01 November 2011

HoCo Blogger Flashback

Last Saturday night, my wife and I saw comedian John Oliver at the National Theatre in Washington DC.  Just after we took our seats, Evan Coren stopped by to say hello.

The above picture was taken when Evan was the CA Board member from Kings Contrivance.  In addition to being on the CA Board, Evan had the Howard County Blog.  The blog has been inactive since 2009, and for good reason.  Evan told me that he now lives in Downtown/Penn Quarter Washington DC.  I think the blog post from Evan that I will always remember is the one that shows up if you follow the link to his blog.  Evan had taken the time to conceive a comprehensive mass transit design for Howard County, complete with links to existing DC Metro lines and Baltimore.  Now that he lives in DC, Evan told me that he had sold his car and uses the Metro for almost all of his transportation needs (hooray).

Evan, it was great seeing you, I hope I will have the chance to stop by and chat the next time I am in DC.


31 October 2011

Prejudice Comes to New Town

I think it has been said a million times, but let’s begin with a quick review.  Columbia, Maryland was born with two basic premises:  First, a town that is planned from its outset would result in a better city.  Not a perfect Utopia, but a better place for people.  Second, Columbia welcomes people from all races, religions, ethnicities, and economic means.  Diversity is a strength within, and throughout, this community.

These foundation pillars were tested last week during a Zoning Pre-Submission Hearing conducted by the Howard Hughes Corporation.  As reported by Explore Howard and Columbia Patch, long time resident and Town Center Village Board member Joel Broida was quoted as follows:

"Putting in 817 units with rentals is like setting up a hotel," he said. "When you're a rental unit, you're transient. You do not become part of the neighborhood. Columbia is great, and I would hate to see it become a transient, hotel-like community."

Joel Broida, a Columbia resident since 1971, said he fears the bulk of 817 new residences could be rental homes.
Renters don't have the sense of investment in a community that homeowners have, Broida told Hughes officials.
"Renters don't have pride in the community," he said. "They aren't the ones to pick up that piece of paper someone dropped."

Sadly, the singling-out of people who live in apartments as undesirable was picked up, and expanded upon, by a few pseudonymoniuos commenters online.

It is rare that I ever hear someone that has lived most of their life in the Next American City voice such clear prejudice against any component of the community.  And to clarify just how sharp this derogatory language is, let us try and remove the economic status veneer from his statements:

"Putting in 817 units with rentals [religious group]s is like setting up a hotel," he said. "When you're a rental unit [religious group], you're transient. You do not become part of the neighborhood. Columbia is great, and I would hate to see it become a transient, hotel-like community."

"Renters [Ethnic group]s don't have pride in the community," he said. "They aren't the ones to pick up that piece of paper someone dropped."

I believe that Columbia must be open to all people.  That is a promise made at its founding and it is a promise that our generation must uphold.  To pursue a policy going forward that Columbia will only be open to people with the financial deep pockets to put 20% down on a mortgage and have high FICO scores will result in a fast track to gentrification.

I think it is imperative to state that folks that live in apartments are much like any other component in our community.  They are mothers and daughters, sons and fathers.  They are our co-workers, retired folks and veterans.  They are teachers and doctors, nurses and accountants.  They work for the government and private industry.  They are janitors and corporate executives.  They pay taxes and worship with us in faith.  They dine in the same restaurants, they vote in the same elections, and they attend Zoning Pre-Submission Meetings.  They should not be the subject of scorn based on the fears and hate of anyone, no matter how long he has lived in Columbia, no matter his position in the community.


26 October 2011

Generation Investigation

While exploring alternate methods to characterize the Howard County age demographic data, I came back to the paragraph in my earlier post that deals with rationalization of the young adult and senior populations.  Throughout that paragraph are theories ascribed not to age groups, but to generations that exist in those age groups at that time.

Taking this cue, I turned to the word of Neil Howe and William Strauss.  These two scholars led the field in generational theory.  I found useful their identification of birth years for current generations and the nomenclature ascribed to each generation.  According to Strauss and Howe, those generations present from 1970-2010 are as follows:

Because the Strauss and Howe generation definitions do not fall neatly into decennial increments, I had to slightly alter the generational definitions to allow for use with the Census dataset:

The next step was to apply these generational definitions to the Howard County Population age demographic data:

Collecting the data on a generational basis yields the following table and graph:

A quick note about the graph and table above.  With 2010 as the exception, U.S. Census data typically does not track discrete age groups beyond 85-years old.  Therefore, it is difficult to account for populations greater than  85.  I am aware that there are more than a few people in Howard County that are near or actual centigenerians, and I for one am happy to have them in our communities.  However, from a statistical standpoint, it is difficult to impossible to characterize their populations when constructing graphs in the 1000’s. 

Taking the Broad View

Initial analysis of the Howard County population by generation chart shows some similarities to the previously discussed Howard County population by age group chart.  In 1970 the generations were closely grouped (relatively speaking).  In the year 2000, three population constituents (this time boomers, gen-x’s, and millennials) had almost identical population numbers.  In 1970 a similar convergence is also present in the Population by Generation chart.  In this year, the GI, Silent and Gen-X constituents each represented approximately 20% of the total county population.  It is interesting that a similar convergence is not present in the Population by Age Group Chart.

But what is truly remarkable about this chart is how it is different from the age group chart.  Recall in the age group chart that the middle aged and senior population constituents have experienced rapid positive growth over the last twenty years, while the youth and young adult growth was shown to be slower.  In the generation chart, the roles are reversed.  The Lost generation, born between the years 1883-1900 had long since peaked.  The GI (1980), Silent (1990) and Boom (2000) generations have all shown a population peak and are in decline.  Conversely, the Gen-X (13’rs to my friends in the know), Millennial, and Homeland generations have experienced positive upward growth.

The GI Generation (born approx 1901-1925)

In 1970, the 12,238 members of the GI Generation were between the ages of 45-69 and represented almost 20% of the county population.  In 1980, the GI Generation (age 55-69) population peaked (13,029) as they began to dominate the Senior age group.  Although this generation increased in population, their percentage of the total population dramatically decreased from 19.77% to 10.99% due to much faster growth of other generation populations. 

Since 1980, the GI Generation has steadily declined in a concave-down characteristic.  Today, the GI Generation (age 85-109) dominates the Meta-Senior age group and currently number 3,152 persons.

Silent Generation (born approx 1926-1940)

In 1970 the Silent Generation, age 30-44, occupy the upper portion of the Young Adult age group and are just beginning to populate the Middle Aged age group.  At 13,841 persons, they are second only to the Boomers in size and represent 22.36% of the population.  The Silent Generation increases its size by 50% over its 1970 population and grows to a size of 20,830 persons by 1980. 

