|Managing the Spiritual Neighborhood|
How to Restore the Conscience of America's Communities; A Grass Roots Approach
Below are listed some miscellaneous resources that may be of use to residents of Westchester, Camp Springs and Southern Prince George's County. It includes some of the local shops and tradesmen that have earned favorable reports from neighbors. The list is by no means comprehensive. If you know of a shop, merchant, tradesman, etc., that is worth recommending, please let the webmaster know and we'll include it. Note that the list is not strictly local. Alexandria and Northern Virginia are right across the river, Waldorf is a short trip down Route 5, and Washington DC itself is quite reachable, particularly now Metro's green line to Branch Avenue has opened. Note also that this site has no
commercial sponsors. Nor have the companies, merchants, etc. that are mentioned given their approval or endorsement for this site, or for the listing of their products. The list is provided strictly as an informational service to you, the reader.
All of these folks are pros. They are local, and have been in business for a number of years.
Heating and Air Conditioning
Carpentry, Home Improvement
Painting and Drywall
Cement and Brick Work
Hauling, Odd Jobs
Skip the Safeway and buy your groceries at these smaller markets; support local business and local growers. (See also Agriculture links for market baskets from CSA co-op farms)
Profile of the Camp Springs Garden Zone
The topography of Camp Springs, Maryland is typical of the suburban American landscape shopping plazas, streets and highways, schools, churches, a government building or two. The residential subdivisions are solidly middle to upper-middle class in construction and appearance: brick, single family homes, on 1/3 to 1/2 acre lots, built mostly during the 60s. Some of these subdivisions are very green and quite attractive, and the community derives much of its appeal from the neighborhoods. From a global perspective, Camp Springs is clearly way up near the top in terms of the standard of living of its residents. Of course, beneath the facade of suburban comfort Camp Springs has exactly the same problems that are ubiquitous in every American community: isolated, uninvolved residents, an undercurrent of fear and mistrust, government that operates from a reactive mindset, a fractured, polluted ecology, a population that is spiritually disconnected from the earth that supports them, and so forth.
Bias towards development
Like everyone else, people in Camp Springs take for granted such things as bulletproof glass in banks, security cameras in supermarkets, police in public schools, alarms on your house, your car, your tool shed, etc. (Not surprisingly, the level of crime in this area mirrors the level of security. No one wants to talk about the crime problem, however. It's not politically correct. See the "Camp Springs Paradox" crime report.) Camp Springs, and the municipality that contains it, Prince George's County, are not nearly as built-up as some of the neighboring counties in suburban Maryland and Virginia, but they sure would like to be. The county government is distinctly biased in favor of development. They want stores. They want industry. They want stadiums, malls, and theme parks. They want wider roads and more of them in order to accommodate the affluent two, three and four car, commuting families that make up much of the population. Like most Americans, they've been brainwashed into believing that "class" consists of driving a Mercedes, shopping at Nordstrom, and playing golf at a country club. It's no surprise that the County Executive Wayne Curry was a lawyer for developers, and his predecessor, Maryland Governor Parris Glendening, has a background in urban planning.
You can read about the Prince George's planning department's grand vision for the future - their "General Plan" - on-line at www.princegeorgesfuture.com. The entire focus of the plan is on development, development and more development. All of Camp Springs is located smack in the middle of the "developing tier": a wide swath of territory that extends the entire length of the county from north to south. What's sad is that the traditional character of Prince George's has been totally lost. In the span of two or three decades, the county has been transformed from a quiet, fairly rural, fairly green, agricultural and farming area to a noisy, congested, asphalt melange of highways and crappy strip-malls. And they're not through with us yet. The residential neighborhoods offer some degree of refuge, but the moment you exit to the main drag, it becomes clear that your "home town" is very much a part of the so-called "urban planet."
