March-April 2015 | Home & Garden

Walk to Everything

In these neighborhoods, residents have the best of both worlds: They live in single-family homes on quiet, leafy streets but are steps away from farmers markets, restaurants, shops and more.

share this


East Silver Spring is “a perfect place to raise our family,” says Tucker McDonald, shown here with son Wilkie, wife Meghan and daughter Margot.

Meghan and Tucker McDonald lived on Capitol Hill when they were single. But after they got married and started thinking about buying a home, they knew they couldn’t afford to stay there.

They wanted a little more space. They wanted a yard. They also wanted to be close to the District, where Tucker is director of field mobilization at the American Federation of Government Employees, and to Rockville, where Meghan is a counselor at Julius West Middle School. They found all those things in East Silver Spring.

“It’s a perfect place to raise our family,” Tucker says. The couple has two children, Margot, 3, and Wilkie, 1.

East Silver Spring is a neighborhood of small colonials, American foursquares, Sears bungalows with broad front porches, and brick kit homes from the 1920s and 1930s. Prices for single-family homes range from about $300,000 for a house in need of work to $750,000 for a home that’s been gutted and renovated; many sell for $400,000 to $500,000.

“We looked at, like, 30 or 40 houses,” Meghan says. “There was just something about the bones of this house and the feeling of this street. It felt safer. It felt like it had good potential. The neighborhood had big trees. It had a nice eclectic feel. We have neighbors from all over the world and different walks of life.”

The McDonalds are equidistant from downtown Silver Spring and Takoma Park, making it easy to duck into restaurants such as 8407 Kitchen Bar, Jackie’s Sidebar or Republic for dinner or drinks. New places often pop up nearby, with recent arrivals including a coffee shop/record store hybrid called Bump ’n Grind and Denizens Brewing Co., a hipster favorite. They’re close to the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center and to Kaldi’s Coffee Bar, a popular Silver Spring hangout. Two farmers markets and two Metro stations—Silver Spring and Takoma—are within a mile.

Often, free time for them means hanging out with neighbors—watching football or going for walks. Their neighborhood even hosts a fall soup party.

“People are easygoing,” Tucker says. “It felt like a good place to start out.”



Monique and George Ashton walk with son, Andrew, and daughter, Sydney, in their West End neighborhood in Rockville.

Monique LaRocque Ashton and her husband, George Ashton, moved to their home in Rockville’s West End in 2009, after living in Friendship Heights and, later, East Rockville. Like many parents, they were looking for good schools for their children, Andrew, now 8, and Sydney, 5. But they also wanted to be within walking distance of downtown Rockville and the new shops and restaurants that were moving in. “We saw the area was changing and becoming a really cool community,” Monique says.

Washington, D.C., lawyer Henry Copp built the neighborhood of Victorian homes in the 1890s for District workers hopping the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad after the Rockville depot opened in 1873. Many of those homes remain, with turrets, towers and characteristic bay windows, and are protected by the West Montgomery Avenue Historic District. They’ve been joined by homes that came along in later decades: turn-of-the-century bungalows, postwar Cape Cods, ranch-style homes from the 1950s, split-levels from the 1970s and homes like the Ashtons’, which was built in 2006 with Victorian touches. Home prices range from $300,000 to more than $1 million.

Monique says houses are still affordable compared to lots of parts of the Washington area. “I’m seeing lots of families moving here,” she says. “It’s the first time in my life where I feel like I know my neighbors. It makes such a difference to be able to come home and talk across the fence.”

Rockville Town Square’s shops and restaurants, including Dawson’s Market and Bar Louie, as well as its movie theater and Saturday farmers market, are within walking distance. The Ashtons walk to the swim center and library, too. At home, they have a yard for the kids, quiet streets and friendly neighbors.

Both Asthons work in the District. George is CFO for Sol Systems, a solar energy finance and investment firm. Monique is senior vice president for Feinstein Kean Healthcare. Both take the Metro, a 15-minute walk from home, every day.

Says Monique: “We basically plan our lives around closeness to the Metro.”



Karen Norris, shown here in her home, plays guitar for the Kentlands Acoustic Jam band.

You might spot Karen Norris at an outdoor concert, playing guitar for the Kentlands Acoustic Jam band, or see her name in the community newspaper, the Town Crier, where she sings the praises of the neighborhood she moved to last summer. Her town house provides more space than she needs, she says, but it’s perfect for when grandchildren visit.

“They can ride their bikes on the sidewalks,” Norris says. “They can play on the village green and in parks.”

A converted barn at the historic Kentlands Mansion now serves as an arts center (left). The neighborhood’s sidewalks attract kids on skateboards and bikes (right).

Norris came to the Kentlands in Gaithersburg from Old Town Alexandria when her job as managing editor at Thompson Information Services moved from Washington, D.C., to Bethesda. She also wanted to be close to her daughter, who lives just 1½ miles away. And she wanted a community as walkable as the one she was leaving.

Her home fronts the village green, which is the site of concerts and other events, and she’s two blocks away from the shops, restaurants and farmers market on Main Street.

“I think everyone I have met, without exception, feels lucky to live here,” she says. “That’s pretty remarkable.”

Built in the early 1990s, the Kentlands was one of the country’s first neighborhoods designed on “New Urbanism” principles, a movement that harkens back to American towns of old, with narrow streets, closer houses and shops and restaurants in easy walking distance.

The Kentlands’ historic mansion hosts events. The carriage house provides meeting space. The old barn has been reconfigured into an arts center. Summer concerts take place downtown, and the village green is the site of a giant Oktoberfest every year. In addition to sidewalks that lead to Main Street, there are bike paths along lakes and wooded trails that encourage exploring off the beaten path.

Kentlands homes could fit in Georgetown: cozy colonial town houses, condos and single-family homes made of brick or wood, with yards enclosed by black iron or white picket fences. Prices start around $300,000 for condominiums, and can exceed $1 million for single-family homes. Most garages are detached and face a network of alleyways, or “mews.”
“It’s more than a pretty design,” Norris says. “It’s a design that encourages neighbors to get to know each other.”

David Frey lives in Gaithersburg and has written for Sunset magazine and other publications.