By 1990, the Silent Generation peaks at 21,443 persons and with an age range of 50-64, occupy the upper Middle Aged age group, with the eldest component of the generation entering the Senior age group.  Since 1990, the Silent Generation population in Howard County has progressively declined as these members move into the Senior age group.  Currently, the Silent Generation in Howard County is 15,123 persons strong and constitute 5.27% of the total population.

Boom Generation (born approx 1941-1960)
The Boom Generation is one of three generations that has come to dominate many aspects of life in Howard County.  By 1970, Boomers were between 10-29 years old.  At a size of 20,693, Boomers represented 33.42% of the total county population.  From the period 1970-1990, the Boomer population grew with a near-linear characteristic (22,976 persons added 1970-1980 and 25,575 persons added 1980-1990) and over the twenty-year period grew faster than any other generation constituent.  However, from the period 1970-2010, the Boomers have not had the fastest growth in any one particular decade.

In 1990, the Boomers were near their peak of influence in Howard County.  Numbering 69,244 and ranging in age from 30-49, Boomers straddled the Young Adult/Middle Aged demarcation line and constituted 36.96% of the total Howard County population.  This is the largest percentage of total population for any generation during the study period.

After 1990, Boomer population increased at a much slower pace and peaked in 2000 at 74,478 persons.  Although this represents the zenith of Boomer population, it came with a 6% drop in percentage share of the total population due to the dynamic positive growth of younger generations.  From 2000-2010, the Boomer population showed a population decline for the first time and a second 6% drop in total population percentage share.  Today 1-in-4 Howard County residents is a Boomer.

Generation-X (born approx 1961-1980)
Gen-X provides a unique condition in that it is the only generation studied that the population is known in 1960.  By 1970, the Gen-X’rs had increased from 0 to 13,023 persons.  As stated above, Gen-X’rs (13,023), Silent (13,841), and GI (12,238) Generations all had nearly identical populations in 1970.  During the 1970’s the Gen-X population growth was the fastest rate for the 1970’s and by the end of the decade the Gen-X population more than triples.  Also of note is that by 1980 the Gen-X’rs solely occupy the Youth age group.

In 1980 1-in-3 Howard County residents is a Gen-X’r and the Gen-X’rs almost match the population of the Boom Generation (40,015 v. 43,669).  Also of note is that the Gen-X population in 1980 was larger than the Howard County Lost, GI and Silent generations combined. 

After 1980, Gen-X grows at a slower but near constant rate for the next three decades.  From 1980-1990, Gen-X adds 16,034 people.  In 2000, Gen-X owns the Young Adult age group and has added another 16,624 to achieve a generation population of 72,673 people.  Between 2000 and 2010, Gen-X’rs begin to enter middle age and add 13,996 people despite soaring home prices and the economic downturn.  In 2010 there were 86,669 Gen-X’rs living in Howard County.

Millennials (born approx 1980-2010)
The Millennials appear ten years into the study period.  During their first decade in existence, the Millennials quickly become recognizable generation, ending the 1980’s with 29,262 persons.  Compare this number with the size of Gen-X in 1970 (ten years after Gen-X began) – 13,023.  In fact, the Millennial population growth rate was the fastest growth rate during the 1980’s; faster than the Gen-X’rs, faster than the Boomers.  To be fair, there were a lot more households in Howard County during the 1980’s than in the 1960’s.

By the year 2000, the Millennials have more than doubled to 74,085 persons and now constitute 29.89% of the total Howard County population.  As noted above, in the year 2000, the Boomers (74,478), Gen-X’rs (72,673) and Millennials (74,085) all had nearly identical populations.  During the ‘00’s, the Millennials grew very slowly and added 1,174 people to the total Howard County population.  In 2010, there were 75,259 Millennials in Howard County.

Homelands (born approx 2001-Present Day)
The Homelands have been with us for only a short time.  Next year, the 1st Homelands will enter middle school.  Let’s hope a better name is given to this generation by then.  From a population standpoint, in just one decade, the Homelands have arrived in much the same manner as the Gen-X’rs, and the Millennials.  What is interesting about the Homelands is that after their first decade on earth (and Howard County) increased in population to 37,920.

Intermediate Conclusion

So what does all this mean?  First, recall the Population by Age Group chart discussed in a prior blog post.

Compare the above chart with the chart that we have been discussing here. 
The reason these two charts depict the same data differently is because they track the data differently over time.  The Population by Age Group chart provides a set of signposts through time.  It is a gatekeeper function.  Said another way, it answers the question, “How many of a certain age have passed through at this time?”  The Population by Age Group chart does an adequate job of “what” but provides little else.

With respect to the Population by Generation chart, the data is grouped by generation and then the generations are tracked over time.  This provides the data in a different light.  If the Population by Age Group chart provided a magnitude, the Population by Generation chart provides the direction.

Taken together, what these two graphs do is generate a lot of intriguing questions.  For example, why is the “Young Adult” curve on the Age Group chart almost identical to the “Boomer” curve on the Generations chart, even though the Boomers were completely in the Middle Aged group by 2000?  Why does the Age Group chart show the Senior and Meta-Senior curves increasing while the Generation chart shows the GI, Silent and Boomer Curves all decreasing? 

In our next installment, we will take a look at some of these questions, and we will talk about housing units too.  Stay tuned.


24 October 2011

Who are we and how did we get here?

The time immediately after the decennial census is filled with wonder and renewed uncertainty. One of the prime objectives of the census is redistricting, and the various maps generated at different levels of government have occupied many a blog post here in Howard County.  One other byproduct of the Census is it helps us gain a greater understanding of our larger community.  It can be used as a type of ruler, marking data at discrete times to show trends.  It can also be used as a mirror, reflecting the various characteristics that make up the community.

It is in this spirit that I have been doing some digging.  The U.S. Census Bureau released a trove of local 2010 Census data last August.  Given the data found at the Bureau, I went on to the Maryland Department of Planning to compliment the data released in August.  What follows here is my attempt at reconciling how Howard County has evolved since 1970.

Area of Agreement

The graph above shows Howard County total population from 1970 – 2010.  Clearly, we have a lot more people here than we did in 1970.  As far as the characteristic of the line, it is a near linear positive upward curve with an approximate slope of 5800.  That is, averaged over the last forty years, Howard County has added approximately 5800 people per year.

Constituent Populations – How do you slice a pie that keeps getting bigger?

