31 January 2007

Thinking Outside the Box, Carroll County Style

Over the past few days, I have had neither the clarity to write nor strength to type. However, I have had the ability to surf. In my virtual travels, I made my way to the Eldersburg Today blog. A recent post caught my eye, in that it references an article in the Carroll County section of the Baltimore Sun . The article, written by Laura McCandlish, details a proposal from Carroll County Commissioner Michael D. Zimmer:
"Carroll County's newest commissioner proposed an elaborate and expensive project yesterday to bring a federal highway to the rural area by extending U.S. 29 from Howard County and building an artery that would bisect Carroll and include bypasses of Westminster and Taneytown."
"Though Zimmer's new plan would develop U.S. 29 along existing roads, outfitting those routes for high-volume traffic and building bypasses could easily cost billions of dollars, according to state highway engineer David Coyne."

What I get from the article is that if roads are renamed as Route 29, a U.S. highway, federal funds for expansion would be somehow easier to obtain (quick note, check the graphic on the right hand side of the page of the Baltimore Sun article). The following passage from the story is telling:
"The federal government has a wonderful thing called 'earmarking' on transportation bills," Steven D. Powell, the commissioners' chief of staff, said yesterday. "This has incredible potential to open up economic development for us."

Now, I am not sure if this is the best idea with the current mood in Washington, but more to the point, does anyone think this is a good idea?

30 January 2007

Elvis is Dead, the Hubble is Blind, and I don't feel too good either.

I am getting over a bout with the flu and have not had the strength to do much of anything. I will be back up again soon.


22 January 2007

A Pro-City Rouse

There has been a lot of discussion of late about what James Rouse had envisioned for this community. Recently, I came across a 1977 interview of James Rouse in the Columbia Flier. In this article, Mr. Rouse states:

“What Columbia stands for, he observes, is that “the accommodation of urban growth can be a rational process.”

Later in the article, reporter Len Lazarick writes:

“The planning began in 1963, and according to a speech by Rouse in 1967, four main objectives were set: (1) to build a better city – not just a better suburb, but a complete new city; (2) to respect the land; (3) to provide the best possible environment for the growth of people; (4) to make a profit.”

“From his work, he [Rouse] concluded that ‘the problem of the city and the problem of the suburbs was one of scale, of absence of place, of absence of physical for of community which could allow community to unfold among people.’ ”

At this time in Columbia’s history, Mr. Rouse was not the only official in the Rouse Company speaking about downtown Columbia. In a 1978 Columbia Flier article, then General Manager of Howard Research and Development Corporation, Michael D. Spear (as in the Spear Center) said:

“He [Spear] noted that in Columbia’s town center, which includes all the land east of Governor Warfield Parkway to Route 29, only about 1.5 million square feet of office and commercial space has been built, and 6 or 7 million square feet is planned. “You’re not even a quarter developed,” he pointed out.”

Just a few months later, Alton Scavo, the Director of Design for Howard Research and Development Corporation, was quoted in the same paper saying:

“Downtown Columbia is meant to be a true downtown – not just the heart of Columbia, but the urban hub for a real city between Washington and Baltimore.”

A few years later, Morton Hoppenfeld, the man for whom “the hug” statue is dedicated, reflected on Columbia Town Center in the publication Little Patuxent Review. In this article, Mr. Hoppenfeld states:

“Allow me to list for you some of the ingredients necessary to attain the downtown we would all enjoy in Columbia:

…Downtown needs apartments and condos: At high density within walking distance – on top of things like shops and offices. This is hard to accomplish, but HRD knows how. They may need help with zoning.”

Having grown up in Columbia, I know that not all these men were held in the same high regard as Mr. Rouse, but in this relatively short period of time, we find all of them describing downtown in the same way: An accommodation of urban growth, a city – not just a suburb, at high density, an urban hub.

Keep in mind, I am not advocating for downtown Columbia to become Shanghai, but we should look a little harder at what Rouse, and those employed by Rouse, had to say about downtown.

17 January 2007

An Honest Mistake (possibly)

Just like Hayduke and Evan, I have been going over “the coalition’s” position paper. I have much to comment on, both good (actually, really good) and bad. To get things started, I wanted to point out what may be an oversight, wishful thinking, or just bad research.

Paragraph two of the introduction (page 5), “the coalition” states:

Day One of the Charrette began with citizens spontaneously and overwhelmingly affirming the values that guided Columbia’s designers - and that have made this area what Money magazine has called, “the best place to live east of the Mississippi.”

