With the second East Campus RFP going out today to developers, we wanted to throw into the mix of ideas, the suggestions our readers have been sending and the common themes we’ve observed at various events and in all the research we’ve conducted for this website.
Rethink College Park has never questioned whether or not East Campus will be beautiful. Indeed, a brief walk around campus and a glimpse through the University’s illustrious Master Plan are proof enough that administrators can build world-class facilities and urban spaces. The intent of this exercise is to infuse some community ideas into what has so far been a highly insulated process. These suggestions should not be viewed as detailed prescriptions, but rather as an attempt to broaden the debate on the East Campus project. They are a work in progress and we’ll be sure the final community suggestions are heard.
We believe these 10 points will guarantee the vibrancy of the district (in no particular order):
1) Tie East Campus to the traditional downtown – start with the adaptive reuse of the Pocomoke Building
There is a huge barrier that exists today between traditional downtown College Park and the East Campus site. That barrier, oddly enough, is the open space that is Fraternity Row and the Chapel Field. It will become the dividing line between the two districts to the detriment of both. We have proposed in the past that the Pocomoke Building be retrofitted to include a specialty grocer. This would not only be the first step toward binding together the two districts, it would provide an amenity downtown that is sorely needed.
2) Connect Paint Branch Parkway with a road through East Campus and into Old Town
Anyone who has ever driven on Route 1 or through Old Town knows it’s a headache. Route 1 is constantly congested simply because it is the only north-south road through College Park. The Old Town road system has a confusing one-way streets grid that is clearly intended to eliminate outside traffic in the residential neighborhood. This setup pours traffic out onto Route 1 and has become a serious safety issue. Now that the university is advertising Paint Branch Parkway as a major thoroughfare to campus, we feel it behooves the entire community to connect at least one existing dead end road (we think Princeton Ave) in Old Town through Frat Row and the East Campus site all the way to Paint Branch Parkway. This connection would further the objective of point #1.The Route 1 sector plan provides for a connection of this sort and decision-makers must not shy away from it.
3) Integrate the Purple Line into the project
The State Highway Administration has proposed two similar alternatives for the Purple Line around East Campus. One is a median alignment on Paint Branch Parkway (directly through UMD’s North Gate) and the other goes through the East Campus (and next to the Armory). Since the former seems to go against the pedestrian purpose of the transitway, we feel the latter should be provided for in the site plans for East Campus and an onsite Purple Line stop should be pursued.
4) Minimize park (green) space
UMD’s campus has an ample amount of green-space and more on the way as the University continues to build structured parking and convert surface parking to pedestrian malls. Much of this space is already underutilized and we feel that providing any significant amount of it on East Campus would work at cross purposes to the emerging view of East Campus as an “Urban District”. We suggest that the university leave space to fulfill this high density vision if demand doesn’t yet warrant it. Many people have pointed out College Park’s lack of a town square. Our readers suggested that a town square like Madison’s (University of Wisconsin) is in order.
5) Maximize the diversity of residents
There has been much focus on the need for affordable graduate student housing. University affiliated housings provides 6.7% of UMD’s Grad Students with housing compared to 14% at peer institutions. East Campus is an opportunity to close this gap and the university has shown a clear commitment to do this. Still we don’t want to see College Park divided into turfs – East Campus should also contain undergraduate housing, faculty housing, and (dare we say) housing not earmarked for anyone in particular.
6) Make clear pedestrian and visual links to campus, trolley trail, and the metro
East Campus is not only the greatest single development opportunity in College Park, its central location is a great chance to connect the university’s sprawling facilities and tie together College Park’s existing pedestrian facilities. These include the promenade on either side of Mckeldin Mall, the City’s Trolley Trail (formally the Rhode Island Streetcar line), the College Park metro station, and UMD’s rapidly expanding research park. A major sidewalk from east campus and along the Purple Line alignment we proposed in #3 seems like a logical way to reduce the number of new stoplights on Route 1. A site plan committed to these connections will ensure that East Campus is part of College Park.
7) Limit parking – don’t let garages dominate the district
A College Town is a resoundingly pedestrian place. When you hear people rave about Charlottesville, Ann Arbor, or Berkeley it isn’t for their great parking garages. We can’t deny that College Park is in a suburban area or that the vast majority of people move around in cars. Still a College Town provides a unique opportunity for people to work and live in the same place and university officials should not ignore the huge burden that parking lots (and cars by proxy) place on developers, renters, and the community at large. Cities that have reduced or eliminated parking requirements like Ann Arbor, Michigan and Ithica, New York have seen an increase in new projects designed to house students. Eliminating parking can also make projects more affordable by reducing their overall cost.
8) Provide for independently owned businesses
Because of the limited amount of retail spaces in the city, rents are exorbitant and only ‘sure thing’ business models like national burrito and sandwich chains seem to be able to survive downtown. More net retail space in College Park should alleviate high rents, but still we think some sort of provision for independently owned businesses is in order. This could take the form a strict percentage requirements like those in the Washington Convention Center and other cities or the intentional inclusion of small and odd size spaces in building designs.
9) Require LEED Certification
The university continues to tout its environmental successes, but actions do truly speak louder than words. If the university is really committed to protecting the environment it should require LEED Certification on East Campus. The recent approval of NOAA’s Center for Climate and Weather Prediction is a great example of the application green building practices to a university-affiliated building. Some degree of LEED certification on East Campus is necessary and reasonable.
10) Show a commitment to meaningful community input
The university’s attempts to include the larger community in the East Campus have fallen short thus far. Their East Campus website, while providing a good overview of the project, is geared towards developers and Rethink College Park is left as the lone organization trying to engage the public. University administrators must follow up on their commitment to meaningful community input on East Campus. Other universities have done the same for similar projects (see case studies in UMD’s market research for East Campus (PDF)). We suggest they start with large displays in prominent locations on campus once site plans and building designs are underway. When plans begin to materialize the university should host several events to gain community input and support.
Of course the university can build an expansive and beautiful east campus, but they need the university community to build a truly great college town.
As always we encourage comments!