Where things get somewhat sticky is how the age-related Census data is broken down.  Although completely anecdotal, I have heard at more-than-a-few public meetings various iterations of “Howard County is Aging Rapidly” (“there are as many residents over 65 as there are children in Howard County,” “sixty is the new forty,” among others).  Conversely, as a parent of a school-age child (and one younger), I tend to keep an eye on school capacity, and those numbers are not declining.  The reality is that all age groups have seen a dramatic increase over the last forty years.

Therefore, having no clear guidance on grouping of ages, I have (admittedly arbitrarily, but with a bent toward evenhandedness) collected Howard County population age groups by twenty-year increments (0-19, 20-39, 40-59, 60-79, and 80+).  In addition, I also ascribed loose labels to each age group (youth, young adult, middle aged, senior, and meta-senior).  Although the individual reader may take exception to the referenced labels contained herein, please keep in mind that these are the best I could come up with, and I am more than willing to entertain alternate naming standards.

The grouping of the Howard County population constituent age groups are depicted below both graphically and in tabular form.

Description by Decade

In 1970, the youth component is the dominant constituent in Howard County.  Over 4 out of 10 Howard County residents is under the age of twenty.  Young adults and the middle aged combine to make up half the county population and the seniors and meta-seniors collectively represent 8% of the county.

During the 1970’s all Howard County age groups see population increases.  By 1980, the youth age group is overtaken by the young adults.  The youth percentage share has decreased from 1-in-4 to 1-in-3 and the young adult constituent alone makes up nearly 37% of the population.  Meanwhile, the middle aged, senior, and meta-senior constituents all more than double in size, but maintain hold their percentage of population (within 1%) of 28%, 7% and 1% respectively.

By the end of the 1980’s most of Columbia was built out and areas in western Ellicott City were seeing dramatic development (Turf Valley, Centennial Lane area, etc).  Youth population grows at almost the same pace as during the 1970’s; however, the young adult constituent maintains its growth pace (at twice the growth rate of the youth constituent), and the middle aged population growth rate accelerates.  So by 1990, the youth dominance retreats to about 28% of the total population, the young adult constituent gains a percentage point (now 37% of the total population) and the middle aged surge to now represent 1-in-4 people.  Seniors almost double in population and meta-seniors also double, maintaining their 7% and 1% shares of the population, respectively.

In the 1990’s, growth expands along MD-103 and Montgomery Road corridors.  River Hill development is underway.  Waverly blossoms to the north.  Middle aged growth rate (avg=2673 persons/year) bests the middle aged growth rate from the 1980’s (avg=2,230 persons/year).  Youth population increases at a faster rate during the 1990’s than the previous two decades, while young adult population growth rate slows to a trickle, adding 2,401 persons for the entire decade.

The behavior of these three population constituents during the 1990’s culminated in the great Howard County population confluence.  In the year 2000, according to the United States Census Bureau, the youth (74,085), young adult (72,673) and middle aged (74,478) population constituents all were within 1.5% of each other.

Also during the 1990’s, the Howard County senior population fell off the “doubling every decade” curve, but did add more persons during the decade (7,551) than during the 1980’s (6,079) and as a result increase their percent share of total Howard County population from just under 8% to 9%.  Meta-seniors continue to double their population during the decade and stand 4,570 strong.

In the ‘00’s Maple Lawn is in full swing.  Senior housing becomes an industry in Howard County.  Infill development comes to the county.  During the 1st half of the decade, real property values (and corresponding housing prices) soar.  By the end of the decade, a “correction” is underway.  From the population convergence, the youth and middle aged population constituents continued to increase in size, although at a slower rate.  The young adult population posted a slight negative growth, started the decade at 72,673 and ending at 69,804.  The senior population increases significantly, from 22,036 to 38,032.  This represents the 2nd largest growth for the decade (middle age increase was larger).  Seniors now represent 13% of the Howard County population.  Meta-seniors also increase in size to 6,606 persons.

Initial Conclusion

For all the numbers over the decades, the key question here is what does it all mean?  For the most part, the youth, middle aged, and meta-senior constituents have near-linear growth characteristics (although at different slopes) during the last forty years.  With respect to young adults and seniors, both constituents demonstrate linear behavior over the first twenty years.  After 1990, the young adult constituent growth is characterized by a concave down curve, while the senior population constituent is concave up.

The rationale behind the young adult and senior constituent behavior is less than clear.  As far as I know, only speculative theories and hypotheses exist.  It is a certainty that the construction of age restricted (55+) housing escalated with the introduction of the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO) in the early 1990’s and has progressed over the last twenty years.  The shear bulk of the aging boomer generation also plays a part.  Another popular theory is that the younger generations consciously choose the urban setting of the big cities in the region and hold low regard for the single family lots and cul-de-sacs that dominate much of Howard County’s housing stock.  Lastly the economic booms and busts over the last two decades must be taken into consideration with respect to both seniors choosing to “age in place” and available housing options (and the ability to secure financing for said housing) for young adults.

As depicted in the graphs above, the Howard County age demographic trends are fairly clear and provide a basis for further analysis; however, the data is missing an important aspect.  This aspect is imbedded in the evolution of norms over time and the changing characteristics that accompany youth, mid-age and retirement.  Much as it is difficult to discern how well Sandy Koufax would pitch against Albert Pujols or Red Auerbach’s nine NBA coaching championships to Phil Jackson’s eleven NBA coaching championships; the young adults of the 1970’s were in many ways different than the young adults of today.  As they say in the world of sports – “they are of different eras,” and that aspect cannot be conveyed by simple classification of age groups.  Indeed, age groups serve as static markers that are scalar by nature.  They depict a magnitude, but provide no indication of direction.

In the near future, I will provide an alternative analysis of Howard County population growth over the last forty years.  Stay tuned.


28 July 2011

CA Aquatics Makes a Virtual Splash with a New Online Commenting Tool

So how is your summer going?  Given the waves of heat that started before school ended and have recently come back with a vengeance I hope a few of you have been able to get out the Columbia Outdoor Pools.  Concurrent with the hot weather, CA is working on the Aquatics Master Plan to improve the Indoor and Outdoor pool experience for the foreseeable future.

To their credit, CA has been reaching out to the public in a number of ways.  As a few of you may remember, CA sponsored two public workshops in March 2011.  CA created a resident-populated CA Aquatics Master Plan Task Force (yes, I am a member and no, we don’t have cool t-shirts or hats) that has been plumbing the depths of SWOT charts and providing feedback to CA staff.  CA has engaged specific segments of the population in focus group sessions.  In addition, CA maintains (and updates) a CA webpage that provides all the background data related to the CA Aquatics Master Plan process. 

