One of the problems I have found with the downtown Columbia issue is the fact that the project lacks resonance. As an engineer, I tend to learn towards the technical definition of resonance; that is, when the driving frequency of a system matches the natural frequency of the system, an increase in amplitude is achieved. Resonance can be destructive, such as the famous Tacoma Narrow Bridge destruction or it can be pleasant, like the note emitted when running your finger around the lip of a crystal glass with water in it (think Michael Douglas in “The War of the Roses” or Sandra Bullock in “Miss Congeniality”).
With respect to Columbia, one the things this town had in the 1970’s (and arguably the 1980’s) was resonance. This makes quite a bit of sense in that those who first moved here, those that first bought homes in the Next American City, self-selected to live here. Said in my pragmatic engineering terms, the natural frequency of the pioneers (generally (and, I must admit, poorly) defined in this analogy as “sense of place” or “enjoyment of surroundings”) matched the driving frequency (development) of Columbia.
People that have moved here in the last 20 years appear to have a different natural frequency. I believe this is in part because (as stated in the Baltimore Metropolitan Council Regional Economic Indicators 2006):
CAUTON: A quick aside:
“The remarkable household growth in Howard County is attributed to a number of attractions. The public school system is regarded as one of the best in the state. State and interstate roadway facilities are well planned and in excellent condition. New housing, though expensive, is diverse and available. A variety of upscale retail and commercial activity centers are conveniently accessible. The county is a short drive from the major employment centers that drive the Washington-Baltimore-Northern Virginia Combined Statistical Area (CSA).”
That is not to say pioneers are better or worse than newcomers (or vice-versa), it is just to state that the two groups are different. Now, back to the story…
So the question remains: “How do you make a system resonate if it has multiple natural frequencies?” More specifically, “What is the appropriate driving frequency (development)?” From an engineering standpoint, it is possible, but it involves differential calculus. However, a more practical solution exists: Going back to my crystal glass analogy, if we take to glasses of water with two different natural frequencies, we can adjust the water level such that when each glass resonates, the notes emitted combine to form a chord. So with respect to downtown development, let’s stop looking for the right note, and find the right chord.