31 January 2008

Super Sunday vs. Super Tuesday

Well, the dual colossus is upon us. Super Bowl Sunday and the political cousin Super (some say Tsunami) Tuesday. Both these events could have millions glued to their TV sets for hours at a time. So now is the time to prepare.


Any favorite snacks and/or beverage suggestions? Which will hold over between the two events? Chex mix comes to mind. Does one fire up the grill for either occasion?

Places and Spaces

Are there any good house parties scheduled for either event? Does anyone know of a good pub for Sunday? Tuesday?


Will there be any high-concept commercials developed specially for broadcast on MSNBC, FoxNews, and CNN?

I’m certain of PBS coverage on Tuesday, but will they send Bill Moyers to Arizona this weekend?

What will the halftime show on Tuesday look like?

Your thoughts on either event, or both, are welcomed and encouraged.

30 January 2008

Inflated Expectations

In the lead-up to General Growth Properties regional vice president Greg Hamm’s first public meeting with the CA Board of directors, the following was posted on the Chicago-based Baltimore Sun's website Explore Howard (23JAN08):

Although officials of the Chicago-based General Growth are working with a team of planners and architects to create a 30-year master plan for the redevelopment of downtown Columbia, Hamm will not make any specific presentation to the board on the emerging plan, according to CA officials.

However, the board is interested in learning from Hamm how the two organizations can work together on planning downtown’s future, said Barbara Russell, the board’s chairwoman, who represents Oakland Mills.

“The whole board wants to talk to General Growth about downtown and any plans they have that would involve (CA) land,” Russell said.

It is also important to note a similar press release was on the CA website, but has since been removed.

In reading June Arney’s report today (Hamm visits association board meeting – Members would have liked more information but appreciate first appearance by Columbia manager), I was puzzled by the following quote from CA Board member Phil Kirsch (WL):

"I thought it went all right for the first meeting," said Philip W. Kirsch, vice chairman of the board. "We were happy to see him. It would have been nice if he would have come with a few more details of what he wanted to talk with us about."

I am uncertain what details board member Kirsch was referencing. Although I arrived a little late, I attended the board meeting last week. Even after my arrival, it was clear that there had been a discussion of a watershed plan (Full Disclosure Notice: I am a member of the CA Watershed Resident Advisory Committee). This topic, at least in my mind, does reflect the expectations of the press release that preceded the meeting, considering that a good portion of the land that CA owns in downtown is under water.

With regard to detail, it seems that scheduling handcuffed any further discussion of watershed issues. Later that same night, the CA Board of Directors was scheduled to approve the Watershed Residents Advisory Committee charter. They were also scheduled to discuss two different letters (here and here) welcoming Mr. Hamm to Columbia.

I also find it interesting that during the Q&A portion of the discussion with Greg Hamm, no CA Board member specifically asked for more detail on downtown.

The inflated expectations of the evening spilled over to others present at the meeting. The Alliance for a Better Columbia President Alex Hekimian was quoted as saying:

"I think people were expecting more information than they got," he said. "There have been a lot of private meetings, and those people have gotten a lot more information than was available in public sessions. That's troubling. If the information was good enough for the private groups, why isn't it good enough for the public session?"

I always get concerned when Mr. Hekimian speaks in generalities. I am not sure which “people” he is talking about. I cannot understand how he (or the aforementioned “people”) could get confused by “Hamm will not make any specific presentation to the board on the emerging plan, according to CA officials.”

I am also uncertain as to how Mr. Hekimian can quantify what information was disseminated at the so-called private meetings. How many of these private meetings did Mr. Hekimian attend? If he has been to these meetings, why has he chosen to remain silent all these weeks?

In summary, I am concerned that “CA officials” state in a press release before the meeting that “no specific presentation” was to be made and CA Board Chair Barbara Russell (OM) states that the discussion will focus on how the two organizations can work together. Then after the meeting the Vice-Chair (Kirsch – WL) states that there was not enough detail. This is followed up by an officer of a local watchdog group stating that there was an expectation of more information, and an assertion that information was purposely kept from the meeting. If I were to give in to my cynical side, I would call that sandbagging.