No extremes of climate - two growing seasons
People not only take crime for granted in this area, they also take for granted things that they should in fact be thankful for. For one thing, a nearly perfect climate, with mild winters, and long, comfortable spring and fall seasons. The summers are humid, but not all that severe. For example, the year 2002 was relatively hot for this area, yet I've only run the air conditioner for a total of 36 days. It wasn't turned on until June 24th, and it looks like it won't be on after August 23th. In 2001 the AC was on for 29 days, between June 13 and August 18. Looking back at the garden logs I can tell you that over the last 10 years the AC was on for an average of 27 days. If I didn't have to accommodate my boarders, I could probably get away without air conditioning at all. That's because the house is nicely shaded by some large trees trees that do well with the rainfall we receive in this region -a fairly dependable 40 inches on average. Though there have been some dry spells, there has never been a prolonged, serious drought since I've lived here. (Note, however, that the past year has indeed been quite dry in this area. Farmers have certainly felt the effect.) Prince Georgians never have any water shortages to speak of, because our drinking water comes from the Potomac River, which is pretty much limitless in its supply. We don't have extremes of anything in southern Maryland. No earthquakes, no hurricanes. Tornados are very rare. Thunderstorms are about the most violent phenomenon we experience. In Camp Springs, we typically have our last frost in the first week of April, and the earliest first frost doesn't come until the end of October. This provides us with a nice, long growing season. You really have two seasons to work with: spring/summer, and summer/fall.
Abundant water but bad air
The water supply is quite clean, and very drinkable, thanks to the WSSC, though in my household we do still use a purifying filter. You can't be quite as happy about our air quality, however. You would think that the air would be better than average, as we're located far enough away from the city to avoid the brunt of the vehicle emissions. Westchester Estates is about two miles outside the Beltway, a location that ought to reduce our exposure to the fumes and particulate matter from car exhaust. However, the air here can be downright bad, especially in the summer. The American Lung Association gave Prince George's an 'F' rating for its air quality, along with pretty much every other county in the Washington-Baltimore region. The reason: ozone pollution, which is a problem during the hot months. We're not alone, however, as there are 400 counties nationwide, containing 141 million people, that were also rated 'F'. Baltimore-Washington came up as the 7th worst area in the country for air pollution. (See the report on the Lung Association web site: http://www.lungusa.org/press/envir/sota2001_release.html.)
Noise pollution increasing
Regarding noise pollution, your distance from the Beltway will determine how much traffic noise you hear. In Westchester Estates, the 1 1/2 to 2 mile distance helps to buffer us from the 24-hour-a-day roar. Andrews Air Force Base is close by, but fortunately the takeoff pattern does not go over Camp Springs. Forestville and Clinton are much more affected that we are. The only time we really hear aircraft noise is during air shows and when the President flies in with his three helicopters. (Also occasionally when big jets are parked doing "run-ups".) Actually, the air traffic from National Airport produces more noise than Andrews. Nevertheless, noise has continued to increase as traffic on Route 5 (Branch Avenue), and secondary roads has gotten heavier, and trees and green space are lost to new homes and plazas. Considering the relatively close-in location of Camp Springs, it doesn't look like we'll ever have any real relief from noise pollution in these parts.
Suitable for solar power
Energy-wise, we're in decent shape - that is, if you don't mind the fact that your juice comes from fossil fuels (mainly coal plants). The Washington area is part of a five-state power sharing grid the PJM Interconnection that is unlikely to experience anything like the electric shortages they've seen in California, the New York area, and elsewhere, as power demand continues to rise. Because of the deregulation of the power industry, Maryland consumers also have the choice to buy green power for their homes. (Note, however, that it's not clear whether deregulation is itself beneficial. People are having second thoughts after witnessing the situation in out west last year.) Green electricity is available from the power grid in our area - Pepco has been advertising it - moreover, it's entirely possible to generate your own green power. In Southern Maryland we do have enough sunshine to allow a homeowner to employ his own solar, photo-voltaic (PV) source to power his home. If you have sufficient battery back-up, you can even be off the grid entirely. For people with homes in rural areas, like 1/4 to 1/2 mile from the nearest power line, it is actually cheaper to go totally solar (Check out the Chesapeake Solar, LLC web site, www.chesapeakesolar.net for more information.) Moreover, Maryland is a "net-metering" state, where the meter spins backwards if you have excess power from your solar panels, effectively taking money off your electric bill, and there is a 15% state tax credit on the purchase of a PV system. (Wind mills are not an option in this area - not enough wind.)
