During the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized building in Greenbelt one of the first of three planned communities, hoping to create towns that were better connected both socially and economically.
The towns were designed to provide housing for low- to middle-income families. In Greenbelt's case that meant families with earned incomes of $800 to $2,200. Government officials chose three areas for their green town plan: Greenbelt in Maryland, Greendale in Wisconsin and Greenhills in Ohio.
On Oct. 1, 1937, the first of 885 families moved to Greenbelt. The idea was to have houses, businesses, schools, recreation and the town government buildings all within walking distance of one another.
Rowhouses between 850 and 1,200 square feet were built.
Greenbelt took its name from the belt of forestland surrounding it and the area of green space between the neighborhoods that offered easy contact with nature.
In 1942, more rowhouses were built in Greenbelt to accommodate families working for the Defense Department during World War II. More housing was built in 1964 when Aimco, a private builder from Denver, constructed Spring Hill Lake, an apartment complex with 2,899 units, the largest at the time on the East Coast. Townhouses and more single-family homes were added to the area later.
Greenbelt citizens formed a housing cooperative in 1952 to buy the original homes in the area from the federal government. These properties remain cooperative today under Greenbelt Homes Inc. Monthly cooperative fees, which range from $269 to $450, pay the tax and water bills and provide maintenance. The group also operates a nursery school, a baby-sitting pool, a weekly newspaper, a swimming pool and a community center. Residents within the cooperative must donate time to help run those services.
"A community housing cooperative means residents must be involved in the community," said Katie Scott-Childress, who moved to the area in 1998. "You are involved with your neighbors and really get to know them."
When Greenbelt celebrated its 60th year in 1997, the U.S. Department of Interior recognized Historic Greenbelt as a national landmark, marking its place as the first planned community in America.
Noted for its sidewalks, roadway underpasses, inner courtyards and the first mall-type shopping center, Greenbelt was built 35 minutes from Baltimore and 25 minutes from Washington. It remains a popular area for families who work in either city. The area also houses the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
"Greenbelt is a very sought-after area," said Leonard Wallace, owner and broker of Realty 1 in Greenbelt. "In the 20 years I have sold realty here, I don't see families leaving. Many people move into the community renting but end up buying. We have seniors who never leave when they retire. A very common occurrence in Greenbelt is to have first, second and third generations living here. Everyone loves the small Mayberry feel here."
Prices range from an average of $100,000 for cooperative homes to $275,000 for single-family homes.
"Greenbelt is recognized nationally as a natural occurrence of a retirement community," said Kathie Linkenhoker, contract processor for Greenbelt Homes Inc. "Seniors are able to stay in their homes longer because they are able to walk to the store, fitness centers, health care centers and town activities."
Greenbelt borders Greenbelt National Park to the south, the University of Maryland, College Park to the west, Beltsville Agricultural Research Center to the north and the Goddard Flight Space Center to the east.
"We are a small area of six square miles with 21,340 residents," said David Moran, Greenbelt's assistant city manager.
Scott-Childress and her family were living in College Park during the late 1980s when she took a job as curator of the Greenbelt Museum. After years of running errands in Greenbelt and growing fond of the area's cooperative atmosphere, the family decided to move there. They purchased their 1937 house for $87,000 six years ago.
"The community is designed with pathways, detached garages and neighborhood walkways," Scott-Childress said. "I see everyone who lives here and I love it. These neighborhoods were designed to see your neighbors and share the sidewalks."
Greenbelt officials are working toward two new developments for the town's future.
"We have the potential for a new development in the Greenbelt Metro Station area that could be a mix of office-retail-hotel and residential," said Celia Craze, Greenbelt's director of planning and community development. "The second potential for growth is the Spring Hill Lake apartments. They may be redeveloped into a new urban design, increasing the units from 2,899 to 4,500. We are in the planning stages but we are very hopeful it will happen."
ZIP code: 20770
Public schools: Greenbelt Elementary, Greenbelt Middle, Eleanor Roosevelt High
Drive to Baltimore: 35 minutes
Co-op homes on the market: 9
Single-family homes on the market: 2
Average list price of coop: $100,000
Average sale price: $99,500
Days on market: 7
Average list price of single-family homes: $275,000
Average sale price: $274,500
Days on market: 14
Sale price as percentage of list price: 99%
Based on 21 properties sold in the past 12 months - nine cooperatives and 12 single-family homes - as compiled by the Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc.