The Knox Box Area Rethought

Before Site Plan

Brian CarrollThe Knox Box area is commonly cited as one of the College Park neighborhoods most in need of new development. Located immediately adjacent campus and downtown, it is one of the few areas where local political leaders, administrators, and students alike would like to see additional student housing. In October we posted about a Diamondback story describing how many of the properties were being acquired by one owner — the first step to any potential redevelopment. Architecture Masters’ Student Brian Carroll is one of the people who has been thinking about the potential of this area. Two weeks ago he defended his thesis, before an audience of faculty, students, and administrators.

Campus ConnectionHis plan proposed to re-design the district in College Park seen above which includes the Knox Box area and part of downtown (including the College Park Shopping Center). After carefully considering the site’s connections to campus (left) and the high demand for both student, faculty, and staff housing near campus, his proposes re-designing the street system significantly and building a number of new buildings built right up to the street. The site plan looks like this:

After Site Plan

The design would add over 900 units of housing to the area and proposes 75,000 square feet of retail space. His thesis described the building that would replace the College Park Shopping Center in great detail — he proposes to bury the parking in the core of the structure:

Building Profile

What do you think of Brian’s ideas?

Catalyst or Cataclysm?

Can you build a city in a day? That’s a question that University of Connecticut administrators are struggling to answer as they try to build their own College Town in Storrs, CT. The developer chosen for UMD’s East Campus will face the same dilemma as they try to overcome the Disneyworld-like appearance that plagues almost all new large-scale developments. Okay, so maybe the Storrs project (build out: 2013) and our own East Campus project (build out:2015+?) won’t be done all at once, but developers inevitably will wrestle with both the “place-making” and “vibrancy” question. UMD’s project, mind you, is even more ambitious.

The developer for the UConn project openly acknowledges the difficulty in building a new town all at once:

“We don’t have that 300 years to create a place that has that organic quality,” said Macon Toledano….. But, he said, the careful study that has gone into what the community wants and how the buildings will be used will eventually produce a place with most of the virtues of more seasoned college towns.

Below: In addition to our recent post about some of the characteristics of the New Rockville Town Square, we’d like to point you to some pictures of the Downtown Silver Spring project. Note the repetition of similar materials combined with a poor use of varied façades. Many critics decry the type of pedestrian streets used in the project:


>>Associated Press – A College Builds a Town from Scratch


A Glimpse Into the Future?


The University’s Request for Proposals for the East Campus redevelopment is not an illustrated guide to a future East Campus. In fact, since the University has yet to reveal the final proposal, visual representations of the East Campus redevelopment are few and far between, making it hard to grasp fully the idea of the project. However, Rockville Town Square, a redevelopment in downtown Rockville appears similar to what the University envisions. The Rockville redevelopment is dense and urban, with hidden parking facilities, well-situated public spaces, and residential buildings as tall as six-floors.

While there is no guarantee that East Campus will look anything like downtown Rockville, don’t be surprised if in January the developers submit proposals bearing some resemblance to the Rockville project.

Photos and descriptions: Continue reading A Glimpse Into the Future?

Raising the Profile of East Campus Redevelopment

East Campus

The University Senate is the latest body to raise concerns about the lack of public input in the East Campus Redevelopment Initiative. In response to his concern that there “wasn’t enough consciousness on the campus” about the potential impact of the East Campus project, University Senate Chair James Gates asked University Vice President John Porcari to give a presentation to the group last week, the Diamondback reported last Thursday.

University administrators have assured us that the design would be subject to a full and comprehensive public input process both on campus, in the community, and in the region — once a development partner has been selected. However, we think much can be done now to raise the public awareness about the project and involve student input. Students should serve on the decision-making subcommittee and evaluation committees, not just the seemingly powerless “steering” committee.

The university could place a prominent link on the homepage to more information about the project, and begin to improve the East Campus website to serve to educate not just developers but members of the general public. As it is currently designed much of the text of this page appears as an image — meaning it will not appear highly in web searches. Lastly, perhaps the best way to prepare the ground for both public input and the public approval process is to install signs on the actual site itself. We are confident raising awareness now will improve the quality of public input and could speed approval for the project.

The photo is taken from the Facilities Master Plan Aesthetic Guidelines

UMD VP Porcari Tapped To Be State Transportation Secretary

We’re pleased to announce that UMD Vice President of Administrative Affairs John Porcari will be nominated tomorrow by Martin O’Malley to head Maryland’s Department of Transportation. Porcari, who first held the post in the final term of Democratic Governor Parris Glendenning’s administration, has overseen over the past 4 years, UMD’s departments of Facilities Management and Procurement (among many others). With the Route 1 reconstruction, Purple Line, and even a possible metro Green Line extension to BWI airport on the horizon, it’s sure good to see College Park with friends in high places (even amid looming state budget deficits).

