19 February 2007

“To Me, the Word Suburb is Appalling…”

No, these are not my words. These are the words of Padraic Kennedy, the Columbia Association President, in 1987. The quote appears in a June 4, 1987 Columbia Flier article, “Plan for downtown unveiled (A ‘more dressed and neat’ area).” The article is a series of pieces written in the Columbia Flier during 1987 that followed the development of a downtown Columbia plan created by Land Design Research. From the article:

The Columbia Association commissioned the consulting firm to analyze Columbia’s entire downtown and lakefront area. The cost of $34,000 study is being split with Howard Research and Development Corp, Columbia’s developer.

Impetus for the project came from the Columbia Forum and other groups concerned with downtown Columbia, and from CA’s growing awareness of maintenance problems in Town Center, said Fred Pryor, CA’s vice president for land management.

In the article, details included (and some may sound familiar to charrette attendees):

  • Changing Little Patuxent Parkway into an urban boulevard
  • Art would be used to create landmarks
  • Putting sculptures at the Governor Warfield Parkway/Little Patuxent Parkway intersection and Broken Land Parkway/Little Patuxent Parkway intersection
  • Opening up the view to Wilde Lake from Little Patuxent Parkway
  • Bridges from each side of the lake to “Nomanisan” Island on Lake Kittamaquandi

The plan was also praised by Robert Russell, the Harper’s Choice CA Board member. The article ends as follows:
Al Scavo, vice-president of Howard Research and Development said that “common interests, common ownership and a common acknowledgement of the lakefront’s need for renovation led HRD and CA to commission a master plan jointly.

CA president Padraic Kennedy had said in March that CA wants a lakefront design it can work on for the next decade. “To me, the word suburb is appalling,” Kennedy said then. “We are a community moving to be a city. The real question is, what kind of a downtown? Will it have elegance and warmth and attractiveness to people?”

15 comments:

Hayduke said...

Bill, this history lesson is great. Thanks for posting it.

Hayduke said...

Bill, this history lesson is great. Thanks for posting it.

Nice redesign, too.

Hayduke said...

Do I need to repeat myself?

Anonymous said...

What did Hayduke say?

pzguru said...

Nice posting. I would like to point out the biggest issue NOT mentioned in the list of ideas for improvements to Town Center: additional density. I find it interesting that neither the poster or the other commentors noticed this glaring fact, especially given the support that one commentor has expressed repeatedly for additional density. Anybody? Anybody? Bueller?

Anonymous said...

Well, looking at those bullet points in the current context of a focus on sustainability and environment:

"Changing Little Patuxent Parkway into an urban boulevard" would require losing significant greenspace along Little Patuxent Parkway. Perhaps 'Parkway' should then fittingly be stripped from its name and instead call it maybe Little Patuxent Concrete Canyon. Or maybe to complete its urbanization even drop its reference to nature's Little Patuxent River altogether and call it "Town Center Concrete Way". Ah, won't that be refreshing and scenic to journey?

"Art would be used to create landmarks". Some can still see beauty in nature. Replacing nature with static, dead facsimiles of life seems a step backwards.

"Putting sculptures at the Governor Warfield Parkway/Little Patuxent Parkway intersection and Broken Land Parkway/Little Patuxent Parkway intersection". Again, why replace live greenspace with cold sculpture?

"Opening up the view to Wilde Lake from Little Patuxent Parkway" Wouldn't that require cutting down trees, trees that can be seen safely from the road instead of chopping them down to try to unsafely draw attention far afield?

"Bridges from each side of the lake to '“Nomanisan' Island on Lake Kittamaquandi." Nomanisanisland would be no more, becoming nothing but Nomanisabridgefooter. Perhaps we should just finish the job, paving the lake over now to give it that nice urban feel, too?

