Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Prince George's County, Maryland. I've called it home the last five years of my life. It is a county of promise and potential. With an unparalleled demographic of wealthy minorities and a wide ethnic diversity coupled with a 312 year historical heritage, there's no lack of culture here. With a population rapidly approaching one million, there's a quality tax base as well. What the county lacks-- more than any other county that touches Washington, DC-- is a sense of place throughout.
But that's all changing, right? Largo Town Center, Konterra, Bowie Town Center, National Harbor, Woodmore Towne Centre, and other developments are sprouting up all over the county. They are walkable retail districts that create a sense of place. But unfortunately, you only get that sense of place when you hop in the car and drive to those places (with the exception of Largo, which is on the terminus of the Blue Line).
I absolutely despise it when developers throw "Town Center" at the end of an isolated retail development that is completely car oriented and disconnected from the surrounding areas. I especially hate it when it's spelled "Towne Centre". But let's ingore that for a second...
These areas are a good start for PG, I believe. But acres of surface parking and a big box store mar sites like Woodmore Towne Centre. But surface parking can always be built upon, and big box stores can either be integrated into their surroundings (like in DC USA) or transformed into other uses. Most of the surface parking is probably mandated by some horrible parking minimum over which the developers have no control anyway. What I find most disconcerting with the layout here is that there is only one direct street connection with Glenarden, the municipality in which this development lies. To me, this sends a message. It is not integrated into the community. It is its own entity for other people who will drive there from wherever else. Largo Town Center is even worse. Despite it's own Blue Line Metro station, the development is little more than an island of retail in a sea of parking
Glenarden, Woodmore Towne Centre, and the Landover Gateway development area all lie on a corridor that may wind up being a stop on the Purple Line eventually. Largo Town Center came along with a Metro station. What about other greenfield developments in PG? Konterra is built somewhat near a MARC station along Route 1, but the town center is about a mile away from this station and the design on the tract does not engage the MARC station. National Harbor, the bustling upscale community on the Potomac across from Alexandria, is grossly underserved by Metrobus and is grossly isolated from rail service.
This is bad, but it is much worse when considered with the lack of development around Metro and MARC stations in Prince George's County. Walkable, mixed use development is planned and/or starting to trickle in around Greenbelt, Capitol Heights, and a few other stations, but are they really doing it right anywhere? Sort of. Prince George's Plaza ought to be the model around which new developments in PG are modeled. The surface lots are being replaced by towers hosting a diverse demographic. The area is widely connected to the surrounding areas, helping push development in downtown Hyattsville. PG Plaza definitely isn't all the way there yet, but it's closer than anywhere else.
What makes good development even better is interconnectivity. Largo shows us that just a transit stop doesn't give you a truely great sense of place. National Harbor might prove that no matter how mixed-use, walkable, and upscale a place may be, isolation makes it somewhat of a kitschy novelty location. The ingredients are there. The County just needs to take advantage of it.
I am planning to attend Envision Prince George's on October 3rd at University of Maryland University College Inn and Conference Center in Adelphi. Thanks to Richard Layman for highlighting this event. Better days lie ahead for Prince George's, and I'm hoping to get a glimpse of that at this event.