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.


Anonymous said...

Emulating Georgetown's or Annapolis' density truly would turn Columbia's town center into a "down town". Eeesh.

Stick to the existing aesthetic uniqueness that would help Columbia beat the odds.

B. Santos said...

You bring up a good point. The architectural style of Georgetown and Annapolis certainly contrasts with the existing contemporary buildings along the downtown Columbia lakefront. Maybe they really like the look of the Governor’s Grant townhouses? Who knows. Another issue to consider is that although the height of the buildings are low, it seem to me that the buildings in Georgetown and Annapolis are built to the setback limit, leaving little room for trees, street furniture, artwork, or greenery.

What did you think of the links to Addison Circle and Downtown Markham?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link to the Mort Hoppenfeld article. Fascinating. It is so timely, it's hard to believe it was written in 1981.

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Evan said...


Point taken about Annapolis and Georgetown in those respects, but I think that the idea was less a specific street layout, parking situation, and mass transit but rather that you can have vibrancy without 20 story buildings.

For what its worth, both have trees, benches, etc. though maybe we want more.

wordbones said...

How about this new community plan.

Check out http://www.falconcity.com/home.aspck.

It is always fun to see what you can do when money is no object.