that belongs to them and they don't want to have to look out the kitchen window and as somebody said the other day, be able to read the newspaper of the guy sitting in the kitchen next door. There will always be people who look at it that way.

SHEIR

Well, Mara, Jane, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today here in Mount Pleasant.

LEVEY

Our pleasure.

CHERKASKY

Enjoyed it. Thank you.

SHEIR

That was writer and historian Mara Cherkasky and cultural Tourism D.C. chief historian Jane Freundel Levey. To see photos of the old Mount Pleasant streetcar, visit our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

Another local community that owes its origins to a kind of train line is Kensington, Md. It was one of the first suburban communities to emerge after the Civil War. And as with many of our suburbs, its growth was directly related to the role of the military in our region. Jessica Gould spoke with local author and historian Paul Dickson about the connection between military might and the spread of suburbia.

MR. PAUL DICKSON

We're in the heart of Kensington, Md. and we're sitting in front of a spacious, beautiful, Victorian mansion, which was the home of a man name Brainard Warner who was actually the founder of Kensington, Md. in the 1870s, 1880s. Brainard Warner was a young man, came here from Pennsylvania when he was 15 years old when the Civil War broke out, which is a period of huge expansion for the city of Washington because troops came in from all over the country to populate the city and to defend the city.

MR. PAUL DICKSON

Brainard Warner enlisted as a private in the Army but then they realized he was sort of a financial genius so they put him in charge of some of the economy of the war. After the war, he decided he was going to become a financier and a builder of suburbs. The B&O had built the Metropolitan branch that enabled people to start using these suburbs, Chevy Chase, Kensington and Garrett Park as places to live.

MS. JESSICA GOULD

So I think we tend to think of suburbanization as a World War II phenomenon, a post World War II phenomenon. But it actually started way before that.

DICKSON

It actually starts in the Civil War but I think what happened here in World War I was fascinating. Many, many people had to come here to run the war. So after World War I, Arlington which has been booming because of the war workers, they decide to stay. So what does Arlington do? Arlington becomes, right after World War I, the fastest growing county in the country. And how do they support that? They build sewers, they have countywide water supply. They have a health system. They have a school system. You needed libraries. You needed newspapers. You know all this infrastructure to support them.

GOULD

So how did World War II affect the growth of this area?

DICKSON

There was a slogan, every trigger, meaning person out there on the front lines with a gun, needed 25 typewriters to support that person. And then at the end of the war, comes the GI Bill and supported housing. So there's this huge, huge build up from 1940 to '50. D.C. goes up about 40 percent. The population grows. But where the real growth is in the suburbs. The suburbs are booming. Alexandria goes up in that same period, 84 percent. PG County goes up 117 percent. Arlington goes up 130 percent. Montgomery county goes up 95 percent.

GOULD

Why did people move from the city to the suburbs during these various periods?

DICKSON

Housing was expensive. It was in short supply during the war. There was huge housing shortages. Even a place where I live in Garrett Park, these little houses called Chevy houses, they were built by veterans after World War I. You could buy the house for a couple hundred dollars down and when you bought the house, you had the option of paying also in your monthly payment for a Chevrolet automobile.

GOULD

Paul Dickson, tell me a little bit about how the more recent conflicts have influenced the suburbs of Washington?

DICKSON

Once you want to run a huge military, you need a nerve center. You need a physicality, you need a place where the top generals or the top admirals or the top whoever can sit down in a meeting room and decide what's going to happen tomorrow. So the military was here right from the War of 1812 when the city was attacked, when the British burned Washington. Any major conflict or major change, you're going to see an increase in the size of Washington, D.C. Even a negative event like 9/11 brought more people here.

SHEIR

Paul Dickson is co-author of "On This Spot: Pinpointing the Past in Washington, D.C." He spoke with WAMU's Jessica Gould. And if you have thoughts you'd like to share about the militaries impact on Washington suburbs, we want to hear from you. You can reach us at metro@wamu.org.

SHEIR

Time for a quick break. But when we get back, helping the needy in one of Washington's wealthiest suburbs.

MR. LANCE FLOWERS

I feel, in my position, I'm giving them basic needs and the basic needs is something that consists of shelter, food and water.

SHEIR

It's coming your way on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.

