Many of us are aware that there is an ongoing discussion about redeveloping the self storage unit into the a new apartment building, and a counterproposal by some residents to convert that same space into a park. As a side note in this discussion, I’ve realized that many residents aren’t taking full advantage of the parks that are currently available to us and that there are parks that some residents don’t even realize are open to the public. I know that our parks aren’t perfect, but I’d really like to begin a conversation about how we can use what we have or how we can change what we have to work better for us.
South Silver Spring has quite a few parks, plazas and the like – right in South Silver Spring or a short trip away. Whether you want to play a game of soccer, take your kids to a playground, soak up some sun, get some fresh air while you enjoy a book, or go for a bicycle ride, you’ll likely find what you are looking for within a few blocks.
I believe this list covers all of the parks, pocket parks, and plazas in South Silver Spring. Everyone uses parks differently (which is the great thing about parks and public spaces!), so I invite you to add to, reinforce, or disagree with my opinions in the comment section.
Jesup Blair Park – link – (Montgomery County Park) Easily the largest park in the Silver Spring central business district, this 24 acre park has a playground, soccer field, multiple tennis courts, basketball courts, walking paths and plenty of lawn space. Even though it shares a long edge with Georgia Avenue, the brick wall seems to abate most of the noise except for the occasional emergency vehicle. I’ve heard from many neighbors that they are concerned about crime in the park, but I am not sure if this is based on facts or perception. The only reason I don’t go to Jesup Blair Park more often is that when I have it in my head to do something, my brain points me north on Georgia Avenue toward Downtown Silver Spring, and I just forget that the park exists – it’s out of my brain’s peripheral vision.
Acorn Park – link – (Montgomery County Park) This little park is home to the spring for which Silver Spring is named, and is home to the iconic acorn gazebo which is a mascot of sorts to the South Silver Spring Neighborhood Association. Though the amenities are scant, it’s a historical patch of green with a few places to sit and some great shade.
Plaza at The Galaxy/Aurora/Orion – (Privately owned, open to the public) I don’t know if this plaza has an official name; is it time to take a poll? Constellation Plaza? Universe Square? Copernicus Court? This little plaza and playground creates a buffer between The Aurora Condominiums, Galaxy Apartments and Orion Condominiums. The developer of these three buildings created this space as their required public amenity, so despite its visual integration into the Galaxy Apartments it is open to the public. It has quickly become my favorite outdoor spot in town with very little street noise, the shade from the tall buildings and the breeze keeping the temperature a consistent 5 or 10 degrees cooler, and the comfortable tables that are great for having lunch or pulling out your laptop. And one unforeseen side affect of the Aurora and the Orion not having their own garages is that there is plenty of foot traffic through the plaza as people walk to and from the public garage under The Galaxy.
Argent Lawn – (Privately owned, open to the public) Though it’s a small green patch with only a couple of benches, I’ve always liked the “Lotus” sculpture that for some reason makes me think Tim Burton. I never use the park myself except as a shortcut when I’m walking to Giant, but I often see people setting on the benches reading the newspaper or doing a crossword puzzle. To make the area more appealing, the management company (Grady Management) should remove its large leasing sign placed in the middle of the park.
1200 East West Sidewalk – (Privately owned, open to the public) Possibly my least favorite public amenity in South Silver Spring, it feels to me to be nothing more than a glorified sidewalk with a large spaceship-like sculpture. The only “seating” is the ledge around the sculpture. However, once Scion opens, and presuming there is a large outdoor dining area, I think my opinion will be greatly changed. It would be great to see that space become vibrant with sidewalk tables.
Veridian Plaza – (Privately owned, open to the public) This plaza has two areas: the stone chair circle and the bistro tables. Though the stone chairs have the art deco styling that is iconic of Silver Spring, I don’t think that stone chairs are very comfortable, especially when they aren’t designed to drain rainwater. But in a few years when the trees get a little larger I think that he surrounding wooden benches will be much more pleasant. As for the bistro tables, I’ve heard many people complain that they are awkwardly placed and conspicuous for sitting. I think this might change once retail opens in the large space The Veridian. Imagine shopping at a Trader Joe’s at the Veridian for a wrap and then eating your lunch right outside.