The Money magazine reference is not sourced (which is a big problem, not only here but throughout the paper), so I assume “the coalition” is referencing the Money magazine article in which Columbia and Ellicott City were collectively named as the 4th best city. I do not have the hardcopy issue of the Money magazine article, but the Money magazine webpage associated with the city rankings makes no reference for Columbia or Ellicott City being “the best place to live east of the Mississippi. Moreover, a review of the list of “best cities” reveals that the city ranked No. 2, Naperville, IL is located here:


I would think that the fine, studious folks over at “the coalition” would vet their claims before publishing. I am hoping it is an oversight, and that a rough draft was mistakenly published. Otherwise, I am at a loss for why this error occurred. I can only wonder what “the coalition” response would be “the county” published an error of such magnitude.

13 January 2007

Wanted: Why did you move here?

Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class, is now looking for stories from people as to why they moved to a particular city, and what they have found since moving to the location. I came across this item on the blog Buffalo Rising via the Planetizen website. From Mr. Florida's website:

See, this book is about how people pick the places they live and why that's the single most important decision they'll ever make. It's a book for you, any of you, wondering about all the different options out there. Here's is what I'd like for you to do:

Tell me about the place you live. Why did you pick your city or region? How did you go about picking it - what was your strategy? What other kinds of places did you look at? How has that choice affected the rest of your life? Your job or career? Friends, family, or romantic interests? Fulfillment and fun? Real estate jackpots or money pits? Would you do it differently next time? What cities and regions are on your radar for the future and why?

That's it. 100 or 200 words, on any or all of those subjects. 300-500 words could be even better.

I encourage everyone who reads this blog to check out the Buffalo Rising blog, and click on the Who’s Your City link. For those who are too shy to submit anything to Mr. Florida, I would like to know: Why did you move here?

12 January 2007

Serendipitous Placeholder

I intend to write more about this later, but I wanted to put this out there for initial comment.

I attended the final General Growth Properties sponsored “Voices of Vision”. The guest lecturer was Adam Lerner, Executive Director of The Laboratory of Art and Ideas at Belmar. His presentation began with a brief discussion of how Belmar was developed in the city of Lakewood, Colorado (Belmar is Lakewood, Colorado’s downtown district). The second half of his lecture focused on the arts activities going on in Belmar. Mr. Lerner is certainly a very creative person and presented some programs that I (without a doubt) would like to attend. What I found particularly interesting was the Q&A after the lecture. One exchange I would like to share (and I transcribed this as best I could, so please forgive any inaccuracies) was the following:

Mr. Lerner was asked if tall buildings are appropriate in a downtown and what was the definition of human scale. Mr. Lerner responded that there was no hard and fast rule regarding human scale, that towers (tall buildings) were not necessarily out of hand, and it really depends on the context. He also remarked that he had not seen the plans for the proposed Plaza Tower for downtown Columbia, and wondered if the tower brought life to the area or did it suck? After a brief pause, he amended his remark to ask if the tower sucked life out of the area. Would people who lived in the tower be brought to the street level, or would they just drive their cars to and from the tower and not interact with the city? I had a chance to chat briefly with my social acquaintance, Guilford, after the lecture. When I asked him what he thought, he remarked, “I know what the headline will be tomorrow, ‘Plaza Tower Sucks’.” Regrettably, I don’t think he got the full meaning of Mr. Lerner’s statement.

And on This Side of the Mississippi

As fate would have it, the regionally located (Washington, DC) Urban Places and Spaces blog had a post yesterday about arts-based revitalization. The blog post relates some regional arts revitalization efforts going on and provides plenty of links to other arts-based efforts. It is certainly worth reading.

As I said, I will post more on this later. It was a really great lecture. Anyone else that attended, please post your thoughts. In addition, I would like to hear what people thought of the entire lecture series.

07 January 2007

Wanted: More Palm Trees and Brown Tile?

On Thursday morning (1/4/07), Douglas Godine, the GGP Vice President and General Manager of Columbia, spoke at the State of Columbia Luncheon, sponsored by the Columbia Business Exchange. At this luncheon, he announced plans for expanding the Mall in Columbia. It is way too early to tell what this announcement really means, but it does show some initial similarities to a General Growth Properties project at Natick Mall

Although this announcement is not a complete surprise, it is disappointing. Over the last 18-months, GGP had appeared to be embracing mixed use, evidenced by the hiring of Tom D’Alesandro and a prominent presence at the Mixed Use Conference in November. This announcement of mall expansion is, in my opinion, a step backward.

The details of the announcement were well reported by Tyrone Richardson in an article that appeared in the Sunday, January 7, 2007 edition of the Baltimore Sun.

The Mall in Columbia needs to expand again as plans to redevelop Town Center move forward, according to Douglas M. Godine, vice president and general manager of General Growth Properties Inc., the primary landowner and developer of the city.

