By Annika McGinnis, The Diamondback (April 4, 2013)
In a city plagued with frustrating bumper-to-bumper traffic, linguistics professor Juan Uriagereka enjoys a commute that’s just a brief walk down the street.
The associate provost for faculty affairs lives in University Park with his family and raves about his tight-knit, familial College Park neighborhood.
“It’s a very diverse community, very safe,” said Uriagereka, who is also a professor. “We bike around and walk to work.”
But as a faculty member living in the city, he’s a rare breed in College Park. Just 4 percent of the university’s faculty and staff live in the city, according to a report on faculty and staff housing published this year by Anderson Strickler, LLC.
“I bike a lot with the kids, and you do come here in the middle of the weekend and sometimes there’s not a lot of folks around,” Uriagereka said. “Or you go to Clarice Smith and it’s not always clear you can hang out and have a beer with [your] friends. We need to build the infrastructure. But the need is clearly there — who would object to going to an opera?”
Many faculty and staff don’t want to live in College Park because of concerns over high housing prices, crime, the quality of the school system, a city ridden with student rentals and the perception there is no “culture” or “character” in the city, according to the Anderson Strickler report.
“The biggest findings were that if some of the current demographics, if the neighborhood wasn’t completely student oriented and if their perceptions of safety and the school system were a bit more positive, more faculty and staff would be interested in living in housing closer to campus,” said Linda Anderson, principal of the consulting firm that conducted the study with the city and university that included a faculty survey and market analysis. “Especially if the university offered some sort of assistance, some sort of housing assistance program.”
The study recommended the university implement several leasing and loan programs to draw in more faculty, including a ground lease program in which the university would purchase tracts of land and faculty members would buy the homes, but not the land. That would enable faculty members to purchase homes at lower prices, the study concluded. For such a program, the university would have to obtain or create a rental apartment community, according to the study.
The administrative affairs department has looked at developing a housing inventory that would arrange reasonably priced leases in housing adjacent to the campus, including both apartments and single-family homes, said Rob Specter, administrative affairs vice president. A ground lease program is also a possibility, he added.
Though the housing inventory idea is still in the planning stages, it could be completed in as soon as a few months, Specter said, and could potentially be available for faculty moving in next fall.
The report also urged the university to create a “housing resource center,” which the university has already begun with its new faculty affairs relocation website.
Though faculty are often concerned the city caters solely to students, Uriagereka said, College Park would have to change if more faculty moved.
Uriagereka grew up in a Spanish city that he called a “dump” before citizens took actions to revitalize it. Within 10 years, his hometown transformed into a place that drew tourists from around the world — and the same thing could happen to College Park, he said.
“This is doable. You get great movies in the local theater that are quality movies, and you get great restaurants that are different. This is not the dream; this is possible,” he said. “Why can’t we do this? I think we can. I think this is a matter of believing in ourselves; this is a very interesting place.”
And if faculty lived in the city, they wouldn’t have to commute hours to work in the congested metropolitan area, Anderson said.
“It helps encourage better interaction between faculty and students,” she said. “They might spend more time on campus and be involved on campus.”
Still, Uriagereka said many faculty members’ concerns were real, including finding an adequate high school for faculty members’ children. Additionally, there’s no bilingual school nearby, so Uriagereka sends his children to a bilingual school in Washington. Public transportation and finding a quality supermarket is also difficult, he added.
“You need opportunities, you need options; and certainly when you look downtown or in other counties, you have more options than here,” he said. “If you look at this county and the opportunities, there’s lots of room for improvement.”
But this city holds plenty of potential, Uriagereka said, including the proposed Whole Foods Market and the Route 1 corridor redevelopment. However, he said, possibilities need to be translated into “tangible results.”
With the proposed housing inventory, Specter hopes more faculty will be drawn to live in the city. If they are, Uriagereka dreams of a diverse, vibrant community of students and faculty living, working and learning together and enjoying time together both inside and outside the classroom.
All it requires is residents and university members taking ownership of their neighborhood, Uriagereka said.
“I don’t have anything against students — some of my best friends are students — but it would be good if it was all aspects of community, [like] if you could go play soccer Sunday morning with students and teachers,” he said. “I look forward to a future when if I have to go with my kids to Silver Spring, I don’t always have to get the car, there’s public transportation … And if you go out with your kids on Sunday morning and you sit with other families and have a good time.”
And faculty living closer to the campus would encourage out-of-class interaction between professors and students, help create a more diverse city and cut down on commute time, Anderson and Uriagereka said.
“These are some of the best minds in the world, people who are committed to making the world a better place,” Uriagereka said. “Right there you have a gorgeous opportunity to have very good neighbors. It doesn’t get much better than that.”