29 December 2006

Fear the Retrievers!

As that big campus down I-95 prepares to take on Purdue University in the football extravaganza known as the Champ Sports Bowl tonight, the little college that could, the University of Maryland Baltimore County, UMBC, the Honors University, Uncle Moe’s Baseball Camp, is poised to once again to reign as champions of a true sport, chess. Yes, once again UMBC (my alma mater) and its rival, the University of Texas at Dallas, are locked in battle for supremacy on “la mesa grande.”

Admittedly, press coverage of the Pan-American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championship has been light. The event is reported today in the Washington Post Metro section, and reporter Alec MacGillis does a fine job of providing background and describing the action. I have only one question: Why was this story in the Metro section? I believe this should have been covered in the Sports section. Where is Michael Wilbon going on about how chess fans in this region aren’t as loyal as Northwestern fans (Northwestern, by the way, was shown the door early in the competition)? Where is Tony Kornheiser waxing poetically about the “curse of les chiens?” I believe this story is of sufficient magnitude that the heavyweights of the local sports scene weigh in on the competition. Hopefully, George Michael will pick up the story, or maybe we can get live coverage on MASN. In any case, I’ll be renting “Searching for Bobby Fischer” tonight.

Go Retrievers!

19 December 2006

If CA Board Members Type, Can We Hear it?

I have been struggling with a letter to the editor published in the December 14, 2006 Columbia Flier. It appears that CA Board members elected to bring greater openness to CA have been discussing CA issues via email. When a former board member raised concern about this practice, the response was to attack the person that brought the issue to light. The letter was authored by Barbara Russell and Phil Marcus and reads as follows:

Former board member's own history includes caucus

Recently, Mr. Jud Malone complained in these pages about a "secret meeting in a secret caucus" by five members of the Columbia Association's board of directors. Anyone who has served on any board or similar body knows that meeting in a caucus of less than a quorum is extremely common, whether by phone, e-mail or in person, to achieve a common view. So we wonder what the uproar is about.

We are all the more puzzled since Mr. Malone, during his term on the same board, as a member of a caucus of five members that discussed who should be elected board chair and other matters. That group also included Joshua Feldmark (who became chair), Wolfger Schneider and the undersigned.

What I find most troubling is that last spring we had a little thing called an election (and in the interest of full disclosure, I ran for office in that election, and lost). Reports in the local papers indicated the outcome of the elections (in the competitive races) was based on voters wanting more openness from the CA Board. Then newly elected CA Board member Phil Kirsch was quoted as saying, “I think the two victories send a clear message that (voters) are looking for
better communication and openness”

Fast forward to today, and we find that Mr. Kirsch, along with his freshman comrades Cindy Coyle and Gail Broida (in addition to Barbara Russell and Phil Marcus) appear to prefer debating, discussing, and deciding issues (aka “achieving a common view”) via email, away from the eyes and ears of the electorate.

As stated in Mr. Marcus’ and Ms. Russell’s letter, this has been done in the past. In fact, the issue of email has come up before the CA Board as it is currently constituted. In the July 18, 2006 Baltimore Examiner, an article by Laura Greenback (Columbia Association board debates e-mail use ), states:

However, at least one board member said the board uses e-mail as a forum for

“Why bother to fight in front of people when we can look
like we know what we are talking about, and be more comfortable with our
position, if we talk through e-mail?” Board Member Cindy Coyle said.

Now, I want to be cautious here. Many people get misquoted in the paper, but if this quote is accurate, I am very concerned. I am only one person in this town, but it is my opinion that people on the CA Board should know what they are talking about, and if they don’t know what they are talking about, we should know that, so we can vote them off the board. There should be no “look like we know what we are talking about.”

In an interesting side note, when I first read this article, I brought this concern about CA Board email (and phone) discussions to the Wilde Lake Village Board. The following is an excerpt from the August 7, 2006 Wilde Lake Village Board minutes (note: scroll down about 70% to find them).

Mr. Santos was also concerned about CA conducting votes and discussions via email or by phone, since these discussions occur out of the public view. Mr. Santos suggested that the Village Board comment on this to CA. Ms. Pivar noted that there was an email discussion about opening the pools during a heat emergency; however, it was an open discussion and no vote was taken. The Board agreed that it is bad public process to vote or discuss policy via email or phone.

So apparently CA board “caucus discussion” emails can at times involve Village
Board members such as Ms. Pivar. Given that the emails have never been made public, I still don’t know what an “open” email discussion is.

Also of note in Examiner article is a passage attributed to Mr. Marcus:

Board member Phil Marcus said the group should post its discussions on a blog that is accessible to residents. “There should be such a forum, where speed and convenience is available,” Marcus said. He said the board is “not playing by the rules” when it uses e-mail to talk about issues such as selecting a consultant to form an energy cooperative.

I would be interested to hear how Mr. Marcus reconciles his “not playing by the rules” statement in July 2006 with his “a caucus of less than a quorum is extremely common, whether by phone, e-mail or in person” letter in December 2006. For the record, Mr. Marcus has a publicly accessible blog. When I last checked, he had not posted any emails regarding “caucus discussions.”

In closing, it is apparent that less than a majority of the CA Board has been discussing at least employment contracts, opening pools during heat emergencies and the selection process for consultants via email. Moreover, it is not known if any other topics were discussed or what other parties have been included in these email discussions (CA staff? Consultants? Village Board members?). It seems to me that the practice is neither open nor accessible, and the voters are not getting what they asked for. In fact, if these board members had told the voters in their respective villages that they believed in openness, but would relegate the discussion of issues to email among CA Board members to “achieve a common view,” I am not certain they would be serving as board members today.

18 December 2006

Words to Live by - From a New Developer

Just in case anyone was wondering if there are great developers out there, check out LJ Urban. This link is not just good business, it is a great way to look at life! Would someone please bring them here to help out with downtown!

17 December 2006

Citizen Participation and the Columbia Association

Between the tot lot at Lake Elkhorn, the granting of easements by the CA president, and the concerns raised about CA Board members use of titles, the CA Board has heard from many people this year. The CA Board Operations Committee is meeting on Tuesday, December 19, 2006 to discuss who can address the board (or committees) and when they can provide such input. Their agenda can be viewed here. Specifically, there are two links of interest provided within the agenda.

The first link of interest reveals the draft policy for defining who may speak during resident speakout. Here is the text:

Defining Who May Speak at Resident Speakout

  1. People owning, or living and/or working on property that pays the Annual Charge may speakout for up to three minutes on any subject at Board Meetings.
  2. Non­resident members of the Sport and Fitness Facilities as well as all non­ resident participants of all CA programs and services may speakout at Board Meetings for up to three minutes on agenda items that relate to their participation.
  3. Any other individuals that wish to speakout must get approval to speak from the Board Chair or Committee Chair prior to the Board or Committee meeting.
  4. Speakout at committee meetings will be limited to two minutes and limited to topics that are within the purview of that committee.

Secondly, when CA decided to go to the three committee meetings a month and one board meeting a month, it was portrayed as a chance for residents to have a greater voice. Because the committee is smaller than the board, Robert’s Rules for small boards would apply. Under the small board rules, the chair is given latitude to allow comments from the audience. The Board Operations Committee is now reviewing draft guidelines for board members (who are not members of the committee holding the meeting) and residents. Here is the text:

Guidelines for Board Member Participation at Board Committee Meetings of which they are not members

  1. The CA Board Committee structure is designed to divide and delegate the work of the Board to five different committees. The system is designed to work most effectively and efficient ly when the members of each committee, along with the Chief Staff Liaison to each committee, and the CEO work independently and then report their findings and recommendations to the full Board at Board Meetings for discussion or consent.
  2. Board Members attending committee meet ings of which they are not members are welcome but will not be seated at the committee table.
  3. When a Board Member, who is not a member of a cert ain committee, plans to attend a committee meet ing to share input, that Board member should contact the Committee Chairperson in advance to let him/her know they will be attending and that they would like to speak to a certain agenda item. It is also recommended that they summarize their input in writing to leave with the committee.
  4. When a Board Member, who is not a member of the committee, wishes to comment on an agenda item being discussed, that Board member should raise their hand and will be recognized by the Committee Chairperson and allowed to speak after all Committee Members have spoken on the agenda item.

Guidelines for Participation by Residents, Sport and Fitness Members, and Non­Resident Participants of all CA Programs and Services at CA Board Committee Meetings

  1. In accordance with CA’s policy on resident speakout at Board committee meetings, Residents, Sport and Fitness Facilit y Members, and Non­Resident participants of all CA programs and services are welcome to share their input relative to specific items on a committee’s meeting agenda. Any other individuals wishing to speak regarding specific agenda items must obtain approval in advance from the committee’s chairperson.
  2. All input from the above individuals will be confined to the “Resident Speakout” portion of the committee’s agenda, and input is limited to agenda items.
  3. All those “speaking out” may speak up to three minutes on each agenda item they wish to address (e.g. if someone wishes to address three different agenda items, they may speak up to three minutes on each, a total of nine minutes).
  4. All those “speaking out” are encouraged to summarize their comments in writing.

I must emphasize that these policies and guidelines are drafts (and I am not really sure how CA differentiates between a guideline and a policy), and are subject to change. However, keep in mind that if the Board Operations Committee members do not hear from people on Tuesday, and the drafted policies and guidelines are passed to the board, the ability of people to contribute to the Columbia Association discussion will most likely be diminished.

