With the New Deal came the creation of Greenbelt – it was one of the new “green towns” that started off as a small neighborhood but grew and incorporated recreational activities and several institutions. The creators of Greenbelt envisioned a small unified tightknit town that shared a common identity.
25-year-old Charles Fahey works as a Center Community Leader at the Greenbelt Community Center adjacent from the local library. Living in Greenbelt his whole life, Fahey has grown with the town and the townspeople and describes Greenbelt as “close historic, and entertaining”.
Fahey alludes to the fact that since everything in the town is so close together, so are the people. Living in a small town like Greenbelt is convenient and leads to people to creating lasting social ties. Growing up, Fahey’s parents generally knew a lot of people due to the close proximity of the houses. Places like the grocery store, co-op, community center, and library are also located next to each, other making it easier for residents to connect and socialize. This has lead residents to describe their town as “one big family” where all share responsibility in the town’s well being.
Although Greenbelt was created out of The Great Depression as a part of the New Deal program by FDR, Fahey describes current residents as only having a general knowledge on Greenbelt’s history. Current institutions have kept some of Greenbelt’s history alive, like the newly built and popular New Deal Café, which is only one of the outlets of entertainment the town provides.
Fahey describes the town as entertaining and discusses the traditional yearly activities. Every summer Camp Pine Tree is open to the children of Greenbelt, the place where Fahey claims to have put his energy into sports and theater growing up with his neighbors. A Labor day festival occurred in the parking lot of the community center and a ceremonial Christmas tree lighting occurred in December. These year-round community activities further push residents to socialize and come together as a town.
In regards to town growth, Fahey claims the main changes he has seen over the past years are new institutions being built or old ones being closed down and made into something new. With rates of employment decreasing since the 1970s, old convenient stores and dry cleaners being closed down is understandable; with this comes the creation of more modern day necessities like a hair salon and technology store which keep Greenbelt residents up to date with the rest of the country, despite how old the town is. Fahey sees these changes as good because it adds variety to the town and new places for different and new people to socialize; although, Fahey recommends there be more diverse engagement activities so as to not attract the same types of people.
From its creation, Greenbelt has not seen a diverse set of residents; with such a strict selection process in order to be a resident, the Resettlement Administration chose primarily white families that were willing to contribute to the community. During Greenbelts premiering years African Americans were kept on the outskirts of Greenbelt. When comparing the central area of Greenbelt to the metro area which is farther away, you see more race and age diversity towards the metro area; more youth and ethnic minorities reside on the outskirts of town where it is more technologically advanced than the central Greenbelt. Fahey lives closer to the central part of town and describes it as “ethnically the same” with a large population of older white individuals.
Overall, Fahey enjoys living in Greenbelt like many of its residents and has always felt comfortable growing up there. Personally he sees no big problems that exist in his community, although admits that a few minor changes could be made to this small town.
Community Center Leader Kathy Kayser grew up in Greenbelt, and has continued to live in the town since her parents moved to Greenbelt in 1937. Her parents were actually one of the original families to populate Greenbelt when it was first established. Kayser said her father chose the area for its urban-type feel, and because it seemed like a good place to raise a family. Out of her five siblings, Kayser was the only one to stay in Greenbelt, and she is very content with her decision.
She describes the area as friendly, entertaining, and happy. “It’s a happy place!” she says, smiling as she reminisces about growing up in Greenbelt. She describes the town as a safe place for her to grow up. Everyone knew everyone, so kids were able to stay out in the neighborhood until suppertime everyday. She spent most of her time in her neighborhood, playing near the lake or in the woods. She did not visit the center of town much until she was a teenager, as her parents did not want her visiting the center of town by herself as a young girl.
Kayser still describes Greenbelt as a safe town. “I still feel very comfortable walking by myself through the town of Greenbelt. I never feel threatened,” she says. The level of safety has stayed consistent over the years, but there have been a few minor changes made to the community since Kayser has lived in it. She cites the biggest change as being the increase in development. There has been a large influx in the number of houses, hotels and other new buildings in Greenbelt in recent history. Some more significant additions were the Greenway Mall and the Beltway Plaza. Though she views these changes as mostly good, Kathy is slightly wary of the closing down of old stores and businesses. The Laundromat, an exercise center, and a convenience store have all shut down and been converted into different businesses, which Kathy says worries her. Speaking of this change, she says, “I get a kind of frightened feeling that if they don’t keep these stores open, then our little town will dissipate.”
The main way these changes in businesses has affected her is in gaining and losing job opportunities. The Greenway Mall gave her a way to get a job after she retired, working as a merchandiser. She also worked at the exercise center in the middle of town that was eventually closed down, but she was able to get another job at the community center, which is where she is today. Though the changes in establishments make her nervous, she admits that all of the new businesses are doing well, which eases her mind. She also says that the general feel of the town has remained the same, which is very “cozy comfortable.”
One reason for the minimal changes could be the fact that the local government has not had much turn over. Kayser notes that the local government is made up of “basically the same people who run in every year’s election.” She does not view this as a bad thing, as she knows many of the council members personally, and says that “they’ve all been doing a great job.”
When asked if she sees any problems with her current community, Kayser says that she does not. She adds, “To be honest, I’m a little isolated from the larger community.” This is because she works two part-time jobs in the middle of town and all of her favorite places to go, like the New Deal Café and the community pool, are all located in the central part of the town.
She travels to the metro area of Greenbelt around six times a year. Again, this is because she can find most of her entertainment in central Greenbelt. She admits that younger people might not be able to find as much to do in the central area, but for her, it’s perfect. In terms of differences between the two areas, she feels that the metro area has a lot more young people, and a more lively scene. She also notices more racial diversity outside of the central area.
The original town of Greenbelt where Kayser lives did not allow people of color to move in until the 1970’s. She was able to observe the change as it happened, and says that it was a very lengthy process. There were a lot of prejudices in the town, as it was a majorly white community, but African Americans and Latinos still trickled in. She says that central Greenbelt is still a majority white, but there are a significantly higher number of people of color living in the town than there were when she was growing up. She notes that while there are more African Americans, she does not notice many more Latinos. She attributes this to the expensive townhouses and the general cost of living.
Having lived in central Greenbelt for all her life, Kayser confidently says that she has no plans of leaving, and she has never had any desire to. The town is comfortable; it has everything she needs for entertainment in a small, easily accessible area. She knows everybody in the community, and has known everyone since she was a young girl. For this reason, she does not even venture out of the area that often. She says that she often tells her husband, “Honey, you can move any place you want as long it’s in Greenbelt!”