Martin O’Malley’s commitment to Smart Growth (UMD Connector Road implications) is not yet apparent, but he did support the Intercounty Connector throughout his campaign.

Here is O’Malley’s plan for transportation.

Six Month Report

It’s been almost six months since the first posts on this website. Before many of the students leave campus for the holiday break we thought it might be a good time to look back at our accomplishments.

  • Averaged over 100 visitors a weekday, 600 a week
  • Organized a housing forum with 50+ attendees
  • Published 95 posts by 9 authors
  • Received 213 comments, including ones from students, city residents and officials, university administrators, and others
  • Have been mentioned and/or consulted by the Diamondback, the College Park Gazette, and the Washington Post
  • A kickin’ Facebook group

Not bad for our first semester, we think! However, there is much to left to do. Our major goal for next semester will be to expand the number of writers and active members of the group in order to ensure the site becomes a sustainable and ongoing community project. We also plan to organize another community event and work with various local entities to create College Park’s first Geographic Information System (GIS) file clearinghouse. As always, we’ll continue to cover all the development issues in and around College Park. We’ll have a recruiting meeting for new people in early February, so if you have been waiting to learn more, keep a lookout for announcements.

Mote’s Connector Road Letter

We reported the other week that University President Dan Mote sent a letter to the College Park City Council supporting the continued project planning for the I-95 Connector Road. There’s nothing too surprising in the letter considering that the university administration has alway pointed to the project as the “only solution” to CP’s traffic woes.

One interesting thing is that while Mote supports the phasing of the Route 1 reconstruction he seems skeptical that even the first segment (College Ave to 193) will be funded anytime soon. “Should a shorter first segment prove desirable,” Mote says in the letter, then the University supports a project from College Ave to just north of Paint Branch Parkway. While there would be some clear pedestrian improvements from such a project, we’d like to point out to administrators that that segment of Route 1 already has a median. It may not be pretty, but this existing median provides just the sort of safety improvements needed all along the roadway and especially in the fast growing area around the University View.

“the proposed US 1 project does not provide the critically needed capacity improvements for access to and from the State’s flagship university, improvements that only the I-95 Connector Road can provide.”

What do you think? Is the Connector Road the only option for College Park?
>>Connector Road Letter 11/15/2006

Age Distributions of Peer College Towns

UMD’s administration often compares a slew of education indicators against the university’s five peer institutions – UC Berkeley, U of Illinois, U of Michigan, U of North Carolina, and UCLA. For us, we think in terms of peer College Towns, which narrows the list slightly to Berkeley, Urbana-Champaign, Ann Arbor, and Chapel Hill (Los Angeles just doesn’t work). With some inspiration from the city’s most recent Economic Development Plan we dove into the 2000 census and pulled out the following statistics:


Not much else to say…

Rethinking the Knox Box Area

Tomorrow at 11:00 a.m. in the Gallery of the Architecture Building, architecture and urban planning master’s student Brian Carroll will defend his thesis examining the Knox Box and downtown area of College Park. His thesis proposes a possible redevelopment of this area including changes to street alignments and the design of possible new buildings both on and off campus. We hope to feature some digital images of his work on this site. The defense is open to the public.

Points on the Square (Part II)


(Second in a series of three)

Continuing our discussion from before (Part I) on what features would make a successful square on East Campus, we have three more points to add:

  • Supply a variety of benches and umbrella-equipped tables. The square should accommodate all recreational uses, from sunbathers to scriptwriters. We have already written a post on benches that invite peculiar uses, and these types of benches should be mixed in with tables for people with more pressing work to do. Benches should suit all types of uses including face-to-face orientations.
  • Electrify and connect. Quite of a few of the aforementioned sunbathers on McKeldin Mall actually bring their laptops with them, squinting through the bright sunshine glare on their computer screens. Thus, tables located near electrical outlets will enable students to stay in the square for extended periods of time. Not only does their mere presence reduce crime, but gives the impression to passersby that the square is actually a pleasant place to be. Needless to say, the area should be doused in wifi.
  • Build and lease small kiosks. Bryant Park’s commercial concessions enhance experience of the park. One should be able to purchase a small drink or perhaps a sandwich or hotdog at a kiosk in the square, making it more amenable to extended stays. There are plenty of street-vendors in neighboring Langley Park, and a few of them would jump at the opportunity for a kiosk lease. The kiosks, though, must be placed so they don’t obstruct the view of the fountain from the streets that will define the square. Permanent kiosks should not be confused with unsightly street vendor trailers; they can actually look quite stylish like the permanent flower kiosk in Bryant Park (below) or the stationary kiosks in Bethesda (top).

What comforts do you look for in a park?