The End of Co Fo Co Do

Last week I was approached by a gentleman for whom I have high regard. I do not know if he would want me to publish his name in this format, so I will refer to him as “Guilford Downs.” Anyway, Guilford told me that he was not pleased with my referring to the Coalition for Columbia’s Downtown as Co Fo Co Do. I believe the word he used was “juvenile.” I replied that the nickname was not meant to be taken as a derogatory term, just merely a truncation.

In addition, I believe Coalition member Alan Klein had (in his own, wry way) expressed displeasure with the nickname. He had remarked that Coalition for Columbia’s Downtown is a mouthful. I also contend that it is not that easy to type.

After much thought and reflection, I have seen their point. I personally will no longer refer to the Coalition for Columbia’s Downtown as Co Fo Co Do on this blog. Guilford and Alan, thank you for the valuable feedback.

11 December 2006

Alternate View of the Charrette

Since mid-October, the Co Fo Co Do noise machine has been pushing their agenda, and I think it is time to start discussing alternative points of view. To be certain, their message discipline must be admired. I think we can all at least stumble through their mantra…Ken Ulman endorsed a similar plan…values from the first day of the Charrette…14 floor limit (with mandatory 20% green space allotment)…1600 residential units…etc.

Having read the Co Fo Co Do Executive Summary, the overall impression I get is that if downtown Columbia development were like a wish list for purchasing a car, Co Fo Co Do seems to want a car that gets the gas mileage of a Toyota Prius, the performance of a Dodge Magnum (with the SRT-6.1L Hemi engine), the people carrying capacity of a school bus, and the load hauling capacity of a Ford F-150 truck. This would of course be the ideal vehicle, but it does not exist.

Today, I would like to focus on the Charrette. Since the Charrette ended, there have been (for the most part) two groups talking about the Charrette: candidates for Howard County elected office (some won, some lost), and the folks at Co Fo Co Do.

Co Fo Co Do states in their Executive Summary:

On Saturday, October 15, 2005, a group of over 300 community members participated in the first day of a week-long Charrette process to discuss their needs, hopes, and dreams for the completion of Columbia’s Downtown. Their initial excitement and optimism were tempered, however, when it became clear that much of the citizens’ input was dismissed or ignored by County officials. Attention was instead steered into a plan many saw as pre-determined by the Charrette organizers. Participants who were without ties to the development community began to drop out. Not surprisingly, the plan that eventually emerged differed significantly from that envisioned by the original 300+ citizens on October 15th.

I find this description problematic on many levels. Yes, on a warm October afternoon, more than 300 people gathered at Wilde Lake High School. Many ideas were put forward, and a schedule for three more meetings was clearly communicated.

What I believe happened after that initial meeting differs dramatically from the Co Fo Co Do version. Rather than a conspiracy of pre-determined outcomes, I believe the folks running the Charrette looked at what people wanted, and tried their best to incorporate everything. The final plans showed increased density, but also more green space, and more public sculpture and art. Most of the problems with the Charrette outcome was in the conflicts between desires. An example would be that (in my opinion) most groups expressed a desire for more mass transit. One does not have to look very hard to determine that for mass transit (and funding for mass transit from the state and federal governments), medium to high density residency is required, and that is what subsequent Charrette plan reflected. Low density development does not allow for mass transit.

Said another way, you can’t tow a boat with a Prius, you are going to need a truck. It is my hope that Co Fo Co Do can come forward with an alternate funding program such that mass transit can be part of downtown Columbia. Otherwise, I would hope that they would reconsider their downtown density position; or in a worst case scenario, embrace low density as a priority and renounce mass transit.

As for citizens dropping out because of disenchantment, I would like to know where Co Fo Co Do found that data. I was at all four meetings, and I can say with certainty that the second meeting (which I like to call “open mike” night) was filled with people speaking out against the plan, including a passion-filled Barbara Russell (a Co Fo Co Do member) stating that amenities should be put in before other construction begins. During the third meeting (“break up in small groups” night), I was in a group with at least three people that became members of Co Fo Co Do. It seems to me that there were plenty people from all sides at all of the meetings.

I also wanted to address the idea put forth by Co Fo Co Do that people became disenchanted and dropped out, and that the voices of those that dropped out should have their idea reconsidered. I could be wrong here, but it seems to me that Co Fo Co Do is coming pretty close to saying that people that contributed less should have their voices heard more. To test the validity of this, let’s turn the argument on its head: if there were a group of people (and I am not sure there is) that were for the Bethesdification of Columbia, should the process be stopped to incorporate their views?

In closing, I do not think the Charrette was perfect. It laid out a framework to incorporate a lot of conflicting ideas. It laid out a means to increase density such that mass transit would be possible. It increased the amount of green space in downtown. It advocated for more public statues and art. For all the admirable work, it still had problems. So maybe we need to start discussing the tradeoffs. Do you want Metro coming to downtown, or do you want to drive out of the city (and possibly out of the county) for mass transit?

07 December 2006

Urban Wow

Earlier this evening, I had the chance to check out some blogs in other areas that deal with urban planning, walkable communities, and downtown development. I urge all to check these out.

Living Urban Sac - A blog that looks at downtown Sacramento development. Very good stuff.

Living First - A great article from Vancouver (I believe the first Columbia Association president, John Slayton (Slayton House!) was from Vancouver) that talks about urban living and in my opinion, is in line with Columbia, though on a smaller scale. It is also of note that Vancouver has been designated one of the World's most livable cities.

LJ Urban - A developer (yes, a developer) with a fresh approach.

Now, to be clear, I do not want Columbia to be Sacramento or Vancouver, I want it to be Columbia. But as we struggle with downtown issues, here are two cities that have struggled and (based on your point of view) succeeded with providing a vibrant downtown experience for their citizens.

Check 'em out. Let me know what you think.

03 December 2006

Holiday Preparations

Since Metzler’s Nursery closed in Columbia, my family has been drifting with respect to where to buy a Christmas tree. For the last two years, we have been buying a tree at the Long Reach Village Center. I have found their selection to be quite good and got to talking to the folks selling the trees. They have been selling trees there for 18 years. So, in your opinion, and if you are so inclined, where are the best Christmas trees sold in the Columbia area?

01 December 2006

Visual Preference

Thumbing through the Washington Post this morning, I came across Steven Pearlstein’s business column, “Suburban Soul.” The column compares and contrasts Tysons Corner and Reston Town Center. Obviously, there is plenty to like and dislike about both areas.


Walking around Reston, you can't help but marvel at how well it's been done: The quality and variety of the architecture, the careful attention to creating public spaces and inviting streetscapes, the clever ways in which cars and roadways are integrated into the project, the density that's been achieved without sacrificing human scale.
And yet you can't shake the feeling that this is really a Potemkin village.

It's just too neat, too homogenized. The stores are all outlets of national chains. There are no churches, no schools, no liquor stores, no bums or graffiti. Reston Town Center lacks what architect and urban planner Alan Ward, who was involved in the center's planning, calls the "messy vitality of older towns and cities that grew over time like natural phenomena."

This is not a criticism so much as a statement of the obvious.

After all, what else would you expect from a "downtown" created out of nothing in less than 20 years?

Tysons Corner:

Suddenly, the suburban experience epitomized by Tysons had fallen out of favor -- not just with urban snobs who never liked office parks and enclosed malls but even with high-priced consultants and government contracting executives who, only years before, had boasted of the star chef at the Ritz-Carlton, the number of dot-com millionaires who could be found lunching at the Palm and the new Hermes store in Fairfax Square. At conferences and community meetings, Tysons was Exhibit A for everything that was wrong with the suburbs -- a traffic nightmare, aesthetically and environmentally offensive, a mistake to be rectified, a problem to be solved.


You can't help but feel, as you drive from Reston down the Dulles Toll Road and turn onto lovely Route 7 in Tysons Corner, that you've arrived at a place that is bigger, more dynamic, more real. Sure, Tysons is one traffic jam after another -- but when was the last time you tried to get across Midtown Manhattan? It's ugly, but so are some of the hippest neighborhoods in San Francisco. Like people in Chicago, people in Tysons don't amble or poke along -- they've got things to do.

And everywhere there is variety, ordered chaos and an urban-like intensity that puts you on edge.

In the end, Mr. Pearlstein wraps up with:

My point is that when talking about creating an "urban" experience in the suburbs or the exurbs, there is more to it than road grids, streetscapes and walkability. By those criteria, Tysons will never become a city in the way we think of Baltimore or Boston, even with a subway line running through it. To think otherwise is fantasy.

But that doesn't mean Tysons can't have the density and variety and energy normally associated with cities, or that its next incarnation can't include attractive and inviting neighborhoods that do a better job of mixing housing, retail space, offices and public amenities.

The challenge will be to find a way for people to get from one of these neighborhoods to another without a car. Some sort of circulator bus or trolley seems inevitable.

And, just as importantly, Fairfax County will have to become more aggressive in securing choice parcels of land in Tysons for public uses -- schools, parks, theaters, museums, churches. Landowners, developers and private-property vigilantes will howl, and the cost will be high. But these will represent better uses of public money (or money extracted from developers) than spending hundreds of millions of dollars to put the Metro underground.

Tysons vs. Reston? In the long run, there's no reason both can't succeed. But for the
real urban experience, I'll put my money on Tysons.

I believe that neither city is directly attributable to Columbia. That is, what was done in either case does not have a direct influence on what changes come to downtown Columbia. But there are some lessons to be learned here.

