Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Which State Is Better: Maryland Or Virginia?

Which State Is Better: Maryland Or Virginia? Washington Post Bloggers Square Off
(By Tom Jackman and Michael Rosenwald, Washington Post Magazine, 10 January 2012)
Perhaps it started during the Civil War, when they took opposite sides. For whatever reason, Maryland and Virginia have a rivalry as long and deep as the Potomac River that divides them, and control of which they’ve fought over. “Given the ideological split,” lobbyist Charlie Davis once told The Post, “God probably got it right putting the Potomac where it is.”  “Virginia is for Lovers” was met by “Maryland is for Crabs.” Virginia welcomes “y’all”; Maryland calls you “hon.” Virginia bans gay marriage; Maryland allows it. Virginia taxes cars; Maryland taxes, well, everything. Virginia discourages unions (the professional ones, not just the gay ones); some observers say Maryland is run by them.

Post bloggers Mike Rosenwald (Rosenwald, Md.) and Tom Jackman (The State of NoVa ) got together for a beer in neutral territory, a bar in the District, and immediately began comparing their respective states. Things started off politely enough. But gradually, the conversation turned, and the insults began to fly. The exchange went something like this:


Tom (Va.): Hey, Mike, sorry I’m late. Didn’t want to give up my parking spot on the Beltway there at Tysons Corner.

Mike (Md.): Well, at least you didn’t have to dodge the speed cameras, since Virginia doesn’t have them. In Maryland, even our speed cameras have cameras, to prevent vandalism.

Tom: Don’t feel too bad. Virginia is always devising new forms of Traffic Hell. Now we’ve built HOT lanes. This means you can pay good HOT money to sit in traffic. But only on the Virginia side, I guess. In Maryland, you can sit in traffic for free.

Mike: Not true! I pay $6 on the new Intercounty Connector for the advantage of bypassing the Beltway and cutting a whole six minutes off the time it takes to get to my in-laws’ in Baltimore. Why does it cost so much?
I think it’s because the underpasses have dark, luxurious bricks. Officials call them “earth-toned.” The road is basically an extension of Whole Foods, with Whole Foods prices.

Tom: On the inner loop in Virginia,
I have seen people take up smoking, become addicted and then quit all in one trip. We call this showing state spirit.

Mike: Well, tobacco always has been important to Virginia.

Tom: Yup. Just look at our great monument, the towering cigarette shrine outside the Philip Morris plant on I-95 in Richmond. We are here to fill all your tar and nicotine needs.

Mike: Don’t feel too bad. At least you have decent wine to enjoy along with those cancer sticks. You have almost four times as many wineries as we do, and they turn out a better product. Maryland vintages are lucky to be labeled “table wine.” And if you want to buy wine in a grocery store over here, you will basically have to amend the state constitution.

Tom: You know, if we were meeting at a bar in Northern Virginia, I could keep my handgun legally stuffed in my pocket. Just in case some drunk, or Orioles fan (or are they the same thing?), wanted to give me some lip. Are there any bars over in Maryland where I can pack heat?

Mike: No. We prefer to settle our disputes by lobbing insults, sometimes on our license plates, such as that Redskins fan’s CWBYSUK tag, which made the news a few months ago.

Tom: And I thought it was Virginians who were the gentlemen.

Mike: Besides, we don’t have that many bars anymore, as you probably define them. We’ve grown out of them. We have tasting-menu places, though. They serve a lot of artisanal, locally grown haricots vert. So, you might not be able to pack heat, but you can pack wine. The corkage fee is about 10 bucks.

Tom: They charge you $10 to take the cork out of the bottle? If we still used corks, that would really hurt. Twist-off technology has taken root here in the Old Dominion. After all, we’re classy. Look at Michaele Salahi. First, she went uninvited to a White House state dinner, then she was a “Real Housewife,” then she dumped her wannabe winemaker husband for an over-the-hill Journey guitarist. Thankfully, she left the state, but we’re still stuck with her ex, Tareq Salahi, who, get this, is running for governor.

Mike: Hey, you have the Salahis. We have Dan Snyder. In classiness terms, he makes Michaele Salahi look like Condoleezza Rice.

Tom: At least you have Snyder’s Redskins. We have them only for practice and office space. Oh, and on our roads, because they mostly live over here, where they keep our cops tied up issuing traffic tickets and arresting them when they get out of their trucks to punch someone in the face.

