18 September 2006

The Nile of Columbia

As the debate about redeveloping Columbia continues to churn, I believe there are some changes taking shape that are of cataclysmic, plate-tectonic proportions, and it has nothing to do with downtown. At the epicenter of this change is Tamar Drive. I believe this road is the longest residential street in Columbia, making it our Nile River. Upon this street, you will find the greatest application of the “new” Columbia street signs. These signs are not the same “fat rectangle” variety that is seen on most Columbia street corners; they are skinny rectangles mounted on metal poles and rob the street (and by extension, Columbia) of one of its most identifiable symbols. Howard County officials have stated that the new street signs provide better visibility and are essential for senior citizens navigating our street system. It seems to me that seniors during the last century navigated Columbian streets without much help.

What this reminds me of is the horizontal, flat-faced traffic lights that we used to have at the corner of South Entrance Road and Little Patuxent Parkway. The quirkiness of those lights kind of added a charm to Columbia. I believe they were removed because of concerns that color-blind individuals would become confused by the traffic lights and cause accidents. They are long gone, but every time I travel somewhere else and see the exact same traffic lights (most notably at the Houston Intercontinental Airport), I think to myself, “Why did we let this go?”

The systematic replacement of street signs may not be enough to raise the ire of a population craving to stay true to the “Rouse Vision,” but more recent developments along Tamar drive should (but to date have not) bring every Columbia Pioneer out. An item in the Long Reach Village Board Newsletter (http://www.longreach.org/newsletter.html) reports that the Howard County Board of Education and the St. John’s Baptist Church of Columbia are in the process of swapping parcels of land. The 10 acre parcel of land the church is interested in is in Locust Park, adjacent to Jim and Patty Rouse Parkway. The church has expressed interest in building on the site.

To be clear, let me state that I believe more places of worship in Columbia to be essential to our cultural and spiritual diversity. However, since this community was founded, it has always been the expressed ideal that we as a community would practice our religious faith in an interfaith manner. The construction of a religious facility with the intent of excluding other religions is a radical change from the founding principles of this community.

I understand that the interfaith concept is evolving. The older interfaith centers consist of a single building with participating faiths sharing space, and the newer interfaith centers are more of an “interfaith campus,” in that each faith has its own building on a collective site.

Is it possible that the single faith use of property is evidence that the original interfaith idea has run its course, just like the “fat rectangle blue street signs?” It is my hope that those who rail against downtown traffic and invoke Jim Rouse when talking about parkway median strips and street construction adjacent to existing sculpture would at least be willing to stand up and debate the issue. This is Columbian vision straight out of the work group that started the whole New Town experiment. Is the interfaith concept dead?


Anonymous said...

I'm more apt to believe the Nile(s) of Columbia are the Little and Middle Patuxent Eivers and their tributaries. Far more life happens in and along these waterways than along one almost entirely developed residential roadway.

That said, I do think careful consideration should be given by the community before accepting such a land swap. What impact will this new use for the public land in Locust Park have on the land itself, its existing wildlife, and the surrounding community?

B. Santos said...

I was going for the metaphoric. Your direct application is spot on. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Of all the places I've ever lived, Columbia is by far the worst to navigate/find places/give people directions in. I can't tell you how many times I've been out on a walk and stopped by a confused motorist miles away from where he/she should be. *Anything* to improve this situation is welcome, but I guess you would consider getting lost a special little "quirk" of Columbia.

B. Santos said...

Anonymous (28SEP06, 13:21),

Wow. Getting lost is certainly part of the experience in Columbia. If you check my first post, I would rather refer to it as "discovering." I believe Columbia was meant to be discovered one piece at a time. It is not a town for dashing in and dashing out. Columbia is not very unusual in this matter, nearby Washington D.C. has a similar reputation, as does Boston and many other towns.

Thanks for your input.