Sin city (College Park, to be exact)

I was an opinion columnist for University of Maryland’s student newspaper The Diamondback for the three semesters prior to my graduation. The columns I wrote are still up on the web archive, but I’d rather not depend on The Diamondback to host them indefinitely. Thus, I have decided to repost them on this blog, not only to archive them in a place under my control, but also so you readers here can have an idea of my writing in college. Here is my 19th and final opinion column, Sin city, originally published May 4, 2007.

My bad luck with letting the editor choose the column title struck once again.

This is my last column for The Diamondback. I am graduating this semester, and I hope at least some of you out there enjoyed reading my columns these past three semesters. One thing that has stuck with me during my entire stint as a columnist is the utterly dysfunctional love/hate relationship between the city of College Park and the university. The city owes so much to the university yet seems to think it can get away with making no compromises.

I went to Maryland Day last weekend and saw the booth set up by the city of College Park. It had two bullet points on a large poster bragging about the city’s selling points: “Home of the University of Maryland” and “Cradle of Aviation.” As for the second bullet point, this may be news to some of you, but College Park does have a civilian airport that is pretty ancient. Without the university, this would be the city’s only bragging point: “We have an old airport.”

This city owes so much to the university. Millions upon millions of dollars pour in through the university and are spent in the surrounding areas. The majority of customers at downtown College Park businesses are students. The downtown area would not be sustainable without student spending. When school is in full swing, the population of College Park doubles. Yet College Park has fought the interests of half of its residents at every turn.

The College Park City Council recently passed a resolution to severely reduce the construction fee-waiver area around the university for student housing, thus reducing developer interests in undertaking new projects. Strict rent control laws have been passed under the guise of lowering costs, but with the actual effect of trying to make the proposition of renting out houses more unattractive to landlords.

Everywhere you turn, the city is trying to stab university students in the back, yet it had the gall to set up its insipid little booth at Maryland Day and proclaim the university as the No. 1 attraction of the City of College Park. City council, understand this: You can’t have the university without the students, and students, like all people, need somewhere to live. College Park is undeniably a college town. You cannot brag about the university on one hand and then shove students away with the other.

Once the city comes to this simple realization, it can start working with the university, rather than against it, to address our common needs. I understand if the city council does not want every single neighborhood in College Park overrun with loud parties and stumbling drunken students. But the correct solution is not to charge developers a fee of $7,700 per apartment on new student-oriented housing construction projects. The council is trying to have it both ways. We students need somewhere to live, and if you will not let us have more apartment buildings in downtown College Park, we are just going to have to “pollute” your quiet little neighborhoods.

As I pack up and leave College Park for good in the coming weeks, I will be looking back at all of my fond memories of this place: the parties, the fun seminar classes, the football games, just walking around on the campus and especially the time spent sitting around with friends doing nothing in particular for hours on end (and having a blast at it). I will also be looking back at all the missed opportunities for constructive partnership between the city and university. We are in the midst of a housing crisis, with absolute disaster looming on the horizon. I only hope the city council comes to its senses so students for years to come will be able to forge their own treasured college memories.

So, what do you think, good note to go out on?

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