Mike: That reminds me. I’ve been meaning to ask you what’s it like to not have a major professional sports team. You know what other state doesn’t have a pro team? North Dakota. Also, Idaho.

Tom: Virginia had a pro team once, the Virginia Squires of the ABA. Dr. J and George Gervin played for them. But there was not enough cocaine in all of Virginia for the Squires, so they folded. That was never a problem for Maryland, where the Bullets spent many years.

Mike: Speaking of crime, your major export, according to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is guns. Are you trying to get rid of them because you secretly agree that they’re sort of, oh, ... deadly? Over here, the subject of guns is generally limited to conversations such as: “Did you know the NRA is based in Virginia?” Reply: “Oh, my God. It makes sense if you think about it.”

Tom: What does Maryland export? Chickens to China? If some drunk doesn’t kill 70,000 chickens at once, as happened this summer. You wouldn’t catch a Virginian doing that.

Mike: But you have no compunction about killing criminals.

Tom: You’re right, we do excel at that. Why do you think that, when the D.C. snipers were arrested, they were sent to Virginia for prosecution, though they did most of their killing in Maryland? Because we get the job done. Seven years later, John Muhammad was dead. Proposed motto: “Virginia: You Kill Us, We’ll Kill You Back.”

Mike: You already have a bloodthirsty motto: Sic semper tyrannis. I looked it up. It means, “Thus always to tyrants.” I wonder: Is that why you allow guns in bars?

Tom: Yes, though if you want to mirror the motto, you want to use a sword, not a gun, to stab the offender then stand on his chest. That’s the image on our state seal and state flag, a woman with a sword standing on someone’s chest. But it’s got character, at least. Your flag looks like a second-grader threw up on a spinning paint wheel. What is that thing? And your motto is “Fatti maschii parole femine.” Know what that means? “Manly deeds, womanly words.”

Mike: It’s our unofficial state motto. And don’t start with me about manliness. You guys love bragging about being patriots and about your eight presidents. But I never hear a peep about William Henry Harrison, the Virginian who didn’t wear a hat in the cold rain during his inauguration. He caught a bad cold and died 31 days later. Embarrassed?

Tom: I’ll take eight presidents, including the founders of our country, over zero. Maryland hasn’t had any presidents because its top politicos — Marvin Mandel, Spiro Agnew,Jack Johnson, Jack Johnson’s wife — get indicted first. Your state motto should be “Maryland: You wanna play, you gotta pay.”

Mike: Speaking of playing, at least you can gamble in Maryland. The only gambling Virginia has is under-the-tailgate betting at those Gold Cup horse races held outside in a giant pasture, where you have to wear weirdly large hats or pants with suspenders.

Tom: You do more than gamble. You’re trying to make gaming a new Maryland sport. But your casinos have electronic blackjack tables, where cards are dealt on a screen by an avatar. Who is going to leave West Virginia for that?

Mike: I have one word for you: “Macaca.”

Tom: And the blurter of that word promptly lost an election he had in the bag. Maybe he was taking tips from William Donald Schaefer, who was never shy with an insult. He called one of his opponents Old Mother Hubbard.

Mike: Okay, enough about politics. As a fat guy, I want to talk about food. For a “Southern” state, your barbecue isn’t that good. Actually, I’ve squeezed better barbecue sauce out of a McDonald’s packet.

Tom: What? Virginia’s got all sorts of great food, in addition to our Chesapeake Bay crabs, which I’m told they have in Maryland, too. We’ve got the world-famous Smithfield ham, the renowned Virginia peanut, our 200-plus wineries and many great apple farms. Virginia is one of the biggest apple-producing states in the nation, and Winchester is called “the Apple Capital of the World.” Farther east, we’ve got great seafood. Farther west, we’ve got great moonshine. And you’ve got ... crabs.

Mike: Yeah, well, if your state is as tasty as you allege, then why is your official state beverage ... milk?

Tom: Nice try, Food Boy. So is yours.

Mike: Okay, why do Virginians insist on making Maryland kids envy Virginia kids? I mean, why would my kid like your kid if your kids don’t go back to school until after Labor Day?