I strongly encourage comment on this article, but not so much on what was written. If you pick up the print edition of the Washington Post, there are two photos on page 1 of the Business section: one of Tysons Corner and one of Reston Town Center (I cannot find the Reston Town Center photos on the Washington Post website). Take a look at these two photos, and tell me which you think is a friendly, vibrant downtown.

28 November 2006

The Other Side of the Coin

I recently found this article by Shaila Dewan the New York Times. It details the difficulty some cities have had retaining young, college educated people in their area. After some initial scene setting paragraphs, the article cuts to the chase:
Baby boomers are retiring and the number of young adults is declining. By 2012, the work force will be losing more than two workers for every one it gains.

Cities have long competed over job growth, struggling to revive their downtowns and improve their image. But the latest population trends have forced them to fight for college-educated 25- to 34-year-olds, a demographic group increasingly viewed as the key to an economic future.

Mobile but not flighty, fresh but technologically savvy, “the young and restless,” as demographers call them, are at their most desirable age, particularly because their chances of relocating drop precipitously when they turn 35. Cities that do not attract them now will be hurting in a decade.
In our community, I have seen quite a lot of preparation for the aging baby boomer generation: tax cuts, 55+ housing, workshops, etc. Let us not forget that Columbia would not be what it is today if it were not for the large migration of young people to the area. Conversely, when I talk to twenty and thirty year olds (some who were raised in Columbia), I hear that it is not the place they would like to live. I believe it is important to balance our plans for the future, and start thinking about attracting young people in addition to helping seniors.

We do not have to re-invent the wheel, another passage from the article states:
They are people who, demographers say, are likely to choose a location before finding a job. They like downtown living, public transportation and plenty of entertainment options. They view diversity and tolerance as marks of sophistication.
I believe many people in this community are committed to tolerance and diversity; however, we have a lot of work with respect to downtown living, public transportation, and entertainment.

As we move forward, let us heed the following quote at the close of the article:
“The real issue was, is your city open to a set of ideas from young people, and their wish to realize their dream or objective in your city,”
I hope we are open to everyone's ideas. It is the only way to continue Columbia's success.

27 November 2006

Passing into History

Over the holiday, the Hannibal Grove apartments in Wilde Lake changed their name to the Berkshires of Columbia apartments. I will miss the original name. Does anyone still remember the Tor apartments in Oakland Mills?

17 November 2006

Rock Star

I attended the GGP/HCC sponsored Voices of Vision lecture last night. The entire night can be summed up in one sentence: Ann Forsyth is a rock star of the planning world. Yes, it was that good. If HCCTV plans to show this lecture on its cable channel, take off work, unplug the phone, and make a bowl of popcorn.

The evening started out with brief remarks by the HCC president and Doug Godine of General Growth Properties. Dr. Forsyth began her presentation with a brief history of sprawl and the historical struggle against it. This led to a summary of development in Irvine (California), the Woodlands (Texas), and Columbia and how each of these master planned communities had in fact matured with very little effects of sprawl within their confines. This is basically the premise of her book Reforming Suburbia, a must read for anyone who has an interest in Columbia or minimizing sprawl.

During this part of the lecture, there was also a veiled reference to the people who actually developed Columbia and the Woodlands. I’m not sure if I got the reference correctly, but suffice it to say, I believe it would be in contradiction with CA’s recently enacted temperance policy.

Dr. Forsyth then went on to talk about downtown Columbia. Her remarks were general in nature, but she did provide two examples of cities that she thought Columbia could learn from: Almere (Netherlands) and Hammerby Sjostad (Sweden).

It found some personal joy in the mention of these two cities. As I stated at the Columbia Downtown Master Plan public meeting (February 27, 2006), I have always thought Columbia has more of a European design and that we should look to downtowns in Europe for ideas. (Let me be clear, I lay no claim to the idea of a Columbian-European heritage, but it was nice to hear someone else say it.)

In particular, Hammerby Sjostad had developed their downtown around a “green or blue” plan. This plan ensured that all residences had views of either greenery or an adjacent (blue) lake. I found this to be an excellent idea.

After Dr. Forsyth was finished, she took questions from the audience. This is where she really shined. She answered questions on affordable housing, density, traffic, energy efficiency/green buildings, and others that I cannot remember. As each question was asked, she was able to provide complete, multi-faceted answers. A few times she had made reference to the fact that she had entire presentations loaded on her laptop relating to the subject of the question. I think myself, Hayduke and the 75 or so attendees would have stayed and enjoyed those other presentations too.

Accolades and Irony

Businessweek.com posted a story by Maya Roney yesterday about the 25 best affordable suburbs in the United States. Columbia makes the list as a suburb of Baltimore, Maryland. Although it is unclear how the suburbs were ranked (an associated slideshow indicates the cities are listed alphabetically), being one of the top 25 in affordability certainly adds to the Money Magazine “Best Places to Live in America” accolade earlier this year.

A Quick Note:
Yes, I am fully aware of the irony that the article was published on the same day as the Howard County report on affordable housing was released, and its subsequent finding that the amount of affordable housing is alarmingly inadequate. It is a good thing that we are looking to make the entire county, and Columbia, more affordable for families of all economic levels.
The basis of affordability is stated as follows:
Working with Portland (Ore.)-based Web site Sperling's Best Places, BusinessWeek.com came up with a list of 25 affordable suburbs near the nation's largest metro areas. These suburbs may not have the greatest schools in the country, or the lowest crime rates, but most of them do better than average in
these categories. The average secondary test scores index among our featured suburbs is 114, and the average violent crime index is 54 (with 100 being the state and national averages, respectively).

These suburbs don't have the cheapest housing around, either, but none have median home prices over $619,000 (Santa Clarita, Calif.) or cost-of-living indexes over 172.1 (West Nyack, N.Y.). Sperling calculates that 100 is the national cost-of-living average. New York City, for example, has an average of 256.2. Paw Paw, W. Va., a town of less than 600 people with an average household income of around $25,000, has a cost of living average of 70.9. The suburb on our list with the lowest median home price and cost-of-living index is Coralville, Iowa, with $171,600 and 96.9, respectively.

So let us take our place on the stage for this award, but understand that we have a lot of work to do after the ceremony is over.

15 November 2006


I came upon the Lincoln Institute for Land Policy - Visualizing Density website (registration is required, but it is otherwise free) This website contains a great many features to get a handle on what low, medium, and high density developments look like. A picture gallery, density quiz, and interactive density game provide great examples of what density is, and isn't. I urge anyone who is interested in density to visit and learn.

Ghost of the Charrette

As some will recall, the Clarendon section of Arlington County, Virginia was referenced with Bethesda, Maryland as examples of urban design during the Charrette. Although I have not seen it mentioned on any of our local blogs (and I could be wrong about that), Clarendon, and its associated development was featured in the Monday edition of the Washington Post Business section.

The Washington Post published two articles (More Urban, Less Village and Remade City Centers Find Mass Appeal), both authored by reporter Kim Hart. In addition, the www.washingtonpost.com has an online chat with the reporter, panoramic views of the new development, and satellite imagery of Clarendon from 1962 to present day.

In summary, there is plenty there for everybody. An analysis of urban centers, concerns about the loss of local businesses, traffic, etc…

What I took away from the published articles and online content is as follows:

Bethesda always finds its way into every story. The following quote appears in the Remade City Centers Find Mass Appeal article:
Instead, people amble along pedestrian-friendly streets in places like Bethesda, Takoma Park and Silver Spring. Downtown Alexandria and Annapolis epitomize the model, experts say, weaving together the threads of an old-fashioned main street in a modern setting.
It is unclear to me who these experts are, but they are most likely at odds with the Co Fo Co Do (Coalition for Columbia’s Downtown) crowd. As stated in their executive summary, they too look to Annapolis as a model for downtown Columbia. Could Clarendon fit their model too? I am unsure.

The Remade City Centers Find Mass Appeal article also provided some numbers behind the Urban Village trend:
Businesses in urban villages generate more revenue than those in traditional shopping centers and strip malls, planners say. Shoppers spend $84 an hour in an urban village's street-side stores; in a typical enclosed mall, they spend $57.50 an hour, according to the Urban Land Institute. Some large retailers bring in almost 20 percent more revenue per square foot in a village setting.
"Retailers know the power of the place-making dividend. People stay longer, come back more often and spend more money in places that attract their affection," said Ed McMahon, a senior fellow at the Urban Land Institute. "No one wants to go to a strip mall to hang out."
What I find most revealing about both articles is how each piece closes:

The concluding paragraphs of the More Urban, Less Village piece state:
David DeCamp, one of the forces behind the new Station Square, said the density incentive is a good compromise to preserve some of the art-deco architecture and old-fashioned main-street style. "I don't think anyone wants to overdo it and turn Clarendon into a soulless suburb," he said.

Nick Langman, co-owner of the Clarendon Ballroom, said businesses benefit from working with the neighborhood's idiosyncratic feeling, not against it. He and his partner preserved the hall's tin ceiling and ornate molding. The ballroom often has a line wrapping around the corner on weekend nights.

"You can't buy charm," he said. "You can't rebuild the sense of place that's already here."
While the Remade City Centers Find Mass Appeal closes with this:
To keep a neighborhood from turning into a shopping mall -- or a carbon copy of another town -- experts say developers should concentrate on retaining local character.

"The historical and social fabric has to be retained in the place to keep it from becoming another Ballston or Bethesda," Nelson said. "Use the market revenue to sustain a piece of that memory."

The emphasis of developing while maintaining the existing character of place, coming from local business owners, experts, and others shows at least a little shared vision among all stakeholders, something we are lacking here in Howard County.

