UMD fights phantom fences

The University of Maryland and the Maryland Transit Administration remain at odds over the Purple Line. One argument that UMD loves to trot out is that the light rail line will turn campus into a maze of tall fences.

While MTA fiercely denies that they are planning to install fences, the University of Maryland claims evidence to the contrary. Administrators cite the University of Minnesota, where a light rail line connecting Minneapolis and Saint Paul is under construction. Staffers at UMD claim that the light rail line there caused 42 inch high fences to be erected to keep students off the tracks.

There are several problems with this logic, but the most important is that the fences pre-date the light rail line, and are being removed as a part of the light rail project.
Map of the U-Minn area
Continue reading UMD fights phantom fences

East Campus in Perspective: Technology Square at Georgia Tech

As the East Campus Redevelopment Project moves through the public participation process, it is valuable to look at how other universities have integrated mixed-use facilities into their campuses. This is the second post in that series.

In August of 2003, Georgia Tech completed the much anticipated Technology Square project. This redevelopment effort was in keeping with Georgia Tech’s motto: “Progress and Service.” This campus expansion marked a paradigm shift in the way that Georgia Tech saw itself physically within the greater Atlanta community.

Historical Perspective
In the 1950s the Georgia Department of Highways constructed a six-lane freeway through the center of the city. This freeway, which would eventually carry Interstates 75 and 85, became a barrier between Tech and the dense urban neighborhood of Midtown to the east. It caused the neighborhoods on both sides to accelerate their decline in status. This decline had started with the construction of Techwood Homes, America’s first public housing project, just south of the Georgia Tech campus in 1937. Due to the barrier that the Interstate posed to both automotive and pedestrian traffic moving east-west through Atlanta, Georgia Tech’s campus expanded westward becoming, essentially, a suburban campus located in an urban environment. With the surrounding neighborhoods continuing to decline through the 1960s and 1970s, Georgia Tech cut itself off from the surrounding cityscape with tall fences and an inward orientation. The widening of the Interstate to 15 lanes in the mid-1980s worsened the division even though the Midtown neighborhood was finally beginning to become a sought-after address.

The opening of Tech Square in time for Fall Semester classes in 2003 was the first time in five decades that Georgia Tech had expanded to the east, and this shift was more than geographic; it was symbolic. By turning abandoned buildings and surface parking lots into hip sidewalk cafes and classroom space, Georgia Tech was breaking through the barriers surrounding it and committing itself to the redevelopment of Atlanta.

The Project
The Tech Square project is centered on Fifth Street, which is a major campus artery bisecting campus into northern and southern halves. It stretches for two blocks from the Interstate toward Midtown, ending at West Peachtree Street. It is linked to the main campus by an improved Fifth Street with wide sidewalks, bus stop turnouts, and bike lanes. The Georgia Department of Transportation completed work on the new Fifth Street bridge in the Winter of 2006-07, creating a new park above the Interstate on either side of Fifth. The Tech Trolley was instituted to link the main campus with Tech Square, and service on the route continues to the Midtown MARTA (Metro-type subway) Station. These shuttles run every 8 minutes throughout the day.

The development itself includes a new campus for the College of Management, the Georgia Tech Hotel and Conference Center, the Economic Development Institute, the Georgia Tech Bookstore, and a privately-owned office building. The entire area, which currently takes up three square blocks, includes street-level retail and is now one of the busiest parts of campus. This expansion of campus has proven popular not only with students, but also with office workers in nearby Midtown skyscrapers and local condo-dwellers.

Most shocking from an Atlanta perspective is the project’s pedestrian friendliness. Tech Square won the prestigious “Golden Shoe” award for pedestrian design in 2003. Wide sidewalks exist throughout the project, which also includes on-street parking and bike lanes. A large parking deck is wrapped by buildings to disguise it from the street. This deck will eventually allow for the demolition of older decks on the main campus.

Another part of the paradigm shift which has been signified by Tech Square is Georgia Tech’s commitment to the environment. Starting with the College of Management Building, all new construction on the Georgia Tech campus will be LEED certified. By reconnecting and redeveloping the surrounding neighborhood, Georgia Tech has begun to encourage walking and transit ridership (the nearest MARTA subway station, North Avenue, is only two blocks away at Third Street). Tech has also begun to incorporate urban-style campus elements to its traditional suburban feel (despite being only two miles from the city center). The LEED certification is just the most quantitative example of this new commitment. Georgia Tech has long prided itself on being a leader in the community, and with Tech Square, it has made a large step forward.

Missed Opportunities
Perhaps the biggest flaw of the project was the lack of housing. While the Hotel and College of Management keep the area busy during the day and into the evening, most shops close by 10 p.m. and afterwards the district is quite still. Tech could have kept Tech Square alive later and worked on its housing crunch by constructing dormitories on Fifth. Instead, the Institute chose to move the residential center of campus further south by purchasing the Georgia State University Village across North Avenue from Tech. There is still one parcel which has not been developed, and it could be residential in nature when construction occurs, but no plans have yet been made.