SHEIR

I'm Rebecca Sheir and welcome back to "Metro Connection." Today, we're taking an audio stroll through one of our favorite shows from earlier this year, suburbia. If you've traveled around D.C.'s suburbs, you know, they can be incredibly diverse in terms of ethnicity, culture, nationality, language. In fact, more than a million immigrants dwell in the Washington-Metropolitan region. That means more than one in five of us hail from outside the United States. When it comes to foreign-born residents, the fastest growing suburban area is Loudoun County, Va.

SHEIR

At the turn of the 21st century, Loudoun's immigrant population was roughly 20,000. A decade later, it was 70,000 and one immigrant group whose numbers have been skyrocketing in the county is the Indian community. Back in 2000, approximately 1,200 Indian people called Loudoun County home. By 2010, that number had multiplied 10 fold to 12,000. So what is it about Loudoun County that's attractive so many new Indian inhabitants? Well, what better way to find out then to travel up there. Our first stop, the home of Bratati Saha, an Indian immigrant whose been living with her husband and son in Ashburn, Va. since 2007.

SHEIR

Saha runs Arpan Dance Academy out a spacious studio in her basement. This morning she's teaching about a dozen women and girls the traditional Indian dance form KATHAK. KATHAK is a rhythmic barefoot dance full of elaborate footwork and spins. And you hear that jingling? That's the sound of guru, long strands of bells KATHAK dancers wrap around their ankles. The more experienced you are, the more bells you get to wear.

MS. BRATATI SAHA

According to your dance level, you can use it more so. Like my guru, each feet, I have 175 bells, yeah.

SHEIR

175 on one side?

SAHA

One side. One leg. So I have to get you that.

SHEIR

Saha teaches several dozen pupils from many cultural backgrounds, but the majority of her students are Indian, like the women and girls in attendance this morning. The girls range from 3rd to 6th grade and if you ask them what they like best about KATHAK -- what would you say is your favorite thing about dance? Most of them, like 4th grader Sherah (sp?) , say it's the way KATHAK connects them to Indian history and traditions.

SHERAH

This dance can help me do it at school or at the other performances like at the festivals. So we can just show everyone our culture.

SHEIR

And that opportunity to show off the Indian culture is important to the grownups too, like Cherie (sp?) whose been learning KATHAK for about year now.

CHERIE

The last five years that we've moved here, my God, yes, we do see a lot of Indian culture, a lot of Indian people, a lot of Indian food. You know, I have American friends that love Indian food and they want to go out and eat Indian foods. I'm always taking them out.

SHEIR

But because Loudoun County's Indian community is so sizeable, the beauty is, they don't just get to show their culture to others, says fellow student Davica (sp?) , they get share it with one another.

DAVICA

I think that a lot of Indians though, that drives them to come to this area because they have somebody -- then they're comfortable -- I mean, they know already from their own country.

SHEIR

It's what's known as chain immigration. And Davica says when these individuals and families arrive in a place like Loudoun County, they find affordable homes, quality schools and jobs.

DAVICA

There are more tech companies around here, so that's one of the main reasons why all the people who are in IT are moving in here. So I am in IT so there were opportunities.

SHEIR

In fact, you'll find one of the nation's highest concentrations of high tech firms in Loudoun. It is after all, home to the Dulles Technology corridor, AKA, the net plex, AKA...

MR. KUMAR IYER

The silicon valley of the East Coast.

SHEIR

And while Kumar Iyer isn't part of the areas high tech industry, as owner of Rangoli Indian Restaurant, he's done pretty well for himself in the county.

IYER

I've had this restaurant for six years now, in these six years, we've been rated the best Indian restaurant in entire Northern Virginia. We've been in the top 50 best bargain restaurants of entire D.C. Metro area. We have won the best retail business of the year award from the Loudoun Chamber of Commerce.

SHEIR

The list goes on and on. And as an entrepreneur, Iyer says, Loudoun County is an ideal environment, for what he calls...

IYER

The entrepreneurial blood in Indians to, you know, open businesses. Not just the small hotels and restaurants and convenient stores and gas stations, but there are so many entrepreneurs starting their own dot com companies and being successful. And then they bring in their kit and kin and it just starts to grow.

SHEIR

So it's no wonder 15 percent of the national capital regions Indian population resides in Loudoun County. And after years of moving around the country, Joshie (sp?) , Sherah's mother, says she and her family are here to stay.

MS. JOSHIE

We have been moving ever two and a half years in this country. I was in Texas, Louisiana, California and Delaware. But it feels really great to be in this area. It's welcoming. As Sherah says, okay, we are not like someone's stranger, we belong here now. Our kids belong here.