28 January 2008

A Rhetorical Shotgun Blast

A recent post on the Hometown Columbia blog revealed an email circulating throughout the county. For the sake of discussion, the email is reproduced below:

As many of you know developers like GGP are gaining an
increasingly larger control over development in
Columbia, while Howard County Officials and the County
Council have turned a blind eye.
The County Planning Director and her staff have
recently approved several traffic studies that have
mistakes or are simply inaccurate. And even though
county planning staff admitted in internal documents
that the traffic study for the controversial Wegmans
big-box grocery store on Snowden River Pkwy had errors
in it, they refuse to demand a new study from the
 developer. It is no surprise that the county is
 siding with the developer, since it was GGP that
advocated for changing the zoning at this property.
Now GGP will wants us to accept and believe their
traffic studies for downtown Columbia when they won’t
even stand up and ensure that an accurate traffic
study is used on the Wegmans site. Regardless if you
support the proposed grocery store or not, we must all
demand that the county planning staff require honest 
traffic studies and accurate development plans. They
work for us, not GGP and other developers.
Please email or call - Barbara Nicklas and Gregory
Hamm at GGP and ask them to support accurate traffic
studies for downtown Columbia.
Barbara Nicklas - barbara.nicklas@ggp.com (410)
Gregory Hamm - Gregory.Hamm@ggp.com
Be sure to include County Executive Ken Ulman’s Chief
of Staff, Aaron Greenfield, so the County knows that
residents are getting tired of the County putting
developers first.
Aaron Greenfield - agreenfield@howardcountymd.gov
Please to forward this email to your friends and
neighbors who care about over development and the
growing traffic problem in Columbia. We have to speak
up or nothing will ever change.

From the first sentence, there is a demonstrated lack of history. When shareholders of the Rouse Company willingly voted to be acquired by General Growth Properties (GGP), the development of properties in Howard County also transferred. In the months preceding the sale to GGP, the Rouse Company was engaged in a proposal to develop downtown Columbia. As I see it, GGP has continued in the tradition of Columbia development that the Rouse Company started over 40 years ago.

The assertion that the county has turned a blind eye to Columbia development is equally void. Since the turn of the century, the county has been actively engaged in the development process. It was a County Councilperson that initiated the changes in downtown Columbia to encourage mixed use. The county chartered a committee to look at Merriweather Post Pavilion’s viability. The county funded and sponsored the Charrette. The county worked hard to keep big box stores out of downtown. The county brought forth legislation to limit building heights in downtown Columbia. Sounds to me like the county has been pretty involved.

In the second paragraph, there is a reference to “several” traffic studies. Could these be named? Why not stipulate the number of traffic studies that are known to have mistakes? Why hide behind vagaries? In addition, what is the character of these “mistakes” and inaccuracies?” Are these pagination errors? Number transposition errors? What are the specifics? Do these errors amount to real concern? Said a different way, are these errors (in these “several” traffic studies) large enough to change the level of service in the study area?

The last sentence in the second paragraph marks the departure point from reality.

It is no surprise that the county is
 siding with the developer, since it was GGP that
 advocated for changing the zoning at this property.

A little history lesson for the author of the email: It is written in the Howard County Zoning Regulations that the Rouse Company (or its successor) is the only party that can ask the county to change any zoning in the New Town District. Before being acquired by GGP, it became known that the Rouse Company would charge companies money to make the request for a change. In fact, the Rouse Company had created a plan in which it would sell “development units” to future developers if it had gotten the density in Columbia changed.

This left a bad taste in many people’s mouths (myself included). Recently, a task force of Columbians sought to review New Town Zoning and made several recommendations. The chair of this task force was (to the best of my knowledge) Owen Brown resident (and Owen Brown Village Board Chair) Andy Stack. I believe Andy’s participation on the task force was as a resident of Columbia and not in his capacity as OBVB Chair.

Regardless, Andy has been a community leader since (I believe) I was in high school (Hammond, Class of 1984), and this task force recommended that GGP be taken completely out of the New Town process. Now, given the public backlash against the development unit scheme, and the New Town Zoning Task Force recommendation to remove GGP from the process (Executive Summary, Recommendation 3). GGP appears to have taken the position that if someone is looking for a change in a Final Development Plan, they are willing to fulfill their obligation to initiate the process. There is no evidence that GGP receives any benefit from this process and there is no evidence to suggest that GGP played any significant role in bringing Wegmans to Columbia. There is evidence that Wegmans has been talking to the property owner, Science Fiction, for some time.

Moreover, the change sought at the Wegmans sight was not a change in zoning. The land is still zoned for industrial use. The change sought was to amend the FDP such that a permitted use on the industrial land site was to include a large grocery store. These are two distinctly separate actions.

This half-baked logic continues on to the next paragraph in which the email states that:

Now GGP will wants us to accept and believe their 
traffic studies for downtown Columbia when they won’t
even stand up and ensure that an accurate traffic
study is used on the Wegmans site.

Not to belabor the point, but a review of recent history helps to clarify the issue. GGP did a traffic study for downtown Columbia in 2005 (Wells & Associates). The county then commissioned a second traffic study in 2006 (Glatting Jackson), and then commissioned a third traffic study in 2007 (Sabra Wang). So GGP and the county have commissioned three different reports, from three different firms, in three successive years regarding traffic in downtown. I have no supporting evidence, but it may well be that downtown Columbia traffic has been the most studied traffic area in the State of Maryland over the last five years.