Today, the Columbia Association took another step in community outreach.  They have put up on the web the Aquatics Commenting Tool (ACT) (Microsoft Silverlight required to view)  This tool allows the community to provide comments specific to any aquatic facility (either indoor or outdoor) or comments that can apply to all outdoor pools.

I encourage the entire Columbia community to go to the site and comment often.  However, I would like to provide a few personal observations.  Keep in mind that the CA Aquatics Master Plan intends a long horizon.  Comments should reflect what the community would like to see at a particular pool over the long term.  Things like what activities or experiences the community would like to see.  Programs that are missing or could be improved.  Infrastructure (parking, bath houses, shade structures) and amenities that the community believes would improve attendance.  Keep it classy.

I know that not everyone can attend meetings to express their views, so please use this tool to let your wishes and concerns be heard.  The ACT website will remain active throughout the rest of the summer and will close on September 15, 2011.  So take some time to visit and let your voice be heard!


09 June 2011

“Walkable Urbanism” Event Leaves me Hungry for More

On June 1, 2011, CA and HHC co-sponsored “21st Century Development Plans – How Will Columbia Measure Up?” at the Spear Center in downtown Columbia.   HHC Vice-President John DeWolf, CA President Phil Nelson, and Brookings Institute Fellow Chris Leinberger walked an audience of almost 300 through the past 50 years of American real estate development and firmly laid the foundation for what is in store for the next 30 years.  (To be fair, Mr. DeWolf and Mr. Nelson provided mostly introductory remarks and Mr. Leinberger did the heavy lifting, but the tone and content of John and Phil’s words set the stage for a great evening.)

Although at the time of this writing, there has been no coverage by traditional media sources (newspaper, TV, radio), the HoCo blogging community has really stepped up to report and comment on the event.  Trevor Greene @ HoCoPolitico was first out of the box, with his personal observations posted just three hours after the event.  On Thursday morning, HoCoRising provided his insight regarding one particular exchange during the event.  And particular takes on the event were covered by Sarah Says, The Rocket Powered Butterfly, and HoCoConnect.  However, the blog post by Frank Hecker is without a doubt the best first person account of the proceedings on Wednesday night.  I urge anyone who was not in the room to visit his account of the meeting. 

My personal observations of the event have evolved over the past few days.  Let me be clear, Mr. Leinberger is a gifted presenter and easily held my attention of two hours.  He presented powerful and complex concepts that explained how development occurred in the past and how it is changing going forward.  I learned a lot on Wednesday night.

That being said, I have come to think that the event could have been, somehow, better.  By better, I really mean deeper and localized to Columbia.  For instance, Mr. Leinberger made use of clips from the 1985 movie “Back to the Future.”  He asked the audience to focus on the built environment in the movie, from both the 1950’s and 1980’s.  Putting aside the notion that downtown Hill Valley, both the 1955 and 1985, are caricatures of their time, his point was made.  However, given the 30-year timespan in the movie, some historical photography showing downtown Columbia 30 years ago, juxtaposed with how downtown Columbia looks today, may have driven home the point that as Mr. Leinberger stated, “Columbia has flat-lined over the last thirty years.”

Staying with the built-environment-as-reflected-in-pop-culture theme, Mr. Leinberger also discussed how the built environment was portrayed through the years on television.  Specifically, he showed clips of “I Love Lucy” and discussed how in the 1950’s the suburbs were depicted as the preferential place to live, whereas TV shows in the 1990’s depicted characters, such as those on “Seinfeld” living a walkable urban environment.

As a side note, Frank Hecker posits in his blog post (linked above) that the often-cited situation comedies Seinfeld, Friends, and Sex and the City are manufactured images targeted at predominantly white middle-class consumers interested in the comedic and dramatic adventures of other white middle and upper-middle class consumers. Part of the Hollywood strategy here was to recast minorities from urban threats to background contributors to urban atmosphere.”  To an extent, I agree with Frank’s comment; although I tend to include The Cosby Show and Living Single as part of the “walkable urban television shows.”  Both were popular and supposedly located in Brooklyn, NY.  In addition, there is popular support for the theory that Friends “borrowed” from the Living Single show. 

One final point to make about pop culture and the built environment; I believe the pendulum has swung back toward drivable suburban in the small-screen landscape.  Since the demise of “must see TV,” today’s sit-coms (Two-and-a-Half Men, Modern Family) are firmly planted in suburbia, replete with lots of driving to and from events (I swear, if Claire and Phil Dunphy’s Toyota Sienna minivan had a name, it would require a screen credit at the end of the show).  Sex and the City was succeeded on HBO by The Sopranos, a show about a mob boss, in suburban New Jersey.  Even Weeds was based on the premise of a widowed suburban housewife making ends meet through the drug trade, to the point that “Little Boxes” served as the show’s theme song.  Once again, in most of these shows, minorities are sorely underrepresented.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, most TV crime dramas (principally the various CSI and recently defunct Law and Order franchises) are still played out in the urban environs, reinforcing the image of the city as a dangerous place; and yes the crime dramas are the 1970’s ideal of a societal melting pot when compared to the sit-coms mentioned above.

Hey, My Inner Geek is Screaming – What About the Data?!

Yes, this discussion surrounding the built-environment-as-reflected-in-pop-culture is great bar room chatter, but we should get back to the data.  For instance, Mr. Leinberger displayed for the audience a “heat map” indicating the (per household) CO2 emissions in the Chicago area

The story that the map tells is that walkable urbanized areas contribute far less to climate change (on a per-household basis) than the drivable suburban regions.  It stands as an alternate portrait to the “green” pictures typically associated with the drivable suburban setting and the “brick and mortar” images associated with the walkable urbanized setting.  I have no quibble with the imagery.  It is clear that when viewed on a per area basis, central cities produce a lot of pollution.  When viewed on the per capita (be it per person, per household, etc) basis, walkable urban demonstrates itself to be the better bargain.

Showing a map of Chicago provides a great example in the abstract.  Supporting the theory with local data would have driven the point home for those in the audience.  As a matter of fact, the folks that created the Chicago maps (and friends of Mr. Leinberger), the Center for Neighborhood Technology, have also put together a web site that allows the user to do display similar data for much of the United States.

The picture below was taken from this website and can be obtained by centering the map on Columbia and zooming in to the bounds of the city.  The areas on the map depict the amount of CO2 emissions on a per household basis.  Much of Columbia is a deep shade of red, indicating that on a per household basis, these parts of Columbia put out more than 8.6 metric tons of CO2 each year.  If you live inside LPP (Clary’s Forest), Faulkner Ridge, Bryant Woods, Fairway Hills, Talbott Springs, the Treeover section of Jeffers Hill, Locust Park, Huntington, or inside Cradlerock Way (Owen Brown), the per household emissions in your neighborhood are between 6.5-8.6 metric tons per year.  Lastly, if you live in Vantage Point or Governor’s Grant (both in Town Center), the per household emissions are between 5.1-6.5 metric tons per year.