SHEIR

As for her own kid, Joshie says she's proud of how Sherah is thriving.

JOSHIE

At the same time she is learning new things from here and she's contributing to the society, so that's the view that she has (word?). I think that's very healthy. We love how immigrants will look at it when they come here and try to settle here.

SHEIR

And come here and settle they have, by the thousands upon thousands, helping to transform this formally rural corner of Northern Virginia into a vibrant suburb with more than a hint of Indian flavor.

SHEIR

If you came to the Washington region from another part of the world in recent years, we want to know what drew you here. Tell us your story by sending an email to metro@wamu.org.

SHEIR

We'll stay in Northern Virginia for the time being and head Southeast to Falls Church. Falls Church is often known as one of the wealthiest jurisdictions in the country, but despite a median income of more than $113,000 per year, there are still those here who are struggling to get by. In a recent edition of D.C. Gigs, Marc Adams spoke with Lance Flowers who lends a big helping hand to the city's homeless residents.

FLOWERS

My name's Lance Flowers. I work for New Hope Housing. I'm a program coordinator for the Falls Church Homeless Shelter. How you doing, Tim.

TIM

All right.

FLOWERS

It's really a satisfaction because I believe every person, every individual needs the basic needs. And I feel that my position, is giving them basic needs. And the basic needs is something that consists of shelter, food and water. And what we do here is provide that. How was the meal tonight, fellas?

#1

Delicious.

#2

Awesome.

FLOWERS

It was awesome? Good, good. Even though Fairfax and Falls Church is one of the wealthiest cities, the support from the city and from the community are very, very high. The Falls Church Homeless Shelter gets so many donations, basically 75 percent of the running of the shelter comes from private organizations around Falls Church area. So even though it's one of the richest cities, I think, people that are less fortunate around here receive a lot more services then the average person in D.C. Good morning, John.

JOHN

How you doing bud?

FLOWERS

How you doing?

JOHN

All right.

FLOWERS

Once you come in to the shelter, you have a bed to sleep on, you also have access to a TV...

FLOWERS

...you have access to our computers. How's the job search coming along then?

#3

It's -- the internet's pretty good.

FLOWERS

Good, good. Okay, let me know if you need help with anything.

#3

Okay.

FLOWERS

One of the volunteers come in and she's our volunteer coordinator and she loves to play board games. So we all got together and we decided to play Monopoly. And we just had a ball. I think what it did was take the residents mind off the situation they was in. It took my mind off the daily operations of the -- not totally but just for that time, you know. And we just have fun. I mean, we was just -- I lost but I didn't get Boardwalk or Park Place but that was one of the memorable moments. They fried eggs so today's late night.

FLOWERS

What keeps me going in this field is knowing that I am making a difference in somebody's life. Knowing that somebody is not out there without shelter, without food, without water, that's what drives me to not turn a blind eye to that. If I can't find employment or housing or the goals that they set, at least I can supply them basic needs in this time where it's very cold outside.

SHEIR

That was Lance Flowers talking with producer Marc Adams. And if you have a distinctively D.C. Gig you think we should highlight, let us know. Send an email to metro@wamu.org or visit us on Facebook. Just head to Facebook.com/metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

Speaking of shelter, we turn now to a story about the homes of suburbia. Now, it sort of goes without saying that the big suburban house on a rolling green lawn holds a special place in the American psyche. But the thing is, big homes aren't always synonymous with suburbia. In the community of Greenbelt, Md., many of the homes are much different from what we've come to expect of the 'burbs. Greenbelt began as a kind of experiment in suburban living. It was founded as part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal and Emily Friedman paid a visit to see whether the Greenbelt experiment is still working, 75 years down the road.

MS. EMILY FRIEDMAN

From the very beginning, Greenbelt was unique.

MS. MEGAN SEARING YOUNG

Unlike most small towns, Greenbelt did not evolve from a town square. It was planned, every bit of it was preconceived.

FRIEDMAN

This is Megan Searing Young. She runs the Greenbelt Museum. She says everything about Greenbelt was geared toward making the residents as happy and healthy as possible. There were playgrounds, tennis courts, a pool, which in the 1930s was pretty fancy and a system of sidewalks that made it possible to walk just about anywhere you wanted to go.