I would like to close by saying that for all the flaws, I admire the folks who are sending this email around. That being said, the vagaries, inconsistencies, and lack of knowledge of history greatly diminish the impact of this letter. When it comes to trying to effect change, a lucid, rational argument will carry the day. Banging drums only makes noise. It is my hope that those at the county realize the distinction. If you agree with me, please contact the county and please tell them to ignore the noise.

Traffic Update

Merely a data point, no need to look too deep here; however, I was taking my son to a doctor appointment this morning (about 8:40 AM), and had to drive through downtown Columbia. We were traveling along Little Patuxent Parkway, southbound between Sterrett Place and the Howard County Central Library, and half the lanes were blocked due to road construction.

For a moment I held my breath. Here we were in downtown Columbia, during rush hour, and half the lanes were blocked. Would we make it to the doctor on time? Turns out, there was no delay, traffic flowed without hesitation (even with the 50% lane restriction).

Driving back through the area (in the opposite direction) at about 10:30 AM, the lanes were still closed (one lane through) and there was no backup.

Has anyone else experienced free flowing traffic in downtown Columbia?

24 January 2008

Now You Can Hear “It Could Happen Here”

I recently came across a library of audio recordings on the web which has all of the featured speakers at the 1963 “Metropolitan Future Conference on the Metropolitan Future” from Berkeley, California. This conference is where James Rouse gave the “It Could Happen Here” speech.

Here is the link . Getting to the audio file takes a little bit of work, the conference audio files are pretty far down the page. You can scroll down until the scroll bar is about an inch off the bottom of the screen, and you will come upon the following:

The Metropolitan Future Conference on the Metropolitan Future ]1963 :
Berkeley, Calif.]).
Recorded on September 26, 1963 in the Peacock Court of the Mark Hopkins Hotel, San Francisco and on September 27, 1963 in Pauley Ballroom, Student Union, University of California, Berkeley.

There are 11 numbered files that follow, Jim Rouse can be heard on file 4:

4. The good environment--Introduction / by William M. Roth--Lessons from modern urban design / by Steen Eiler Rasmussen--The private developer / by James W.

Another quick way to find it on the page is to use the “Find” function in Microsoft Explorer (Control-F). Search for the term “Peacock”

Note: Audio files are in the RealAudio format and require a RealAudio player, the player can be downloaded for free online.

22 January 2008

Sun of a Son of a Sailor

Today’s post comes from my son. We were talking the other day, and he asked me “Daddy, what house is the sun house in Columbia?” Intrigued, I pushed for more info, “What is a sun house?” “The sun house” he replied, “is the first house that sees the sun in the morning.”

Beyond the “Where does a four-year-old get this” line of questioning running in the back of my brain, I think it’s a pretty cool question. What house in Columbia sees the sun first? An obvious start would be in the Eastern half of the city. Given the topography, most of Kings Contrivance is in the Patuxent River stream valley. The ridge of the Owen Brown neighborhood of Hopewell is a good prospect, as well as the Eastern parts of Long Reach (Kendall Ridge and Snowden Overlook).

The Spring Equinox is coming up pretty soon, which I think would be a good date to mark the path of the sun (as well as the autumn equinox and the solstices). Is anyone willing to do some pre-dawn excursions with me in March?

21 January 2008

The Dimension of Scale

Over the past year, much has been made about downtown and “human scale.” This discussion of human scale is often in the context of building height. As many know, James Rouse is known for criticizing other communities (both cities and suburbs) for being out of scale with people. This post provides the background information to determine the context of Rouse’s comments and how he viewed scale. This research was first spurred on by a post on the Tales of Two Cities blog and Wordbones longtime friend Jim Binckley.

The following excerpts were taken from four speeches made by James Rouse at Berkeley, California (1963), Chicago, Illinois (1965), before Congress (1966), and in San Juan, Puerto Rico (1967). These speeches are important because of their place in Columbia’s history. In each instance, James Rouse discusses scale as it relates to people.

The first excerpt of the speech comes from the James Rouse speech “It Could Happen Here.”

I believe that many of the most serious problems of our society flow from the fact that the city is out of scale with people; that it is too big for people to comprehend; to feel a part of; to feel responsible for; to feel important in. I believe this out-of-scaleness promotes loneliness, irresponsibility, superficial values.

A Paper on Metropolitan Growth
By James W. Rouse
at Conference on The Metropolitan Future
University of California at Berkeley
September 23, 1963

Here, the term scale is introduced, but it is more aligned with feelings (loneliness) and social capital (to feel a part of) than any particular dimension or entity within a city. By this time, Rouse has already purchased most of the land in Howard County for Columbia, and within six weeks (November 1963), will have brought together the work group.

