I've spent quite a bit of time in Langley Park during my life. I grew up about 2 miles away. As a kid, I remember going to Hot Shoppes for ice cream with the family. later, my friends and I would bike to the Taco Bell that took its place. I'd explore the bodegas and shops down there, but honestly since I turned 17 (and got my driver's license) I haven't been doing a whole lot of that. It became the traffic-infested town I had to drive through on my way to the University of Maryland.
I certainly don't blame that on the demographic shift that has occurred there-- Central Americans, Southeast Asians, Indians, and Africans have established immigrant communities there-- but more on the lack of a sense of place that it has. It wasn't much better when I was a kid. I had to bike somewhere, though, and it was closer than downtown Silver Spring (which was a hole back then anyway). But the dominating feature at University Boulevard and New Hampshire Avenue is parking lots. Considering the lower- to middle-income residents (who are less likely to own a car), that seems somewhat wrong.
I think Langley Park has a pretty strong sense of culture there. Immigrant populations generally do. But that culture is abandoned in a wasteland of spread out rental apartments and strip mall retail. The pedestrians, which are plentiful, suffer spread out destinations and startlingly unsafe conditions, even with the recent improvements in the last few years.
What really alarms me is the particularly racist and xenophobic sentiments that even the most liberal folks have expressed to me when discussing Langley Park. I don't assume everyone in LP is in MS-13. That is just as offensive as people assuming my mother has mafia ties because she's Sicilian. LP has a very diverse tapestry of peoples beyond the very few gang-banging Salvadorians people like to cite. My experience is that a good majority of the residents are honest hard working people trapped in car-oriented town where no one wants to invest time, money, or public works.
What that part of town really needs is a transit center which they might in fact be getting in the next couple years. The current plan is for a bus depot that will perhaps one day also house the Purple Line. Imagine if we could get some serious transit oriented development there. Perhaps tear out those awful low-density spread out run down apartments between New Hampshire and Riggs Road. Offer high quality transit links to Silver Spring and College Park. Turn University Boulevard into an actual boulevard, with street front retail, street parking, and a shaded median.
Langley Park has every right to be a destination like Silver Spring or Bethesda. I decided to imagine it as one:
(click to enlarge; made with Google Earth)
Blue = retail; darker blue is office with ground floor retail
Red = housing; darker is high rise apartments, lighter is townhouses etc.
Green = parks, of course
Tan = civic use
Orange = transit station
Black = parking garage
Most notably, I redrew virtually the entire Hampshire Village and Willowbrook apartment complexes to create more continuity in the street grid and allow for much better land use. Those apartments are affordable, yes, but I believe we can fit more apartments there, perhaps making them more affordable. My main lament is that I didn't add more park land, but I figure commercial plazas and the like would fill that void. I also imagine there would be a few live-work units, perhaps a couple of those neat little bodegas and restaurants could be rescued from the strip malls and reinvented as streetfront shops with apartments overhead.
The Purple Line will connect LP with the University of Maryland. Imagine a new choice for college and graduate students, another place for them to live and work, all the while being exposed to the diversity (and delicious food, if I may say so). Perhaps UMD could use some of that civic space and set up a program where college students teach residents English as a second language, or help/encourage them to enroll in some courses.
If we invest some money in the area, we help the people. In return, we'll get lower crime, less traffic, and a new destination, just like we did in Silver Spring and scores of other places where the effort was put forth. Langley Park has everything it needs to bloom except the geography. Imagine if we made it happen.