YOUNG

Greenbelt was quite luxurious. There were over 5,000 applicants for the approximately 888 homes that were first built. So there was an intensive selection process.

FRIEDMAN

The selection committee was looking for young families, couples had what they called, honeymoon cottages around 400 square feet. Families of five could rent a three-bedroom house. No one had more or less than they needed. In fact, if you had another kid, you had to move to a bigger house.

MS. BARBARA HAVEKOST

All right, this is a three-bedroom brick home.

FRIEDMAN

Barbara Havekost raised her four kids in this house. She's lived here for 50 years.

HAVEKOST

This is one of the originals built in 1937. It won't take long to tour. Go ahead first okay.

FRIEDMAN

Around 1100 square feet hers is one of the larger homes in historic Greenbelt. In a bedroom, she points out one of the homes' biggest challenges, storage.

HAVEKOST

And this the size of the closet that two people shared, right.

FRIEDMAN

There's one bathroom in the house, just one.

HAVEKOST

I actually kept a schedule for showers and things because you had to with one bathroom.

FRIEDMAN

Even after 50 years, Havekost says she still marvels at how carefully designed the house is.

HAVEKOST

I think that the architects made complete use of every square inch of this house to make it as livable as possible even though the square footage is probably have the size of today's homes or less.

FRIEDMAN

The federal government sold Greenbelt in 1952 to a group of veterans. The veterans formed a co-op and eventually all the homeowners became the owners of Greenbelt. It's still a co-op today. Lucy Dirksen bought a historic in Greenbelt about 10 years ago.

MS. LUCY DIRKSEN

It was just the right amount of space and it was my husband, myself and my son.

FRIEDMAN

As their family grew, it became less and less comfortable.

DIRKSEN

When we're in such a tight space, we're all on top of each other. There's no place to kind of, you know, separate and ground oneself and then come back.

FRIEDMAN

They bought a house in one of Greenbelt's newer developments. It's a five-story split with three bedrooms, two art studios, a back porch and a giant playroom for her kids.

DIRKSEN

There is one other place. You're going to have like hold your breath. This is our basement.

FRIEDMAN

Dirksen says she loves her house, though she can't imagine going even one square foot bigger.

DIRKSEN

I honestly believe that the more we've acquired, the more work it's been and I don't really need to have more work.

FRIEDMAN

While Lucy's house isn't enormous, it is a more typical suburban home and her feelings about needing a large home are also pretty typical. That's according to the CEO of the Urban Land Institute, Patrick Phillips.

MR. PATRICK PHILLIPS

We're seeing the McMansion trend really fade. In many ways, we are coming back to what we saw -- the principles being developed at Greenbelt, mixed, used, more compact development variety in the housing types, a more walk-able environment.

FRIEDMAN

When Greenbelt was first built, Phillips points out, the idea was to be a model for private home builders and inspire them to create thought-out livable communities. But when soldiers returned from war in the late '40s they needed places to live fast.

PHILLIPS

So in some ways, we lowered our standards.

FRIEDMAN

Phillips says the average size of an American home is starting to shrink just by a little.

PHILLIPS

But this is America and big houses are still a symbol of achievement and success.

FRIEDMAN

In the face of that cultural norm, says museum curator Megan Searing Young, thousands of people choose to live in the modest homes of historic Greenbelt, 75 years and counting.

YOUNG

I think there's a certain level of awareness about Greenbelt's origins and that it was this experiment and a new way of living and people are still interested in that experiment.

FRIEDMAN

I'm Emily Friedman.

SHEIR

After the break, trekking to the farthest reaches of the suburban frontier.

#1

This was recently purchased by a fellow from D.C. who commutes. The house over here to my right, again, are two fellows from the D.C. metro area. Across the street, she retired from the IRS.

SHEIR

It's just ahead on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.

SHEIR

Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir. Today, we're all about the 'burbs with stories focusing on the complex and ever-changing communities that make up the Washington suburbs. Of course, as we heard earlier in the show, defining a suburban community can be trickier than you think. We kicked things off today by swinging by Mount Pleasant, which used to be considered a suburb, but is, of course, now part of the city proper.

SHEIR

For this next story, we go way, way outside the city to a place that doesn't feel very suburban, but it's increasingly being swallowed up into the greater Washington region. Tara Boyle takes us on this road trip to Martinsburg, W. Va.

MS. TARA BOYLE

Walking into Patterson's Pharmacy on a Friday morning is like entering the set of a Hollywood movie, a movie about small town America.