"The demand is much greater than the supply, and we want to protect our interests here in Columbia and keep those retailers that may be looking elsewhere and who want to come to Columbia. But we don't have the space for them," Godine said.
"We are addressing how we can expand the mall to add retail shops, and that will take a long period of time, but we are confident that we will get there," he said.
A spokesman for General Growth said the mall has 1.4 million square feet of retail space. Its last expansion was in 2004, when a movie theater, a row of restaurants and an L.L. Bean store were added.

Godine declined to give details of the expansion plans, but he said they will be included in the GGP downtown Columbia plan, which is expected to be unveiled in April.

The project is to include "green" architecture, affordable housing and arts and culture, Godine said during Thursday's annual State of Columbia Luncheon, sponsored by the Columbia Business Exchange.

"Our plan will address some of the important issues that will affect the way people live here," Godine told the audience of about 100 business owners and policymakers.

I also have to question why this article appeared on Sunday. This luncheon was on Thursday morning. I cannot believe that it took three days to get the story in print. What has happened to timely reporting?

Lastly, as we all know, the mall has been expanded a few times. Back in 1978, the first time mall expansion was discussed, HRD officials openly talked about the need to construct a flyover at the Governor Warfield Parkway/Little Patuxent Parkway intersection. Here are a few quotes from the June 15, 1972 edition of the Columbia Flier (page 12). The article was written by Tom Graham:

County officials are planning interim measures to reduce traffic congestion at an intersection in downtown Columbia because the new town’s developer has postponed a million-dollar permanent solution to the problem.

Three years ago, a Howard Research and Development Corp (HRD) official informed local agencies that the developer’s 1973 promise to improve the intersection by late 1976 would be delayed. HRD said the project, an elevated ramp to connect Governor Warfield Parkway and Little Patuxent Parkway near the Mall, would be “deferred until 1978 or later…if development” in downtown Columbia “is delayed.”

Since that time, HRD vice president Douglas A McGregor said this week, plans for new buildings downtown have not been realized, and “we just don’t think it’s necessary to do it today.”

“We acknowledge the responsibility to construct that flyover,” McGregor said, but “it ought to be tied to the opening of the Mall expansion” or some other major building project that wil generate additional traffic in the area.

So thirty years ago, we had a Douglas acknowledge responsibility for building a flyover at GWP/LPP, hopefully the Douglas in charge of development today can follow through.

05 January 2007

Could CA be Considered a Government?

Are homeowner’s associations private corporations, “government agents,” or “state actors?” This question was put before the New Jersey Supreme Court yesterday morning. The case involves the Twin Rivers Homeowner’s Association and the ability of community residents to put up elections signs on their property. I first heard about this case yesterday morning on WYPR. During NPR’s Morning Edition newsmagazine, reporter Nancy Solomon described basis of the case .

The Newark Star Ledger provides a detailed written account of the story:

The legal dispute began in 2000 when a group of homeowners sued in state court, claiming they were being deprived of free speech and assembly. They said the association's rules allowed political signs only in obscure and isolated locations not easy to see; people who were not part of the association's board or committees were not given the same access to the community room and had to pay; and access to the community newsletter was not equal.

Initially, a trial court judge rejected their claims and agreed with the Twin Rivers Homeowners Association. The Mercer County judge ruled the dissident residents had agreed to the conditions when they purchased their properties.

However, in February 2006, a unanimous appeals court overturned the decision, ruling the state Constitution should apply. That decision -- the first of its kind in the country -- set the stage for the current showdown.

Summarizing the Plaintiff position:

Lawyers for the residents argue that just as shopping malls have become the new town squares, these complexes essentially act as towns. And just as municipalities must respect residents' constitutional rights, so should these associations. Otherwise, people become disenfranchised, said the ACLU's Barocas.

And the homeowner’s association position:

Lawyers for the association said unlike malls and private universities, developments like Twin Rivers are private -- even if they provide some services a town might -- since members of the public aren't invited to the grounds on a regular basis.

The dispute here is among private residents with the private board, and doesn't involve the public, said Goodman.

And in summation:

The Supreme Court's ruling is expected to reverberate around the country, helping to shape the way associations function and to determine what rights they grant in the future, experts say.

And just to make things interesting, there is a local resident activist group involved:

The state Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in a case in which the Committee For A Better Twin Rivers -- a handful of residents, including Bar-Akiva's husband -- has challenged the power of the Twin Rivers Homeowners' Association, saying certain constitutional rights trump certain association rules.

Committee for a Better Twin Rivers – Co Fo Be Tw Ri?

Anyway, their information can be found at this ACLU website.

So how could this affect Howard County and Columbia? If this case sets precedent, the way that CA and the Village Associations (and other condo and townhouse associations) set their rules will be dramatically changed. State actors (like municipalities and county governments) must demonstrate that restricting rights is in the best interest of preserving social order. The bar is much lower for private corporations (like homeowner’s associations).