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.