College Park – The college town that doesn’t sleep quite so much anymore

Today’s Diamondback article about Santa Fe’s growing reputation as a live music venue reminds us of a gradual trend that we often overlook – College Park’s downtown is actually starting to take on the characteristics of a real College Town. Everyday another store seems to be extending their hours for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, a fifth bar is coming to town (if it ever opens), and the streets are genuinely busy through most of the day. Certainly College Park isn’t what it could be, but what it is today is a far cry from the boarded up storefronts and abandoned gas stations that plagued downtown just a few short years ago. While its not clear exactly what’s responsible for this trend, the completion of the South Campus Commons just up Knox Rd as well as other demographic changing developments in the area must have played a big role. Yes, theres a lot of work yet to be done, but that doesn’t mean students should ignore the small stuff – like a nice midnight burrito.


Bike Rider Downtown

Points on the Square (Part I)

dupontcir.jpg

(First in a series of three)

One of the most remarkable features of every great urban environment is its public squares. Whether it is Washington’s Dupont Circle or New York’s Bryant Park, these public spaces create a focal point and identify neighborhoods. Though the RFP (Part B) the University issued to developers only asks for “high quality public spaces,” the University’s Master Plan for East Campus envisions a public square and this square will likely be one of the most prominent and popular features of the neighborhood.

However, to ensure the square’s success, it must be both safe and inviting. In the first installment of this three-part series, we will introduce three points to consider in building a successful square:

  • Do not line the square with perimeter fences or hedges. Pedestrians and passersby must be able to look inside the square at all times. Not only does this openness eliminate cover for criminals, but invites people in, especially if they can observe all the activity going on in the park before deciding to go in. Furthermore, research has shown people are less likely to enter a public plaza if they must step up or down into it, so the park must be on the same level as the street, neither elevated nor depressed.
  • Pave with brick and grass. On warm days, students relax on McKeldin Mall either in the bright sunshine or in the shade to read a book. It’s clear that students like grassy open spaces. However, a good amount of this recreation on the Mall actually occurs under the shade of trees by the library end of the Mall. Ironically, students congregate to relax near the busiest part of the Mall. The square should provide grass and trees along the perimeter of the park, reserving the center for a hardscaped plaza. Furthermore, the pathways of such an important park should be paved with brick, which is far better than concrete. University symbols should be etched or somehow printed into the pavement; an occasional ‘M’ or a Testudo silhouette would do just fine.
  • Construct a fountain in the center. Some of the most popular public spaces employ water features. Be it the fountain at Bethesda and Woodmont Avenues in Bethesda (below– it becomes a Christmas display in the autumn), the statuary fountain in the center of Dupont Circle (above), or the water jets embedded along Ellsworth Drive in Silver Spring, it is clear that people like water features and that the younger enjoy them even more. The aesthetic details of the fountain are not so important now, but it would be nice to include some of the icons of the University into fountain. Perhaps integrating Testudo or even Kermit the Frog would help. Better yet, the fountain could be Senior class gift or a project of the art department.

bethesdafountain.jpg

What are some of your favorite parks, squares, and fountains? We’d like to hear.

East Campus in the Washington Post

Today’s Washington Post includes a story about East Campus development, the first time the Post has reported on the project. The story summarizes the project rather quickly and mentions some of its goals, including the aim to increase the university’s supply of graduate housing.

The article also mentions the concern some current business-owners have as to the impact that such a large development may have on the existing downtown:

“One of the goals of this east campus project is to help all of the area,” said John Brown III, who is working with a university committee on behalf of downtown businesses. “It doesn’t benefit if all of a sudden that area becomes a wonderful new town center and we see everything else decay.”

Also in the works, says the article, is some sort of revenue transfer agreement between the University and the City, which no doubt feels entitled to some of the action.

City Election Likely Jan. 16

Thanks to technicalities in city election regulations it appears the special election to fill two vacancies on the College Park City Council will be held January 16, a few days before spring semester classes begin. The city charter requires the special election be held within 45 days of any vacancy, and Councilmembers Eric Olson and Joseline Peña-Melnyk have announced they intend to resign their seats at the December 4th meeting.

Thus far three people have indicated they are interested in running for the seats. In District 3, Old Town Civic Association President Stephanie Stullich and Rethink College Park Editor David Daddio told the Diamondback they intended to run for Olson’s seat. If he officially files to run Daddio will take a leave of absence from this website, and we intend to cover all candidates equally. In District 4, student Nick Aragòn intends to run. Aragòn was formerly involved in the SGA, a former Student President of the University System of Maryland, and has been involved in efforts to lobby to control tuition costs.

Students interested in voting who will be absent for the election can vote by absentee ballot. For more election information contact the office of the City Clerk at 301-864-8666.

> Gazette: “City considers delaying election for UMD voters
> Diamondback: “City likely to rely on absentee ballots for election
> Diamondback: “Students Intend to Run for City Council

In other news, we hope all our readers have a safe an enjoyable Thanksgiving break. If you are staying in the area please remember Shuttle-UM will have no service on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday this week.

UPDATE

Anyone who will be “unavoidably absent” from College Park on election day (January 16th) can requests an ABSENTEE BALLOT APPLICATION. Each voter must submit this application by January 7th in order to participate in the special election.

What are we doing?

This site has come a long way since the concept first appeared on the Diamondback’s opinion page in May. We’ve worked tirelessly since then to make the idea fit into a blog format.

Some have called this website “a new frontier in urban planning” or dubbed us as planning renegades. City and universityRTCP_Logo.JPG officials don’t seem to know what to think and the press doesn’t fully grasp our role. We’ve been known to characterize this site as many things but overall it’s just an experiment. We ask everyday: Can a community come together and execute its shared and stated vision for a vibrant, dynamic city?

