Rushern Baker, the County Executive of Prince George’s County, has plans to move the county’s headquarters to Largo, a commercial hub. Moving the government away from distant Upper Marlboro would be a win for Prince George’s residents.
A few years ago, I wrote about how the location of the Prince George’s county seat in Upper Marlboro is harmful to residents and makes the government less responsive to citizens.
Upper Marlboro is one of the most uncentralized county seats in Maryland. It is neither near the geographic center of the county nor the population centroid. And to make it worse, Prince George’s is an urbanized county with a significant transit-dependent population, while Upper Marlboro lacks all but the most basic of transit connections to the outside world.
Bus service to Upper Marlboro connects riders to Largo. But the last bus leaves Upper Marlboro at around 6 pm, which makes it impossible for carless residents to testify at evening Council or Planning Board hearings.
Largo makes a lot of sense
Largo, on the other hand, is much more centrally located. It’s very close to the county’s geographic center, and the center of population is in nearby Landover.
Largo is also served by Metro’s Blue and Silver Lines, and is a fairly large bus hub for the county. And the county is already taking steps to bring investment to the area, including with a new regional medical center.
Baker and his predecessors have already taken steps to move workers to Largo. Agencies like the Department of Public Works and Transportation are already using office space in Largo, and Baker himself meets constituents there. He only keeps a ceremonial office in the county seat.
Moving the county government to Largo lock-stock-and-barrel could be a huge boon to efforts to invest in and build a more urban Largo.
Right now, the area is very suburban in nature, with major arterials splitting the area and discouraging walking and biking. Office parks and strip malls are far more common than walkable spaces.
With a good plan, the county could help reshape Largo into something with better urban fabric, as is happening in Tysons now and as happened in Arlington three decades ago.
Even without considering the impact on the urban form, moving the government, especially the decision-makers on the Council to Largo would be a huge win because it would allow more people to participate in local government.
Today, the only citizens who are able to participate in person are those who drive or those who devote unbelievable amounts of time to taking public transit to the sleepy county seat.
A remote location means more car-centric policies
Upper Marlboro’s setting also affects decisions. It’s easy to forget that Prince George’s is urbanized at all when the county seat, with a population of just 900, is surrounded by miles of rural farms and forests.
Another impact, though one that’s less studied, how a remote county seat affects the the workforce. Millenials and other progressive professionals who want to live car-free or car-lite in urban areas are discouraged from taking jobs in places where they can’t easily commute. And having an overly car-dependent workforce deepens the divide between the decision makers and the carless citizens in the county’s urban areas.
Moving the seat to Largo would position Prince George’s for having a more accessible and urban government center, like her peers in Montgomery, Arlington, Alexandria, and the District.