8045 Newell Arcade – (Privately owned, open to the public) The arcade under 8045 Newell features a shaded concrete park of benches and large silver orbs in an organic flow. If I remember right, it represents a river of mechanized technology (ball bearings?), paying homage to the Transorma, the first semiautomatic mail sorter installed in the post office that existed on this site in 1957. Other artwork nearby includes a painted glass panel with images of postage stamps and postmarks which doubles as a visual barrier to 8045’s driveway.
Arts Alley – (Privately owned, open to the public) The alley behind Moorenko’s and Fajita Cost is lined with benches. Depending on the time of day you’ll often find families enjoying either ice cream or chimichangas. I feel that the space was more frequently used when when Mayorga was still in operation there.
Metropolitan Branch Trail – link – The eastern wing of the “bicycle beltway” shaves the eastern part of South Silver Spring by following Fenton Street through Montgomery College. The trail has been slow to getting finished partly because it’s tied to the Purple Line, but when complete will provide a ride that more or less goes directly from the Silver Spring Transit Center to Union Station. Currently it’s a combination of on-street routes and off-street paths. When completed, it will come more into South Silver Spring either by crossing georgia on the bridge with the Metro tracks or by crossing Georgia on-street right at Sligo Ave by Jackie’s Restaurant.
[ADDED – thanks, Anonymouse] Discovery Park – Not to be confused with the Discovery Sensory Garden at Discovery Channel. A great plaza with a wave pool. I’m sure it is primarily used as outdoor seating for Ikko Sushi and by the employees of NOAA. I rather like the sound of the waves and the trees that both serve to distract you from the noise of East-West Highway.
Nearby in Silver Spring – The central business district is home to lots of other public spaces that serve as great places to have lunch, read a book, meet friends, or even to go ice skating. This list isn’t comprehensive, but this should cover everything except for a couple of small pocket parks:
- Veterans Plaza – link – (Owned by Montgomery County) A large concrete plaza of benches, chairs, tables, and rocking chairs. In the winter it is home to an ice rink and in the summer you’ll often find markets and events such as the Fenton Street Market. Being the front entry to the Silver Spring Civic Center, it really could be considered the heart of the city.
- Ellsworth Drive – (Owned by Montgomery County, privately leased and managed, open to the public) On both sides of Ellsworth Drive is Downtown Silver Spring. The promenade is vibrant, brimming with people and shops. It’s a great place for kids to play in the fountain or to bring your laptop and grab some free WiFi provided by Atlantech Online. This public space has become a model for a successful urban renewal.
- Crescent Plaza – The condominium on Wayne Avenue has a great little spot, but until the Library and/or La Madeline are open I don’t think that any retail will be sustainable, which makes it nothing more than some tables on the sidewalk.
- Wayne Avenue Plaza – I can’t seem to find any information about ownership, but I get the impression that it’s owned by Montgomery County. This little plaza has some nice seating right at Wayne and Georgia, diagonal from Discovery. Currently it seems to serve as a barrier – outsiders who visit Downtown Silver Spring stop at the plaza, not realizing that so many great restaurants exist past it. I hope that once La Madeline opens that will change, converting the plaza into an official or unofficial extension of their dining room.
- Discovery Sensory Garden – (Privately owned, open to the public, usually) Snuggled inside the “L” shape of the Discovery Headquarters is Discovery’s public amenity, a garden where you can often find people having lunch or just enjoying the flora. The park has a history of being inaccessible to the public at times, but don’t let that stop you from trying to enjoy this gem.
Nearby in DC – Let’s not be afraid to cross the DC line and enjoy some of the parks across the border. We have the benefit of living right by one of the greenest areas of the District with Shepherd Park, Colonial Village, and Rock Creek Park right at our doorsteps.
- Marvin Caplan Park – link – This small triangular park on Alaska and 13th is a great place to get some sun or throw a frisbee.
- Shepherd Park School – Playground is open to the public after school hours.
- Rock Creek National Park – At 1,715 acres, Rock Creek Park is over twice the size of Central Park, and it’s right next door: 20 minutes on foot or 5 minutes by car or bike will get you there. Though it might be too far for a lunch break or to take the kids to go play for just half an hour, it’s perfect for spending an afternoon.