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.