Interesting that this study by LDR, half funded by the community (CA) and half funded by the developer, had *none* of those bulleted recommendations implemented during the subsequent decade, the time period mentioned as being when the design would be implemented. It certainly seems like the community didn't go for those recommendations then. Why in the world would we want to go for them now?

Perhaps the word "Suburb" was unappealing to Pat because it implied something less than a city. Columbia, in many ways, is so much more, intertwined and alive with nature as it should be.

Hayduke said...

pzguru: I don't think a plan developed over twenty years ago during entirely different circumstances should really be looked at as a viable vision for Town Center today and in the future. As I said, this post was a great history lesson, something to help explain how we got to where we are now.

It's best to keep things in context, like, for instance, previous comments I've made about density.

I also don't think that a 30-year master plan is best for Town Center. As I've said in the past, I think we need a 30-year vision, with actual master plans broken up into much smaller time frames (5 or 10 years).

Anon: Superficially, Columbia may appear intertwined with nature, but in reality, the city's killing its natural foundation, and not because of additional development but because of the development that already exists. Keeping areas "green" will not improve our environment; rather, it will, at best, stem the rate of decline. We need active, thoughtful and innovative interventions to improve the conditions of our habitats, waterways, forests and other open spaces. Trees may have to be sacrificed for sake of the forests.

B. Santos said...

Pzguru,
Interesting observation. My point here is that Mr. Rouse, many of the leaders of his organization, and the community have been talking for a good long time about Columbia becoming a city, not a suburb. I do not wish to wade into the pool of reading tea leaves or diving meaning from statements made decades ago, but I shall (let’s say, up to my knees) for the sake of furthering the discussion.

On this blog, I have posted the words (as quoted in newspapers) of those who had first principle knowledge of what Columbia would one day look like. In at least two cases, I have found quotes that find city leaders contrasting city and suburb. Those being:

James Rouse

“[T]o build a better city – not just a better suburb, but a complete new city”

Padraic Kennedy

“To me, the word suburb is appalling,” Kennedy said then. “We are a community moving to be a city…”

Now, as I said, not wading too far into the “divining meaning” pool, let us just take the Webster definitions for city and suburb (and assume that over the last forty years, the definition has not substantially changed).

Beyond the standard definitions, I believe most people can agree that when compared to suburbs, cities typically have people living in closer proximity to one another. Closer proximity means more people per unit area which is pretty much the definition of density.

Anonymous said...

"Trees may have to be sacrificed for sake of the forests." ?? I am completely lost by that comment. How does killing trees in Town Center save forests?

Similarly confusing was "Keeping areas 'green' will not improve our environment". Is your point that existing greenspace isn't that valuable because it's just the status quo? And that only by making changes that require damaging nature in some places will environmental improvements somehow be gained? If so, I don't agree with that logic.

Are we going to be serious about the environment and sustainability? Or, as best I can guess the logic of those two quoted statements, use what I believe is a misguided assumption that decline is inevitable so why not just accept it along with a de-greening of Columbia? That is a completely opposite position to stated goals in recent County General Plans that call for improving greenways, watersheds, and wildlife movement corridors in the eastern part of the County.

Jessie said...

Surface-thinking suburbanites see grass and a little clumping of trees in their neighborhoods, and say, "Aaaah, nature." They foolishly lull themselves into thinking that because a couple of birds and squirrels are outside their backyard that they are "preserving nature."

Suburban sprawl, particularly what is happening in Howard County as the demand for housing pushes outward into fringe once-rural land, is one of the most ecologically deleterious choices a community can make. Columbians, individually or collectively, wishing to "be green" and standing for sustainable development, should support creating AREAS of denser housing and commercial activity. With, of course, upgraded infrastructure to support these areas.

That's my two yen.

pzguru said...

B. Sanots - you said: "On this blog, I have posted the words (as quoted in newspapers) of those who had first principle knowledge of what Columbia would one day look like." I think you need to change the word "would" to "could".