Lastly, Clarendon decided to use a height limitation similar to that proposed by Howard County DPZ. As part of the www.washingtonpost.com online chat with reporter Kim Hart, the following exchange can be found:
Questioner from Arlington, VA:

What is the county board doing to keep the independent retailers in Clarendon? Do they get tax breaks, lower rents?


Arlington County has been proactive in keeping smaller businesses in the neighborhood, especially in Clarendon. Developers who promise to rent to small businesses get the chance to add an extra floor or two to their new buildings, which can help offset the lower rent they charge the independents. Many local business owners do think the county could do more, however.

So maybe a hard cap on building heights could endanger local atmosphere here in Howard County. We should all think long and hard about this.

13 November 2006

Improving the Interface

Just a quick hello and good Monday morning. I have not posted in awhile, but have been busy working on support issues. First, I have, belatedly, put the Tales of Two Cites and Fine Line links on my blog list. I have been very tardy in doing this. Sorry about that Steve and Wordbones.

Secondly, I have updated the poll. The previous poll results are as follows:

If Columbia was must see TV, it would be:

Family Ties 57%
Seinfeld 21%
The Cosby Show 14%
Cheers 7%
Friends 0%

A total of 14 votes were cast (voting totals were rounded off).
So what does this say about our community? I will leave that for your comments.

The new poll has us looking at Columbia in terms of radio formats. Let your voice be heard! Vote!

Lastly, I have upgraded to the new Blogger format.

See you soon.

08 November 2006

Bravo Zulu

I want to congratulate all the candidates in the 2006 Howard County elections. Running for office is no easy task. For those who won, thank you. Please work hard to make Howard County even better than it is today. For those who did not win, thank you. Although you may not have been elected, you have connected with a large number of people and have made many of us think hard about the issues. Please continue to be involved. In order to be a truly great community, we need many voices. Your continued participation will encourage the involvement of others within the County, and that can only lead to good things.

Best wishes to all,


06 November 2006

Worth Reading

Please read the following paragraph and see if it stirs the soul a little…

The (hopeful) lesson: we don’t have to choose between top-down…mega-projects (that accommodate growth but undermine communities) and the natural evolution of markets in places…that may preserve neighborhood character but results in a neighborhood that very few can afford. When people are truly included in the planning, when development comes with real and more fairly-shared benefits, and when smart public policy helps shape growth to make it work for neighborhoods, communities can be willing to accept large-scale development and shoulder their share of the city’s growth.

This is the concluding paragraph of an article that appeared in today’s edition of the Gotham Gazette. The article details several projects that are either planned or are currently underway in Queens, NY and discusses if they are the realization of either Jane Jacob’s or Robert Moses’s vision. A great read.

Heads Up

According to this article in the Washington Post, Columbia-based US Foodservice is being sold by Ahold.

05 November 2006

Where Have I Been?

As regular readers of the Columbia Compass may have noticed, the posts have been kind of light lately. I had some problems upgrading the home network last week, and the last four days I have been attending to a family obligation out of town. Looks like I have some catching up to do. In any case, the network is up and we are now mobile!

I look forward to blogging from parts known and unknown. See y'all out there.

02 November 2006

Common Ground, Common Goals

Wow, just a few letters to the editor in the Columbia Flier today! Many are worth comment, and I hope to be getting to them soon. Today I would like highlight a particularly positive letter (here is the link, but you have to scroll down a bit).

Lloyd Knowles relates the Jim Rouse speech “It Could Happen Here” to what has occurred in the downtown process over the last year. I wrote a similar post back in early October. It is my hope that Lloyd and I can use this as a basis for a new approach to downtown. I believe together we can get the Coalition for Columbia’s Downtown to stop, “trying to emulate cities of the past.” (Lloyd’s words) Let us not use Georgetown and Annapolis as models, let us work together for a better downtown.

27 October 2006

One of Millions

It's early, and I am trying to get my day started, but I wanted to make sure I was one of millions of bloggers that posted this link to the Dilbert comic strip for today. Link and smile.

26 October 2006

Transportation Visions

Just a real short post this morning. The sole article in the Baltimore Sun regarding Howard County details a growth and transportation conference held at Turf Valley. Our friend Evan over at HoCo blog dedicated a pretty lengthy post back in July (scroll down to July 12) about possible rail transit in Howard County. Similarly, the Urban Places and Spaces blog posted a Baltimore-Washington regional rail system.

Oddly, the Urban Places and Spaces blog has rail lines pretty much circling Ho Co and nothing through the county. If we could get these two bloggers together and start planning, maybe we could come up with a rail solution.

25 October 2006

Columbia Association for Merdon?

I cannot recall when 20% of the CA Board of Directors endorsed a candidate for County Executive . I have thought that the overt endorsement of county candidates by the CA board, or its members, was just not done. In fact, the IRS has this to say about 501(c)(4) Social Welfare Organizations (which CA is):

The promotion of social welfare does not include direct or indirect
participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in
opposition to any candidate for public office.

But now CA Baord Members Cynthia Coyle and Barbara Russell have thrown this in the trash. Did the good people of Harper’s Choice and Oakland Mills expect an endorsement from these board members? Can we expect Chris Merdon to reciprocate this spring, when they are up for election?

Yes, (a portion of ) the CA Board of Directors are elected each spring, but it used to be that the elections centered on issues. I am concerned that Cynthia and Barbara might have thrown the CA Board, and the election of such, into partisan politics.

20 October 2006

Petition Update

Last winter, I attended the Liz Bobo downtown meeting and signed a petition. The petition stated the following:
We the undersigned concerned citizens request:
that specific, hard data relating to housing, schools, traffic, roads, water and sewer, environment, fiscal responsibility, as well as phasing and monitoring of the proposed
development be studied and made available to the public BEFORE the Draft Master
Plan for Downtown Columbia is presented to the Planning Board and the County

I have been to the Howard County Charrette/Focus Group website and it seems the county has authored reports that address most (if not all) of these issues. So are we done? Have the terms of the petition been met? Can we move on? I’m not sure, but I was hoping to get input from y’all on this one. Please comment.

19 October 2006

Co Fo Co Do

I have been busy trying to read and digest the Coalition for Columbia’s Downtown (Co Fo Co Do) Executive Summary and the reprint of the press speech delivered by Alan Klein (posted on HoCo Blog). I have great hopes for this group. I admire their dedication and energy. However, there appears to be a bit of cynicism in their writings that we could do without, and some of their statements are troubling. I want to address two issues tonight;

Using Georgetown and Annapolis as models for downtown Columbia.

The last paragraph of the Coalition for Columbia’s Downtown Executive Summary (obtained at the press conference) Introduction states:

We favor the continuing development of Downtown, but there are many models of diverse and vibrant downtowns. We offer Georgetown and Annapolis as examples of communities that do not rely on high density to provoke an exciting sense of place. These locations are especially interesting, and they exude excitement-even though their skylines rarely exceed four stories.

I agree that both areas are exciting (but did we have to use the verb excite twice? In two successive sentences?). However, the other characteristics of Georgetown and Annapolis contradict almost all of the other tentpoles that hold up the Executive Summary. Both locations have bad traffic circulation. Both are largely gentrified areas that offer little in the way of housing options. Both have little in the way of green building technology. Both have large paid parking facilities and little free parking. Mass transit is limited in Annapolis and virtually non-existent in Georgetown (remember, Georgetown residents opposed a metro stop).

To be fair, I have been one of those folks that gets up at meetings and derides the “culture of no” that has pervaded the downtown development issue. It is in this light that I would suggest folks take a look at Addison Circle, Texas (pdf) and Downtown Markham (under development), Toronto, Canada. These two are not “holy grails” for downtown solutions, but they do provide some interesting ideas that could be incorporated here.

Mort Hoppenfeld

It appears to me that the Co Fo Co Do group thus far has shown a strong affinity for Mort Hoppenfeld. I applaud this. Mr. Hoppenfeld had much to do with how Columbia was shaped and it is important to respect an honor him. However, Mr. Hoppenfeld did write an essay, A Critique of “Town Center Options” (pdf) in 1981. The essay appeared in the publication Little Patuxent Review and here is a sampling of his writings:

Downtown can extend the Tivoli-like quality of the summer lake front…What is the next phase to be like? I hope not identical to the existing one.

One example of a downtown failure was putting the new county library in a park setting.

Downtown needs apartments and condos: At high density within walking distance – on top of things like shops and offices.

Lay boards, volunteers, committees and the like are essential parts of a good community and planning process, but they are insufficient.

And lastly, relating back to item 1 above:

Typically, those small towns which make it have their own special characteristics, such as – uniqueness and distance from other major centers, as in Annapolis, Williamsburg, Aspen. Special historical-esthetic qualities are critical ingredients to beating the odds. Lastly, comes the accidental phenomenon of the benefactor – Paepke in Aspen, Rockefeller in Williamsburg, and state government in Annapolis.

So let us take Mr. Hoppenfeld at his word, but let us consider both his early work and his later critique into account such that we can realize a great downtown Columbia.

18 October 2006

Grab Bag:

Just a few quick items I have come upon in the last few days.


Two recent articles in the Baltimore Sun (here and here) state that the Columbia Downtown Focus Group was a diverse collection of people. For the most part, I agree; however, there were very few people on the Focus Group that were born after the Kennedy Administration and few with young children. The persistent afternoon meeting times of the Focus Group further limited input by 9-to-5 working people. To be fair, the Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning did encourage correspondence via email for those who could not attend, but the effect of diminished (or no) voice at the table I believe skewed the conversation.

