Construction continues on The Varsity and Starview, College Park’s next-in-line for undergraduate, off-campus student housing. The progress is beginning to show how the new buildings will improve Route 1’s streetscape.
The Varsity has begun installation of a wide sidewalk stretching south from the main entrance toward the bridge passing over Paint Branch Trail. The new sidewalk is much wider than the current sidewalk and provides a buffer of about 12 feet from the heavy traffic on Route 1. Land has also been cleared for the long-awaited Northgate Park located to the south of building along Paint Branch Creek.
However, questions remain about the imposition of a wall fronting Route 1 that will separate pedestrian traffic from the retail entrances located on the ground floor of the Varsity. Councilman Bob Catlin has informed us that the reason for the wall is to prevent these retail establishments from falling within the Paint Branch flood plain. This Diamondback article makes reference to similar concerns raised by council members at the time of the project’s approval several years ago.
A recent site visit indicates that the wall is 5 to 6 feet tall and stretches the entire length of the building fronting Route 1, potentially disengaging pedestrians from the building and the retail that locates there.
As the Route 1 corridor continues to develop, pedestrian traffic will be an integral part of the streetscape and retailers will depend on passing foot traffic for a significant portion of their business. Long, blank walls discourage an active street scene and break down lines-of-sight between storefronts and pedestrians—all negative elements that undermine the advantages of ground floor retail.
It appears that there will be three staircases leading up to the first-floor storefronts, but this may not be enough to entice passerby if they are unable to see the actually see what’s going on inside. Active and entertaining streets create a lively pedestrian environment, and active streetscapes and successful retail corridors are made possible when stores and outdoor seating are directly accessible and visible to passing pedestrian traffic. Visually appealing window displays and an abundance of activity entice pedestrians into stores.
Walls serve as barriers to this visual appeal. They prohibit the instinctive curiosity pedestrians possess that causes them to stop, peruse, enter, and patronize. Hopefully, the Varsity will draw an abundance of strong anchor tenants that will create a “destination location” and overcome the wall’s design flaws.