Tom: We don’t see any use in overdoing the whole “education” thing. So, we’ve passed a law that public school cannot start before Labor Day, which allows folks plenty of time to pay good money to have their stomachs upset on the rides at Kings Dominion. An amusement park vs. school. C’mon, if you were a child, which one would you choose?

Mike: There’s that word “dominion” again. Old Dominion, Kings Dominion. You guys seem to have a strange affinity for it, considering that you lost the Civil War.

Tom: You mean the War Between the States? Maybe. But y’all lost the tourism battle. Thousands of people have flocked to Prince William County the last two summers to re-create the spectacle of our Southern soldiers scoring upset victories over the visiting team from the United States in the first and second Battles of Manassas.

Mike: Don’t you mean first and second Bull Run? The winner gets to name the battles, you know.

Tom: Whatever they’re called, we’re making money off them. We like to look on the bright side of trying to start our own country. It’s called leveraging our losses.

Mike: Leverage. Isn’t that the favorite term of every U-Va. biz school grad? I heard that word a lot during the financial crisis, which reminds me: Why do you guys foreclose on houses so fast? Is this another feature of “Sic semper tyrannis”?

Tom: Maybe in Maryland it’s okay to buy a house you can’t afford, not put a dime down, then squat there indefinitely. In Virginia, however, we discourage that. As a result, our economy is moving on, while Maryland’s languishes. I’ll take moving over languishing.

Mike: Let’s get back to tourism. Every time I see a “Welcome to Virginia” sign, the seventh-grader in me wants to point out the word “virgin” in Virginia.

Tom: Is that the best you can do? This is turning into a rout. Sorta like the Battles of Manassas, both the original and the rematch.

Mike: You mean Bull Run.

Tom: Fine. Whatever. I’m tired.
I’m possibly also out of material.

Mike: Me, too. I mean, using “virgin” as an insult? That was just weird.

Tom: I’m going home.

Mike: See you in traffic.

Tom: Watch out for those speed cameras.


To Be or Not to Be Fairfax County?
That Is the Question Residents, Leaders Ask in the Increasingly Urban Suburb
(By Sandhya Somashekhar and Amy Gardner, Washington Post, July 5, 2009)

Fairfax County has long been viewed as the ultimate burb, where Washington goes to walk the dog and water the lawn. But the more residents look around, the more they see what many have tried to avoid: high-rise offices, blight, crime and housing that's more likely to have a balcony than a back yard.  That changing reality came into focus last week when County Executive Anthony H. Griffin raised the possibility of officially making Fairfax a city, prompting discussion among county supervisors about whether the community of more than 1 million residents should highlight its status as an enormous jobs center that is rapidly urbanizing or embrace its classic suburban nature.

The basis for the idea is largely tactical -- under state law, cities have more taxing power and greater control over roads than counties do -- and it led to more than a few snickers about the thrilling nightlife in downtown Fairfax (punch line: there isn't any).  Regardless of whether the county changes its status, a process that requires approval from voters, the state and courts, the discussion underscored a growing tension within Virginia's largest jurisdiction. What does Fairfax want to be? A giant urban expanse like many new Sun Belt cities? Or more of a residential suburb, with a handful of urbanized pockets sprinkled in?

The Fairfax of today is somewhere in between. Its 400 square miles include a sea of cul-de-sacs, parks, pools and soccer fields, especially in its southern and western stretches. McLean and Great Falls remain high-end havens for some of the region's most exclusive addresses. Clifton still feels like the country.  Meanwhile, dense, Arlington County-style urban villages are quickly claiming the skylines of Vienna, Merrifield and Springfield, and county plans envision those and other developments ballooning over the next decade. Tysons Corner is already an economic and commercial behemoth, and it's only going to get bigger as development clusters around the Metrorail extension. The Route 1 corridor and other pockets are increasingly marked by blight.

On an uncrowded weekday afternoon at Old Keene Mill Swim and Racquet Club in Burke last week, Fairfax's still-shining suburban glory was on display. A gaggle of children with rackets under their arms ran up a hill to tennis courts. A mother coated her daughter with sunscreen by the pool, where a few dozen kids splashed and adults sat under giant umbrellas. Another mother walked from her car with packets of hot dogs and buns toward the club's grills and picnic tables.  "I personally would hate to see any more of a city feel to Fairfax County," Nancy Ohanian, 52, said while floating on foam noodles with her 9-year-old daughter. "We're losing so many trees. And I sure don't want to see my taxes go any higher."