MR. GEORGE KAROS

We have homemade sandwiches here, any type of salad you want, egg salad, chicken salad, tuna fish, cheese salad, combination sandwiches.

BOYLE

The long-time business in downtown Martinsburg has an old-fashioned soda fountain with stools for the morning coffee crowd and an antique phone booth in the back.

KAROS

And it still works, believe it or not.

BOYLE

That's George Karos, the 80 year-old owner of Patterson's. He's also the mayor of Martinsburg and he knows how to sell his community.

KAROS

The amenities are all here, it's small town location. The real estate taxes are extremely low, the services are excellent, they have an excellent city fire department, EMT services.

BOYLE

It's a community with a more languid pace. A community where people still know each other by first name and that elusive quality, says realtor Carolyn Snyder, is why many Washingtonians want to live here.

MS. CAROLYN SNYDER

We're here on Westbrook Street and we're two or three blocks from downtown Martinsburg, it's a historic district.

BOYLE

We're standing outside the offices of Snyder's firm as she points out the neighborhoods Victorian homes, many of which have been bought up by Washingtonians.

SNYDER

This was recently purchased by a fellow from D.C. who commutes. The house over here to my right, again are two fellows from the D.C. metro area. Across the street, she retired from the IRS.

BOYLE

Snyder says the burst of the housing bubble has hurt the local market but it hasn't killed it. That's because there are all sorts of historic homes for sell here and to prove that point we're off to visit a place called Aspen Hall.

SNYDER

Hi, Charlie. How are you?

MR. CHARLIE CONNOLLY

Okay. Welcome to Aspen Hall.

BOYLE

Charlie Connolley owns Aspen Hall, a mansion that he runs as something of an inn where he rents rooms by the month.

CONNOLLY

It's a total of 6500 square feet now with about 22 rooms. The oldest part, which is through that door over there, which is now my kitchen was built in 1745.

BOYLE

George Washington attended a wedding here on May 14, 1761 and speaking of Washington, the main entryway of this house is bigger than the grand hall at Mount Vernon.

CONNOLLY

So it's one of the finest Georgian period homes in the northern Shenandoah Valley.

BOYLE

The asking price, $599,000. Not exactly chump change but way more house than you'd get for the same price closer to the District and Carolyn Snyder says many houses on the market here are cheaper than this one.

SNYDER

You can get anything from $30,000, which surprising, all the way, you know, to the $100,000, $250,000, $300,000.

BOYLE

But there is, of course, a catch. If you're planning to commute from this place to Washington every day, you'd better like getting up before dawn.

MS. JANN LOGAN

I'm going to have to give you a call back on Tuesday, if that's at all possible and I look forward to...

BOYLE

Jann Logan is a community youth scheduler at Montgomery College.

LOGAN

And I book rooms for special events, department meetings, anything other than, of course, scheduling.

BOYLE

We're here in her quiet Rockville office, which is about 70 miles from her home in Hedgesville, W. Va. She commutes between the two locales every day and says sometimes that drive can be pretty brutal.

LOGAN

I like to leave the house at 5:30.

BOYLE

That's 5:30 a.m. On a good day, she can make it to Rockville in fewer than two hours, but on a bad day...

LOGAN

I have gotten into work as late as 10:00.

BOYLE

And she's hardly the only one making this sort of super commute. Officials in Berkeley County, W. Va., which includes Martinsburg and Hedgesville, say more than 12 percent of residents work in the Washington suburbs. That statistic doesn't even include workers who hoof it all the way into the city. So why put yourself through this trek every day? Logan's been doing the back and forth since 1995 and she says the time lost on the road is worth it. .

LOGAN

We're back in a secluded little part of heaven, I like to refer to it as. It's really lovely back there. It's just a different kind of life up there. It's a lot slower and we've really enjoyed it so we made the move.

BOYLE

And while many scholars predict the burst of the housing bubble will decrease this sort of super commuting back in Martinsburg, Major George Karos isn't so sure. This community, he says, is changing.

KAROS

We still know people. You can see at the soda fountain there. They've been there since you and I have started this interview. We still have that so-called homebrew mentality at times but, yes, we have changed.

BOYLE

Changed, he says, and become more suburban, even if the big city that's feeding this suburban transformation is far, far away. I'm Tara Boyle.

SHEIR

Do you live in the far outer reaches of the Washington suburbs? We'd like to hear why you choose to live where you do. Just send a note to metro@wamu.org.

