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A Place for the Kids

Mount Vernon is in need for a place for young adults to gather.

Both boys are now back from another year at UVA.  My oldest, Patrick, got his undergraduate degree and will complete his Masters in Public Policy next year. Brian, my 19-year-old, just finished his first year. They’ve both got jobs for the summer, with Brian working at a summer camp and Patrick working for David Axelrod’s PR firm. 

Last Friday night, they were hanging around the house, their smelly feet perched up on the couch, munching on roasted almonds, playing Halo. I asked them if they were going out that night and they both mumbled “I dunno, there’s really no place to go.” 

We started talking about the possibilities and, you know, they’re right.  Here in Mount Vernon there really is no place for kids their age to “hang out” with their buddies. Sure, every once in a while they might drive into Old Town and grab some ice cream at Ben and Jerry’s. But it’s usually the same three guys.  There’s really no congregation point where they might run into some old high school chums or just chill with folks their own age.   

Now, I know there are some crusty ole curmudgeons out there who will shiver at the prospect of providing a place where young people can naturally congregate with their own generation. They will refer to previous efforts where communities tried to provide a gathering place for kids, like when the River City council allowed that “dangerous pool table” in their community. But I think it’s a lot better than having the kids run rampant, having to make up ways to entertain themselves, which could only lead to trouble.

The idea of a post-teen gathering place is not a new one.  Indeed, about two years ago, Supervisor Hyland put together a “Visioning Task Force” and at the first meeting of the Land Use committee a young woman named Sara Brandt Vorel stood up during an open forum and suggested that the community needed a “place for kids my age to hang out.”   She got a round of applause. Unfortunately, in its final report, no specific recommendations were made to that effect. They said something about upgrading our recreation centers but that’s not what we are talking about here.   

So, instead of just complaining about the problem, I asked my boys what they would like to see on Richmond Highway?      

They talked about a “town center” like the one in Reston or Silver Spring with a small movie theater, an ice cream store, a not-too-expensive restaurant with a nice bar (like Chili’s), an outdoor patio, maybe some kind of “arcade” or gaming area. A clothing store like The Gap would be nice, perhaps a place to get a contemporary haircut. Maybe even a (classy) miniature golf course.  Hey, what about some kind of outdoor concert pavilion?  Not the kind that would host Metallica but a great jazz or folk type venue. And, dare I suggest it, but how about a good bookstore?        

I am not an urban planner and this is all easier said than done. I do not have that “vision thing” but I keep thinking about the spot where the new Costco will be going and how that may have been a perfect place. But this is a complicated issue, we need to convince those kinds of establishments that the community would patronize their establishments. And organizations like the Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation are working hard to entice businesses down here.  I just hope that they keep in mind our teenager-plus community which, by the way, does spend money. 

Don Carr May 30, 2012 at 10:44 PM
Ron, here's a thought: why not convene a group of serious-minded "post teens," and, under the sponsorship/mentorship of the Patch and your column, have them develop proposals? Have them work up meaningful ideas and then select ONE idea they would like to see come to pass. Then have them develop a proposal and present it to the business community, under the auspices of the Mount Vernon Chamber of Commerce, to solicit sponsors to make it reality. This would be a great experience for the young people, and would afford the business community a worthwhile civic endeaver. The complete undertaking would set a great example for other communities in our region to emulate.
Shelley May 30, 2012 at 11:47 PM
@Don, you propose some great ideas. @William David, I don't know a reason that teens can't have both? No one has said it has to be one or the other. Currently, they both coexist and bring many benefits to the Trust. Athough I'm not quite able to envision teens flocking to a garden to hang out, but hey, to each is own. As a side note: Woodlawn Stables also is a complete working farm with a mission, although, I admit, providing knowledge of sustainable food production is not one of the many attributes a horse farm can claim on it's long list...But then again, I'm sure learning to administer an intermuscular injection in a horses neck isn't one Arcadia can list either : ) FYI, I have heard people mention that riding opportunities will still exist at Meadowood. Meadowood is managed by a different business owner and is not a lesson barn, but rather a boarding facility and therapuetic riding center. The hundreds of teens at WS can not ride there unless they can buy a horse and pay to keep it there. @TAilshire, I respectfully disagree with your assumption that teens don't "hang out" at barns. Based on your comment, I am assuming you don't have much experience with horses or barns, but I can gaurantee you, on any given day you can go to a barn and see plenty of teens hanging out, not just the ones working there. You are correct, many have a lesson and then hangout with their friends several hours afterwards. I, myself, was one of those teens so many moons ago.
Shelley May 30, 2012 at 11:58 PM
Oh, and DAVE! How could I forgot DAVE?...It just wounldn't be the same experience to post on the Patch's forum without receiving a stingy dig from you. Mwah!
DAVE May 31, 2012 at 12:12 PM
Shelley, I owned horses as a kid and have probably shoveled as much or more horsepoo (on alot of levels) as you. You slant the facts to fit your purpose. The number of teens that hang out at the stables is probably .000000000000001% of the teenage population. So the "we're doing such a great public service, blah, blah, blah" is a bunch of hooey. I kind of like Don's idea, but do you really think you are going to get a group of teenagers to spend the 15 years it's going to take to come to fruition.
AJ May 31, 2012 at 03:12 PM
I'm not a teen anymore but I have been saying the same thing for years Ron!!! Now its my brother's turn to lament the place to hang out. Springfield has a laser tag that even now as a 20-something I find awesome. My biggest problem with Springfield when I was younger was that it was already getting kind of sketchy and my parent's didn't like letting me and a group of girls go there alone. Plus, how do we get there? Kingstown is also terrific but again, I know teens have a hard time with rides. Does anyone remember the really awful mini-golf that used to be in by Home Depot?Can't they stick something like that in across from the Walgreens?

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