Pr. George's residents' vision for next 20 years presented

By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 12, 2010; B03

A top-notch school system that prepares its graduates for the workplace, development that focuses on transit-oriented, walkable communities, and a government that is responsive to its citizenry are among the wants of Prince George's County residents, according to a report released Friday by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.

The report, presented at the Envision Prince George's 2010 Economic Outlook Forum, is the product of a two-year effort to gather information from residents about their vision for the county over the next two decades.

The commission held several meetings to obtain public input. The participants prioritized 19 goals as "the most important for the long-term success of the county," such as improving public safety, attracting federal agencies and encouraging small businesses.

"They aren't necessarily earth-shattering issues, but we've never looked at them as a whole," said Samuel J. Parker Jr., chairman of the Prince George's County Planning Board, which hosted the forum with the commission.

Parker said many elements that affect the future of the county are interconnected. For example, he said, residents can't talk about secondary education without discussing higher education or job creation and the development of land.

He said creating a blueprint for the future of the county "is not only valuable for the quality of living of the county, but for the economic future for the county. It makes us much better for competing in the region."

Some of the goals and recommendations made by the group include increasing the number of PTAs by at least 50 percent by August 2015, developing a zero-tolerance corruption policy throughout all government agencies and creating more than 66 percent of the county's job and housing growth around the county's 15 Metro stations by 2014.

The group has made several recommendations that can take effect immediately, and the organizers of Envision, who include representatives from various county agencies, say they hope those recommendations will eventually be implemented. None of the recommendations are binding or have been funded.

The report echoed a study by the Brookings Institution in 2007, which found that the county has a strong middle class with growing household incomes and relatively low poverty. But the county has lost many middle-class residents. Many residents also must travel outside the county for their jobs.

It notes that Prince George's "struggles [with] one of the lowest performing schools in the state of Maryland . . . ranks among the jurisdictions with the highest crime in the region . . . [and] the health of the county residents, overall, ranks in the bottom half of counties in the state."

"Yet one of the powerful outcomes of Envision thus far has been . . . Prince Georgians are proud of the resources and assets the county has to offer," the report says.

The largest gathering, Envision Prince George's 21st Century Town Meeting, was held in March when more than 1,000 residents discussed challenges facing the county and ways to improve the quality of life over the next 20 years.

"What surprised me overall was the level of community participation," said Kwasi Holman, president of the Prince George's County Economic Development Corp. and a member of the advisory team.

Holman said the advisory team is working to set up an entity that will "keep Envision alive past the study period."

"The level of mobilization that Envision has created is an impressive grass-roots force that should be kept in place through the implementation" of the report's recommendations, he said.

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