Open Job Position

The Columbia Association is looking for a new host of “Columbia Matters.” If you feel you have the stuff to be the host of this TV show, please apply. Any bloggers willing to give up the keyboard for a microphone? Just a suggestion.

Social Science is not my First Science

Although I am no expert in social science, I do have an appreciation. This article in Monday’s Washington Post provides theories as to why people tend to gravitate towards similar views. It is well worth reading.

You know you grew up in Howard County if:

I received this via email from a friend. A word of caution, I originally thought of editing the list before publication, but then decided not. I don't even understand some of these. The wording is at times bawdy, but it does give insight to the minds of some that grew up in Howard County.

  • -people laugh at you when you tell them your street name. and then you explain that it's from poetry.
  • -your townhouse costs at least $500,000
  • -you only knew of one mall until you were about 14, when you went to other strange malls-to buy homecoming dresses.
  • -it's not unusual for you to go to one high school and your sibling to go to another.
  • -you know what a "village" is.
  • -you've ever been to a party at centennial park.
  • -shadowland.
  • -you know what the people tree is.
  • -either you or someone you know was first employed at a snowball stand. (perhaps THE Snowball Stand on Woodstock Rd)
  • -you recognize the beginning of the holiday season by the lighted trees by the mall.
  • -your mall's idea of a Christmas tree is a gigantic, conical structure made of poinsettias.
  • -You've been to a dance at Circle D or St. Louis
  • -at leas t one of your friends has worked for the CA
  • -you got excited when Chick Fil A opened. (but were a little pissed that they put it in Friendly,s place).
  • -you have a derogatory nickname for every other high school in the county-Assholeton, Reefer Hill, Glenhell, Centesticle, Mt. Heroin, and Long Bitch (I,ve heard Bong Reach, but whatevv).
  • -those new all-black cop cars piss you right the f**k off because you can't see them at all.
  • -the words Palace 9 mean something to you.
  • -you tell people from out of state that you're from Baltimore or DC just because it's easier.
  • -you remember route 100 as farm land.
  • -more than half of your school's population was in the NHS
  • -you miss the Enchanted Forest.
  • -you're disgusted at the number of high-schoolers who loiter outside of the LL Bean fountain, then you realize that it's because there's nothing else to do here.
  • -the biggest event of the decade was when the mall was redone.
  • -fast food restaurants have flowers on the table.
  • -you're proud of Edward Norton.
  • -you either get the Sun or the Post, but everyone gets the Flier. towards the Carroll County line, you might get the Eldersburg Eagle.
  • -being 12 meant taking the swim test so you could go to the pool alone.
  • -the condos in the Columbia ghetto sell for six figures.
  • -your graduation ceremony was at Merriweather.
  • -you eat at a Pizza Hut Italian Bistro.
  • -you school has raffled off a Camaro.
  • -Kittamaqundi is not a strange name for a lake.
  • -you ate at Double T after prom.
  • -M.Ds is the only place willing to deliver a pizza to your house.
  • -you know that it's called "DC," not "Washington."
  • -you live thirty minutes from EVERYWHERE.
  • -you think an hour long commute is somehow normal
  • -you know how to use a traffic circle PROPERLY
  • -you've been to a field party.
  • -you've had snow days where there was no snow on the ground.
  • -You think that $89,000 a year for a job isn't much money
  • -cool place to hang o ut after 1am is 7-11, Mobil, Giant parking lot, or Dunkin Donuts.
  • -if you dont have a car, you basically cant go anywhere, because they dont believe in sidewalks in HoCo. (at least in Clarksville, Marriottsville, etc).
  • -in elementary school, you went to at least one columbia roller skating rink, splashdown, cosmic bowling, Rocky Gorge mini golf, or shadowland birthday party
  • -Soft stuff at the Forest Motel is the shiznit
  • -when you spent 3/4s of summer at the 7-11 on Rt. 40
  • -You know about the greatness that is the chicken man.
  • -when you see a bunch of firefighters in a fire trunk in front of Cindy's eating some ice cream
  • - you remember when HoCo had a music scene
  • - you know who Mr. Boh is
  • - you saw the Kinder Man when you were in elementary school
  • - you've almost ran over the Columbia Bike Guy
  • -you played soccer as soon as you could walk.

11 October 2006

Mixed Use and GGP

When General Growth Properties purchased the Rouse Company, newspaper reports inquired as to what a company that specializes in indoor mall management would do with the community development projects/properties in the Rouse portfolio.

For nearly 40 years, the Rouse Co. was like a benevolent parent, and Columbia was its pride and joy.

But as with many families, things changed. And after the November marriage of Rouse and mall developer General Growth Properties Inc., some in Columbia are worrying that they might have been demoted from apple of the eye to misunderstood stepchild.

In 1963, James W. Rouse and his partners bought the land that would become Columbia, or "the next America" as he called it. "We must hold fast to the realization that our cities are for people," Rouse said in a 1959 speech to the Newark Conference on the Action Program for the American City in Newark, N.J. "And unless they work well for people they are not working well at all."

General Growth, which purchased Rouse in a $12.6 billion deal, isn't known for such lofty thoughts. The Chicago-based company is not in the business of planning cities or creating egalitarian neighborhoods.

"Planned communities is a business we have not been in," General Growth President John Bucksbaum said during last year's sale.
Well it seems the answer is upon us.

The first move General Growth Properties made was back in the spring of 2005 when they hired Thomas J. D’Alesandro IV. Prior to working at General Growth Properties, Mr. D’Alesandro was the Chief Executive Officer of the Woodlands Development Company (hired in 2003), sort of the HRD of the Woodlands. For those who don’t know, the Woodlands is a master planned community outside Houston and General Growth Properties holds about a 52% share in the Woodlands Development Corporation. Prior to the Woodlands, Mr. D’Alesandro was involved in the Reston Town Center development; he also co-authored a book about the Reston Town Center. You may also remember that Mr. D’Alesandro was in attendance at the General Growth Properties Town Hall meetings in May 2005.

By February 2006, General Growth Properties and Mr. D’Alesandro were putting things together. General Growth Properties had started work in Summerlin, Nevada, and the Woodlands, TX. Mixed use was now becoming a revenue stream for GGP. Mr. D’Alesandro was also quoted in a Business Week article.

Then in March 2006, Dennis Miller stepped down.

In the past month, GGP has been featured in two articles of interest. In the September 13, 2006 edition of the Chicago Journal :

Retail real estate giant General Growth Properties, headquartered in the West Loop at 110 N. Wacker Dr., is betting upcoming ventures on the idea that people will want to live above shopping malls.

General Growth is the second largest real estate investment trust in the United States, owning more than 200 regional malls. In 2004, when it acquired the Rouse Co., a Columbia, Md.-based real estate development and management firm, the transaction included several master-planned communities (designed urban centers built from the ground up) that analysts expected General Growth would eventually sell off.

Instead, General Growth has decided to launch an aggressive redevelopment of the properties.

As part of the plan, the company is combining traditional retail with upscale amenities-restaurants, theaters, parks. But General Growth is also moving to include housing and urban planning-all of which attempt to follow the tenets of a trendy anti-suburban-sprawl movement called New Urbanism.
Next month, Mr. D’Alesandro will be a featured panelist at a Mixed-Use Conference in Hollywood, Florida. This conference (November 16-17, 2006), sponsored by ICSC, BOMA, ARDA and NMHC, is being touted as a "[l]andmark Mixed-Use Conference that will be of interest to anyone involved in developing, designing, financing, leasing, managing, and marketing a Mixed-Use project…”

The panel discussion that Mr. D’Alesandro will be addressing is found on the International Council of Shopping Centers website:

The Special Challenges of Developing Mixed-Use Projects

This session sets the stage for the rest of the conference as it examines the opportunities and challenges with regard to mixed-use as a unique product type. Panelists will evaluate overall project complexity; integration of uses; risks in entitlements, zoning and government regulations. Consideration will also be given to design complexity, construction costs and getting the right mix of tenants. Finally, the panelists will offer up their perspectives on whether a mixing of uses is the solution to a location that cannot support a single-use project.
I would suggest that if anyone has some time in November, stop on by Hollywood, Florida and report back what is said. I think all of Columbia would be interested.

09 October 2006

Putting People First

I recently pulled out my copy of the James Rouse speech “It Could Happen Here.” This speech was delivered at Berkeley in 1963. In this speech, Mr. Rouse argues that even with plentiful resources, planning alone cannot create a better city. In this speech, he states:

The biggest hole in the planning process in America today is right at the beginning of it. We aren’t coming up with right answers because we aren’t asking the right questions at the outset. Planning deals with highways, land uses, public buildings, densities, open spaces, but it almost never deals with people. So seldom as to be never, in my experience, do you find in a planning study or report any serious discussion of the problems that people face in an urban society or how plans are directed at relieving those problems.

Isn’t it time we began to ask what we are planning for? What is the purpose of the community?

I believe that the ultimate test of civilization is whether or not it contributes to the growth, the improvement of mankind. There really can be no other right purpose of community except to provide an environment and an opportunity to develop better people. The most successful community would be that which contributed the most by its physical form, its institutions, and its operation to the growth of people.

So what have we learned after forty years? Over the last year, we have endured a discussion of residential housing density, traffic volume, building heights and the proximity of public art to the proposed road surfaces. No specific discussion has been held with regard to people, and the maximization of those people’s abilities as of yet.

