It is with sympathetic interest that I normally read the occasional musings of Benjamin Stein. However, in his most recent piece about growing up in Silver Spring during the 1950s {"Our Town," Close to Home, June 14}, Stein does a serious disservice to the Silver Spring of the 1980s and beyond.

With loving detail -- the A&P, the hardware, the Woolworth's, the Hot Shoppes -- Stein waxes nostalgic for the "pretty little town" he recalls. Fair enough. My own adolescence in small-town Pennsylvania was similarly touched by the joys of familiarity and a comforting scale. The automobile reigned supreme (but traffic wasn't so heavy), and high school athletics were the talk of the town.

Stein celebrates a snapshot of a Silver Spring that existed for only a few years before suburban malls sapped its economic vitality and a continuing period of decline set in. It has been a long time since one saw whole families enjoying the delights of the downtown. Instead, we've had filthy sidewalks, a third-rate Hecht's store, derelict small businesses and a frankly ugly monument to the automobile at the premier corner of town -- a parking lot bounded by a one-story strip of disconnected shops.

So what have Stein's ruminations to do with the issues facing the Silver Spring of 1987? Not a thing. Since Stein's departure for Hollywood, Silver Spring has long since become one of the most densely populated and culturally diverse areas in Montgomery County. As a sheer matter of geography, Silver Spring lies in the path of powerful social and economic currents: the growth of the District, Baltimore and Columbia, the construction of the Beltway and the Metro, and the established presence of an unusual network of major roads -- Georgia Avenue, Colesville Road, East-West Highway, 16th Street -- all have contributed to a dynamic that now demands, for the good of the region and our town, a revitalized Silver Spring.

Development of downtown Silver Spring will continue. The critical question before current residents is whether the renewal can serve not only the interests of commerce but also the interests of those who live, work and/or shop downtown. Will it again be a place where on evenings and weekends we can stroll with our families in the comforting community of our neighbors? Or will we suffer the fate of other redeveloped areas -- a random upcropping of high rises with a fountain here and there?

Intelligent, comprehensive development can have a positive effect on the quality of life in Silver Spring by providing the cohesive attractions for human activity now missing. We need fish markets, quality shopping, architectural beauty and (above all) ice cream. We need employment opportunities and entertainment for our children and ourselves. We need places to meet friends where we'll bump into other friends. In short, we need a downtown where we can realize our potential as a community.

Silver Spring is an urban center. If those of us who live near the downtown close our eyes and try to continue to pretend that it isn't there, we will get what we deserve -- an unaesthetic center of commerce that contributes nothing to the community but traffic and crime.

Nostalgia is dangerous for the health of Silver Spring. Shame on Hollywood's Ben Stein for confusing the issues. -- Gregory B. McBride