Prince George's County turns the calendar on a new century full of promise and paradox.
With the county's population pushing 800,000, growth and development are moving out into the countryside, converting hundreds of acres of farmland into suburbs. Residents of these new subdivisions have money, but retailers have lagged behind. So has education: The public schools, often described as the key to a successful future for Prince George's, remain crowded and underachieving.
The Prince George's of 2000 has more black residents than 10 years ago, when the African American population became the majority for the first census count since 1860.
The percentage of county residents who are African American now approaches 60 percent, with Asian and Hispanics moving up to about 5 percent each. The county now has more blacks in absolute numbers than the District, and fewer whites.
That means that some county institutions, notably the public schools, are less and less integrated. As court-ordered busing for the sake of integration ends, the public schools are 76.7 percent African American and 12.7 percent white, the second lowest percentage of whites in the region after the District.
Along with demographics, the politics of Prince George's County are in flux. Race is still perceived as a factor in countywide elections, but perhaps less so than before. The lightning-rod issue of busing is gone. The county today tends to divide more along class than racial lines, particularly when it comes to issues such as where to build new schools and whether to allow more development.
Growth and development remain fractious issues. Prince George's has more than its share of the region's affordable housing, and politicians clamor for more upscale development, residential and commercial. Large homes have sprouted, particularly in the county's midsection, outside the Capital Beltway.
Along with growth has come increasingly congested roads and often-controversial plans to widen and extend them. Yet, as long as the roads are funded, as most are, their time will come, bringing more growth and change.
Route 301 is slated for a major make-over by 2020, from Bowie south to Charles County. The county's master plan maps are laced with other road upgrades, including incremental widenings to such major routes as 193, 202, 410, 5 and 210.
The 21st century will bring another transportation link: The final four stations along the Green Line in Prince George's are slated to open, from Southern Avenue and the District line to Auth Road just inside the Beltway. Whether the surrounding areas will prosper will depend on the ability and desire of developers to assemble and market the land.
Hopes are riding high on prosperity that boosters presume will be spurred by the National Harbor development along the Potomac shore. County officials are determined to see the mega-entertainment, office and retail complex built over the opposition of environmentalists, mostly from Virginia.
There also are high hopes for the new school superintendent, Iris T. Metts, who presides over a system that has grown to 130,000 students, and for the new presidents at Prince George's Community College and the University of Maryland. Meanwhile, Bowie State University is to choose a new president in the spring.
Within this academic trinity, there is much talk of synergy, research and technology--and the role the schools hope to play in training workers, generating jobs and luring businesses to the county.
Plus, a huge new $114 million performing arts center is rising on the Maryland campus at College Park. The university town also is home to the year-old College Park Aviation Museum, which last year added to its collection a $280,000 reproduction of the 1911 Wright B Flier, the brothers' first production aircraft.
The county may be hard-pressed to find money for classrooms and other services, thanks to voter-imposed tax limits. Yet, as it welcomes the new millennium, it can still brag about its award-wining parks and recreation agency, which builds world-class playgrounds and owns more than 21,000 undeveloped acres.
And if Prince George's lacks a Nordstrom, hey, it's got a Nordstrom warehouse.
CAPTION: The county will be dealing with a variety of development issues in 2000.