The problem I fear, lies within the New Urbanist/Columbia conflict. The principles upon which the New Urbanist movement is based are known as the Ahwahnee Principles :

Community Principles

  1. All planning should be in the form of complete and integrated communities containing housing, shops, work places, schools, parks and civic facilities essential to the daily life of the residents.
  2. Community size should be designed so that housing, jobs, daily needs and other activities are within easy walking distance of each other.
  3. As many activities as possible should be located within easy walking distance of transit stops.
  4. A community should contain a diversity of housing types to enable citizens from a wide range of economic levels and age groups to live within its boundaries.
  5. Businesses within the community should provide a range of job types for the community's residents.
  6. The location and character of the community should be consistent with a larger transit network.
  7. The community should have a center focus that combines commercial, civic, cultural and recreational uses.
  8. The community should contain an ample supply of specialized open space in the form of squares, greens and parks whose frequent use is encouraged through placement and design.
  9. Public spaces should be designed to encourage the attention and presence of people at all hours of the day and night.
  10. Each community or cluster of communities should have a well-defined edge, such as agricultural greenbelts or wildlife corridors, permanently protected from development.
  11. Streets, pedestrian paths and bike paths should contribute to a system of fully-connected and interesting routes to all destinations. Their design should encourage pedestrian and bicycle use by being small and spatially defined by buildings, trees and lighting; and by discouraging high speed traffic.
  12. Wherever possible, the natural terrain, drainage and vegetation of the community should be preserved with superior examples contained within parks or greenbelts.
  13. The community design should help conserve resources and minimize waste.
  14. Communities should provide for the efficient use of water through the use of natural drainage, drought tolerant landscaping and recycling.
  15. The street orientation, the placement of buildings and the use of shading should contribute to the energy efficiency of the community.
Arguably, most of these principles have been successfully implemented in Columbia. To be honest, some are unfulfilled and some are applied unevenly throughout the city; however, it is possible to read from “It Could Happen Here” and read the above principles and arrive at the conclusion that they were authored by the same person or committee.

The conflict I see is that Rouse was looking to use planning for a greater goal. To not just live, but to live and grow. In my opinion, New Urbanism does not seek the goal of human growth, but through planning sets a high standard of living. Somehow, these different (but not necessarily conflicting) planning ideals wind up describing each other.

So here we are now, today, searching for a new downtown. There is anxiety, fear and frustration. There are strong opinions. There is no discussion of growing people. To get us back on the path, might I suggest we go back to Berkeley. Not in 1963, but in 2006. During this past summer, Sharon Hudson published a series of columns in the Berkeley Daily Planet regarding development in downtown Berkeley. The culmination of her series listed (as she called it) the “Urban Bill of Rights (NIMBY Manifesto)”:

  1. The right to see significant greenery, the sky, and the sun from within one’s home.
  2. The right to natural cross ventilation in one’s home.
  3. The right to enjoy peace and quiet within one’s home with windows open.
  4. The right to sleep at night without excessive artificial ambient light.
  5. The right to be free in one’s neighborhood from pollution of air, water, soil, and plant life.
  6. The right to be free from undesirable local environmental change caused by poor urban design, such as wind, shadow and noise canyons, excess heat caused by overpaving, etc.
  7. The right to adequate space for storage, hobbies, and other personal activities in and around each dwelling unit, including play space for children in family housing.
  8. The right to mobility, regardless of income. If automobile use is discouraged by prohibitive pricing, public transit must be adequate and low cost.
  9. The right to parking space for each household.
  10. The right of convenient access, on foot if possible, to basic daily needs, such as good quality food at reasonable prices, daily household and medical supplies, laundry facilities, etc.
  11. The right of convenient access, by foot, private vehicle, or transit, to places of employment.
  12. The right of equal access to the commons and to taxpayer-funded and other public facilities, such as government buildings, libraries, museums, bridges, and roadways.
  13. The right of access within walking distance to nature, recreation, outdoor exercise, and discovery, including parks, open space, and areas inhabited by wildlife.
  14. The right to equal and adequate police, fire, and emergency services, which shall not be infringed on the basis of income or neighborhood character.
  15. The right to participate in and guide, through equitable, representative, democratic processes, land use decisions that affect oneself, one’s neighborhood, and one’s community.
This list is not entirely applicable to our downtown project, but it is a starting point. It also provides enough substance for us to start discussing our future development in terms of people. Let us build on this.

As we start this discussion, I will close with the concluding paragraphs of “It Could Happen Here

Here then, is the challenge of a Good Environment – not a call to raise huge new funds; nor to marshal new pools of manpower. It is simply to change our attitudes toward our community. To build:

  • A new sense of humility and social purpose in the urban designer,
  • A new sense of relevance and responsibility in the social scientist,
  • A new sense of conviction and courage in the public official.

To harness these new attitudes to the forces already in motion and to the resources that already exist among us will generate a new, creative thrust that will not only produce new communities, but will release among the people in them the potential for the noblest civilization the world has ever known.

05 October 2006

Thank You for Your Service

The first thing you should read in the “Columbia Flier” today is this story about Ruth Bohse and Anne Dodd. These two women have been Village Mangers in Columbia since 1979, Ms. Bohse in Owen Brown and Ms. Dodd in Kings Contrivance.

The job of Village Manager is not very high profile, but it is high impact. Ask any Village Board member in Columbia about their Village Manager, and I am sure high praise will issue forth. Village Managers are responsible for all things great and small. The things they take care of range from maintaining village centers and neighborhood centers, to managing village staff and volunteers, to putting on yearly local celebrations (Lake Elkhorn Festival, Taste of Wilde Lake, Long Reach Country Fair, among others) and also keeping the organization on budget.

The hours are long and they need to see our appreciation more. So if you can, stop by Owen Brown and Kings Contrivance to thank Ruth and Anne for a career of work that has enriched countless lives. Short of that, make a point within the next week to stop by your local village center and thank your Village Manager.

In closing, I want to thank Bernice Kish, the Wilde Lake Village Manager for her service and all the things you make happen in Wilde Lake. Bernice, you are priceless.

Meeting Tonight

It has come to my attention that there is a meeting tonight at the Owen Brown Community Center (7:30 PM) regarding the future of New Town Zoning outside the downtown area. I would encourage any that have the time available to attend.

For those that attend, I suggest looking at the book "Creating a New City - Columbia, Maryland." This book, edited by Robert Tennenbaum is a first person account of how the city of Columbia came into being. A chapter written by Louis Nippard details how New Town Zoning came into being. It is a must read if you wish to understand the various aspects of the zoning regulations.

04 October 2006

Marty, you can come back now.


In an earlier version of this post, I had the wrong link to the new HoCoEd blog. The link has been corrected. My apologies to all.

Despite Columblog’s quiet yearning for Hollywood, another nkotb. A blog about Howard County Education.

03 October 2006

We got six!

I recently came across another Columbia/HoCo blogger:


Welcome to the neighborhood.

Architectural Continuity

Concurrent with the Howard County Master Plan for Downtown Columbia, we should be engaging architects to create a Downtown Columbia Design Plan. The elements of the design plan should provide a clear delineation of what parts of downtown are inviolate, and what areas can be developed. It is my understanding that the downtown focus group has put forward the idea that the lakefront area from the Rouse Building to the Exhibit Center should be preserved. This includes the American Cities Building and the Teachers Building.

Caution: Tangential Rant

I believe this is a good idea, but with one caveat. The pavilion that overlooks Lake Kittamaquandi (where “outdoor Clyde’s” used to be) must be upgraded such that seasonal, outdoor dining can be restored. I find dining under the People Tree to be a treat every summer; however, to be seated at a table that has a view of an unused pavilion which in turn has a marvelous view of the lake is beyond ironic.

Now Back to the Story

The Design Master Plan should also state which sites in downtown are to be “signature” building sites. Complicit in the signature building sites must be the recognition that those structures that are considered historic (or at least worthy of preservation) represent the highest order of signature buildings. All other signature buildings in downtown should compliment, and take some styling cues from these highest order buildings.

A short list of styling cues I can come up with (in my admittedly not-so-creative engineering mind) would be:

The glass pyramid structures atop the mall.

The tan brick that is predominant throughout downtown.

The hanging gardens and vertical/horizontal aspects of the Rouse Building (GGP headquarters).

The contemporary design and wall/window ratios of the Rouse Building, the American Cities Building, and the Teachers Building.

The white materials used on the Rouse Building, American Cities Building, and Teachers Building.

The use of rectangles, arcs, and circles to form the lakefront amphitheater.

Below the cues of the preserved buildings and signature buildings would be the other buildings that will populate downtown (I am sure there is a better architectural term for these buildings, but I do not know what else to call them). These buildings should provide differing elements so as to avoid monotony, but should be integrated within the block and streets such that they show some coordination and repeatability.

I believe this is crucial. As Winston Churchill once said, “We shape our buildings, thereafter, they shape us.”

02 October 2006

Afternoon Blues

For the past eight months, I have been performing an unscientific survey. Two or three times a week, I have diverted from my normal commute to work (West on Little Patuxent Parkway to Rt. 29 North) and have driven through downtown Columbia. Although I have not counted every car during the morning rush hours, I have varied my times between 7:00 AM to 8:30 AM to get a good idea of traffic flow during morning rush. The results are (for an unscientific survey) fairly dramatic. For the most part, there is no morning rush hour in downtown Columbia. Certainly, there is traffic. On most days there are cars all around me, but we move along at a fairly steady 30-40 mph. On most occasions, I have had to stop at two lights, and the commute down Little Patuxent Parkway, past the mall and Symphony Woods, then left onto Broken Land Parkway rarely takes more than ten minutes. I do not think there is another city greater then 100,000 people in the world in which a commute through downtown takes less than ten minutes.