What is also interesting about this map is the large swaths of white.  These areas of Columbia are more recognizable by their names; Columbia Mall, Oakland Ridge Industrial Business Park, Gateway.  What they all have in common is that there are no (or very few) households in these areas, once again reinforcing the single use zoning prevalent in Howard County and Columbia.

In addition to the fine work done by the Center for Neighborhood Technology, a consortium of universities and government agencies have come together to create a CO2 database for the entire nation.  Whereas the Center for Neighborhood Technology maps displayed CO2 emissions from automobiles, the Vulcan maps consider all man-made sources of CO2 emissions (note, Google Earth plugin required to view map).  The database is searchable down to the county level. I will leave it up to the reader to compare Howard County’s numbers to surrounding districts.  Suffice it to say, more than half our CO2 emissions come from Onroad Transportation.

Is There More Data to Consider?

Yes!  Later in Mr. Leinberger’s lecture, he was describing the different types of walkable environments and stated that the Washington DC area had the largest concentration of walkable environments in the nation.  He specifically highlighted development in Arlington County, VA along the Wilson Boulevard corridor.

One of the interesting numbers Mr. Leinberger provided was that the Wilson Boulevard corridor is about 2.5% of the land mass in Arlington County and 55% of the property taxes collected.  It would have been helpful at this point in his lecture to discuss the work done by Peter Katz, the Sarasota County (FL) Director of Smart Growth ().  Mr. Katz’s work falls right in line with the Mr. Leinberger statement, but also goes much further. Mr. Katz’s analysis was reported by Mary Newsom @ Citiwire as follows:

Indeed, that three-quarters of an acre of in-town urban-style (14- to 16-story) development is worth more property tax revenue than a combination of the 21-acre WalMart Supercenter and the 32-acre Southgate Mall.  Even a mid rise (up to about seven stories) mixed use building brings in $560,000, and the low rise (up to three stories with residential over retail) brings in over $70,000 per acre — more than three times the return of Southgate Mall.


Still, evidence is piling up of the benefits of compact, in-town development compared with auto-centric greenfield development. With a smaller carbon footprint, it’s kinder on the environment. It’s kinder on residents’ waistlines, too, as they’re likely to walk more and drive less. And now there’s evidence it’s kinder to government coffers, as well. And that’s an attribute worth some serious attention.

If this data was presented in conjunction with the Arlington County data provided by Mr. Leinberger, the point becomes clear:  Throughout the country walkable urbanism is providing significant additional revenue to the local governments in the form of increased property taxes.

One last thing about Arlington, VA.  Without a doubt, urban planners, government officials and environmentalists have often times praised the development around Metro stops in Arlington as good urban design.  As Mr. Leinberger said, “To do walkable urbanism right, Columbia needs to understand what is going on in Arlington.”  And I get that.  I have read and understand the concepts.  What I would like to see are the hard numbers.  I would like to see a progression of traffic studies, from about 1995 to present day, depicting traffic conditions on Wilson Boulevard, Clarendon Boulevard, Fairfax Drive, Glebe Road, and Washington Boulevard.  I would like to see the US Census Journey to Work data, from 1990, 2000 and present day (in its American Community Survey form) showing any difference in “County-to-County workflows,” average commuting time, the percentage of people using mass transit, the number of people that drive alone, and the number of vehicle miles traveled.  This would go a long way to “understanding Arlington.”

Quarters, Dollars, and Dreams that Evolve

One of headline-grabbing quotes from Mr. Leinberger prior to his lecture was his assertion that “If Washington had been located 20 miles farther south of Columbia, the master-planned community would have failed.”  I found this to be an interesting flip on history.  It is my recollection that the Rouse Company bought up land in Howard County because it was between Baltimore and Washington.  Sure, stating that building a planned community is fraught with risk and that failure was a real possibility is certainly within the bounds of discussion, but to extend those statements to ignore the initial conditions is just plain irresponsible.

During his lecture, Mr. Leinberger spoke to this aspect under the a larger discussion of the “favored quarter.”  The favored quarter, as it applies to Baltimore is well described by Myron Orfield in his 1997 paper, Baltimore Metropolitics: a Regional Agenda for Community and Stability (pdf):

The “favored quarter” (a term coined by real estate consultants) dominates regional economic growth and garners a disproportionate share of the region’s new roads and other developmental infrastructure. Its housing markets are highly restrictive, its social needs small and often declining. However, it has too few local workers for local jobs and traffic congestion that cannot be solved by new highways. In the low social need sector growing communities corner the market in low-density executive housing and/or business tax base with low service requirements. Fiscal zoning is the process by which communities zone or plan to develop expensive housing and/or commercial-industrial property with low service demands so as to increase their tax base per household and keep their costly social need (and taxes) down.
Christopher Leinberger and his colleagues at Robert Charles Lesser and Co. (RCL & Co.), one of the most successful real estate consulting firms in the country, have made a great deal of money locating for businesses the “favored quarter” in a given metropolitan area.42 These quarters are developing suburban areas that have mastered the art of skimming off the cream of metropolitan growth, while accepting as few metropolitan responsibilities as possible. RCL & Co. look for areas with concentrations of housing valued above $200,000, high-end regional malls, and the best freeway capacity. As these communities grow affluent and their tax base expands, their exclusive housing market actually causes their relatively small local social needs to decline.
In the Baltimore region, Leinberger’s favored quarter is the tract of land that surrounds Interstate 83, in the Towson area and north into central Baltimore County. This favored quarter includes places just to the north of Baltimore that we have identified as areas with high tax base and low social need; such as Towson, Luthersville-Timonium, and Mays Chapel. Leinberger also identifies two secondary favored quarters as being the Owings Mills and the White Marsh areas. The area of White Marsh has also been identified in our study as a low social need place. These secondary areas may become more important in future years as the I-83 favored quarter north of Baltimore is held back by strict zoning ordinances and limited available infrastructure.43 In addition to these favored quarters identified by Leinberger, using similar techniques, our study has identified other places of low social need, predominantly located in Howard and Anne Arundel Counties.

I believe that the favored quarters in the Washington DC and Baltimore regions (and the success of Columbia) are tied to, and in service of, the American Dream.  Mr. Leinberger touched on this early in his lecture.  He spoke of the American Dream, and how it has changed over time. In early American (United States) history, the American Dream was tied to an agrarian ideal.  As Mr. Leinbeger stated, “40-acres and a mule” were enough for a family to provide for itself. 