Why it Matters to Maryland
Technology Square is quite different from the proposed East Campus redevelopment in many aspects, but it also has many similarities. The biggest similarity is the demonstration of the University’s commitment to the community. College Park has long been host to UM, but this project has the potential to show that both parties realize how bound their futures are in each other. The East Campus redevelopment, like Tech Square, will help to reconnect the University symbolically and physically with the city of College Park. It will also provide a stronger physical link with the Metro station just as Tech Square did with MARTA. Most importantly, the East Campus redevelopment will bring students to College Park who otherwise wouldn’t have been there, and it will bring citizens of College Park to campus who otherwise would have never had the opportunity to interact with the campus. This project is about more than redevelopment; it’s about reconnecting two communities with a commitment to prosper together.

East Campus in Perspective: The University of Central Florida Athletic Village

As the East Campus Redevelopment Project moves through the public participation process, it is valuable to look at how other universities have integrated mixed-use facilities into their campuses. Over the next week and months we hope to profile many similar projects.

The University of Central Florida (UCF) recently put the finishing touches on a $300 million mixed-use athletic village, located on its Orlando campus.

UCF, with an enrollment of over 48,000, has long struggled to create a pedestrian-oriented collegiate experience for its students due to its unfavorable location on major state highway. Because of this, the university became interested in creating a destination for students, alumni and local-area residents that would serve as a hub of activity for the campus and surrounding area. The result of the university’s effort is a mixed-use project that features 2,000 student beds, 83,000 square feet of retail, 3 parking garages, a 10,000-seat arena and a 45,000-seat football stadium. Dining options alone include Maggiemoo’s Ice Cream, Subway, Papa John’s, and Nature’s Table Cafe.


Design Principles
Founded in the late 1960’s, UCF features a radial campus with its student union acting as the central hub of activity. Paths radiate out from the union to connect academic buildings and residential nodes. Unlike East Campus, UCF did not have to deal with a state highway separating its project site from its existing campus.


1. Connectivity: UCF made it a point to connect this district to the existing campus by removing an unimproved parking lot between the project site and the student union. The parking lot was converted to a pedestrian mall with the new arena as its terminus.
2. Adaptive Reuse: Although significantly larger in scale than the Pocomoke Building, UCF retrofitted its old arena to house locker rooms and athletic offices.
3. Strong edges: The retail portion of this project clearly defines the public space on the street and creates a pedestrian-friendly environment.
4. Unique district: The village has a different character than the existing campus, which creates psychological transition from academia to residential life. The parking garages retain the character of the residential buildings and blend in well.

Missed Opportunities
1. Green building: The athletic village was designed before UCF adopted standards requiring LEED certification for all new construction.
2. Transit: Orlando is at least 50 years behind D.C. in terms of mass transit. Because of the lack of rail, the athletic village is served by automobiles and shuttle buses. This may be an opportunity realized sometime in the future.

Although the UCF athletic village houses different uses than the proposed East Campus project, the underlying ideas and goals are the same. UCF created a pedestrian environment to provide a destination for students, faculty, alumni and neighbors alike. UCF has finished its district, and Maryland can learn from its success.

> UCF Stadium Master Plan Amendment



The campus and indeed the entire world was shocked to hear early yesterday of the senseless and random killings of over 30 students and faculty members at Virginia Tech by a lone gunman. A candlelight vigil will be held today at 8PM on McKeldin Mall. The Chapel will be open today until 5PM for reflection and quiet space and the university is providing a number of services for the grieving. Our hearts go out to all those touched by this terrible tragedy.

A Tale of Green Cities

chicago city hall roofAs cities across the US become more aware of the environmental impact development has on energy use and local water quality, many cities have begun to adopt strategies to mitigate these ecological concerns and help the environment.

–>Santa Monica, California has adopted green building codes that address storm water runoff, mandates bicycle storage, carpool spaces, storage space for recyclable materials, requires the recycling of construction material, and the installation of water efficient fixtures among other environmentally friendly, low cost building codes.

–>Montgomery County, Maryland has voted unanimously to adopt the LEED standard for all new multifamily residences greater than 4 stories, commercial buildings, and county buildings. This legislation will go into effect this November and mandates energy efficiency, indoor air quality, site selection, water use, and other environmental protections.

–>Chapel Hill, North Carolina passed an ordinance in 1997 that required town owned buildings to use 30% less energy than required by the North Carolina building codes. Accepted strategies include solar orientation, daylighting, renewable heating resources, water conservation, appropriate landscaping, energy efficient lighting, and the use of building materials and colors to lower cooling load.

