Two recent columns on College Park Patch caught my eye. The first was from my friend and guest columnist Joe Smith, who asked the question “What’s the Matter with College Park,” while discussing some of the positive things happening in Hyattsville. The second and more recent column was from the College Park Patch’s newest blogger, Rick Hudson. Mr. Hudson wrote about the City and University’s goal of becoming a top 20 college town and stated, “we need to redefine what a good college town is, embrace what we are and work to improve our town and stop trying to be a town that we are not.”
I haven’t written a blog in Patch in a few months, but after reading these articles and the comments about them I thought it was about time to write about where I think our city is headed. First, there is some confusion over exactly what it means to be a top 20 college town. This goal from the city’s and university’s perspective isn’t about getting on any particular list done by any specific publication which each have different guidelines and criteria. The goal is to recognize the tremendous potential we have in College Park – the fact that the City is located less than five miles from our nation’s capital and hosts the flagship campus of the University of Maryland system – and then form a vision to fulfill that potential. I like College Park and enjoy living here, but I know we have the capability of being so much more than what we are now.
To become a top 20 college town, we must focus on enhancing public safety, making College Park a greener city, promoting economic development and local independent business, expanding public transportation options, and making families want to live and stay here by improving the local K-12 education system. We also need to recognize that the City of College Park and the University of Maryland are interconnected and can only achieve these objectives by working together.
Some progress has already been made and I’m happy that this year we have already seen tens of thousands of square feet of additional retail space come online – for example we have Looney's Pub and Bobby's Burger Palace (which will be owned by Bobby Flay of the Food Network) opening in the Varsity, and Pizza Autentica in the View II. These establishments wouldn't have opened up if the city didn't put a focus on smart growth and mixed-use development. We are also seeing the start of demolition and redevelopment of other eyesores on U.S. Route 1 like the construction slated to begin soon at the site of the old College Park Motel.
College Park is not trying to become Iowa City or like any other city on the list of top college town’s posted in Mr. Hudson’s blog. We are fully aware of who we are and what we are as a city. College Park is the host of a 35,000-person (or more) university and is located within the Beltway of the nation’s capital. College Park is located in an increasingly urbanizing metropolitan region, and we should take advantage of this fact as much as possible.
As a society we need to stop sprawl and stop building out and start to focus on promoting mixed-use projects in already urban areas. This does not mean we should support any and every mixed-use project that comes our way, of course, and we should be concerned about protecting the character and feel of our residential neighborhoods. But it’s simply good economic and environmental policy to stop sprawl and to start focusing on more mixed-use residential/retail developments in towns like our own.
We have a lot of issues we need to deal with in our city. The redevelopment and revitalization of U.S. Route 1 is going to take many years and there are far too many eyesores along our city’s main street. As we continue to become a more urban area we need to focus on expanding bike lanes, making U.S. Route 1 more pedestrian friendly, and expanding public transportation options. While the amount of violent crime in our city is relatively low, we clearly have far too many reports of robbery and theft. We are a good place to live already, but we do have our issues that need to be dealt with. Progress is being made in improving College Park though, and there are signs of more progress on the horizon.
In a few years construction will begin on the University’s East Campus site. The city recently received $8.8 million to help fund engineering for the revitalization of U.S. Route 1 – a small drop in the bucket compared to the funds that will be needed for the revitalization of U.S. Route 1, but a long-awaited start. There is now unity between the city and university for which route the Purple Line will run when going through the city. College Park is moving in the right direction and I truly believe we have the potential to become one of the best college towns in the country and one of the better places to live in the D.C metro area. Not only should we believe in this potential, but we should be willing to develop a vision on how we are going to achieve it. That is what the vision of becoming a “Top 20 College Town” is all about.