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We Are What We Are

College Park needs to understand what it isn't.

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.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Carol September 21, 2011 at 05:55 PM
Right. So a top 20 town doesn't have to be like Ithaca or Iowa City - just become several (if not all) top 20 colleges are in towns like Ithaca or Iowa City. College Park can become a top 20 town and be different from the rest. So lets play to our strengths, improve our weakness and become a top 20 college town.
Pamela Torro September 21, 2011 at 06:58 PM
All good points Rick. I agree that College Park will never be a top 20 college town, but we ARE a great town and in a great location and that is the draw for students. I understand that being a fairly new president Mr. Loh is very eager to try to improve and change things, which I am willing to bet past presidents have done. But the bottom line is that we will never be like the towns listed in the top 20. We are different and have our own unique attributes which Rick mentions. Yes, we do need to improve the Route 1 corridor and make things more attractive but in doing so I don't think that will change our status as a college town. And FTLOG NO MORE HIGH RISES. We are starting to look like a DC street.
taxman September 22, 2011 at 10:56 AM
Yes clearly no more high rises!...anyone from outside College Park can see that is the issue that is keeping CP from being a better town!..we might actually start to look like a city and of course we aren't a city, are we? maybe we should change our name to one story suburban seedy strip mall, and drop the name city... adding density near one of the region's biggest job generators doesn't make any sense from a green or smart growth standpoint clearly...let's make sure we keep the one story tatoo parlor and one story fortune teller and closed one story dinette store!; and more chain link fences around former one story building sites is a clear path to ensuring those outside of CP what --we should continue to work with our elected officials to chase away developers since nothing gets built in CP unless every civic assoc, person, elected officials agrees on something, so the only thing left--other than student projects-- are vacant lots and more chain link fencing (sarcasm off)--you get the kind of city that the citizens want and those that can are empowered to block things , which is fine, but you can't stop deterioration and stores closing.....so that happens and not much new comes in to replace it.... Actually CP needs to get off the worst colllege town list so the city and its citizens might try to welcome new development, and not drive off developers with nitpicking requirements of a 'perfect' development...when the reality is far from perfect
Amy September 22, 2011 at 02:02 PM
Amazing article. Keeping the small town college feel real, like it used to be!
Pamela Torro September 22, 2011 at 02:48 PM
I would think it would be prudent to make sure the current onslaught of high rises can actually be filled prior to building more. Do we want them going into foreclosure a la the Towers at University Town Center in Hyattsville? Another thing, perhaps the dilapidated buildings and chain link fences have a little bit to do with the economy. Just a thought. I do know that the council is working on improving these aspects of the route one corridor.
Richard September 23, 2011 at 01:38 PM
Taxman is right. Almost half the commercial addresses along Route 1 are either boarded up, surrounded by ugly fencing, or just weed strewn lots. CP has a long way to go before it even ranks as an attractive town let alone a top 20 college town. Maybe the town should look to Hyattsville to see how it is attracting renewal. I find it interesting the way CP goes after the residential properties for the slightest infraction such as long grass or trash cans left out too long, meanwhile the biggest eyesore in the DC metropolitan area is RT 1 in CP.
Richard September 24, 2011 at 12:12 PM
LH: I don't doubt what you say, but our local and state representatives do not mention anything you said here when they give us their visions of the future. It's about aesthetic beauty, shopping, eating, pretty parks and neighborhoods. I know, I listened to their spiels at a recent neighborhood meeting. Maybe they should just sells us on a better looking community instead of catchy slogan like "Top 20 College Town".
Pamela Torro September 24, 2011 at 11:00 PM
I personally don't care if CP is a top college town. I am a resident and not in college so it doesn't really matter to me. But with that said I DON'T want more huge apartments. We already need an inter-city connector to get to Hyattsville in less than 30 minutes and it's 4 miles away. Not cool. Also, if President Loh want to improve things how about he goes back on his dumb decision to fire the ACC Coach of the Year to hire a guy who let Temple run all over us today. Great job.
Patrick Wojahn September 26, 2011 at 02:39 PM
I think that taxman's point is that, according to "Smart Growth" principles, the objective is to bring residences closer to where people need to go to work or study. The reasoning behind the high-rises (and we can debate all day about their aesthetics) is that, by allowing students to live closer to the University and addressing the long-standing student housing shortages in College Park, it will actually reduce traffic by allowing students to walk or bicycle to class. When I hear people criticize the high-rises (again, putting aesthetics aside), I ask this question: would you rather have the students living in Silver Spring or Laurel and have to drive every day and add to the congestion on the Beltway or US 1 to get to class, or would you rather have them live in a place where the University is practically in their backyards, so that they can walk or bike to class? The residents in the student high-rises are not permitted to have parking spots on campus, so they can't even drive to campus when they want to. Some have cars so that they can get around to go grocery shopping or go out to restaurants - but if we make more of those amenities available in downtown College Park, the need to drive will become even less.
Patrick Wojahn September 26, 2011 at 02:39 PM
There are still a number of things we have to do to wait and see how the high-rises turn out, and I think we need to proceed cautiously when considering how to address other students housing needs (in particular, there is still a real shortage in the area of low-cost grad student housing). The University is currently doing a study of remaining housing needs with the new student residences in place, and we'll see what the results are. And in terms of the thorny issues of aesthetics of the high rises - I've heard that a lot of people don't like the "tunnel" feeling that you might get if there are high rises on either side of US 1, and I understand that. I think that many of the "college towns" that we talk about are successful because the areas around the campus feel sort of like a "village," where people feel comfortable to gather in plazas, meet with friends, sit outside at a coffee shop and study, etc. I think there may be ways to get that "village" feeling even with the high rises, and what we end up with depends on how the developments on the East side of US 1 (especially East Campus) turn out.

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