Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

To be a great city, College Park Maryland needs some "there", it needs a center

Right:  Flickr photo by thisisbossi of US 1 at Knox Road in College Park, Maryland.

A private email discussion about branding, identity, and organizational integrity reminds me that I wanted to discuss briefly College Park, Maryland's desire to be with it and cool and a leading community within the metropolitan area, as discussed in the Washington Post article, "College Park aims to be a top college town." 

From the article:
College Park wants to become one of the nation’s 20 greatest college towns.

The vision: A community with the reputation of being safer than college neighborhoods in the District. A place where University of Maryland professors and other employees want to live and raise their children. A certified “green community” with a vibrant downtown that has more pedestrians, bicyclists and bus riders than cars. The sort of place that shows up on unscientific rankings of the best places to go to school.  And College Park wants to accomplish the feat within the next six years.
As the home of the University of Maryland, the metropolitan area's largest university and a land grant institution dating to the early 1800s, College Park has one asset that is unparalleled.  It also has some decent housing and neighborhoods, a subway and railroad station, will get light rail service when the Purple Line is built, and is close to the I-95 and I-495 Freeways.

Dan Burden's 12 indicators for a walkable communityTo be a great community, by definition you need a center, and you probably have to be walking focused.   E.g., see Dan Burden's old piece, "How Can I Find and Help Build a Walkable Community?

A great town isn't car-centric. 

I mention this because I was at a presentation where a College Park Councilmember asked a question, seeking guidance on how to be cool for the automobile-centric.

Sure the town has a micro commercial district, dominated by student-oriented retail, for a couple blocks along US 1 (Rhode Island Avenue) near the University.  And a parking-fronted shopping center could be rebuilt as a mixed use space with underground parking, providing more anchor-like qualities.

But the road is a cesspool of traffic and the pedestrian experience is the pits.

I suppose before being too critical, I should read the University District Vision 2020 (two-page brochure) .  But I have to believe it would confirm my skepticism, given that according to the Post, these are their five priorities, which don't seem focused on creating a center:

- Improve the public schools to attract the children of highly educated parents
- improve public safety
- make commuting to U-Md. less of a nightmare
- increase housing options
- protect the area’s natural resources.

For a different approach, see the 2006 article "UConn Decides to Build Its Own College Town" from the New York Times.  The article also discusses similar efforts in Columbus, Ohio and Philadelphia and points out the need for "place" and a center.

Anyway, some of my past writings on branding and identity include:

-- Town-City branding or "We are all destination managers now"
-- Georgetown: A subtle but important difference between branding and identity-positioning
-- Identity ≠ branding or Authenticity is the basis of identity
-- Georgetown Retail
-- City (and university) branding: brand deposits; brand withdrawals; brand destruction

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