SHEIR

We'll come a bit closer to the District now to a spot not far from the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge. It's a place called Dyke Marsh and it's one of the few marshes of its kind left along this stretch of the Potomac. But the National Park Service says the site is disappearing fast. Environment reporter Sabri Ben Achour pays a visit to find out why.

MR. SABRI BEN ACHOUR

A 20-minute drive from the busy streets of the district, it is a different universe.

MR. NED STONE

This surface here is extremely slippery. You can go right on your butt and into the water.

ACHOUR

Ned Stone is -- he's about to...

STONE

Whoa, what did I tell you?

ACHOUR

...fall into the mud.

STONE

You didn't do it, I did. Okay.

ACHOUR

Stone is Vice President of Friends of Dyke Marsh, which is where we are and Glinda Booth is president. They're taking a canoe out into the 50 acres of marsh.

MS. GLINDA BOOTH

Where you going to take us, Ned?

STONE

Well...

ACHOUR

The pair glides up a gut, a sinuous stretch of open water through a sea of reeds, looking down through the water, a forest of lily-like buds is waiting to burst from the surface.

BOOTH

This is called spatter dot. It has a yellow golf ball size flower. It's beautiful in the summer.

ACHOUR

The marsh gets its name from the dyke's farmers built to try and convert this marsh into farmland. It didn't work, but other builders have been busy here.

STONE

On your right, you'll see the beaver lodge, just behind those reeds, that big pile of sticks and stuff. Right there. I'm not going to go any further in here because there's not enough depth. Glinda, I'm going to reverse direction.

BOOTH

Look at the Great Blue Heron, see the long skinny neck and the long beak? This almost, to me, it looks like a prehistoric bird. In Dyke Marsh, 300 species of plants, 6,000 arthropods, 38 species of fish, 16 reptiles, 14 amphibians and over 200 species of birds. See that osprey?

ACHOUR

He has, like, a sunfish in his...

STONE

He's got something large.

BOOTH

And he's going to go from that limb and eat it.

ACHOUR

In 1947, author Louis Halle described this place as the nearest thing to primeval wilderness in the immediate vicinity of this city. But 65 years later, the city has moved in.

BOOTH

There's the beltway. Lovely, huh?

ACHOUR

Cars on the Wilson Bridge rumble in the distance, planes rumble from above.

BOOTH

We have a real trash problem here, especially after storms because all the trash comes from the north, ends up settling. You can see bottles, see, there's plastic bottles. And we used to have a refrigerator right over there.

ACHOUR

A whole refrigerator that washed...

BOOTH

Yeah.

ACHOUR

...down the river?

BOOTH

Well, I don't know how it got there, but there was a refrigerator.

ACHOUR

But there are more troubling signs along the marsh's edge.

STONE

This tree fell over. The root ball is just sitting there as we go down here. This next group of trees you will see how the river is eroding their bases. And you can easily predict that they too will come down.

ACHOUR

This whole place is disappearing. Back on shore is Ron Litwin. He's a researcher with the U.S. Geological Survey.

MR. RON LITWIN

The current estimate for shore word erosion is probably six to eight feet a year. Since 2002 to the present, it's probably on the order of about an acre and a half of year.

ACHOUR

More than a football fields worth of marsh is swept away every year, tree by tree, reed by reed.

LITWIN

And the entire marsh itself that is left is now about 53 acres, roughly, out of an original 180 acres.

ACHOUR

He says that is because the equilibrium between sediment, vegetation and currents has been fundamentally disrupted.

LITWIN

Back in the early 1940s, there was a lot of metropolitan building going on. And so they were dredging sand and gravel out of this area to use for concrete.

ACHOUR

The dredging stopped in 1972, but it completely mined out shallows and a peninsula to the south that protected the marsh from storm surges. This site is now exposed to the full force of the river and hurricanes and storms. Soon it will be gone entirely.

MR. BRENT STEURY

This national park service site has a projected lifespan of about 40 years.

ACHOUR

Brent Steury is with the National Park Service.

STEURY

So what we have to do is -- and we know that it is feasible, is to restore this marsh.

ACHOUR

The park service is coming up with ideas and cost estimates for what it would take to rebuild the peninsula that sheltered this place. Out in the marsh, Glinda Booth and Ned Stone are paddling.

