Community on the Move: University Community Vision, past and present
By Eric Olson
In February, state and county elected officials joined the University of Maryland (UMD) and City of College Park in endorsing the University Community Vision 2030. This plan will update the University District Vision 2020, which was adopted 10 years ago. The new plan includes updated goals and strategies that will move College Park forward as a more thriving, equitable and sustainable community in the coming decade.
The plan was developed during a months-long process that took place at the city, university, county and state, levels. It included local officials as well as community and student leaders. The College Park City-University Partnership facilitated this process.
The updated plan builds on efforts that have been underway since 2011. Previous accomplishments include the founding of College Park Academy, establishment of a robust homeownership program, expansion of university policing and the student code of conduct, the first phase of reconstruction along Baltimore Avenue, construction of the Purple Line light rail, and improvements to increase walkability.
As we approached the new plan, we identified four priorities: housing and development, transportation and mobility, public health and safety, and education. We will conduct our work with the goals of ensuring equity and increasing sustainability.
As an initial step in the process, we analyzed the goals established in the 2020 plan and found both successes and shortcomings. Our current report – and its data – can be found on the City-University Partnership’s website (collegeparkpartnership.org). Here are a few highlights from that data.
Local, independent businesses increased. College Park became a better environment for independent businesses between 2011 and 2019, with the number of local, independent businesses increasing from 63 percent to 67 percent. At least 52 new retail stores and restaurants opened during this time, with 75 to 90% of them being local enterprises, not national chains.
More graduate students and university faculty and staff now live in College Park. The number of graduate students living in the city increased from 18 to 23%. The percentage of university faculty and staff living in College Park increased from 4.5 to 5.3%.
Even as the number of apartments designated as student housing increased by 130%, the number of conversions from owner-occupied homes to rental houses increased slightly. In 2011, 71% of single-family homes were owner occupied; by 2019, that dropped to 68%. This is an area that we will focus on in the University Community Vision 2030.
Public transportation usage declined, which is another area for improvement. Ridership on Metrorail, Metrobus, and Prince George’s County’s The Bus decreased significantly, system-wide. In College Park, Metro ridership dropped by 22%; ridership on The Bus dropped by 36%. These are pre-pandemic numbers, and some of the decline can likely be attributed to breakdowns due to lack of maintenance, reductions in service due vehicles being out of circulation for repairs, and the popularity of ride-share services like Uber and Lyft. On a positive note, UM Shuttle ridership increased 11% over the same period.
Crime is lower than in much of the region. In terms of thefts, breaking and entering, assaults, and vandalism, College Park is doing better than Rockville, Takoma Park, Bethesda and Gaithersburg. When it comes to robberies, College Park is doing better than all these jurisdictions except Bethesda. Our rate for vehicle thefts is comparable to Gaithersburg and Takoma Park, but worse than Bethesda and Rockville; the stolen vehicles category includes scooters, though, of which College Park has many.
During the redevelopment surge in the city over the past decade, at least 25 buildings have been constructed or rehabilitated to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards (10 are LEED Gold; 15 are LEED Silver). According to a 2019 report by RENTCafé.com, this is the third best score in the nation, based on LEED-certified units relative to population.
College Park Academy, founded through a partnership of the city, university, county and state in 2013, enjoys some of the highest test scores in the state and has a graduation rate greater than 95%, which is higher than Montgomery County schools — and all other Maryland schools.
These and other data points informed the development of the 2030 Vision, which can be found at collegeparkpartnership.org/universitycommunityvision2030. My next column will discuss initiatives that are included in our University Community Vision 2030, including neighborhood preservation, greater homeownership, a riverwalk, bike and pedestrian path planning, possible expansion of College Park Academy, marketing College Park, and more.