As the manufacturing, industrial and transportation industries matured during the 19th and early 20th centuries, the American Dream evolved into the suburban ideal.  It was during this maturation period in which the foundation of the favored quarter was laid in Baltimore and Washington DC.  In Baltimore, the Jones Falls that runs through the city proved to be a beneficial site for early mills.  With any industrialized waterway, the affluent area was predominantly upstream, given, among other things, cleaner water.  In addition, upland regions were desirable to the affluent because they could escape the heat of the city during the summer months.  In Washington DC, the creation of the C&O canal and later the railroad created the transportation infrastructure for the well-to-do seeking relief from the city.  From these initial beginnings, the favored quarters evolved into the areas we know today. 

It is also worth mentioning the Standard State Zoning Enabling Act of 1924 (and revised in 1926).  This landmark legislation was produced by the Department of Commerce under the guidance of then Secretary Herbert Hoover.  This act provided for the separation of land uses and accelerated the transformation of the American Dream in which the place of residence is separate and distinct from the place of work.

With respect to Columbia, let me refer back to Mr. Leinberger’s opening remarks.  At the beginning of the evening, Mr. Leinberger praised the work of Columbia’s founder Jim Rouse and stated that he was ahead of his time.  Although Mr. Rouse failed to persuade the United States Patent and Trademark Office to locate within Columbia, the city’s regional proximity to the National Security Agency, the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, the University of Maryland Baltimore County, the Goddard Space Flight Center, and the Social Security Administration provided ample employment opportunities.  Each of these facilities either opened or dramatically expanded during the 1960’s.  In particular, the types of jobs at these facilities; analysts, engineers, scientists, technicians, physicists and other degreed professionals were what I believe are the seeds of what Richard Florida has called the "Creative Class.”  In this way, intended or not, a generation of Columbia residents prospered in a way that wasn’t even defined until thirty years later.  Mr. Leinberger’s favored quarter discussion is valid within the context of regional manufacturing and industrial legacies; however, in the current information age and the emerging experiential age, the thinking will have to change.  To be fair, Mr. Leinberger did hint at this rethinking during his discussion.

All things considered, it has been more than a week since the meeting, and I’m still buzzing.  As I said on Twitter the next day, “I laughed, I learned, and I start this day with renewed hope.”  Part of this renewed hope is that we will have more of these type events in the near future.  On that note, I have one last request.  I hope that in future meetings, CA and HHC can provide some sort of babysitting on site so that young families can attend.  Doing so will open up the number of people that can attend, and that can’t be a bad thing.

26 May 2011

Stop What You are Doing, and Listen

I was listening to the Maryland Morning program yesterday morning on WYPR (88.1 FM).  On Wednesday mornings, the program features a segment called “Connecting Family with Meredith Jacobs.

Yesterday’s segment was one of those stories that the folks in the public radio realm refer to as a “driveway moment.”  As in, the story is so good; you will sit in your driveway to listen to the whole story before removing your car key from the ignition.

The subject of this segment was Meredith’s reflections on summer swim team.  I’m pretty sure Meredith does not live in Columbia, but the description of her experience with her child’s summer swim team would be easily recognized by the more than 2000 Columbia Summer Swim League members and their families.  She accurately describes the social interactions between swimmers, and between parents (aka “Jamie’s mom” or “Alex’s dad”); the team camaraderie, the individual achievement. 

All said, it was a joy listening and reflecting on my own experience as a swimmer and as the parent of a swimmer.  It should be required listening for all parents of school age kids in Columbia (or anywhere there is an active summer swim team program).  So if you have kids, or were once a swimmer, take a listen.

Columbia Summer Swim League practice starts next Tuesday at your local neighborhood pool.  If you or your child is at all motivated by this, I look forward to seeing you at the pool on Saturday mornings.  Go Wilde Lake Watercats!!

16 May 2011

Columbia Demographics 1990-2009 – Useful Eye Candy

To help better understand demographic change, I have taken the time to put together a map that helps depict the changes in Columbia, MD.  Shown below is a map of most of Columbia.  My apologies to the folks in Dorsey’s Search north of MD 108, the US Census boundaries in your area do not match up easily, and it would take me weeks to put together the numbers in your neighborhood.

For the remainder of Columbia, I have outlined the year 2000 Census Tracts that comprise the city.  If you click on a section of the map, it will display the name of the neighborhood and the total population for that area in 1990, 2000, and 2009 (estimate).  In addition, each pop-up window includes the statement “click here for details.”  I encourage everyone to “click here.”  By doing so, it will direct you to a spreadsheet that displays the detailed demographic data for the geographic area and in many parts of the city, it tells an interesting story.  For instance, the Columbia Association is concerned about the decline of those 21-54 years old in Columbia.  In the Hopewell neighborhood, this age group has seen a 40% drop (estimated), but attendance at the Hopewell pool is one of the best in the city.  This is just one example of the dynamic changes occurring throughout the city over the last twenty years.

It is important to note here that the 2009 data is an estimate, and at times carries a large margin of error.  The US Census Bureau is releasing state 2010 Census demographic data throughout this month.  When the new 2010 data becomes available, I will update the map and spreadsheets.

Also, in the lower left corner of each spreadsheet, shaded in blue, the limited data from the 2010 Census can be found.  I encourage you to look at it.  In many cases, the 2010 Census data does not correlate with the 2009 estimates. 

Coming up soon:  Let’s look at CA Aquatics Pool Attendance Data!

15 May 2011

Diving into CA Aquatics Demographics

So it’s been more than a few weeks since the Columbia Association Aquatics Department kicked off its Master Planning Process (http://www.columbiaassociation.com/aquaticsmasterplan/), and to be frank, there is something about the numbers presented that have been bothering me.  The first thing that put me on the path of unbelievably ridiculous research was a slide that CA put up during their master planning workshops.  The slide (pdf – Slide 18) entitled “How Much Does it Cost?” detailed the capital costs of pools over the lifetime of Columbia.  The first pool listed is the Bryant Woods Pool.  It was built in 1968 for a cost of $41,000.  The last pool on the list is River Hill Pool.  It was built in 1995 for a cost of $1.2M.