For these families, Burke is their corner of suburban bliss, a community so complete that they rarely venture more than a mile or two beyond their homes.  "It had all the ingredients that I wanted for my family," said Mary Holden, 46, a mother of four. "My kids' schools, their sports teams, their friends, the shopping -- it's all here. I can go a whole week not ever leaving Burke, quite happy."  Holden and others probably would be quite unhappy if they ventured about 10 miles north to Merrifield. There, two sleek new five-story apartment buildings rise from a weedy parking lot. The bottom floor of one building is taken up by restaurants, a jewelry store and a tailor. The sound of nearby traffic roars as workers in scrubs from the nearby hospital brush past women with strollers and groups of young men.

It was in Merrifield that county leaders celebrated their newest "park" last month -- a brick-lined plaza with a fountain and some benches centered between new apartment buildings.  It's just that kind of urban feel that attracted residents such as Duy Anh Huynh. "I definitely think of Fairfax as a city. It's awesome, very vibrant," Huynh, 34, said after picking up dinner at a burrito joint within walking distance of his apartment.  Many policymakers and planners believe Fairfax has no choice but to continue to grow along the Merrifield model. The alternative is for the same suburban development patterns to worsen traffic, pollution and sprawl -- or for the growth that is expected to continue regionwide to pass Fairfax by. After that comes decline, they say.  "What would you rather do, leave it the way it is?" asked Robert E. Lang, author of the book "Edgeless Cities" and co-director of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech. "It's neither fish nor fowl. They are going to be out-citied by Arlington and out-countried by Loudoun."

None of this means that redevelopment of Tysons or any other corner of Fairfax guarantees success. Politicians, planners and nervous neighbors are acutely aware of the perils of building up: more traffic if commuting patterns don't change; higher taxes to pay for the massive foundation of infrastructure that must be built; and, eventually, blight if Fairfax's new urban spaces or overall economy don't thrive.  So far, Fairfax has been fortunate to escape many of the downsides of urbanization. The percentage of people living in poverty has declined slightly this decade, and average income, fueled by an explosion in federal contracting and the technology industries, has risen.  Crime, notably robbery, ticked up in 2007, the most recent year for which data are available, but it followed a national trend and remains well below national averages.

The one typically urban issue Fairfax is grappling with is neighborhood blight. Old neighborhoods such as Kings Park along Braddock Road or Huntington along Route 1 have been struggling with decline. Unkempt rented homes and falling property values dot these landscapes. Some areas, such as the partly vacant mall in downtown Springfield, have developed such an unsavory reputation that several of the mothers in Burke said they do not allow their teenage children to go there.  County leaders say their plans to redevelop such places as Tysons and Springfield will help reverse such decline rather than precipitate it. They say the central perils of building up are the impacts on surrounding neighborhoods, not rising crime or declining schools.  "Whether we like it or not, change is coming to Fairfax County," said Supervisor John C. Cook (R-Braddock). "We are urbanizing. That doesn't mean that anything has to change for the residents of Clifton or Braddock, but staying static is not an option."

In reality, an official redesignation from county to city is no simple task. Experts say it would be the largest such effort in modern Virginia history, and county leaders might prefer a more subtle route to achieve their goal of improving their transportation network, a task they say the state has failed to do.  If Fairfax does become a city, it would instantly become one of the largest in the nation, the size of San Antonio or San Jose.  It would also diverge dramatically from the stereotype of the gritty metropolis. Fairfax enjoys many of the benefits -- wealth and jobs -- and few of the detriments -- crime, troubled schools -- of a large urban center. With a median household income of $105,000, it is the wealthiest large county in the nation. Among large school systems, it boasts the highest test scores. And it has the lowest murder rate among the nation's 30 largest cities and counties.

Still, the city label doesn't quite fit for some community leaders. Supervisor John W. Foust (D-Dranesville) represents the largely suburban area around McLean and Herndon, where some residents worry that transformation in nearby Tysons will worsen traffic in their neighborhoods. The cul-de-sac lifestyle they have chosen is still the one that defines Fairfax, he said.  "I think the county form serves us pretty well," he said. "Future growth will be more urban, but we've got a huge population that has chosen a suburban model."



No comments:

Post a Comment