More cities than we could possibly profile here have adopted environmentally conscious building codes, and many of them have adopted comprehensive green building strategies such as the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED program. From energy and water efficiency to alternative transportation, from site selection to the beautification of public spaces, cities are learning how to make themselves allies of the landscape instead of adversaries. Even Chicago’s city hall, pictured above, incorporates a insulating green roof.

The city of College Park is not unique in its lack of Green Buildings codes, but it’s foreseeable that the city (or county) might jump on the bandwagon if the influx of CP development continues as we expect it will. Certainly the university can do more in this area and join a growing list of universities that have done the same. In the past we’ve suggested that the East Campus Development initiative incorporate some form of green building standards and we reported on the NOAA building in UMD’s research park that will be LEED certified.

Here are some ideas to get the ball rolling (if it hasn’t already):

  • Require demolitions, renovations, and new construction to recycle 60%+ of their construction waste
  • Mandate the use of low-flow faucets in new construction and renovations
  • Encourage the installation of waterless urinals
  • Relax parking space requirements for multifamily construction
  • Provide funding for covered bicycle parking facilities
  • Organize a renewable energy credit purchasing program for residents of College Park

What do you think?

Campus Redevelopment in Conway, Arkansas

As we have reported before, the University of Maryland isn’t the only university redeveloping its own land to make its campus more livable. Today the New York Times reports on central Arkansas’s Hendrix College, which plans to develop 130 acres into an urban, mixed-use village. Their reasons for developing the land are similar to Maryland’s motivation for the 38-acre East Campus site: there just isn’t much to do in town.

Other similarities between the two college towns, though, are actually more interesting. First, both Maryland and Hendrix propose new urban developments that are located just a short distance from their respective downtowns rather than aiming redevelopment for the existing downtowns. Second, though the downtowns of both College Park and Conway, Arkansas, have sizable commercial districts, the amenities they both provide are considered woefully inadequate. Like the official plans for East Campus, Hendrix expects its new village (named “The Village at Hendrix”, in fact) to attract not just students, but other people who seek an urban lifestyle and the quirkiness of traditional college towns.

Though half of all Americans and probably more than half of the college-bound live in suburbs, today’s students, says Hendrix president J. Timothy Cloyd, want a change of scenery. As Cloyd frankly puts it, “You can’t market yourself as bucolic.”

Uniquely College Park – Age and the Definition of A College Town



A brief analysis of College Park’s age distribution the other week revealed that UMD has easily the youngest college town of it’s peer schools. This brought about a deeper question: what exactly is a “College Town”? This question produces a vague answer – a place where a “college or university and the cultures it creates exert a dominant influence over the character of the community.” Using this definition we decided to eliminate large cities and state capitals with universities in this analysis.

One commenter pointed out in our last post that CP’s population is miniscule (25,000) compared to Chapel Hill (52,000), Urbana-Champaigne (110,000), Ann Arbor (114,000), and Berkeley (102,000). Basically, it’s clear that you can place college towns on a continuum whereby a university can be an increasingly less important player in the community (either because of the large size of the town or small size of the college).

This time we compared CP to 19 other “college towns” and came up with the chart you see above. These towns range in population from 17,000 to 114,000 but still average about twice (50,000) College Park’s population. Not only did we find that College Park’s population has an unusually high percentage of undergraduate aged people (very roughly we’ll say its about 45% undergrad), but we had great difficulty finding another major university (and similar sized, discrete political unit/a.k.a. town) tucked into a major metro area. Apparently other states placed their land-grant universities a little further off the beaten path than Maryland did.

We do like a point PG County Councilmen Eric Olson made on our first iteration of this: virtually every other town on the chart has a second spike around the graduate student age range. College Park just can’t hold on to grad students.

A separate study using 59 towns found that 18-24 year olds averaged about 30% of the population of those towns in the year 2000. College Park was more like 50%.

>>See Our Excel Sheet: College Town Age Comparison

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


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…

How Do You Build a College Town?

That’s the question towns from Columbia, Ohio to Mansfield, Connecticut are pondering as they construct new city plans — and multi-million dollar projects – to build vibrant towns for their Universities. While we’re skeptical huge projects alone can build a great college town, we applaud these cities for their vision. How will College Park measure up?

After the state committed to spend more than $2 billion for improvements to all its campuses, the University of Connecticut decided on a sweeping project at its main campus in this hamlet in the still-rural town of Mansfield. Working with local officials, it plans to demolish the meager downtown, which looks more like a makeshift set for a Hollywood western than a New England college center, and build a town from scratch.

Construction of the development, called Storrs Center, is scheduled to begin next year. The project will include up to 300 market-rate rental housing units, up to 500 residential units for purchase, about 200,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, 40,000 to 75,000 square feet of office space and 5,000 to 25,000 square feet of civic and community space. A town square will be at its core, mimicking the greens at the center of hundreds of New England villages.

New York Times: “UConn Decides to Build Its Own College Town