There’s an excellent column in today’s Washington Post that I think speaks directly to situation in College Park and inner suburban communities like it. The column, written by UMD architecture professor emeritus Roger K. Lewis, describes “favorably located but underdeveloped or unwisely developed land with potentially high real estate value” along blighted highways. From the column:
Aging, low-rise commercial structures with little architectural coherence or aesthetic quality are scattered throughout the area, along with extensive surface parking. Landscaping is minimal or neglected. Haphazardly deployed signage, lighting and utility structures add visual clutter.
Plans are afoot to radically transform this area, the premise being that it is a prime candidate for a makeover to accommodate future growth. But plans envision the redevelopment area becoming urban rather than suburban. Comfortable with the status quo, you fear that nearby urbanization will threaten your quality of life, spoil the character of your community, depress your property’s values and make traffic congestion unbearable.
Having worked on Smart Growth in College Park for almost 4 years, I am continually surprised just how resilient the opposition is to compact, infill development along the corridor. Perhaps I even underestimate the size of this opposition. In a recent email exchange with community members and local elected officials, my support for basic Smart Growth principles brought virulent opposition. Mary Cook, a local resident and former City Councilperson, went so far as to say that I was not “concerned with the future of College Park.” Tom Dernoga, outgoing District 1 County Councilman, railed against my pro-smart growth agenda and said my opinions reflects an “elitist (or purist) planning approach that has little meaning in the real world.” He went on to say that I was overstating my “position and ignoring the concerns of MANY people in the Route 1 Corridor.”
Indeed there is a sizable contingent of people in College Park that are perfectly happy with the current land use pattern on Route 1. This group is organized and extremely effective politically (much to my chagrin). I’ve always believed those opposed to development are more organized and motivated for the simple fact that individuals are more apt to take the time to oppose something they perceive as immediately detrimental to their interests. Far fewer people are motivated to come out and actively support something that could provide them long term benefits. NIMBYism thrives on the nuances of development, misinformation, suspicion and the backroom nature of planning. It manifests in insular citizen groups who scoff at outsiders and ostensibly carry the banner of “the community” as if the community is one monolithic group.
Our belief that the silent majority of the community supports the wholesale redevelopment of Route 1 is what keeps this site going (at a considerable expense of time and money to its writers). Perhaps we’ve misjudged the real sentiments of the community. In today’s column, Lewis says: “as new long-range plans are implemented in the coming decades, your property’s value will probably go up, your way of life and neighborhood character will be enhanced, and traffic congestion will not worsen.” Maybe we haven’t done a good enough job of conveying these points and showing how similarly situated neighborhoods maintain their suburban fabric but benefit tremendously from infill redevelopment.
RTCP has received an uncountable number of emails over the years from community members expressing gratitude for the work we do here. These people universally recognize that development on Route 1 will have a net positive effect on the City and acknowledge that the goals of Smart Growth aren’t achievable if our expectations of developers are unreasonable or don’t take into account financial realities. The majority of these emails are from long term residents who say that this site has made them hopeful for real change in College Park. Where before some had contemplated moving, folks have even gone as far as saying this site has given them the resolve to stay.
Please take a second to email this post to like-minded individuals and comment here if you support the vast majority of opinions we present on Rethink College Park. Share it on Facebook and Twitter. We’re especially interested in hearing from long term residents.