I've tried to make the point that regardless of what was put on paper, or talked about, for the "vision of Town Center", the fact is that what was built is what was built. There must have been a reason to do what they did so why guess about what was going on in their minds.

As for the 4 recommendations you outlined, they make sense and I don't think there would be any problem with implementing those types of changes for Town Center. However, those items do not pale in comparison with the enormous density increase and massive physical changes being bandied about at the charette discussions, and endorsed by Hayduke (i think that's a fair assessment of your position Hayduke - right?).

The whole city versus suburb issue is a bit of a red herring in my view. Town Center is hardly a suburb and people should trying to convey it as such. Nor is Columbia overall a suburb. When Columbia was started, the rest of the County was the "suburbs". True, it's not as dense as Baltimore, but that was not the intention of it either. Think of it as being somewhere between a city and a suburb, with Town Center being...a town center.
It's not dead or dying, there is no lack of cultural or social amenities or activities. It's just fine. How else do you explain that it was ranked 4th best place to live in the Country?

If the scope of improving Town Center is adding sidewalks, adding pedestrian bridge over LPP, adding artwork and landscaping, then I support that fully. I do not think it is logical to jack up the density allowed and reconfigure the whole road network around the mall into a grid with some 60 intersections with stop signs or signals that will greatly increase the time it takes to travel around the area.

Nor does placing a bus station hub in the floodplain along South Entrance road make sense. ANON has it right- how do you justify environmental damage in the name of protecting the environment? I have heard of twisted logic, but that takes the cake.

Furthermore, GGP still has plenty of housing allocations allowed within the parameters of the current approved PDP for Columbia, as well as much commercial development as can be supported by proposed parking spaces and approved traffic studies (if they can show that intersections still. function properly).

There are many other faults/issues with the draft Master Plan, but it would take too long to delve into them at this time.

One last point, BRAC should not be factored as a "reason" to increase density in Town Center. If smart growth initiatives are to be followed, then the State and Counties should push for people to move to Baltimore where there is ample housing and EXISTING infrastructure to support it.

Hayduke said...

Anon: Please read again what I said, and try to put aside you biases.

I want a healthy natural environment as much if not more than you do. We just see different paths to getting there. But we also start from different places.

You see the current situation as not bad, whereas I see it as awful. Everyday our streams, habitats and open spaces degrade more and more, with new development playing no role whatsoever in this decline. As I said, setting aside a few patches of grass, desperately working to save a few 30-year-old trees will do nothing to improve the declining situation. Active, innovative interventions intetwined with a smarter approach to both preservation and development are our best hopes.

PZ Guru: You should focus more on showing rather than telling.

pzguru said...

Huh?

Anonymous said...

Biases? What biases?

I've reread your contributions on this discussion, understanding them the same as the first read. Your point?

"You see the current situation as not bad, whereas I see it as awful."

Au contraire, mon frère moins vert. If you think I perceive the status quo as acceptable, I don't. We regularly fall short of the General Plan goals for environmental improvements. Our regulations and their enforcement aren't sufficiently safeguarding our environment and we all suffer.

Are you referring to the current environmental situation? If so, I am finding your comments to be less than clear as to how proposing Town Center to lose greenspace to plop in more development, density, traffic and red lights, and pollution (runoff, light, noise, air) will improve the environmental situation and would welcome your elaboration.

"Everyday our streams, habitats and open spaces degrade more and more, with new development playing no role whatsoever in this decline."

New development does indeed play a significant role in this decline, creating additional polluting runoff into our streams, transgressing into riparian and wetland areas, decimating habitat, and consuming open space.

"As I said, setting aside a few patches of grass, desperately working to save a few 30-year-old trees will do nothing to improve the declining situation."