The implication was that the cost to construct pools has increased dramatically over the years.  I had a problem with this for several reasons.  First, the Bryant Woods Pool is a six-lane, rectangular pool with (by today’s standards) an undersized diving well and an adjacent wading (baby) pool.  The hot tub at Bryant Woods was part of an upgrade and built in the 1980’s.  The River Hill Pool is an eight-lane pool with beach entry, the site also includes a spray structure in the beach entry area, a snack bar, shade structures, a beach volleyball court and hot tub.  Even the baby pool has a spray mushroom.  By comparison, I believe that both the men’s and women’s bath house at Bryant Woods could fit inside a single side (sex) of the River Hill bath house.  In other words, it is difficult to compare a base model 1968 Dodge Dart, with bias tires, lap seat belts, drum brakes, no air-conditioning and AM radio with a top-of-the-line Lexus; with anti-lock brakes, airbags, multi-disc CD player, leather all-around, sunroof, and thousands of goodies at the high end.

Secondly, it occurred to me during the public workshop meeting that when the Bryant Woods Pool was constructed in 1968 for $41,000, the houses surrounding the pool were selling for about $27,000 (admittedly some more, some less).  When the River Hill Pool was constructed in 1995 for $1.2M, the houses in River Hill were selling for about $500,000 (admittedly, some more, some less).  From this point of view, it appears that pool construction costs have gone up, but have roughly remained at pace with the cost of constructing houses (and yes, like the BW v. RH pool scenario, there are dissimilarities in the housing stock amenities, but they do trend with the type of pool in each neighborhood.  In other words, if a house of the style found in Bryant Woods was built in River Hill, it would cost less; however, if the pool in River Hill was a rectangular pool without the bells and whistles, it would cost less too).

Lastly, and this is where CA could be most helpful, it would be beneficial to understand how much of the capital budget the Bryant Woods Pool consumed in 1968 and how much of the capital budget the River Hill Pool consumed in 1995.  CA would have to provide the numbers, but given the number of lien payers in 1968 (approx 2,000) v. 1995 (> 76,000) (and the resultant $0.75 per hundreds assessed paid), I believe the River Hill Pool constituted a smaller portion of the capital budget than the Bryant Woods Pool.

For the reasons stated above, I think CA Aquatics was a little misleading about “How much it costs.”

Hey! We’re (Still) Here!

Another set of data that didn’t seem quite right to me can be found on the Columbia Association – Aquatics Master Plan web page.  Under the title “Existing Conditions and Trends,” the following passage can be found:

Built and upgraded over 40 years, Columbia's inventory of aquatics facilities are aging and require investment to continue to offer programs and amenities that meet user expectations.
At the same time, Columbia's demographic trends show that our population is aging - the median age today is almost 40 years old, whereas it was 32 in 1990. In addition, residents in their prime child-rearing years (aged 21 to 54) have decreased as a proportion of the population from almost one-half of the population in 1990 to one-third of the population today.
To understand and respond to these and other trends, the Columbia Association is undertaking a master plan to set the framework for future capital investments and programs to keep our aquatics program strong and to make sure investments are made wisely.

The above paragraphs paint a pretty dramatic picture.  It portrays Columbia, broadly speaking, as getting older.  To an extent, this is true.  I checked the median age numbers at the U.S. Census and they are correct.  The median age in Columbia is increasing.

What is troubling is the second piece of data: “In addition, residents in their prime child-rearing years (aged 21 to 54) have decreased as a proportion of the population from almost one-half of the population in 1990 to one-third of the population today.”  To be kind, this is a 100% factually untrue statement.

I looked up the Columbia demographic data over at the United States Census webpage; first the 1990 and 2000 decennial Census data, and then the data from the 2009 American Community Survey.  Note:  The 2009 American Community Survey is an estimate conducted by the US Census Bureau.  The 2010 Census decennial demographic data (say that five times fast) has not been released for Maryland.  It is expected to be released within the next two weeks.

As shown below, the 1990 Census data indicates people aged 21-54 made up 60% (not 50%) of the population.  Over the last 20 years, this age cohort has seen a decline to 50% (estimate) of the population.  This 10% decline over 20 years is a much slower rate than the 17% decline offered by the Columbia Association Aquatics Department.

What is most interesting about the Columbia demographic data is that yes, as a proportion of the total population, those aged 21-54 have seen a decline; however, for twenty years the total number of people has remained remarkably constant.  The realization for the Columbia Association isn’t that 45,495 people in 1990 constituted 60% of the population or that 45,236 (estimate) in 2009 constituted 50% of the population.  What is most important is that 45,000 people, most likely lien payers and membership owners don’t take kindly to being marginalized by some “fuzzy numbers.”

Taken at face value, the (factually incorrect) demographics above paint one picture, but they do not reveal the total picture.  I am very concerned that CA is approaching this based on proportionality.  I think it is wrongheaded thinking.  It whispers “divide and conquer.” This position is similar to the “how much does it cost” statement by CA above.

Most other institutions do not use the proportionality argument.  Hypothetically, if eighty kids need to be bused to a local elementary school, the public school system provides buses for them.  If at some time in the future there becomes a dramatic increase in need for busing at the high school level, but eighty kids still need to be bused to the elementary school, the school system provides more buses.  They don’t say to the elementary school parents, “you know, as a proportion of the total bus rider population, the elementary school kids have declined, so we’re going to cut off their service to the elementary school.”

Now is the time for the Columbia Association to get back on the right track.  It is time for the Columbia Association to commit, loudly and clearly, to providing (at a minimum) the amenities and services that were available over the last twenty years because the population that wants these services has not changed over the last twenty years.  The Columbia Association should also embrace the change that comes with a growing senior population, but not at the expense of others in the community. 

09 May 2011

John and David

As the Columbia community begins to settle in with its new (insert your own “relationship analogy” here: partner, step-dad, drummer, etc..), John DeWolf; it may be instructive to look broadly at Howard Hughes Corporation.  This morning, HHC announced David Striph as the Senior Vice President position for its Hawaiian assets. 

This announcement is significant because, although half-a-world away, the HHC (nee GGP) owned Ward Centers, located in Honolulu’s Ala Moana District has progressed on a roughly parallel track with Columbia, Maryland.  During the mid-2000’s, then GGP embarked on a master planning process for both Columbia and the Ward Centers.  In each case, GGP needed zoning changes to realize the master plans.  In Hawaii, the Ward Center master plan was submitted to the Hawaii Community Development Authority.