From Berkeley, we move on to Chicago, Illinois in the spring of 1965. During the intervening months between Berkeley and Chicago, James Rouse has been busy in Howard County. The work group has come and gone, he has presented his intentions to the Howard County Commissioners, and has worked with county officials for a year to get the zoning for Columbia.

At Chicaco, James Rouse spoke to a different audience. Rather than a conference on growth, this speech was presented to “The Annual Honor Awards Luncheon of the Chicago Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Chicago Chapter of the American Institute of Architects,” at a time when the John Hancock Center was approved for construction. This building has 100 floors and rises 1,127 feet in the air. Commenting on the building, Rouse said:

Of more immediate interest to all of us is this recent manifestation of happy wedlock between good business and good architecture – The John Hancock Center. So contagious is the Chicago spirit that it has infested a Washington developer, an international architectural firm, and, most important, a great New England life insurance company to bring to your city a new landmark that may well become one of America’s greatest buildings.

Later in the speech, Rouse comes back to Columbia, and the issue of scale:

Forgive this amateur excursion into architectural philosophy – this audience and this platform produced a temptation that was irresistible. I was invited to talk about the City and the City I know best is Columbia – one that doesn’t even exist, but which has already brought to those of us who are working towards it, experiences and hopes we yearn to share.

We were drawn to the idea of building a City by our intensive involvement in suburban sprawl. As mortgage bankers and developers, we have financed for others or built for our own account most of the components of a City – but they have been splattered over the countryside in the unrelated bits and pieces that mark the accidental, fractured growth of our cities.

We have seen, as has each of you, the desperate need for comprehensive planning in metropolitan growth. We have made speeches about the loneliness and sterility of stratified, incomplete suburban sprawl and pleaded for communities in scale with people and responsive to the need for beauty, space, nature, culture, education, entertainment, and involvement. We have mourned the annihilation of streams and forests; cursed the bulldozer; fretted over the lack of mass transit and wrung our hands in despair as our cities surge toward the infinite Los Angeles that we have come to call Megalopolis.

April 8, 1965 – Chicago, Illinois
Great Cities for a Great Society
The Annual Honor Awards Luncheon of the Chicago Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Chicago Chapter of the American Institute of Architects

Here, we find an expansion on the subject of scale and its relation to sprawl. Beyond the feelings and social capital, aspects of nature, mass transit, and civic purposes (education, culture, entertainment) are introduced. Moreover, scale is related to an “infinite” Los Angeles and Megalopolis. Even in the 1960’s, with the John Hancock building in Chicago and the World Trade Center in New York under construction, I do not believe the reference to infinite was in a vertical sense. Los Angeles is known for expanding far and wide across the California countryside. Similarly, the term Megalopolis refers to the merging of distant cities.

From 1965 Chicago, we move to Washington DC in 1966. During this year, James Rouse testified before Congress in support of the New Communities Section, Title II of the Housing Bill. The following quote comes from a paper written by Morton Hoppenfeld, “The Columbia Process – The Potential for New Towns,”

The following statement by James W. Rouse, the founder of Columbia, before a committee of Congress in support of the New Communities Section, Title II of the Housing Bill for 1966, expresses a real personal commitment on the part of the principal decision-maker in the effort to build a better city; his values are shared by the entire Columbia staff.‘

Our cities grow by accident, by the whim of the private developer and public…By this irrational process, non-communities are born – formless places, without order, beauty or reason, with no visible respect for people or the land…The vast formless spread of housing, pierced by the unrelated spotting of schools, churches, stores, creates areas so huge and irrational that they are out of scale with people – beyond their grasp and comprehension – too big for people to feel a part of, responsible for, important in…

From “The Columbia Process – The Potential for New Towns,” page 3,by Morton Hoppenfeld. The Garden City Press Limited, Letchworth Hertfordshire, England

Here we see a further evolution of the term scale. Scale is unequivocally equated with “the vast formless spread of housing.” Without question, Rouse has now identified development over large areas as the dimension of scale.

The final speech looked at here is the speech “Cities that Work for Man – Victory Ahead.” This speech was delivered in San Juan, Puerto Rico at the Lions International/University of Puerto Rico Symposium on “the City of the Future.”

[t]he bits and pieces of a city are splattered across the landscape. By this irrational process, non-communities are born – formless places without order, beauty or reason with no visible respect for people or the land. Thousands o’ small separate decisions made with little or no relationship to one another, nor their composite impact, produce a major decision about the future of our cities and our civilization – a decision we have come to label suburban sprawl. What nonsense this is! What reckless, irresponsible dissipation of nature’s endowment and of man’s hope for dignity, beauty, growth.