Maybe this lack of understanding is our failure. Indeed, it’s been difficult to convey to people what the purpose of this site is and our “about” page doesn’t provide clear guidance. Are we an advocacy group or simply a news outlet? Are we an “information clearinghouse” or a run of the mill blog? Sometimes, I’ve found, it’s easier to write the introduction to a paper once you’ve finished the body – Rethink College Park is no exception.

And so, in line with our policy of full disclosure, we decided to produce a mission statement to make our purpose clear. In doing so, we hope it will guide our actions and the future of this site and clear up and misconceptions. After much internal debate here it is:

Our mission is to help transform College Park into a great college town. We believe in full access to information, public dialogue, and the power of creative ideas.

Overridingly, this website/blog/community group is a response to the incredible amount of change that faces the City of College Park in the years to come – a change that may rival the University of Maryland’s own tremendous transformation. We hope that if you have any interest in what we’re doing or can in any way help the effort, that you not hesitate to get involved.

Want to Run For City Council?

If you live in College Park’s Council Districts 3 or 4 you can! The election of Councilmembers Joseline Peña-Melnyk and Eric C. Olson to higher office mean the city plans to hold a special election to fill the seats in January.

Council District 3 includes all of Old Town (including Frat Row and the Graham Cracker), all of the Commons buildings, Knox Towers, Graduate Gardens, Calvert Hills, and all of College Park east of the railroad tracks. District 4 includes the the Denton and Cambridge Communities (But not the Ellicott Community), the Knox Boxes, the Courtyards, and the areas Northwest of campus including Crystal Springs and College Park Woods. Candidates must be at least 21years old to run at the time of the election and have to have continuously resided in the City of College Park for 1 year leading up to the election.

VIEW THE 2006 CITY COUNCIL DISTRICT MAP

The election is tentatively scheduled for January 16th (a few days before spring term classes begin). Students interested in running should contact the city clerk (301-864-8666).

> Diamondback: “Quiet ignorance: Students must participate in special election“, “Election to fall during break

Thirsty Turtle Update

Thirsty TurtleStudents who face lines, crowds, and repetitiveness at the current downtown College Park bars have eagerly awaited the opening of The Thirsty Turtle since the beginning of this fall semester. While nobody knows exactly how long that wait will continue, we at least have some idea why it exists.

We have heard from several sources that The Thirsty Turtle has not opened due to a conflict between the bar owners and the owner of the alley behind the property. Apparently the alley-owner will not allow The Thirsty Turtle to open its back doors to the alley. Without this back exit, the bar does not meet the fire safety requirements that would allow it to reach its several hundred person maximum capacity. Rather, with just the front doors accessible in case of emergency, the bar is only allowed to have about 50 people inside at any one time, simply not enough to do business.

Supposedly The Mark is having similar issues, but having its back doors open to the alley would only increase maximum capacity from about 50 to 100. So, The Mark has been able to operate despite the back-door hurdle.

This conflict is unfortunate. Students in College Park frequently decry the lack of bar options downtown, especially compared to other college towns. In addition, some people will go as far as saying that the reduced crowding more bars would likely produce could have a positive impact on the climate in downtown bars.

The end of tailgating?

The football schedule is winding down, but the excitement around a successful season is just getting started. As the Terps take on Wake Forest next weekend for a potential berth to the ACC Championship Game (vs. Georgia Tech), we here at Rethink College Park wanted to give the year’s last tailgaters something to chew on. Football fans should take not of proposed designs for the funded as well as planned expansions to Byrd Stadium. All images are from the Campus Master Plan.

The future of lot 1

(View looking over lot 1)

Comcast with a relocated Ludwig Field and Parking Garage

(Looking over the new “sports district”)

A more clear perspective of the proposed changes to lot 1

(Click these images for clarification)

Future of the Comcast District

Urban Development Succeeds Throughout Washington

The University envisions a vibrant urban town center in East Campus, and if a story in today’s Washington Post is an indication, this type of development will be wildly successful. Sales in urban retail neighborhoods top sales in enclosed malls and, as one senior fellow at the Urban Land Institute simply notes, “No one wants to go to a strip mall to hang out.”

While the success of properly-developed East Campus is not in doubt, the Post mentions an important caveat that to be kept in mind when envisioning an ideal East Campus:

To keep a neighborhood from turning into a shopping mall—or a carbon copy of another town—experts say developers should concentrate on retaining local character.

In a decidedly college town, students provide a commercial demand for the peculiar. Though a Japanese décor emporium, for instance, may not attract enough business to afford the rents of a place like Bethesda, students’ adventurous demand combined with some other provisions for independent, small business may make such a business viable.

Do you think a variety of local, quirky shops makes other college towns successful?

A Free Pass: The Best of the Northwest

SpaceNeedle.jpgTo limit congestion and to speed up circulation in their respective downtown districts, both Seattle and Portland have established Ride Free zones (Portland calls it the ‘Fareless Square’). Any ride completely within these zones is free during the day.

In fact, if one boards a bus in the downtown Seattle, the fare box directs riders to pay as they leave and only if they disembark outside the free zone.

This might be a wise idea to import for the College Park section of the Purple Line. By allowing anyone to ride free anywhere between the west side of campus and the College Park Metro station (inclusive), it’s possible to reduce the burden on Shuttle UM and speed-up the ride commuters must endure between campus and the Metro (the current bus ride from the Union to the Green Line can take as long as 20 minutes in rush hour!). Each train can carry many more passengers than a single bus.

Though it’s doubtful that perenially cash-strapped WMATA, the organization that runs Metro, would be amenable to giving free rides, the university could help pay for the service with money it saves from Shuttle UM.