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Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Potential of PG

Prince George's County, even with its bad reputation, holds something of particular value to Maryland and the DC area. Communities.

There's a long list of them, many area residents have never heard of some of them. Greenbelt, College Park, University Park, Hyattsville, Riverdale, Berwyn Heights, Bladensburg, Cottage City, Colmar Manor, Edmonston, Mount Rainier, Brentwood, Cheverly, Landover Hills, New Carrollton, Fairmount Heights, Seat Pleasant, Glenarden, Morningside, District Heights, and Capitol Heights. All of these are incorporated towns in Prince George's County, and for the most party they are very dense and have reasonable access to highways and transit.

Hyattsville, for example, has been incorporating territory and redeveloping it for years. The heart of the town is a charming collection of 100 year old Victorian homes that belie the nasty reputation bestowed upon the area. It appears to have been built upon a similar model to Chevy Chase. I suspect the two towns took divergent paths because of their demographics over the last half century, Hyattsville attracting more African Americans and immigrants than their counterpart in Montgomery County.

Nowadays, Hyattsville is experiencing a boom of growth along its Route 1 corridor, and more to come at the West Hyattsville Metro station. The latter will no doubt affect nearby towns of Mount Rainier and Brentwood as the former has done in Riverdale and University Park. Prince George's County is still an infrastructural mess, but perhaps Hyattsville will illustrate the potential as people start to see it as an attractive place to live once again.

Several of the aforementioned towns were founded as "trolley towns", bedroom communities at the end of a DC streetcar line in the 19th Century. The closure of those lines-- and perhaps the racial politics of the '50's and '60's-- contributed heavily to the loss of prosperity in the region. But they all maintained (and in some cases, expanded) their incorporated municipal territory, which may prove to be a valuable asset as the DC region begins to implode upon itself. Formal communities have been able to stand up against county and state government to maintain walkable-scale neighborhoods, tightly knit grids of well-built practical houses on reasonably sized lots, streets with sidewalks, curbs, trees, and lights, neighborhoods with parks and municipal buildings.

13 of these municipalities lie between the B-W Parkway corridor and the I-95 would-have-been corridor. bisecting this are is a major rail right of way. Across the B-W Parkway is a smattering of three Orange Line stations named for the three abutting municipalities. None of these stations were built within the boundaries of the municipality that they served, though Cheverly eventually annexed the area round its station. Pedestrian access has slowly but markedly been improving to Metro Stations in PG, and with 2200 acres of open land to develop around the 15 Metro stations in the county, these areas could soon be overcoming the negative image that has been cast upon these areas, and perhaps it will bleed over into DC.

I have plans to relocate to Hyattsville later in the year. Many of my coworkers at Fort Meade laugh at the prospect of living in PG county at all, let along the areas abutting DC. But urban sprawl properties like those in Odenton and Crofton many of my colleagues own continue to plummet in value as gas prices skyrocket. There's a great deal of potential in Prince George's County, and it is finally being realized.

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