BOOTH

You know, it's just so peaceful. It's almost spiritual for me, a spiritual experience.

ACHOUR

This marsh is one of the last of its kind on this stretch of the Potomac. Without human intervention it will be transformed into a memory. I'm Sabri Ben-Achour.

SHEIR

Sabri's story was informed by sources in WAMU's' Public Insight Network. It's a way for people to share stories and input with us. You can learn more at metroconnection.org/PIN.

SHEIR

And now we turn to a seemingly urban concept that could very well go suburban, very suburban. By most accounts, Capital Bikeshare has been wildly popular in D.C. and Arlington. And now leaders in Columbia, Md. and surrounding Howard County are weighing whether a bikeshare program could work in their community. And that's the topic of our regular transportation segment, "From A To B."

SHEIR

Jonathan Wilson headed up to Howard County to find out more.

MR. JONATHAN WILSON

If you're looking for a place with a lively or even quaint downtown, Columbia, Md. may leave a little to be desired. Here's how the Columbia Association's Director of Community Planning, Jane Dember, describes the center of town.

MS. JANE DEMBER

Well, the downtown today features a very large mall in the middle of it. It isn't a traditional downtown with a main street.

WILSON

But the sprawling retail complex and the expansive parking lot surrounding it haven't stopped Columbia from regularly being listed as one of the very best places to live in the country. The 100,000 or so residents here have access to some of the best public schools in the nation. Foreclosure and jobless rates are impressively low and, yes, there's a major plan to make downtown Columbia into something other than a consumer's paradise.

DEMBER

Downtown is going to redevelop and that will bring new vitality. More housing units downtown and a more walk-able downtown. So that's in the future for us.

WILSON

Bikesharing could be a part of that future as well. Columbia and Howard County have teamed up to apply for grant money to fund a feasibility study on such a program. And already there are reasons to believe that if bikesharing is feasible in a suburban environment at all, Columbia would be the place. Turn into any of the residential streets in Columbia and it's not long before you see some of the paved trails that snake through the neighborhoods. Dember says the trails were created as a selling point when this planned community was conceived by developer Jim Rouse more than 40 years ago.

DEMBER

We have 94 miles of pathways that are separate from our roadway. Major cities, you know, don't have that many. Washington does not have that many pathways.

WILSON

I'm walking on of Columbia's paved pathways next to Wild Lake. Wild Lake is one of three main manmade lakes in the area. It is picturesque and the surface of the path is pretty perfect for biking but there are small challenges a bikeshare program might face here. The hill that I'm on right now and it's not the only one, would be pretty difficult for some people to summit on a bicycle and in terms of signage, there really is no signage telling you where all these different paths lead.

WILSON

Even some locals say it's easy to lose your way. 17 year-old Anthony Reesy (sp?) runs cross-country for Wild Lake High School.

MR. ANTHONY REESY

For the people who are here, you know, who know the area, it's a lot easier. It's kind of, it's in your head, a mental map of where everything is. But I know as a freshmen doing cross-country I got lost all the time.

WILSON

And the paths are only part of the story. Howard County Council Chair, Mary Kay Sigaty, says the county, which is in charge of road improvements will have to invest in better on-road bike lanes to make bikesharing work as a real mode of transit.

MS. MARY KAY SIGATY

Columbia was designed as a place for people to walk and to bike and if you go on our bike trails you can go all sorts of wonderful places but you can't necessarily get from to there.

WILSON

Luckily for Columbia, Jennifer Toole, one of the nation's foremost experts on cycling infrastructure, just happens to be a Columbia resident. Toole is the CEO of Toole Design Group, a company that helps cities across the country design better bike lanes.

MS. JENNIFER TOOLE

I live in Hickory Ridge and moved here about 15 years ago.

WILSON

Toole says some of the goals of a suburban bikesharing program have to be different from those of an urban system, promoting a healthy lifestyle, reducing parking problems. Those are realistic goals but having a major impact on air pollution isn't, at least in a town of fewer than 100,000 people. She also points out that a bikesharing program doesn't have to be big to be successful.

TOOLE

When you look at some of the smaller systems around the country, some of them have as few as two stations and, you know, and only 20 bikes.

WILSON

She won't guarantee that bikesharing will work in Columbia but she says it's way too early for anyone to say it can only succeed in densely populated areas.

TOOLE

The thing to remember is that bikeshare's a very new thing even in the places in the country where it's successful. It's really a movement that's only a few years old.

