Greenbelt

Tseday Holley, Maura Mendes, and Laura Zartarian



Community Observations

Crescent Road

Crescent Road in Greenbelt traces the slope of a hill and reflects the “Old Greenbelt.” The town square is in on this road. The community center seemed to be built as a central piece. Built in 1937 by Lenore Thomas according to the plaque, it has aspects of the Preamble of the Constitution carved into its side. It reflects old American reverence for the nation’s founding and history. For example, it starts with “We the People,” continues, “In order to form a more perfect union,” “establish justice,” “ensure domestic tranquility,” “provide for the common defense,” and “promote the general welfare.” With each subtitle, a different series of figures represent the action described. In general, this building as one of the oldest, reflect its age in its masonry. Its white bricks fit perfectly with the rust-colored window frames on the side of the building. The buildings surrounding this center all vary in age, but it appears mostly from the same era of 1930s-1970s.

Starting by the community center, there is every amenity which people need. Trails take people behind the community center towards a skatepark and a recreation building. There is a swimming pool as well along with copious signage. These signs vary from directions on these trails to info plaques. That is, informational descriptions are available all over this community center area to describe the center, the swimming pool, the trail, etc in order to explain Greenbelt’s history. Tucked away in the side of this town square is the Greenbelt Library. While most of the Library seems standard for a suburban town -- a computer lab, rows of bookshelves divided by age categories, a fully staffed circulation desk -- tucked in the side is a room labeled “Tugwell Room.” The Library maintains a display case in front of this room showing off artifacts from Greenbelt’s history. Inside the room, multiple filing cabinets of newspaper clippings and documents are maintained from throughout Greenbelt’s short history. On the side of the room, bookshelves take up the entire wall. Most of these bookshelves contain books about city planning, a harkening cry back to Greenbelt’s earliest days, but a whole, glass protected case contains books entirely about Co-Ops. This room is open for access whenever the library itself is open, and any librarian can open the Tugwell Room for patrons.

What is most apparent beyond the older buildings in this center is the trees. Walking around from the library, which is at the furthest edge of the town center, towards the other end, the entire path receives shade. The shady and spaced out buildings very quickly turns into a plaza as one approaches the commercial center. There is a plaza in the literal sense with cobbled ground, a statue, benches, and storefronts surrounding the center of the plaza. People stroll around the plaza, sit at the Cafe, and seem to interact without a single worry. Unlike Downtown DC, there are no office buildings or otherwise hustle. Public transit exists out on Crescent Road, but not within this core area. The town cafe harkens back to the 1930s again with its name “New Deal Cafe.” A Co-Op and regular supermarket both sit on the square and share space with a pharmacy, a movie theatre which advertises one movie, and several other small shops. Fittingly, this area is called Roosevelt Center.

As one leaves Roosevelt Center and travels up Crescent Road, which is the entry/exit point of the community, the different communities become apparent. The apartment complexes built in the 1960s connect directly to Crescent Road. Here, multiple apartments are jammed onto rows with garages further down the street as a row and lined up similar to stables. And as one continues to travel down Crescent Road, the single family homes are visible behind treelines and tucked away from the traffic on this thoroughfare. Only the apartments connected directly. Other single-family homes are ‘protected’ in different communities. The most notable one was a single-family home community on the side of the road with mock gates. The sign by the gate read: “Boxwood Village Since 1967.” What set Boxwood Village apart, besides the mock gates, was the quality of the homes. The homes seemed larger than the much humbler ones apparent through the treeline.

This trend of larger houses continued to increase when approaching Maryland Route 201. Larger, newer developments were more common the closer one got to Route 201 from Greenbelt’s center. The other key difference between “Old Greenbelt” and newer construction included the demarcation line of Maryland Route 201. Before Route 201, most areas had significant tree coverage, including forested areas. No tall buildings towered when trees remained the tallest items in this area. As soon as one reached Route 201 however, the new developments became apparent. The small local thoroughfare of Crescent Road intersected with a multi-lane highway. In the distance, tall hotels and other developments meant for visitors were apparent. When one takes the G12 bus back from the intersection of Crescent Road and Route 201 and then travels back down the Green Line from Greenbelt, still under construction luxury homes are visible out the window. Old Greenbelt is an enclave to itself.

In terms of ethnographic observation of population, the population seems to have several characteristics. The younger people (those who appear under 21) tend to be appear black in this community center. However, families in this area include white, black, and other racial groups. Older people include both black and white. However, old white couples tended to be more common than singular, old black men. The predominant population using public facilities such as the library were black youth. The general number of white people increased as one approached Roosevelt Center.

Metro Area

Greenbelt Metrorail station is located near the outside of the city, almost in between Greenbelt and College Park. The station itself is partially outdoors, and directly outside of it is a large parking lot. There are no large buildings, shopping centers, or restaurants in close proximity. Some people leaving the station search for their cars in the vast parking lot, but the majority wait lined up along a rail on the sidewalk for their various rides. Some are picked up by Ubers and Taxis, while others wait for friends and family members. Others wait for the bus at a nearby stop.

The space itself is very open, but is filled with grassy patches and trees. The landscaping, along with the lack of buildings and activity, gives the area a very suburban feel. A path directly behind the station winds through a small park, which leads to a neighborhood. People are out in the park and on the path, many walking home from work, some walking pets, and some going for bike rides.