Sprawl is inefficient. It stretches out the distances people must travel to work, to shop, to worship, to play. It fails to relate these activities in ways the strengthen each and, thus, it suppresses values that orderly relationships and concentration of uses would stimulate.

Sprawl is ugly, oppressive, massively dull. It squanders the resources of nature – forests, streams, hillsides – and produces vast, monotonous armies of housing and graceless, tasteless clutter.

But worst of all, sprawl is inhuman. It is anti-human. The vast formless spread of housing pierced by the unrelated spotting of schools, churches, stores, creates areas so huge and irrational that they are out of scale with people – beyond their grasp and comprehension – too big for people to feel a part of, responsible for, important in.

[and later in the speech]

Sprawl is thought to be better than slum because it is greener, cleaner and less crowded. We accept the deficits of non-community; the scatterization of facilities, the frantic, fractured living, the loneliness amidst busyness, the rising delinquency among middle-class children, increasing neurosis, alcoholism, divorce; the destruction of nature and the dull monotonous man-made replacement. We accept it all as if it were a pre-ordained way of life beyond our capacity to significantly influence, shape or control. Lacking images of urban growth in communities that are in human scale and sensitive to both man and nature, we take what the developer gives us and we think we have to like it.

Cities that Work for Man – Victory Ahead
The Lions International/University of Puerto Rico Symposium on “The City of the Future”
San Juan, Puerto Rico
October 18, 1967

It is in this speech when it all comes together. James Rouse directly links “scale with people” with sprawl. The reference to loneliness recalls Berkeley. The reference to nature brings to memory Chicago.

What we do not find is any reference to scale and building height. It may well be that at sometime in future history a document may surface that spells out James Rouse’s position on height, but for now there should be little doubt that Rouse equated scale and sprawl, not height.

15 January 2008

New Towns, New Friends


Greenbelt Museum Curator Jill St. John (left) and
Education Coordinator Megan Searing Young

This evening, I went down to Greenbelt to attend a lecture on New Towns. The lecture was sponsored by the Greenbelt Museum and held at the Greenbelt Community Center. The Greenbelt Community Center is a converted elementary school. As I walked the halls, the center was busy with activities from basketball games to craft classes.

The lecture, entitled “New Towns,” consisted of a viewing of a WETA produced documentary called “New Towns” and a Q&A session. The lecture was well attended, with I would estimate 40 people in the audience. This included the Mayor of Greenbelt. Coffee and cookies were provided.

The documentary was a little less than an hour in length, and featured the New Towns of Greenbelt, MD, Columbia, MD, and Reston, VA. The documentary featured extensive interviews with James Rouse and Robert Simon (Reston). Topics of discussion included the basis for each new town, walkability, racial integration, and affordable housing.

Personal favorites of mine where black and white footage of Mort Hoppenfeld (and I believe Bob Tennenbaum), a discussion of how Greenbelt residents ultimately bought their town from the U.S. Government, and a great explanation of sculptures in downtown Reston by Robert Simon. He explained that the criteria stipulated to sculptors for downtown Reston was simple, the sculptures in downtown Reston had to give the public the ability to crawl/climb on them. The footage then showed a child crawling on a sculpture of a rowboat. It was pretty touching.

After the documentary, the chairs in the room were then rearranged in a circle for a discussion led by Greenbelt Museum curator Jill St. John. The first question asked was if there was anyone from Columbia or Reston. I put my hand up and said I was from Columbia. A man across the room from me then stated that he went to church in Columbia and that Columbia was built for adults and small children. He then went on to say that there was nothing for teenagers to do and that there was a high usage of drugs in Columbia. His third statement was that teenagers in Columbia lounge in million-dollar homes and want to do nothing more than live in the ghetto. Clearly, we were off to a good start. With all eyes on me, I (as best I could) calmly stated that I had moved to Columbia in 1972 and have experienced the city as a young child, a teenager, a young adult, and now as parent. I said that yes, there is a drug problem in Columbia, but it was my belief that the drug problem, specifically related to teenagers, was not any more prevalent than in any other community. I went on to say that when Columbia was founded, there was a teen center in Wilde Lake, and there is now one in Oakland Mills, and that there is an upcoming dance competition at the teen center.

I suppose if I had my wits about me, it would have been illustrative to ask what teen centered activities were available in Greenbelt, and could that be tied to a lack of drug use; however, I was not that quick on my feet. Maybe this could be a future collaborative point of discussion between Greenbelt and Columbia: “Keeping teens involved in New Towns.”

