21 July 2008

Sometimes, you get what you ask for

As has been noted here and elsewhere, things have been somewhat quiet on the downtown development front. I believe this in part because the people at CoFoCoDo have been quietly popping champagne corks and celebrating a job well done.

The reason? In January 2007, CoFoCoDo set their terms for density.

From their position paper "Framing the Future of Downtown Columbia," page 5 [emphasis mine]:

We favor the continuing development of Downtown, but there are many models of diverse and vibrant downtowns. We offer Georgetown and Annapolis as examples of communities that do not rely on high density to provoke an exciting sense of place. These locations are especially interesting, and they exude excitement...
and on page 13, under the banner "Human Scale,"

We note that there are many models of diverse and vibrant downtowns. We offer Georgetown and Annapolis, not as models to copy – because Columbia does not need to copy anything - but as proof that communities do not need to rely on excessive density to have an exciting sense of place.
Well, a little research demonstrates how well informed the good people of CoFoCoDo are. According to the United States Census, Georgetown would fit nicely into the current downtown plan.


  • Area (acres): 676
  • Dwelling Units: 4976
  • Population: 8524

Columbia Town Center:

  • Area (acres): 570
  • Dwelling Units: 5500
  • Population: 7000 - 10,000 (??)

Data for Georgetown was obtained from the US Census, District of Columbia Census Tracts 1 and 2.02. Columbia Town Center data obtained from the Howard County Government website and the GGP presentation.

Kudos to CoFoCoDo for leading the way on this issue. Sometimes it's so nice to get what you ask for.


Anonymous said...

But doesn't Town Center currently already have 2,000 residences? So adding another 5,500 residences would put a total of 7,500 residences in Town Center.

Are you suggesting that the average population per residence will be significantly less than 2? Per wikipedia, 2.6 is Columbia's average population per residence. That would make 2.6 x 7,500 or 19,500 people in Town Center, not 7,000 to 10,000.

So, using the area numbers you cited:
Georgetown: 8,000 people per square mile
Town Center: 21,900 people per square mile

B. Santos said...

Applying average population figures to Town Center is a bit sketchy. The projected population per residence will be a lot closer to 2.0, if not less. Applying the average from across all of Columbia takes into account single family detached housing (which is the dominant type of housing in Columbia). This type of housing has a much higher population per residence.

As an example, Georgetown, which has housing more closely aligned with what is projected for Town Center, has a population (Census 2000) of 8524 and 4976 units. This is a per capita of 1.71.

This yields a population of 9405 for 5500 units, which lies within the 7000-10,000 person projection.

JessieX said...

Bill, It seems to me that perhaps a clarification of definitions about "Town Center" might be helpful. As I understand it, there is "Town Center, the Village Center," which includes -- what? -- something rather non-village-like such as six non-contiguous clumps of residences lumped together and *called* Town Center.

Then there is "Town Center: the intentional and select density." I think that's more of the Town Center which people are really discussing. Perhaps some nomenclature adjustments are in order.

The "please don't add any more density because my falsely high housing prices will plummet" people will always be able to use *statistics* about Town Center (the village center) to skew the conversation about "Town Center, the place with intentional density."

Anyway, I know it's not your job to do such things. But you have quite a rapt audience. Perhaps it's a discussion you can address. Our community might do well to start now to use different terms for different definitions.

My two yuan this morning.

JessieX said...

Hope to see you at the HocoBlogs BlogTale party this Thursday. Lee Lynn's is the spot. Annethologie is my cohost. http://www.socializr.com/event/777185824 Local bloggers and blog readers are always welcome.

Chris Bachmann said...

Part of the problem is what is the market demographics that the TC development is aiming to attract. Seems GGP is seeking to attract the affluent 50+ demographic where as my peers couldn't really care about most of that, but what can we actually do and where can we hang out together. Let's not forget the token "affordable housing" to stave off criticism of the local pols and blowhards. So part of the question should be, what are the requirements and ideal living conditions 10-30 years from now. if we look closely, it's obvious that that will not reflect today's Columbia in many respects. If we play our cards wrong, in 30 years time, all of the housing would be "affordable" because no one would want to live there.

Anonymous said...

"Applying the average from across all of Columbia takes into account single family detached housing (which is the dominant type of housing in Columbia)"

Single-family detached housing is not the dominant type of housing in Columbia. Columbia's overall residences are 39% apartments, 35% single-family detached, and 26% townhomes (source: CA Public Info Guide).

So, let's consider specifically Town Center's current existing residence types and population. It's only 2% single family homes, 23% townhomes, and 75% apartments (also per CA's Public Info Guide). Yet, Town Center's population is 4,622 and has 2,047 residences, making Town Center's current population per residence not the 1.71 of your Georgetown example, but a much higher 2.26.

Applying that 2.26 to 7,547 residences, results in GGP's proposed density increase swelling Town Center from 4,600 now to over 17,000, not the 7-10,000 you mentioned.

And that also would make Town Center's density (using your area figure) over 19,000 people per square mile, 250% greater than Georgetown's 8,000.

Mr. Hamm also cited that seemingly low 1.7 person per household figure recently when asked why schools hadn't been mentioned in the presentation, he then noting that's what an average 1,100 square foot apartment or condo holds. The only problem is that doesn't seem to jive with Town Center's existing population and household data above, unless you want to put 2,621 people into the 1,542 apartments at a 1.7 per household ratio and then squeeze the remaining 2,001 people into 471 townhomes and 34 single family homes at a ratio of 3.96 in every one of those households, an obviously unrealistic figure that far exceeds Columbia's overall average of 2.6.

Georgetown's population, if you expect Town Center's demographics to mimic it, is about 9% children. That implies that Town Center, if 5,500 residences are added, will see about 5,500 x 2.26 x 9%, or over 1,100 children added as well. But Columbia's overall population is over 20% children, not Georgetown's 9%, making me believe that adding 5,500 residences to Town Center would actually result in closer to 2,000 additional children. But no plan for more schools?

PZGURU said...

EXCELLENT points Anon! Someone has obviously done their homework on this subject.

I went to the GGP presentation that dealt with the traffic study and road realignment. I felt that some important facts were glossed over or ignored completely, and it seems that that also applies to the "density" issue.

Anonymous said...

A little update on this particular thread seems due since even my previous estimates now appear low.

This week's presentations to the Council by GGP and others included mention that, of the 50,000 people expected to be added to the County's population in the coming years, that Town Center under this proposal would be absorbing 15,000 of them. That would increase Town Center's population from 4,622 currently to 19,622, an over four-fold increase in Town Center's population.

That would equate to 15,000 people living in those 5,500 new residences, or 2.73 people per residence (a number which well exceeds and conflicts both with Mr. Hamm's earlier mention of 1.7 people per residence and the original post's estimates), and for Town Center as a whole would be 2.6 people per residence.

I wonder if the traffic studies used a population number that high? That's certainly something worth verifying.

I also wonder if the school capacity studies used a population increase number that high? Using that 15,000 population increase multiplied by Georgetown's 9% child population as a model would add about 1,350 more students. Or if Town Center's child percentage matched Columbia's as a whole, 20+%, that additional student number would be over 3,000 more students. But no new schools or land set aside for them appear in the proposal?

So, to recap (again using the original post's area numbers):
- Georgetown: 8,000 people per square mile
- Town Center with 15,000 more people than now: 22,000 people per square mile

Would someone please remind me of the consensus from the Charette regarding desired changes to Town Center's density?