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The Washington, D.C.-Metro Area

Miranda Spivack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 21, 2005; 1:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer Miranda Spivack, who headed The Post's special sections, "The Guide 2005: The Washington Region at Your Fingertips," was online Thursday, April 21, at 1 p.m. ET to provide answers to your questions about the Washington, D.C.-metro area.

Learn how to get around the area, where to shop, how to contact elected officials and where to go when you need help or you want to help -- important information included in these special editions of The Washington Post Extras.

The transcript follows.

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Miranda Spivack: Thanks for joining me to talk about The Guides, which we hope gives you lots of useful information about your community and the Washington region, and also gives you some new ideas for places to have fun.


Foggy Bottom, Washington, D.C.: A terrific Post feature ran on Sundays, called "You Haven't Lived Here If You Haven't..." I know they're archived on post.com since the feature has been discontinued. That certainly would make a popular book for the Post to market. How about passing it along?

Miranda Spivack: That is a great feature, and we have a compendium of this past year's in The Guides. I'll pass along your suggestion too. Thanks


Washington, D.C.: How long was the planning process for the guides? When do you start putting them together?

Miranda Spivack: This is the second year we have published The Guides in nine counties and the District of Columbia. They are tailored to each jurisdiction and also have some common features, such as the On the Mall pages, and the regional transportation pages. Planning began almost immediately last year after we published them in April 2004. So it's an ongoing process that culminated this week with their publication. And we will begin to plan for next year by looking at this year's and taking suggestions from our readers and our colleagues about what we should do for next year's Guides.


Arlington, Va.: How did you determine what made it into the guides and what did not? How did you do your research for the guides?

Miranda Spivack: A team of editors, reporters, graphic artists, cartographers, copy editors, layout editors, photographers and other members of the newspaper staff continually offer ideas, and then a team of editors plans the Guides. Generally, we focused on what we thought would be useful information to readers if they were landing in the area for the first time and didn't know much about the region or their neighborhoods. But we also know that people who have lived here a long time need practical information, all in one place too. So we tried to meet both needs.
The research is done in lots of different ways. When the publication date was nearing, we undertook again this year a massive effort to telephone every office, person, non-profit, government agency et al listed in the Guides to ensure our listings were as up to date as possible.


Washington, D.C.: I saw horseback riding spots on the map in the guide. What do you think are the best places to go? I've never been!

Miranda Spivack: There are many good places to ride in the Washington area whether you want a rural ride or a semi-urban ride.


Beaches: Hi Miranda, I am originally from a beach town and miss having a beach within walking distance. I want to take trips to the beach more this summer. Last year I went to Virginia Beach for the first time. It was fun, but I'd like to go somewhere closer to D.C. Where would you recommend that's somewhat nearby?

Miranda Spivack: If you don't want to cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, you can have a great swim at Sandy Point State Park or some of the beaches in southern Maryland, in St. Mary's County. Also, Chesapeake Beach in Calvert County. If you want to cross the bridge, there are lots of great opportunities on the Eastern Shore, in Maryland, Virginia and Delaware.


Chevy Chase, Washington, D.C.: I'm a newcomer, currently renting in the District and thinking about where to settle more permanently. Is there a "rule of thumb" about which of MD/DC/VA is most expensive (taxes, etc.) and which are cheaper?

Miranda Spivack: This is always an interesting question, and as one who grew up in Fairfax County and now lives in Maryland, I can tell you there is no easy answer to this question. Depending on the conditions of the real estate market, at times, Virginia housing has been (slightly) cheaper than Maryland or the District, and at other times, the equation has changed. When my husband and I moved from the city to the suburbs 12 years ago, the District was more expensive than the close-in Maryland suburbs. Then that changed. And it has changed again. Taxes also vary, county by county, and city by city.


Arlington, Va.: How did you think of the Kids Post: "Creature Feature"? Do you get good feedback from parents on it?

Miranda Spivack: KidsPost editors came up with the Creature Feature and we are getting lots of good feedback on that, and other things to do with kids that are detailed in The Guides.


Washington, D.C.: What about some good wine tasting spots? What's close and a good place to go for the day?

Miranda Spivack: Nancy Lewis, a longtime aficionado of fine dining, has written 10 different Neighborhood Flavor columns for The Guides, tailored to each community where we published a Guide. You can find them all online today at washingtonpost.com/theguide, where you also will find other information about communities beyond the one where you live.


Washington, D.C.: I'm moving soon into the "NoMA" area (Northern Mass - NY Ave, 10th, 11th, K, L) and there are lots of brand new condos and apartment buildings around me. The building a block away has 1.4 million dollar condos. But while I like the closeness of the convention center metro, there don't seem to be any conveniences around me -- no CVS, gyms, Safeways, Giants, Whole Foods, convenience stores, dry cleaners, Starbucks, etc.!! Are there plans to put any of these things in the neighborhood soon, or are all of us moving into these pricey new condos and apartments supposed to hike across town just to get groceries??

Miranda Spivack: That's a good question that would best be answered by a major or smaller grocer. Generally, amenities follow housing unless you are living in a community that was formally planned and the amenities were built in.


Washington, D.C.: So you know any schools that would be good for a five year old who has mild altism but who can read and is very smart?

Miranda Spivack: Jay Mathews, our veteran education writer, has written a piece in The Guide(s) which discusses ways to find a school and evaluate what you see. Take a look at that. Also there are associations of independent schools in the Washington area and each public school district can provide you with information about particular needs.


Anonymous: Is there anything else in The Post that is similar to this feature during the rest of the year? I'm unfamiliar with this - thank you!

Miranda Spivack: The weekly Extras, which are published every Thursday in nine counties and the District, and on Sundays in Loudoun, Prince William and the three Southern Maryland counties, offer lots of useful information along with news stories and features stories about those communities. They are somewhat more micro in their approach, since they are tailored to each community.


Arlington, Va.: How did you decide what to include in the education section?

Miranda Spivack: We focused on public schools generally but there is also general information about picking a school, public or private.


Arlington, Va.: I can't afford to buy in VA a $350k townhome, but I have seen SFH in the Fort Washington area for less than that. Will the new bridge, National Harbor and new Nationals stadium make this a wise investment? Thanks Miranda.

Miranda Spivack: Generally, new development accompanies an increase in property values, but there are always many factors that go into the evaluation of property, including amenities, quality of schools, traffic, availability of public transportation, etc. So you should always look at the whole picture. The widespread belief in the Washington area is that property values here are relatively stable and reliable, compared to other parts of the country. As I mentioned earlier, lots of factors go into how properties are valued.


Gaithersburg, Md.: Just wanted to say thanks for all the hard work that went into the Guide! I ran out and got my copy as soon as I heard the ad for it on the radio this morning. I found last year's edition to be a great resource. I'm sure you're glad it's only a once a year thing!

Miranda Spivack: It's a big project with lots of moving parts, but this year, as was the case last year, readers really love The Guides and we are always eager to hear from you about your ideas for features you would want to see included, what you find useful. You can email TheGuide@washpost.com with your suggestions. We read them all.


Miranda Spivack: Thanks so much for joining me today to talk about The Guides. And please pass along your thoughts and ideas to TheGuide@washpost.com


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