WILSON

So is bikesharing just a youthful indiscretion or a movement that can grow up and move out to the suburbs? Maybe Columbia will soon provide the answer. I'm Jonathan Wilson.

SHEIR

To check out photos of Columbia's paved pathways and for a link to an interactive map of all those trails Jonathan was mentioning, head to our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

We end today's show with our weekly trip around the region. On this edition of "Door To Door," we visit Elkridge, Md. and Hillbrook in Northeast D.C.

MR. DENNIS CHESTNUT

My name is Dennis Chestnut. I'm a lifetime resident of Washington D.C. and a lifelong resident of Ward 7 here east of the river. I've been living here now 63 years. I'm living now in the same home that I grew up in. The area where Hillbrook is located was referred to as Central Northeast. We called Hillbrook all kinds of things in our years growing up over here in the neighborhood. It just was not really identifiable.

MR. DENNIS CHESTNUT

To the west you have 295, Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue on the North, 47th Street on the east and Benning Road on the south. It's always been a very vibrant commercial corridor. It was even more vibrant when I was younger. Right at the intersection of Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road it is extremely busy all of the time. It's a major interchange, a short distance from one of the first metro stations in the city. There's so much green space and parkland in this area because of the Civil War defenses of Washington and this eastern area was very important because of the river. I believe this is one of the best kept secrets in D.C. I'm glad I stayed and excited about what I see happening and forward to, you know, some of the development that's underway, seeing it completed.

MR. DAN WECKER

My name is Daniel Wecker. I'm the executive chef and owner of the Elkridge Furnace Inn and I live in Elkridge, Md. I'm 53 years old. Elkridge is located midway between Baltimore and Washington. The name Elkridge comes from the early colonists being here. This area used to be covered with herds of elk. Elkridge Landing was the largest seaport north of Annapolis in colonial times and the ships used to come here from Great Britain and on the north side of the river the ships used to come here to get hogsheads of tobacco down Rolling Road, which ended here in Elkridge.

MR. DAN WECKER

We have a lot of wild areas and we have a lot of wildlife and it's absolutely marvelous to go out behind my business here and see King Fisher's and Bald Eagles and beaver and lots of different things that I'm able to enjoy. Elkridge has changed dramatically in the last 23 years since I've been here. It really has grown up as a community from something that was more industrial to a little more cosmopolitan in terms of its role as a suburb. There's been a lot of new housing, a lot of new families. The schools have improved, the community has, I think, found a new sense of its self and there's a lot of pride in the Elkridge community.

SHEIR

We heard from Dennis Chestnut in Hillbrook and Dan Wecker in Elkridge. Your neighborhood can be a part of "Door To Door," too. Just send an email to metro@wamu.org or visit us on Facebook. That's facebook.com/metroconnection.org. And to see a map of all the doors we've knocked so far, visit our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

And that's "Metro's Connection" for this week. We heard from WAMU's Sabri Ben-Achour, Emily Friedman, Jessica Gould, Jonathan Wilson and Tara Boyle along with producer, Marc Adams. Our acting news director is Memo Lyons. Our managing producer is Tara Boyle. Lauren Landau is our editorial assistant. Our intern is Raphaella Benin. Jonna McKone, Lauren Landau and Raphaella Benin produced "Door To Door." Thanks, as always, to the WAMU engineering and digital media teams for their help with production and the "Metro Connection" website.

SHEIR

Our theme song, ''Every Little Bit Hurts'' and our ''Door To Door'' theme "No Girl" are from the album "Title Tracks" by John Davis and used with permission of the Ernest Jennings Record Company. You can see all the music we use on our website, metroconnection.org. Just click on an individual story and you'll find information about its accompanying song. Also on metroconnection.org, you can find our Twitter and Facebook links. You can read free transcripts of stories and if you've missed any part of today's show, just click the this week on "Metro Connection" link.

SHEIR

To hear past shows go to the podcast link or find us in iTunes. We hope you can join us next week when we bring you our favorite "Metro Connection" stories about the great outdoors, from abandoned quarries in Maryland to spelunking in Virginia to global soccer in an undisclosed location.

#1

We never know what's gonna happen, whether there's going to be a great game, bad game, whether we're gonna have a long fest afterwards or whether we have to have a pass the peace pipe around.

SHEIR

I'm Rebecca Sheir and thanks for listening to "Metro Connection," a production of WAMU 88.5 news.
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