Afternoon drive is a completely different animal, but why? A brief passage in the Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning commissioned downtown Traffic study (Glatting Jackson – PDF ) provides the following information (page 5):
Existing and through traffic (i.e., traffic with neither origin nor destination
within the Town Center) is a major component of the … Little Patuxent/Governor
Warfield (north) intersection.

It seems during afternoon the afternoon rush hours, there are a lot of people that use downtown Columbia as a pass-through. I believe the culprit behind the use of downtown Columbia as a speed bump is the sprawlish developments in the Rt. 99 corridor, the Rt. 144 corridor (between Rt. 40 and Rt. 32) and the explosion of single family housing north along Rt. 32. As these housing developments have become established, traffic on Rt. 32 and Rt. 29 have become chronic parking lots. Faced with limited access to alternate routes many divert through downtown. As a resident of Wilde Lake, I have often seen the egress point of this traffic. It heads up Ten Mills Road in Running Brook, then onto Rt. 108 West to Centennial Lane. Rt. 144 traffic makes a left onto Rt. 40 for half a mile and then onto Rt. 144. Rt. 99 traffic continues North over Rt. 40 onto Bethany Lane.

The only evidence I have of this behavior is that as I commute home, if traffic has backed up from Rt. 29 onto westbound Rt. 100, the traffic on Ten Mills Road is very heavy for a residential street, and everyone is turning left at the Rt. 108/Ten Mills Road traffic light near Centennial Park. In addition, I have brought this concern to several community meetings. After each meeting, I usually hear from 6-12 people that I they in fact use such a route to commute home.

If we are to make downtown Columbia a destination again, we need to do something about traffic. Taking those afternoon rush hour drivers off the downtown roads would be a great start.

30 September 2006

Saturday in the Park

I will be offline until Sunday evening. With HoCoMD blog doing good things, it looks like some of the HoCo Blogworld is taking a bit of a rest. Evan, Hayduke, and Hedgehog, keep em entertained!

It is my hope to get some content on Sunday and Monday. Here is a preview:

I have a traffic bug these days, so bear with me on the subject. A few thoughts and perspective on the CA Board of Directors (we only comment because we love!), and where (in my opinion) can you get the best burrito in town (hint, it's near Dobbin Road, and has its origin in Oakland Mills).

Anyway, have a great weekend, and help me out with the poll over there on the right.

28 September 2006

Make your vote count!

Over there on the right is a weekly poll I will start to feature. Most polls will be up for one week, but because I am new to this, the first poll will stay up until October 8, 2006. A new poll will then be posted and will stay up for a week. Please participate, and provide comments on format (font size, background color, etc)


27 September 2006

Pointers and Comment

I had a few quick thoughts on a variety of issues today. First off, double-props to HoCo Hayduke for his posts on Merriweather and Tot Lot litter patrol. Evan at HoCo Blog also briefly weighs in on the subject.

As a person that has experienced Columbia through the eyes of a young boy, through adulthood and now mid-life, I can say that I have seen probably every use and misuse (alternative use?) of tot lots. Yes, Hayduke goes over the top on the issue, but the cynicism represents a real yearning for engagement of idle youth. This story isn’t new to Columbia and I think it has gotten worse.

For example, as a teenager in 1982, I could meet friends or take a date to the movies in Town Center. After the movie, we could walk the lakefront, take a paddleboat ride, or have a coke and eat fried zucchini at outdoor Clyde’s with a view of the lake. Today, teens can still go the movies in Town Center. However, after the movie, kids have little choice of activities. The lakefront is not accessible from the movie theatre. There are no paddle boats. The closest restaurant to the movie theatre is the Cheesecake Factory (most likely reservations required). This is not a dig against the Cheesecake Factory, I understand they have good food. So after teens have gone to the movies, they have to use their own creativity for spending time. Unfortunately, some resort to alcohol and we wind up with the tot lot trash problem. This is only one scenario; there are many others.

What I’m trying to illustrate here is that there needs to be some programming of space to include teens. I’m sure during contract negotiations for the restaurant site adjacent to the movies, somebody must have thought, “Cheesecake Factory, now there’s a place that teens can enjoy as part of their night out at the movies,” or was another demographic the target patrons for such an establishment?

I am also intrigued the following passage:

The Howard County Police Department does not collect information about
playgrounds if they do not have a formal address, Howard County Police
Department spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn said.
Although the Columbia tot lots (playgrounds) do not have an official address, each playground has a special 3 alphanumeric designation that the county recognizes. This was set up such that if an emergency happened at a tot lot, a resident could call 911 and report the incident at tot lot OM2 and services could respond without having to go through the long description of “the tot lot is behind Stevens Forest Pool and at the end of Pamplona Drive and Bull Ring Lane.” So if the tot lot location is in the system, could it not be used to track information?

Equally disturbing are the comments of neighbors:
The playground at the corner of Gray Rock Drive and Fragile Sail Way is bordered
by a wooded area, and neighbors say teens loitering there at night are a
nuisance, the letter states.

I believe we should all be careful not to label people. Teens do not become a nuisance until the community ignores them enough to become a nuisance. For example, does the Dorsey’s Search Village Board have a teen rep position? Such a position would allow insight into teen/adolescent condition in Dorsey’s Search before problems arise.

In other news, the NASA Mars Rover Opportunity is about to close in on Victoria Crater . This will be a huge event for other-world exploration and geology (exo-geology?). Check in and check it out.

Circling back to Merriweather, the article in today’s Baltimore Examiner has a pretty misleading headline “Pavilion’s future in jeopardy” Since the Examiner started showing up on my driveway every morning (without my consent) I have certainly noticed the headline writer has a certain ability to get my attention. In my opinion, the headline contradicts what is actually written in the story. I understand the need to draw people in to the story, but the sensational headline may have misled those who did not have time to read the story.

26 September 2006

Governor Warfield Pkwy – Myth and Reality

Notice: Full Disclosure

The possible fate of Governor Warfield Parkway came up as an issue last spring when I ran for the Wilde Lake Columbia Council Representative position. Although the issue never came up at the candidates forum, and I was never asked
by any residents I talked to during the campaign season, fliers were circulated throughout Wilde Lake stating “If Phil Kirsch [my opponent] is not elected to the Columbia Council, there goes Governor Warfield Parkway.” In addition, I was confronted by two former Howard County Council members (that own property in Wilde Lake) about the issue. I do not believe the fate of Governor Warfield Parkway was the deciding issue in the election, but I wanted you, the reader, to have full awareness of my involvement in the issue. It is my intent that the majority of this post is fact based and will provide greater understanding. However, as this is a blog, the concluding paragraphs will delve into opinion.

As the discussion of downtown Columbia development has evolved, the fate of the Governor Warfield Parkway median strip has been a persistent concern. Some have voiced concern that as development progresses, the median strip will be paved over to accommodate increased traffic.


January 2006

The first concern that I heard about the Governor Warfield Parkway median strip was in January 2006. A Wilde Lake community activist attended a meeting regarding downtown development and asked if there were any plans to widen Governor Warfield Parkway. When told that there were no plans to widen the parkway, she came to the conclusion that the median strip was endangered because if the road was not widened, additional lanes must be placed in the median strip.

March 2006

The issue of Governor Warfield Parkway came up again as part of the Wilde Lake Columbia Council Representative Elections, as stated above.

June 2006

In June 2006, the Glatting-Jackson (PDF file) traffic study was made public. Contained in the report was some interesting data with respect to Governor Warfield Parkway. The piece of data which caused the most stir was the assertion that the Governor Warfield Parkway/Little Patuxent Parkway intersection has no additional capacity for future development. What was not widely reported is on page 4 of the traffic study. It states that if the entire Charrette Master Plan were constructed, traffic flow at all the other intersections on Governor Warfield Parkway would be in compliance with the current Howard County traffic standards. That is not to say traffic at these intersections would remain constant, it would certainly increase; but the traffic levels experienced would not exceed the Howard County threshold of “level of service” (LOS) ‘D.’

A second piece of Governor Warfield Parkway data from the report is a bit more subtle. The Glatting-Jackson report is based on a traffic survey and report commissioned by General Growth Properties (GGP), and is located on their downtown Columbia website. This report, prepared by Wells & Associates (August 12, 2005), provides this interesting piece of information regarding Governor Warfield Parkway:
Little Patuxent Parkway and Governor Warfield Parkway in the Town Center are classified by Howard County as a constrained road facility due to their “unique urban setting”, in accordance with Howard County Council Resolution 21, dated January 6, 1992, adopted February 3, 1992. Capacity-enhancing improvements should be provided only to the extent that they will not negatively affect the physical or right-of-way characteristics, pedestrian movements, and other considerations not related to traffic movement that have caused these roadways to be designated as constrained facilities. No roadway improvements would, therefore, be appropriate at the intersections of Little Patuxent Parkway with Governor Warfield Parkway North and Broken Land Parkway.

The constraint placed on Governor Warfield Parkway and Little Patuxent Parkway is mentioned no fewer than five times in the Wells & Associates report, and the above citation is listed as a conclusion to the report (page 25).

