When I was a kid, I wanted to be (among many things like an astronaut and fireman) a baseball player. There was a small problem with that goal. I cannot pitch or hit a fastball … or a curveball ... or a slider ... or a good change up.
No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't do it. When I read a about making College Park a top 20 college town, it struck me that with this effort, College Park might be trying to be something it just isn't capable of being.
A quick search of the web brought up another article about the best college towns in the U.S. The top five towns (with populations under 250,000, where College Park falls) all had something in common. They are great towns in the middle of nowhere, relatively speaking. In Ithaca, State College, Iowa City, Ames and Champaign-Urbana, where the top five are, things tend to revolve around the college. It gives them that great college town feel.
Beyond the University of Maryland, the City of College Park has in its vicinity:
- all the cultural amenities of two large metropolitan areas
- at least eight professional sports teams (NFL, MLB, NHL, MLS, NBA and WNBA) plus some minor league teams
- more colleges and universities than I can count
- three major airports
- a concentration of state parks, national parks, monuments and museums (most of which are free) that is second to none
- political activities from the municipal to the international level
All of this is within an hour’s drive to one of three states or the District of Columbia.
Rural Illinois has corn. Rural Iowa has more corn. Northern Pennsylvania has snow. Upstate New York has even more snow. We cannot compete with their geographic remoteness. I don't say this to put these other places down. I have spent many days in snow-covered cornfields hunting geese and wish I could spend more time in them. I would love to spend time in all of these towns. I know there are great hunting, fishing, hiking and all kinds of outdoor activities within a stone’s throw of all of these places. The colleges offer outstanding cultural opportunities to the community. I am sure there are plenty of small town things to enjoy and Bed and Breakfasts that are well worth whatever they charge for a night’s stay in all of these towns.
They are different types of towns then we are. They are what they are largely because of where they are.
I like a number of the ideas reportedly coming from the committees University President Wallace Loh created to make UMd. in to a top 20 college town— specifically the university helping the Prince George’s County School system, the green initiatives and the idea of an independent College Park police department. That being said, I am quite confident that will not make College Park feel more like Iowa City anymore then building a baseball field at BARC will.
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.