The next question came from a gentleman who referenced a point made in the documentary. In 1987, Greenbelt was in the process on upgrading a commercial center. An architect interviewed (I did not get his name, my apologies) said that he had heard from the community that gentrification was a concern. His quote was something along the lines of “This will not be a sushi, quiche, white wine crowd.” The gentleman in the discussion group asked “What is the white wine crowd doing in Columbia?” I responded by saying that as an integrated community, rich people need places to hang out too. I then followed up by saying that there are a variety of establishments for all types of people to shop and dine, and that one of the biggest concerns in Columbia was the loss of independent merchants and the prevalence of chain establishments. I mentioned that Bun Penny had recently closed, there were several audible gasps in the audience (note to the Ditters, if you are still reading the blogs, let me tell you, love for your shop runs wide and deep. Find a way to get the doors back open.)

The next question I got was about pedestrian access in Columbia. The question came from a very nice lady who had recently viewed a movie at the Snowden Square cinema. She then said that although restaurants were nearby, they felt that they had to drive to the restaurants.

The last question of the night came from Curator Jill St. John. She asked the group if New Towns where still relevant, and do people still want to move to New Towns. This question hung over the audience and remained largely unanswered. I believe this was probably the most important question of the evening. Maybe we can hold a seminar up here in Columbia, invite the Greenbelt faithful, and discuss in more detail.

In fact, I would hope we could have a Greenbelt contingent come up for the spring Bike About. I believe the Bike About would provide a better view of Columbia.

I hope I represented Columbia well.

In a battle between Leprechauns and Sorcerers, who wins?

Ok, forgive the Dungeons and Dragons title, but in the last 48 hours the Washington Wizards have defeated the Boston Celtics, twice. For those of us that are fans of the local professional basketball franchise, this is HUGE. The Boston Celtics currently hold the best record in the NBA, and at 30-6, one-third of their losses have been to the Washington Wizards. Conversely, the Washington Wizards have been forced to take on the role of scrappy contender after losing their sometimes starting center, Etan Thomas, to heart problems in the preseason and their high profile guard, Gilbert Arenas, to a knee injury.

The Wizards have spent the last two months playing a team basketball and have seen good results. This was displayed on Saturday, when the Wizards snapped the Boston Celtics' 10-game road winning streak in Washington and was affirmed when the Wizards traveled to Boston to win last night. To be fair, both contests were not showcase examples of athleticism, neither team managed to surpass 90 points in the two game series.

I have been a long-time fan of the Bullets/Wizards. This was formed early in my life when the Bullets won the NBA Finals in 1978. That achievement had special meaning back then when Bullets stars Elvin Hayes and Phil Chenier lived in Columbia (Mr. Chenier still does). I can remember a time when I was in elementary school, we were given four-foot tall cutouts of a human silhouette, and asked to draw a person of note that lived in Columbia. These drawings were placed in the mall to celebrate Columbia. I remember going to mall and seeing dozens of figures drawn as I (and most of my friends) had done, the signature red, white, and blue Bullets uniform with a No. 11 on the chest.

Over the years, I have remained a fan. After each home game, whether if I’m in attendance or watching at home, I always make a point to look for Gheorghe Muresan standing in the tunnel at the end of each game (Gheorghe ROCKS!!).

Tonight, the Wizards play the New York Knicks in Madison Square Garden. This will be their fourth game in five nights. Since the writer’s strike continues, and if you can tear yourself away from the Michigan primaries (my prediction, Ron Paul breaks into double digits), give the Wizards a look, and cheer this team on.

Road Trip – Short Notice

I received word about this not too long ago, but the Greenbelt Museum is showing a film about the towns of Greenbelt, MD, Columbia, MD, and Reston VA tonight. The film is free and open to the public. I am trying to clear my schedule to shuffle-on-down the BW Pkwy, anyone want to join me?

From the Greenbelt Museum website:

Please join the Greenbelt Museum for a viewing of the film “New Towns” on Tuesday January 15 at 7:00pm in the Greenbelt Community Center, Room 201. This program is free and open to the public. The film, “New Towns” was produced in 1987 by WETA and compares and contrasts Greenbelt, Columbia MD and Reston VA. Twenty years later all three communities have changed and developed in different ways. Highlights include interviews with pioneering residents of all three communities and Robert Simon the founder of Reston. Following the viewing museum staff will lead a discussion of the film.

10 January 2008

Company Town

Last week Martin Berdit of Harpers Choice had the following letter “What fills vacuum as county forfeits planning function?” published in the Columbia Flier. I submitted a response that was published this week “County, developer should collaborate on downtown” (scroll all the way down ). Please share your thoughts on the issues raised in these two letters…

07 January 2008

You Can Pick Your Friends…

But you can’t pick the next CA President. That is up to the Columbia Association Board of Directors. Hiring the next CA President will probably be the most important decision of the currently constituted board and the board elected this spring.