"Put a few patches of grass together" (and we are talking about much larger areas and much more biodiverse areas, too), "desperately working to save a few 30-year-old trees" (again it is really more than a few, unless your lexicon equates few and hundreds, and many, many of them are much older than 30 years with magnificent canopies) and these areas, combined with others (as has been recommended in previous and current County General Plans) will maintain and create new greenways and wildlife movement corridors necessary for some residents' existence and other residents' souls.

"Active, innovative interventions intertwined with a smarter approach to both preservation and development are our best hopes."

Agreed, but truly not to be snide, I don't think we're there yet. There is considerable room for improvement in the plan. As it is, it's not the right direction. The transportation report was one clear indication of need for rethinking it.

Smarter approaches

Pretty much the first tenet of smart development is "Don't develop if you can redevelop." As pzguru mentioned, Baltimore has existing infrastructure. It also has a population that has declined dramatically each of the past five decades, I believe, so it has substantial existing vacant housing capacity. DC has seen similar population declines.

A bus terminal in the stream area at the southern end of South Entrance Road? Who's proposing this? We do have regulations that prohibit disturbing such areas, don't we? A bus terminal shouldn't be put in greenspace, especially greenspace of higher environmental value in or adjacent to stream buffers.

Why put a bus terminal so far from where people live or park? Is anyone aware of the rationale?

Instead, if a bus terminal is needed, the County should consider striking a deal with GGP for a portion of the Mall parking lot (redevelop) and put in a multilevel parking garage (with a green roof of course) with the bus terminal at the bottom. After all, the Mall is an employment center, the hub of the County bus network, and a place to which many people travel.

That could be a win-win for the County and GGP, sharing the costs of a parking structure and GGP gets more Mall patronage as a result, too.

A bus terminal is a low-impact (as in it won't take that many cars off the road) improvement, but worthwhile until much greener transit systems are built.

Midpoint apology for my longwindedness - Sorry. On to Jessie's contributions -

"Surface-thinking suburbanites see grass and a little clumping of trees in their neighborhoods, and say, 'Aaaah, nature.' They foolishly lull themselves into thinking that because a couple of birds and squirrels are outside their backyard that they are 'preserving nature.'"

Are we really fools for sharing land with many other species? There's a lot more habitat and biodiversity in Columbia than your comment implies. And much of Columbia's thoughtfully planned open space interconnectedness has respected streams, wetlands, and their buffers, resulting in allowing biodiversity to hold on in many areas throughout.

We are considering a lot more than a couple of birds and squirrels, but even if it was just a couple birds and squirrels, they, too, deserve to live here. I hope you share that belief.

"Suburban sprawl, particularly what is happening in Howard County as the demand for housing pushes outward into fringe once-rural land, is one of the most ecologically deleterious choices a community can make. Columbians, individually or collectively, wishing to "be green" and standing for sustainable development, should support creating AREAS of denser housing and commercial activity. With, of course, upgraded infrastructure to support these areas."

Ok, your starting comments were probably more intended to lead up to this point that putting people in dense cities allows preserving outlying areas. But, is that really what's being offered in this case? I don't see anyone buying land in the western part of the County or anywhere else saying they'll set that greenspace aside in concert with building more densely than planned in Columbia. Instead, some interests are asking for tilting the scales of Columbia's developed vs. natural balance with no direct remedy for the lost greenspace and environmental impacts that result.

I am detecting some echo chamber effect in this discussion, several parties providing the awkwardly juxtaposed argument that we have to develop to preserve. And then the paperwork details the development part, but where's the detailing of the preserve part?

I do infer from your comments above, however, that you are in favor of promoting redevelopment of denser, already infrastructure-equipped areas such as Baltimore and DC instead of this round of internal sprawl that would consume Columbia's green heart.

pzguru said...

Hayduke - are you TELLING me something or showing me something?

Why do you think development does not address anything? Between forest conservation, which has been in effect for 15 years, and stormwater management regulations, which have been in effect just as long or slightly longer, development that occurred in the last 20 years has been much more environmentally conscientious.

Things are not as bad as you make them out to be.