"It's impossible to deny that the county is in the midst of an economic awakening,!! wrote the Washingtonian magazine in May 1986, declaring Prince George's County to be the "up-and-coming neighbor!" of the metropolitan area. Proximity to both Washington and Baltimore, attractive prices for land, plentiful building sites along its interstate highways, and an aggressive economic development program all contributed to an economic boom in the 1980s. The new buildings that arose across the county were not the strip shopping centers of old, but towering office complexes and landscaped business campuses housing national and international firms. The county's Economic Development Corporation issued a guide to "Executive Housing" for the new corporate officers, while regional magazines like the Washingtonian and Regardie's featured upbeat, almost boosterish, reports on the economic progress in Prince George's County.
Such progress did not come without problems, however. Prince George's County experienced growing pains. Though the county's road system is conceded to be the least-congested in the metropolitan area, that was little solace to residents experiencing urban-style traffic conditions for the first time. The intrusion of office parks and new residential communities into the old rural countryside of east and south county vexed quite a few; "No Growth" and ''Slow Growth" became the rallying cries for a powerful corps of citizen activists. Balancing economic growth with environmental and esthetic considerations became a tightwire act for county officials; compromise became the byword.
Just as dramatic as the progress in the sphere of economic development was the progress in the field of education. The busing fights of the 1970s bruised the image of the Prince George's County public schools; innovative educational programs of the 1980s restored, in good measure, the public's faith in its school system. Magnet schools became a cornerstone of the academic program, offering specialized instruction at almost fifty school sites. These special programs ranged from Montessori, foreign language immersion, and classical training in the lower grades, to high schools for the arts, humanities, and sciences for older students.
Anti-drug education also took center stage in the county's schools, reflecting the national concern with the narcotics problem. Drugs, indeed flooded into Prince George's County during the 1980s, contributing to an epidemic of crime in the lower-income neighborhoods. While the crime rate remained significantly lower than the District of Columbia's the figures were still shocking by Prince George's County standards. The homicide count soared to 127 in 1989, more than double the number of a decade before; most of the deaths were drug-related. The trial of Washington's mayor on cocaine charges in the summer of 1990 focused national attention on the drug problems of the region; in July of that year the Rand Corporation's Drug Policy Research Center estimated that there were 24,000 dealers in the city of Washington peddling 350 million dollars worth of drugs annually. The resignation of the chairman of the Prince George's County Council upon indictment on drug charges during that same summer brought the problem right home.
Despite its share of urban and suburban problems, regional and even national publications cite Prince George's County as a good place to live. The 1990 Almanac of American Politics declared Prince George's County to be "one of the nation's most important counties -- and a place that gives us a hopeful glimpse of a possible future." The reason for that hope is the progress in the county in the area of race relations.
Prince George's County's black community, comprising approximately forty-five percent of the total population, fits, in the main, into the category of the black middle class: well educated and affluent. Blacks are integrated into the higher levels of the political and economic structure of Prince George's County more so than in most comparable jurisdictions, and the progress has come relatively smoothly. Though racial bickering erupts into the press on occasion, the social progress made in Prince George's County during the 1980s has attracted national commendation, placing the county in the unaccustomed role of national role model.
Prince George's County approaches its fourth century in the flush of economic growth. Survey after survey ranks Prince George's as one of the nation's most affluent counties, though regionally that is often forgotten, because the shadows cast by Montgomery and Fairfax counties-two jurisdictions which compete annually for the title of "Nation s Richest" -- are long ones. Prince George's County gained a reputation as a rough-and-tumble working class suburb of Washington during its period of massive growth at mid-century; that reputation lingers. It bothers some and preoccupies many, particularly in the news media. Those who live and work in Prince George's County, raising families and earning their livelihoods, are less concerned with image than reality, however. They know Prince George s County to be a heterogeneous community with diverse neighborhoods-rich poor, but mostly middle class; rural, urban, but mostly suburban. In that 1986 article, the Washingtonian magazine described Prince George's County as "more like the real America" than any other jurisdiction in the Washington area. Prince Georgeans in its fourth century will know it as it was described by the Almanac of American Politics: as a "productive, tolerant, attractive community."