30 October 2009

Additional Columbia Development Details

For those that have not seen it yet, Wordbones put up a very interesting post regarding James Rouse (Jim Rouse was not an Oracle) and how Columbia was developed. In my research I have uncovered some information that supports his post.

With respect to General Electric, Wordbones provides us with these details:

When GE decided to abandon Columbia and consolidate manufacturing operations in Louisville, Kentucky, Rouse adjusted his plans. Realizing that Columbia’s labor force was changing from what he originally expected, the company exercised its option to buy back the industrial park from GE and created Columbia Gateway Corporate Park.

I would like to add the financial details of how General Electric first came to Columbia. The following is from pages 304-305 of the book Columbia and the New Cities.

Financing on a Giant Scale

In order to snare the GE facility, Rouse not only paid for a four-mile railroad spur, but expanded Columbia beyond its original borders. He bought 2139 acres of farms and gravel pits adjacent to the new town for a staggering $19 million, more than six times the price per acre that he had paid for the new city’s original land only five years earlier. Since its original acquisition of land for $23 million, Rouse had filled several of the “holes” in his “Swiss cheese” land-holding for $2 million. With addition of the acreage for G.E. and an adjacent rail-served industrial area, Rouse has bought 17,868 acres for his new city at a total cost of $44 million, an average of $2485 per acre. General Electric got a bargain. The company announced that it paid only $3.8 million for its 1100-acre factory and warehouse site. Columbia’s expansion will add to the city’s ultimate profit despite its high cost, Rouse told his stockholders at their 1969 meeting. But the G.E. deal forced Rouse to reshape the entire financial structure of his new town.

So with respect to General Electric, Rouse bought the land for $19M, sold half the land to GE for $3.8M, and then years later bought the land back from GE. Each time the Rouse Company had to alter the financial structure of the entire city.

Moreover, Wordbones uses the General Electric transaction as an example of Rouse adapting to change. A few pages later in Columbia and the New Cities (p. 309) provides an equally compelling example:

As development progresses the differences between estimated costs and actual costs or between estimated and actual revenues force a constant rejuggling of decisions about when to invest, how much, and in which facilities. For example, when final cost estimates showed that Rouse would have to spend three million dollars more than was originally planned for one year in Columbia’s water system (even though the total cost of the system remained about where it had been figured), the increased interest cost on the extra three million dollars forced Rouse to defer several roads and put off other items of community facilities until later in Columbia’s life. Otherwise, he explained to me, in order to sustain his profit he would have been forced to crowd another six thousand dwelling units onto the land (which he could scarcely do under the zoning he had arranged.)

In a community that has been struggling with WWJRD, a partial answer is provided above. When confronted with unexpected, Jim Rouse considered increasing density and ultimately deferred road and public amenity construction. What is particularly interesting is those that oppose GGP plan before the county are loudly saying that regardless of what the future holds, the roads must be built and the amenities must be erected before any particular development phase is initiated. And to an extent, they have a point. Developing acres of farmland into a wondrous community allows a bit more latitude with respect to infrastructure and amenity phasing than a large infill development project. However, when confronted with WWJRD, they are clearly saying don’t do what Jim Rouse did.

Columbia and the New Cities. Breckenfeld, Gurney. Van Rees Press, New York. 1971

26 October 2009

Hijacking the Community Interest

I am loathe to base a blog post on comments retrieved from the HCCA Yahoo-group; however, CoFoCoDo “spokesperson” Alan Klein has crossed several lines that spur comment.

In a message this weekend, Alan begins his comments on the New City Alliance with cynicism:

“I was waiting for this.”

He then remarks that the principals of the New City Alliance have some ties with groups such as Bring Back the Vision and Columbia 2.0. Alan states “They try to make themselves seem bigger than they are by creating multiple groups, but it is easy to see through the charade.”

I will let the folks at the New City Alliance speak to your broadsides Alan, but if what you say is true, you should be flattered. Is it possible to apply the same broad-brush strokes to the Howard County Community Association (HCCA), most of the CA Board of Directors, and CoFoCoDo?

Moreover, Alan displays the plumage of hubris by stating that those with a view that differs from his own are opponents of the “community’s vision” and wish to hijack the “community’s interest.” Having lived most of my life in this diverse community, I am wary of any one individual that speaks for “the community.”

Alan, for more than three years, CoFoCoDo’s steering committee has directed you to appear often, (and at great length) in a variety of settings to convey their message to the people of Columbia. Now is not the time to jeopardize all their hard “behind the scenes” work. Rather than criticizing other’s ideas, provide a compelling argument for the CoFoCoDo steering committee’s point of view.

08 October 2009

A Call For Columbia's 2nd Generation

ca 2nd gen
My brothers and sisters, if you grew up in Columbia during the 70's or 80's, please read this essay by Michael Chabon:

Now, if you had an experience anything like that, please make plans to be at the Columbia Archives on Wednesday October 14, 2009.

The Columbia Archives is holding a series of seminars this month based on Columbia's four founding principles. To address the principle of "a place for people to grow," the Archives is focusing on those of us that grew up in Columbia and invited author and American University Professor Cindy Gueli to speak. Cindy grew up in Columbia and is co-author of a soon to be published book: The Next America? A New Town's Social Experiment. This book takes a look at the first generation that grew up in Columbia.

It's about time we all got together and remembered, shared and just plain had fun.

Once again, if you still live in Columbia, or Howard County, or even near Howard County:

Call or email the Columbia Archives to register:

(410) 715-3103

October 14, 2009
The American Cities Building
7:00 PM

Coffee and Conversation after at Lakeside Cafe.

Note: Michael Chabon lives in California and is not expected to be anywhere near this event.

Marco Polo Saved by the CA Board of Directors

Last night, the Columbia Association Board of Directors voted unanimously to keep the Faulkner Ridge, Locust Park, and Talbott Springs pools open. That being said, pool attendance numbers across the city are downright anemic. Attendance numbers are significantly down at almost every pool in Columbia, including the "super pools," as compared to 10 years ago (and even 20 years ago).

For those of us that are a certain age and grew up in Columbia during the 70's, 80's or 90's; this is a difficult reality. The entire pool system needs to be looked at, and solutions need to be found. I'm ready to (pardon the pun) take the plunge, anyone else?

06 October 2009

Marco...Polo...Screw You

I received word from throughout the Next American City that the Columbia Association has proposed shutting down...forever...three pools in Columbia:

Faulkner Ridge
Locust Park
Talbott Springs

No word on why CA has decided to withdraw from these communities, or how they decided to target these areas.

Something to keep in mind is that this is a proposal, so kickboards don't need to be converted to headstones...yet.

I also seem to remember that the last time CA hired a president from outside, pool closures were high on the list (no offense Phil, it's possible this scheme was in the works before you got here).