Holding sprawl at bay
Fortunately, the forces that govern the creation of urban sprawl have for the most part passed over Prince George's, though for how long we don't know. We still don't have anything that resembles the mega-mall development parks, and the 20 mile strips of plaza after plaza that you find north of the District, and across the river in Fairfax. There is in fact an honest-to-goodness 7-acre farm still operating right in the middle of Camp Springs (the Biggs family farm), the owner of which still makes a living by selling produce at local farmers markets. If you view that farm from across the road, and mentally block out the development around it, you can almost imagine yourself in the peaceful, country setting that existed not all that long ago in these parts. The secret to living here is to orient yourself towards the tobacco farms, the peach orchards and the rolling woodland a couple of miles to the south, rather than the concrete landscape to the north. The Westchester subdivision, where I live, is at the fringe of the rural margin. We have an adjacent band of undeveloped stream bottom that leads south and west, which makes a narrow, but nevertheless continuous, connection to the farms and woods that stretch down towards the Potomac and Southern Maryland. It provides a green byway by which a variety of critters are able to visit our backyards: deer, beaver, fox, etc. The trails that follow Tinker's Creek are quite accessable and very pleasant to walk. It's perhaps the most under-appreciated feature of the neighborhood.
Lost cultural traditions
It's not exactly clear why the development barons have passed us over, though some have suggested that it has to do with the demographics of the region. The population is highly transient, with a large component of military and federal workers that never put down roots. The "white flight" phenomenon is definitely in evidence, which is why blacks are now in the majority. The racial make-up may or may not be good for developers, but it could perhaps be good for folks who are looking to introduce a new social paradigm. Minorities might be more open to innovation, fresh thinking, and new solutions more so perhaps than the white, Anglo-European establishment. Beyond a handful of Hispanics (a growing number, by the way) and a small concentration of Filipinos, there aren't any other racial or ethnic groups to speak of in south county. There certainly isn't any trace left of indigenous culture. Native Americans were wiped off the mid-Atlantic map centuries ago; all that's left are hollow ghost-names of civilizations and peoples that don't exist anymore: Patuxent, Mattaponi, Mattawoman, Accokeek, Chesapeake, Piscataway. Not only has indigenous culture disappeared, but neither the black, nor the white immigrants who took the Indians' place have retained the cultural traditions of the "old country" to any significant degree. Again, this could actually be a positive thing if you could find the right way to introduce some authentic traditions, with a truly spiritual content, to a culturally starved population.
The bottom line: Camp Springs is not ideal but it's livable
In short, a Garden Zone Manager in Westchester is in a good position for "preventive" community interaction. It's a good platform from which to direct people coming out of the city to point them back towards the earth. A place where it's possible to settle in, enjoy the positive things about your environment, and attempt to "grow the good" for social change. The challenge is to get people to start appreciating this comfort. I'm quite sure that very few of my neighbors give a passing thought to their fortunate position on the planet. Energy never crosses their minds. They flip a switch and a light comes on. They pay the electric bill each month. Beyond that, there is no thought. Climate, ecology, food, water ... same thing. Food comes from supermarkets, water comes from faucets. The park is a place to avoid too many snakes, too much poison ivy.. Birds are pests that poop on your car, and trees are the places where they perch. Insects are creepy things that you have to spray, and so on. Obviously there is a lot of educational work to be done here.
The bottom line: Camp Springs is a livable place. Not a perfect place, but given the current condition of society, it's suitable for the transition period. Transition, meaning, the movement towards a de-urbanized, ecologically restored, community-oriented, locally self-sufficient world.
Spring 2005... Since moving
out of Camp Springs I've had a chance to observe it from afar, to think
a bit more about what "livable" means, and to compare my home
of 17 years in Westchester Estates with residential areas in other parts
of the country. I've also refined the criteria for livability quite a
bit, and because of this I have subsequently changed my mind about whether
Camp Springs qualifies as a livable place. Though it has some good qualities,
such as excellent access to "connected green space" (see Section
4 of the CCA website), the negative factors outweigh the positive.
Congestion, noise, traffic and too many badly behaving residents make
Camp Springs undesirable as place to settle down permanently. Moreover,
the remoteness, the unresponsiveness and the general reactionary mind-set
of the county's governmental leadership does not appear likely to change
any time soon. Without support from the political establishment, there's
little chance of getting a Community Conscience Advocacy program off the
ground in P.G. Finally, the entire Washington D.C. region has become one
big, sprawling, over-developed mass of plazas, highways, town homes, apartments,
hillsides stripped bare for development, cars, trucks, buses and more
cars. From the far reaches of Loundon County in the west, to Annapolis
in the east, from Manassas in the south to Columbia in the north, D.C.
is a poster-child for the urbanized, Wal-Martized, Target and Best Buy
world. Everywhere you go, it's just more of the same, with no end in sight.
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