August 2006

During the Kahler Hall County Executive/District 4 Candidates Forum, a question asked by the Harper’s Choice Village Board stated “Would you support designating Governor Warfield Parkway as a scenic road?” All candidates at the forum supported the idea.

Good Intentions, Bad Idea

So, does it make good sense to make Governor Warfield Parkway a scenic road? Regrettably, the answer is no. The intention is honorable, but the execution is problematic and the result could lead to the exact opposite of what is intended. Let’s jump into specifics.

The process for designating a scenic road can be found in the Howard County Code. (Title 16, Subtitle 14)

Governor Warfield Parkway does not meet the definition of a scenic road. Section 16.1402(a) of the Howard County Code lists the following criteria as the definition of a scenic road:
Sec. 16.1402. Characteristics of scenic roads.

(a) Definition. Scenic roads are public roads in the county which have one or more of the following characteristics:

  1. Pass through an area of outstanding natural environmental features providing views of scenic elements such as forests, steep topography, and stream or river valleys;
  2. Provide outstanding views of rural, agricultural landscapes including scenic elements such as panoramic or distant views, cropland, pastures, fields, streams, ponds, hedgerows, stone or wooden fences, farm buildings and farmsteads;
  3. Follow historic road alignments and provide views of historic resources; or
  4. A large proportion of the road provides frontage for properties that are in a historic district or subject to perpetual or long-term agricultural, environmental or historic easements.

Unless the median strip on Governor Warfield Parkway can meet the legal definition of ‘forest,’ the criteria cannot be applied. For reference, Merriam-Webster defines a forest as follows:
  • a dense growth of trees and underbrush covering a large tract [of land]

The median strip on Governor Warfield Parkway is certainly not dense, even with leaves on the trees and bushes, it is quite easy to see through the trees to the other side. Moreover, the area of land is (by my estimation) less than an acre in area.

The scenic road criteria are important because Howard County Code, Section 16.1403(b) states that in order for a road to be designated as a scenic road, it must meet one of the four criteria of the definition in Section 16.1402(a).
Sec. 16.1403. Scenic roads inventory.

(b) Road Must Meet Definition. The county council may include a road or road segment in the scenic roads inventory if it finds that the road has one or more of the characteristics listed in section 16.1402(a) above.

A scenic road designation is intended to protect the view from the road, not the road itself. As stated in Section 16.1404(c), “Scenic roads are subject to the requirements of the adequate public facilities ordinance (title 16, subtitle 11),” and “To limit alterations to an intersection involving a scenic road under the provisions of the adequate public facilities ordinance, such an intersection may be designated a “constrained road facility” [emphasis mine] by the county council in accordance with sections 16.1101(f)(4) and 16.1110(e) of this Code”

Therefore, to protect a road (as opposed to the scenic view) from further development, the Howard County Code states that the road should be designated a constrained road facility. In the case of Governor Warfield Parkway, it was designated “constrained” almost 15 years ago. Therefore, this 1992 resolution should be publicized and enforced.


I chose to highlight the Governor Warfield Parkway situation for one reason: Concerned residents that perform leaps in logic without the necessary research of the facts can cause a situation to get out of hand. We are now at a point where the Howard County Council may consider introducing legislation to designate a road “scenic” even though the road does not meet the definition of scenic. Moreover, had anyone (including myself) done the research, we would have all come to the conclusion that as a constrained road, Governor Warfield Parkway was not in danger. Instead, we have wasted time, energy, passion, and other resources fanning the flames of fiction, when we could have better applied these resources to doing good.

22 September 2006

Downtown Building Heights

With all the discussion yesterday, I have not had the chance to address an issue raised in the Wednesday edition of the Baltimore Examiner. The article, entitled “Leader says high-rises conflict with vision for Columbia,” amplifies the opinions of Barbara Russell and Mary Pivar. Although the article in Wednesday’s paper did elevate the issue of downtown building heights, the quotes from Ms. Pivar and Ms. Russell are only opinions. I would hope that the Examiner, when researching issues for publication would seek to find a diversity of opinions and a diversity in demographics. In general, Mary and Barbara are part of the same demographic and represent only one side of the discussion. Let’s try to find other voices, especially when dealing in opinion, such that the presentation of the issues is balanced.

I have known both ladies for years. Barbara Russell is a community treasure and on the occasions that I have had the chance to chat with her, I have always found her to be knowledgeable, insightful and passionate about this town. Mary Pivar and I served on the Wilde Lake Village Board together, and although I have disagreed with her on some topics, I am impressed with her energy and she has maintained her brown Toyota well.

Unfortunately, I have to disagree with both on the subject of downtown building height. As I describe in this post, regulating building height in downtown to a single arbitrary limit will decrease affordable housing, reduce downtown vibrancy, reduce retail options, and encourage mediocre architectural design.

Barbara Russell starts off with a generalization stating that “Practically everyone wants a height limitation,” and that people are appalled at the 22-story Plaza. Fair enough, although the height limitations Ms. Russell may have in mind may be different from other people’s ideas, and those folks who have put a down payment on the condos in the Plaza certainly are not opposed to it. For the record, I object to the Plaza height.

Further on, the article states:
She [Barbara Russell] also referred to Columbia founder James Rouse, who said in
his 1963 speech titled “It Can Happen Here” that serious problems in society
stem from “the fact that the city is out of scale with people.”

Now I know that Ms. Russell had knew Mr. Rouse, and I believe she may have specific insight into what Mr. Rouse was talking about in the “It Can Happen Here” speech. However, I took out my copy of the speech and read it carefully, and more than once. It is my belief that Mr. Rouse was referring to the bulk size of cities and how people relate to the scale of the entire city, not just to building heights. (In fact, the whole thrust of the Rouse “It Can Happen Here” speech was to say that planning should be people focused before we start discussing building heights, traffic flows, etc. I think we are doing the opposite of what Rouse spoke of in the “It Can Happen Here” speech. I plan to write a post dedicated to that topic in the near future.)

There are other quotes from James Rouse and other Columbia luminaries that portray a different view of downtown. In an April 19,1996 speech to the Council of Shopping Centers Annual Convention in Los Angeles, CA, James Rouse stated:
“Urban growth is our opportunity, not our enemy. It invites us to correct the
past, to build places that are productive for business and for the people who
live there, places that are infused with nature and stimulating to man’s
creative sense of beauty — places that are in scale with people … which will
enrich life; build character and personality; promote concern, friendship,

This quote also appears (with attribution) on page 6 of the current, unfortunate file name, Columbia Association Public Information Guide (PIG.pdf).

Fifteen years later Mort Hoppenfeld, a Director of Planning and Design at the Rouse Company and a man whose name appears on the dedication of two statues in downtown Columbia, stated in the article “A Critique of Town Center Options” (Little Patuxent Review, 1981, p. 110):
“Downtown needs apartments and condos: At high density within walking distance –
on top of things like shops and offices.”

Now I don’t want to get into a war of quotes, because I believe I am outgunned in this arena. However, the above quotes do suggest that there was a perception that Columbia would evolve into a city and would be urban in character (not a suburb, not a bedroom community). In addition, high density was discussed and (at some level) advocated by those who founded Columbia.

Finally, Barbara Russell states that higher building heights would allow more development. It seems that Ms. Russell’s logic mirrors that of former baseball player Yogi Berra . Famously, Yogi Berra ordered a pizza and was asked whether he would like it cut into four or eight pieces. "Better make it four. I don't think I could eat eight." Like Mr. Berra (who was focused on slices and not realizing the pizza size was fixed), Ms. Russell has focused on building height, not realizing the amount of development is fixed.

Howard County Director of Planning and Zoning Marsha McLaughlin provides the following clarifying information in the article:

“It’s like playing with Legos. There is a certain amount of development that can
occur, and a certain amount of Legos. You can stack the Legos taller, and there
would probably be more open space on the ground,” McLaughlin said.
“But you don’t get more legos.”

With respect to Focus Group member Mary Pivar’s remarks, I wish she had chosen her words better (granted, what is said by someone is sometimes not what gets in the paper).
If tradeoffs are going to be considered, the limit should be at six stories, and
no buildings should be taller than 12 to 14 stories, said Mary Pivar, a member
of the Downtown Columbia focus group, in which residents meet with the planning
and zoning department to discuss the redevelopment of Town Center.

With the dramatically diminished skyline envisioned by Ms. Pivar, these low slung buildings will have to be very long and very wide to accommodate the proposed development. Buildings will more than likely be built to their setback limits and would reduce the opportunity for trees, sculpture, plazas or fountains. I cannot think of a more soul-less streetscape.

Her statement regarding a 3-story limit at the Lake Kittamaquandi waterfront is preposterous. I believe the south side of the Rouse Building has four exposed floors, as does the Teachers Building lakeside wall. The American Cities Building, the Lakeside Condos, the Sheraton Hotel tower, and that building where the Rusty Scupper used to be are all more than double the limit imposed by Ms. Pivar. Should we start the deconstruction?

Ms. Pivar’s further assertion that “There is nothing negotiable about the lakefront,” is completely out of place. On whose authority can she make statements like that? Is she speaking for the whole focus group? Did the Howard County Government cede special authority to the focus group to dictate terms? (I think not, but I felt the need to balance Mary’s hyperbole). Regardless, I wish Ms. Pivar would not resort to ultimatums when discussing downtown. She is in no position to dictate terms.

In closing, I invite the HoCo blogosphere to comment and provide any details as to what you might think building heights should be in downtown Columbia. As I linked before, my views are posted here. I also hope that we will get more balanced reporting on the downtown issue in the future