In many ways, it is no longer the Takoma Park of decades past, when free spirits flocked to the city, opened head shops and stood in front of bulldozers to prevent encroaching development. There’s a growing sense that its countercultural verve is changing into something else — something still progressive but less showy and ideological.
“Takoma is getting older, or at least the activists are getting older and not as engaged,” said Eric Hensal, who moved to the city in 2003 and who is running for a seat on the City Council. “It’s almost like Takoma really is at the post-hippie phase.”
In the past, Takoma Park officials balanced such issues as national immigration policy and nuclear proliferation with more parochial concerns, such as traffic. But these days, there is a feeling that the city should focus more on issues that directly affect its residents, such as a ban on chemical pesticides, council member Tim Male said.
“People are realizing that there’s places where our voices will really have a big impact and there are places where it won’t,” said Male, who moved with his wife to the city a decade ago. They now have two children.
Takoma Park, one of the first Washington suburbs, has long been far from a typical bedroom community. Its founders espoused the healthful effects of drinking pure water, and shortly after the turn of the century, the community was chosen as the location for the headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which advocates vegetarianism and abstinence from smoking and drinking.
In the 1960s and ’70s, the city attracted hippies because of its proximity to the University of Maryland, said Diana Kohn, a city historian. “Between 1963 and 1980, there was one protest after another,” Kohn said. The fight against building a highway through the city. The fight against Montgomery College’s expansion.
Soon, the grass-roots leaders became leaders in local government. In 1983, the City Council made Takoma Park a nuclear-free zone, meaning that the city wouldn’t associate with or invest in companies that make nuclear weapons. In 1996, it passed the Free Burma Act, which was intended to assist “in the restoration of democracy and respect for human rights in Burma.”
Eventually, the activists started fixing up the houses, marrying, having kids, becoming the “establishment,” Kohn said. Takoma Park residents who once stood in front of bulldozers were fighting to have Montgomery Blair High School relocated and rebuilt on a 42-acre campus. “Now they are homeowners, and they care about the schools, because their interests change,” she said.