Neighborhoods in the Metro Area

The neighborhood closest to the metro station can best be described as older and quaint, but with visible efforts at modernization. Most of the houses are small, one-story houses with brick walls and shutters, and even awnings, framing their windows. Many have their properties surrounded by chain-link fences.  Most yards will have only a few shrubs and decorations, but they all maintain a certain degree of neatness. All lawns are cut and and clutter is kept to a minimum, but some houses have chipping paint on their walls, or weathered porches.

Out on the sidewalk at the entrance of the neighborhood is a line of new-looking Zagster bikes, with signage explaining to residents the rules and guidelines for renting out a bike. There are road dividers in the streets with plants in them. The dividers themselves are placed in a way that they do not help the flow of traffic in any way, but seem to be have deliberately placed to display the plants, most of which are withered flowers. Signage along the streets indicate that the neighborhood is part of a neighborhood watch program, and there are BlueLight emergency poles stationed on every few street corners.

Further down Lackawanna Street is a nice playground with shiny, painted metal structures. The area is clean; there is no trash strewn about and the grass around the playground is trimmed and well-kempt. Children ride past the play-ground on pathways and play on nearby hill behind the park. More pathways lead from the playground and wind around the neighborhood and towards a shopping center.

The shopping center is located right off of a main road. The building itself is white and red brick, and is wrapped around a parking lot. The stores in the center are mostly small, private businesses, such as a karate studio, a barber shop, a nail salon, and a pet store. There is also a small organic grocery store that seems new in comparison with the rest of the shops. An organic grocery store usually appeals to a higher class, but the prices of the items inside of the store are reasonably priced, so the store seems to appeal to a wider demographic.

Further down the road from the shopping center is a busy intersection. There are only a few people out, and those who are either sit as bus stops or are walking to one of the few scattered shops. All buildings are short and squat, and are either constructed out of concrete or of brick. There is a church, a daycare, a Deli, a Chinese restaurant, and a Latino food market all within a quarter-mile radius. There are a wide variety of different institutions and shops, but the buildings themselves are very spread out. There is a lot of open space in the area; the buildings themselves are not densely packed together.

All the buildings look like they were built around the same time. They are all small, slightly weathered, but still well constructed. A youth and family center in the area stands out because of its distinct structure and building style. It is a beige brick building with a very clean and modern appearance. The bushes out front of the center are neat and trimmed, and there are no cracks in the sidewalk leading up to the door. The building itself closely resembles a house, which contrasts greatly with the squat, square appearances of other buildings in the immediate proximity.

As for the population of this area, the demographics are similar to that of center of Greenbelt in that families are pretty diverse, though the diversity is more evident in the actual stores and institutions. There seems to be a larger Latino population in the Metro, as well as a larger black population. The area also seems to have a lot of families with children, as front yards are scattered with toys and small play-sets.

The metro area differs from the center of Greenbelt in its racial diversity, and its building structures, as well. Both areas seem older, but houses and buildings near Crescent Road are still objectively nicer than the ones in the metro area. In the metro area, there is some landscaping and decoration, but it is not as neat a deliberate looking as the landscaping in the center of greenbelt. The buildings in the metro area are mostly made out of brick and concrete, and many look faded and old, or in need of paint touch-up. Center greenbelt buildings are made of white cinderblock and It is also worth noting that there appears to be some newer houses and shops that have been built in the past couple decades in center Greenbelt, while the newest-looking building in the metro area is the youth and family center. Purely in comparison to the center, the metro area appears neglected and run-down.

Ethnographic Insights

Greenbelt appears to be a tight community where everyone is friendly and close with one another. Walking around the center of town, it’s easy to pick up on the inviting, comfortable atmosphere. The first place I observed was the community center area, which has the highest density of residents. I noticed people walking down the street with their dogs and neighbors saying hello to one another while passing by. Some neighbors even stopped to have a conversation about their day, and chatted about Thanksgiving plans. It was interesting to see how many people knew each other, and even more interesting to see how genuinely happy they seemed to be to interact with one another; they would almost always stop for a substantial amount of time to speak with one another. Some even started walking together. Everyone that I observed seemed comfortable with the neighborhood. They didn’t seem to be overly aware or nervous of their surroundings. Also worth noting is that the majority of the neighborhoods seems to be white.

Another part of Greenbelt, Maryland that I visited was one of the shopping centers, Greenway Center. The shopping center had various different stories within it. They had clothing stores, grocery stores, restaurants, a party supply store, a gym, and various other shops. This shopping center seemed very convenient. It was not extremely far from the neighborhood and had everything you would need. The people in the shopping center seemed a little anxious and busy, but this was likely just because of the upcoming holidays. Shoppers consisted of families, single shoppers, and a few groups of teenagers. Even in the shopping center, I noticed a lot of people saying hello to one another. They weren’t as likely to stop and chat, but most would at least flash a smile to other shoppers as they walked past. There seemed to be a bit more diversity in the shopping center; however, it’s more than likely that many of these people were not locals, and just came to Greenbelt to shop.

There are a lot of shops in the area. This attracts people to this neighborhood. This makes the value of the property go up, which could be a factor as to why there are more whites living in these neighborhoods. The neighborhoods seemed very well kept. The majority of the lawns where cut and there wasn’t very much trash in the area either. It was clean, welcoming, and seemed like a great neighborhood for people to live in. Everyone that I observed seemed comfortable and safe. They seemed pleased and very relaxed. Lastly, the people in the neighborhood seemed close. This reaffirms our research that a lot of the same people have been living in the same area for a long time.