Did you want to provide input into the new CA President’s Job Description? Your last chance will be during the January CA Board Meeting (27JAN08). Currently, the CA Board has rejected public input beyond resident’s speakout. The draft job description can be read here. According to the CA Board of Directors timeline, this draft will be finalized in two weeks. Take a good look at the timeline. The only prescribed public input occurs when the field of candidates is narrowed to 2-4 people, one year from now.

I would think that a board that has positioned itself as the vanguard for openness and transparency would encourage public participation during each stage of the process. Apparently this is not the case.

We Are (Bun) Penny-less


Page One, Barry’s Pizza, Harmony Hut, Taco Bueno, Patowmak Toy Shop, Jade Palace, Paper Carousel. We will have to add Bun Penny to this list of other stores that we all loved at the Columbia Mall (and while we are at it, let’s remember Mrs. Z’s, Columbo’s Pizza, The Little Red Caboose, JK’s Pub, the Last Chance Saloon, and Leidig’s Bakery, all from the Columbia area). Locally owned family businesses have always had it tough and Bun Penny demonstrated success for more than three decades.

The Coverage

I received word of Bun Penny’s demise on Christmas Eve. McKenzie Ditter sent emails to many of the local bloggers revealing the pending demise of Bun Penny. Freemarket was the first to get on board, publishing the email and providing context (well done Freemarket). The day after Christmas, Columbia Talk weighed in with a brief mention. By late on the 26th, word had reached Evan Coren over at his blog. Evan also posted McKenzie’s email, and provided his view (co-opting Bun Penny’s situation to rail against proposed street extensions).

This morning, the major news organizations were on board, with the Washington Post and Baltimore Sun publishing articles on the story. Each quotes employees and shoppers at length all unanimous in fond memories and a sense of loss.

The Washington Post article, written by William Wan
 Washington, contains this passage:

Rouse died in 1996, and his company was sold to Chicago-based General Growth in 2004. In recent years, residents have accused the company of failing to adhere to Rouse's vision of mixed-use development and inclusion of people from all walks of life.

To my knowledge, there is only one mixed use development in all of Columbia, and both Howard County and GGP have been actively advocating for mixed use development in downtown.

Oddly, Baltimore Sun reporter June Arney chose to quote local spokesperson Alan Klein. Alan also weighed in on the subject over on Freemarket’s blog, equating rising rent at the mall with sprawl (?????). Hopefully, Alan is not trying to use the Bun Penny situation to further his agenda, much like he did with the Poinsettia Tree dust up (as quoted from the CoFoCoDo website):

We are pleased and proud that about 200 community members, many of them CCD supporters, took their values (and poinsettias) in hand, made a statement, and were successful!

Some Personal Memories:

I can still remember back in the early 1970’s; taking the Columbus to the mall and being dropped off right in front of Bun Penny. It was the first thing everyone saw when they walked into the mall and the last thing they saw as they left. As I recall, most did not only walk by, they often shopped, buying lunches and taking home wine, chocolates, and coffee. It was a magical time, walking down the corridor to the main part of the mall, Bun Penny to your right Barry’s (and later Beefsteak Charlie’s) to your left, and water fountains shooting water straight up to the second level in a deafening roar of white noise.

Over time, the mall evolved, but Bun Penny was still there. After graduating high school, it seemed that any and every business function I attended had sandwiches and platters from Bun Penny. I was dating a girl named Kristen who lived in Longfellow and worked in the Bun Penney liquor store. Apparently, Bun Penny had a contract with Merriweather Post Pavilion, and she would tell me what the bands playing would order. Coffee was also becoming a more of a gourmet item and Bun Penny had expanded their offerings.

After serving in the Navy, I came back to Columbia and the mall had made its current makeover, exchanging brown tile or gray carpet for the beige marble, the fichus trees for palm trees. After this makeover, Bun Penny was no longer directly in the traffic flow. The bus stop was moved out in the middle of nowhere next to Sears Automotive (how wrong is that). Lord and Taylor was added as an appendage. The result was that Bun Penny was not as accessable as before. Still, to have it there warmed my heart in the face of all the change. When my wife and I moved back to Columbia, her parents would often stop by Bun Penny and bring sandwiches when they visited.

Where do we go from here?

With so much uncertainty about the future of Bun Penny, It is hard to say what will come. Certainly there is a lot of support for the business. I have talked about this with about three dozen people, and many expressed a desire for Bun Penny to move to Oakland Mills or Wilde Lake Village Center. Although I would prefer Wilde Lake (its closer to me), I do not think a village center featuring Bun Penny, Produce Galore, and Davids would be good for all three businesses. One enterprising young friend even suggested Bun Penny wait until the downtown plan moves along, and get a good street level location. Wouldn’t that be a great rebirth?

