Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
College Park is not a nice place to live. We’ve got crime, constant construction and bumpy roads with questionable drivers. The place looks generally run-down and police seem ineffective at catching suspects — at least, based on the campus phone alerts — but somehow rent remains high.
But you can’t say College Park doesn’t have character. From the murals around town to the bustle of people in front of restaurants, the rhythm of life here thrums to an underlying beat.
Unfortunately, unless the county redefines development to include stronger quality of life considerations, this area is not only about to become a lot worse to live in — it’s going to lose its personality.
We’ve heard about Campus Village Shoppes closing and other local businesses at risk to make way for residential space, which comes after other isolated departures. Shutting down pillars of the community is bad enough, but it’s downright nonsensical when doing so would destroy a large portion of the third places — restaurants, cafes and other locations where people meet up to relax — within reasonable walking distance from campus.
Quality of life must revolve around not just the basic necessities of food, water, shelter and healthcare. The county must consider where we typically like to spend our leisure time eating out occasionally, spending time with friends and meeting others. Without enough physical space to do these activities, communities don’t thrive. Instead, communities become a compound where people go to work, go home and repeat in eternal low-grade misery.
County council members likely wouldn’t want to live here after tearing down most of our third spaces and replacing them with apartments, so why should College Park residents be expected to?
Development is not one dimensional, and it shouldn’t come at the cost of residents’ lifestyles now or in the future. Progress is not a cold, steel “pack residents like sardines” industrial concept where the only connection to culture and life is one mass transit line to a vibrant city like Washington, D.C.
Look, I’m very pro-development and progress. However, terms like “development” and “progress” should not be said in opposition to community culture. Community bonds, formed by third spaces, should be at the center of development talk, especially as Purple Line construction brings more people to College Park.
Transportation infrastructure must also be community focused. We can’t just plop a pile of apartments down without thinking of how those new residents will move around. There must be considerations for improving our roads or bulking up public transportation.
And, for the record, cost of living isn’t a slam dunk argument on this issue. Unequivocally, we need more affordable housing. But that’s not necessarily what these developments are going to bring. There’s no indication new apartments are lowering prices more than temporarily. Even if they do, no one’s ideal is to live somewhere without local businesses or fun things to do on weekends, even if rent is dirt cheap.
If the county wants to be in the business of raising skylines, it has to ensure the city is prepared to deal with the responsibility of transforming College Park from a small college town to a big metro area. As residential density rises, especially along Route 1, the perception that authorities don’t handle crime well also has to be addressed. It’s much more terrifying to get robbed if the only witnesses are the giant apartments all around instead of people out getting dinner.
This doesn’t mean we should never have tall apartments or mixed use buildings in College Park. In the medium term, these are probably necessary to deal with the student housing shortage and the potential influx of residents once the Purple Line is completed. However, the county shouldn’t allow all the nice amenities in the area to be forced out at once. Building projects that replace or relocate local businesses should be staggered so that we still have sufficient third places within every block.
The county is right to want development in College Park, but is so incredibly misguided to do so without first ensuring a proper balance of residential and third places. People are entitled to the “nice” bits of city life, from unique mom and pop shops to lowered crime, to some simple aesthetics.
This is not about gentrification or making the area nice for future yuppies, it’s about preserving our identity and ensuring that all who live here now or in the future can actually enjoy it. In the quest to make College Park a nicer place to live, we don’t have to make it worse first.
Jessica Ye is a senior economics and government and politics major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.