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HISTORIC AMERICAN BUILDINGS SURVEY SPRINGHILL LAKE, GREENBELT, MD - page 5 / 20

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HABS NO. MD-1216 Page 6

RA’s Suburban Resettlement Division. The original town, completed in 1937, was hailed as a significant planning achievement and predicted to be the future of urbanism. The original section of Greenbelt and its 1941 expansion by the federal government featured row houses and apartments arranged in verdant settings, with pedestrian paths connecting residences and retail and commercial buildings. In addition to the unique urban form of the city, the federal government promoted cooperative enterprise as a means of promoting community and affordability. In 1937 the Resettlement Administration became the Farm Security Administration, which continued the ownership and oversight of Greenbelt. However, oversight of Greenbelt was later transferred to the Federal Public Housing Authority and then the Public Housing Administration. 6

In anticipation of World War II, the federal government developed 1000 new units of row housing for defense workers in an adjacent section of the federally-owned land. These houses were developed into another neighborhood unit of superblocks of curving, picturesque streets centered around a later elementary school. These defense workers were integrated into the culture of Greenbelt and the spirit of community cooperation. After the conclusion of the war, Congress introduced federal legislation requiring the Public Housing Administration to sell off its holdings in the green towns. Public Law 65 passed both houses of Congress in 1949 and was signed by President Truman. Members of the Greenbelt community banded together to establish a cooperative in order to purchase much of the community. The Greenbelt Veterans Housing Corporation (GVHC) signed onto the purchase of much of Greenbelt property December 30, 1952. 7

This change of ownership profoundly influenced the future of Greenbelt, both in its physical form and its social character. The city, which had been governed by federal planning authorities and managed by a federal employee, was suddenly subject to the authority of state and local authorities. Greenbelt residents responded to the new government structure by looking to their origins as a guide for future expansion. The GVHC hired Hale Walker, the town planner who had worked for the Resettlement Administration on the design of the original Greenbelt development, to design a plan for city expansion. Though scholars credit the subsequent influence of this plan of residential superblocks and integrated non-residential uses, the city itself had no authority over its own development. 8

The body that did hold authority over planning and zoning in Greenbelt was Prince George’s County. Because of a 1927 Maryland state law, cities did not control building or land use within their borders. The Prince George’s County Commission had the final authority on these matters, though the activity of planning and researching land use in much of Prince George’s County and neighboring Montgomery County was delegated to the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission and staff. Because of this hierarchy, planning decisions were less immediately responsive to the needs and desires of the community – a tension that would repeatedly lead to conflicts between the city and county.

6

Knepper, 82.

7

Ibid., 88.

8

Ibid., 86.

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