Beyond the immediacy of Bun Penny, there is a lot of hand-wringing about the fate of local business. I am no economist, but it seems that many businesses, local, chain, or otherwise are encountering rough times. CompUSA, Scan furniture (another Columbia Mall original store, now located [at least for a week or two] near Dobbin Center), and 84 Lumber are all going out of business.

If the focus is to be on promoting local business, I wrote about some possibilities here and here. The first post deals with how Clarendon, Virginia maintained a local retail flavor in the midst of constructing a mixed use project near its metro station. Basically, Clarendon worked with developers to allow for more building height in exchange for local merchants in the retail areas of the project. The second post deals with the “slow food” zoning movement. In slow food, if a business has more than a certain number (typically less than 15) of establishments in which the architecture, uniforms, or menu are the same, the business must go through an additional level of county review.

Lastly, we can all collectively choose to frequent local businesses. The power of the purse is the most powerful. We don’t have to buy coffee, wine, or good sandwiches from chain stores.

05 January 2008

Stir Crazy

A four-year old with a full leg cast and a walker will break your heart. This has been the scene here in casa-de-Santos for the past week. All-in-all, my son has been a trooper. He has adapted fairly well, with some expected bouts of frustration. Our greatest challenge this week has been keeping occupied and engaged.

Days are the sunniest

Jokes are the funniest
Rabbits are the bunny-est

Hives are the honey-est
Elephants the ton-iest

Troubles - they're the none-iest

Everywhere I go! 

We have done our best. Coloring books, puzzles, moon sand, play-doh, writing letters and words.

Straws are the bend-iest

Time is the spend-iest

Cards are the send-iest

Books are the lend-iest

Fun's the pretend-iest 

Friends are the friend-iest 

Everywhere I go! 

But eventually, everything breaks down, and the videos play. In a normal week, my son gets a few hours of children’s television. I always make a point to sit through the shows with him. We talk about the plot and characters. I encourage him to ask questions, and answer as best I can. However, being home for the entire week presented a challenge in limiting time in front of the magic box.

Berries are the fruit-iest 

Shoes are the boot-iest

Puppies are the cute-iest 

Treasure is the loot-iest

Teams are the root-iest

Horns are the toot-iest

Everywhere I go! 

We started off the week strong. I dusted off my Electric Company (once again, thank you Morgan Freeman) and “Free to Be You and Me” DVDs. We tried to identify similarities between the "Kimba" series and “The Lion King” movie (there are quite a lot). After a while, we needed to find some variety.

Birds are the tweet-iest

Candy is the sweet-iest

Socks are the feet-iest

Tricks are the treat-iest

Drums are the beat-iest 

Lunch is the eat-iest 

Everywhere I go! 

We ventured into the world of PBS kids and focused on some pretty good shows: “Between the Lions” has lots of phonics, storytelling, and reading skills. “Cyberchase” involves math skills. “It’s a Big Big World” has a scientific premise, and Snook the Sloth reminds me of several of my friends. “Super Why”, my son’s favorite, features fables and provides wordplay, spelling, rhyming, and problem solving. All of those shows are great, but we needed another source of variety.

Flowers are the smelliest 

Jams are jelly-est

Rain's the umbrell-iest 

Tales are the tell-iest

Wishing is the well-iest

Buttons are the belly-est

Everywhere I go!

We rolled over to the Noggin franchise (HoCo Comcast channel 131). Noggin is the home of Diego, Dora, The Wonder Pets, and an Australian show called the Upside Down Show. Dora and Diego are good for simple identification and mixing in Spanish phrases. The Wonder Pets emphasize teamwork. All in all, not bad shows for a four-year old. However, between shows, a cartoon character named Moose A. Moose provides hosting duties. Most of his stuff is inane, but every so often, he sings this “Everywhere I Go” song (click on the horizontal arrow buttons until you see the flower, click on the flower, then hit play). It has penetrated my brain to the core. I can’t get it out of my head. It is so bad that I can’t even remember any other songs that I could not get out of my head.

Skies are the blue-iest

Cows are the moo-iest

Gum is the chewiest

Ghosts are the boo-iest

Goo is the gooey-est 

You can be your you-iest 

Everywhere I go!

I once heard on NPR (although I cannot find it in the archives) that if you can’t get a song out of your head, you should hum “The Girl from Ipanema.” Apparently, it cancels out all other tunes.

Tall and tanned and young and lovely
Hmm Hmm Hmm Hm Hm HmmHmm …..