Tuesday, August 25, 2009

visiting national harbor

A couple of weeks ago I visited National Harbor, the "mini-city" on the Potomac in southern Prince George's County. The crowning achievement of developer Milton Peterson, who gave us Downtown Silver Spring and its attendant battles over free speech, National Harbor is probably worth the trip. We already have a CakeLove here, but we don't have a fake beach, or a marina.

My only real gripe with National Harbor is that it's very isolated. The project has one point of access from the Beltway, effectively sealing itself off from the surrounding neighborhoods. Some of these communities are very affluent and would make a nice counterpart to the development as greater Bethesda would to its Bethesda Row. Yet others struggle with crime, decay and neglect. You don't see any of this from National Harbor. It makes me wonder what good it will actually do for Prince George's County: look, they say, we have all of these nice things (a restaurant with six different kinds of ketchup!) Are you not impressed?

I'm sure a lot of people, both from around the Beltway and across the country, will leave thinking that Gorgeous Prince George's truly lives up to its name. But even the neighbors of National Harbor are tourists like everyone else, disappearing into a world of glitzy buildings and gold-paved streets before returning home to places that will never look like this because they can't. Simply because it's not tucked off a highway exit, Downtown Silver Spring has no choice but to interact with its surroundings, an arrangement that's created many problems but has spurred investment throughout the CBD and beyond. A rising tide lifts all boats, as they say.

When the tide rolls in at National Harbor, will it ever reach Prince George's County? I'd like to be proven wrong.

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