From Calvert’s New Forum, Anne Arundel Can Learn a Lesson
The strip mall has served us right. Empowered by the horsepower of our cars, we would not stop but where they could take us quickly and conveniently. Commerce followed us onto the highways. Sprawl was born, and towns died.
After a century of speed, we’re feeling lonely. Isolated. Alienated. Unconnected. Cut off from our roots. Out of touch. And, finally, ready for change.
Calvert County knows what we mean. Strip malls follow Rt. 2-4, which bisects the county, as if the two were made for each other. Indeed, they are. The long, smooth course of the highway brought prosperity to rural Calvert, luring D.C and Prince George’s migrants to a country lifestyle with an easy commute to jobs whence they came.
The strip malls made it easy to do your shopping on the way home. From your car you could see the choices. If you missed the first entrance, you could pull in at the next, find plenty of room to park your car, hop in, get what you needed and be back on the road. Few shopping centers dared to break this linear pattern.
Finally, one has, and Calvert’s loving it. You can see Market Square Shopping Center from the road, across Rt. 2-4 from Calvert Memorial Hospital at the north end of Prince Frederick. But to appreciate it, you have to drive inside, park your car and take to your feet. It’s all easy to do. A stoplight at Stoakley Road helps you turn. Parking is ample, though it does not stretch in endless fields between you and your destination. Sidewalks safeguard your life and guide you to where you’re going.
Market Square lives up to its name. Instead of a straight line, it’s a square, crisscrossed by lanes of parking, walking and shopping.
In fact, it surpasses its name, for it’s more than a shopping center. It’s a forum. Where hoards of people are going as many as a thousand a day is the public space of Calvert County’s new main library. People are making the light, airy, friendly new library a destination, according to library director Patricia Hofmann. They’re coming not only to borrow a book, tape or CD. They’re bringing their coffee in (or buying it there) and staying. When they leave its brick and glass walls, there’s still more to do, all without getting in the car for a second stop.
It’s a great idea, but not a new one. Rome had its forum, as did other cities in the ancient empire. They were where people came to be citizens, not just isolated individuals.
When new shopping towns come to Anne Arundel, they’d do well to learn from Calvert and make a lively public building their center.