Subsequent meetings generated dozens of supporters and many that opposed the Master Plan.  To get a bit of the flavor surrounding the master plan, here is a report from the October 16, 2008 Honolulu Star Bulletin:

There were people both in support and opposition to the plan, which demolishes most of the existing buildings at Ward over the next 20-plus years, transforming the skyline with up to 4,300 more residential units in the form of mid- and high-rises throughout the 60-acre neighborhood.
[A] group calling itself the Kakaako Coalition held a rally at Sheridan Community Park an hour and a half before yesterday's public hearing.
Carrying signs and wearing red T-shirts, the group's position was that HCDA should require an environmental impact statement and traffic study before considering approval of the plan.
[M]any stakeholders were concerned as well about preserving open space and view planes, which could be blocked by high-rises along Ala Moana.
In addition, Frierson said, the neighborhood needs more affordable housing and fewer upscale projects targeting second-home owners.
Sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it?

Moreover, the Hawaii Community Development Authority approved the zoning (8-1) in January of 2009 and the Howard County Council approved local Columbia zoning (5-0) in February 2010. 

Another interesting point to consider is that although the Ward Centers is on 1/10th the land of Downtown Columbia (60 acres v. approx 600 acres in Maryland), the magnitude of development is fairly similar.  In the press release announcing John DeWolf, the Downtown Columbia project is described as follows:

Columbia Town Center has an approved master plan to create up to 13 million square feet of mixed-used development. The plan includes up to 5,500 residential units, approximately one million square feet of retail, approximately five million square feet of commercial office space and 640 hotel rooms.

Whereas the Ward Centers described in the HHC press release for David Striph are described as:

Ward Centers is comprised of approximately 60 acres situated along Ala Moana Beach Park and is within one mile of Waikiki and downtown Honolulu. Ward Centers currently is a 550,000-square-foot shopping district containing six specialty centers and over 135 unique shops, a variety of restaurants and an entertainment center, which includes a 16-screen movie theater. In January 2009, the Hawaii Community Development Authority approved a 15-year master plan, which entitles a mixed-use development encompassing up to 9.3 million square feet, including up to 7.6 million square feet of residential (4,300 units), five million square feet of retail and four million square feet of office, commercial and other uses.

So is there any insight into Howard Hughes Corporation, given that they announced the hiring of two men (yes, I noticed that too) to carry out two master planned developments in the span of four days?  The jury is out (being that hiring announcements are a bit formulaic), but there are some clues in each announcement.

The introductory paragraph in each press release emphasizes the accomplishments of each Senior Vice-President.  For comparison, here is the background on John DeWolf:

Mr. DeWolf brings over 30 years of real estate experience to his new role. Most recently, Mr. DeWolf ran his own consulting practice leading real estate strategy, portfolio management and start-up guidance for multi-billion dollar businesses. Mr. DeWolf was Executive Vice President Real Estate/Strategic Initiatives for New York & Company where he oversaw the addition of 225 stores, the closing of 100 stores, and downsizing of over 250 stores. Additionally, as head of strategic initiatives he managed the development of two accessory store concepts and four new store prototypes. Previously, Mr. DeWolf had senior leadership roles with New England Development, Woolworth Corporation and The Disney Stores, Inc.

And the background on David Striph:

An industry veteran, Mr. Striph has financed and managed over two billion dollars worth of real estate assets during his career, including mixed-use, retail and high-end residential projects. Prior to joining Howard Hughes, Mr. Striph served as Senior Managing Director at Westmount Realty Capital, a Dallas, Texas-based real estate investor. Mr. Striph was also Managing Director at Fortress Investment Group, Vice President at Fremont Investment & Loan, and President of Amresco Capital Trust.

In addition, each press release provides complimentary quotes from Howard Hughes Corporation Leadership.  John DeWolf receives the following from HHC CEO David Weinreb:

"The Maryland Communities, Landmark and West Windsor are important strategic assets for the company. John brings the acumen and experience necessary to ensure that the full potential values of these key assets are realized, ” David R. Weinreb, Chief Executive Officer of The Howard Hughes Corporation, stated. “John’s appointment is a clear example of our dedication to identifying the best leaders for our management team, and our commitment to the time and exploration necessary to find the ideal leaders for each vital role.”

While David Striph is the recipient of accolades from Weinreb and HHC President Grant Herlitz:

"David’s multi-faceted background in commercial real estate makes him the ideal leader for our assets in Hawaii,” stated Grant Herlitz, President of The Howard Hughes Corporation.
“Ward Centers is a key example of the untapped value within The Howard Hughes Corporation’s portfolio. We have the approvals to redevelop the property with up to 9.3 million square feet of mixed-use development,” stated David R. Weinreb, the company’s Chief Executive Officer. “This opportunity has the potential to include thousands of residential units with unobstructed ocean views and to materially enhance the property’s retail presence.”

In the end, it is all too early to make any judgments about either executive, but it will certainly be interesting the observe the trajectory of both projects as each of these individuals fulfill their roles in their respective communities.

08 May 2011

Election Editorial Response

When my copy of the Columbia Flier arrived on my driveway early Thursday morning, I expected coverage of the recently completed Columbia elections.  A piece by Sara Toth on fellow Wilde Lake resident (and elected Wilde Lake Village Board member) Regina Clay has been up on the Explore Howard website for a few days.  Sara does a decent job covering the bases, but I was really insulted by the editorial regarding the Columbia Elections.  The editorial begins as follows:

Stop us if you've heard this one.
Eight years ago in this space we called upon the Columbia villages to put their heads together and standardize their election rules. It didn't happen.

Y’know, I love it when any entity gets up in front of the community and says “We told you to do something about this eight years ago,” and then for eight years does nothing to improve the situation.  It just shows the level of community commitment and professionalism in the organization.

Moreover, Explore Howard whitewashes a lot of Columbia election/Governance history between the 2nd and 3rd sentences quoted above. So to help set the record straight, let’s look at what did happen.

1st, the history

It is a well-known fact that the differences between Villages on Columbia Election Day exist because voter eligibility is derived from the Covenants in each Village.  The Covenants vary from Village-to-Village, but the one thing that is constant is there exists a high bar to change the Covenants.  For example, the Wilde Lake Covenants can only be changed “by execution of an instrument signed by not less than 90% of the lot owners.”  So to change voter eligibility from “lot owners and tenants” to “all residents over the age of 18” would require 2,357 lot owners (90% of 2618 dwelling units. (Source, Columbia Association 2011 Public Information Guide, p. 23) to sign a petition (or similar) to approve the change. 

The term of office also varies by Village.  Some Villages have two-year terms.  Some Villages have one-year terms.  The term of office is not in the Covenants, it is spelled out in the Village Articles of Incorporation (aka Charter).  Again, using Wilde Lake as an example, the terms of office are as follows:

Beginning with the first annual meeting of the Association to be held on or before march 1, 1968, the members, at each such annual meeting, shall elect five (5) directors, at least two of whom shall be elected from among the membership of the Association, each for a term of one year.
It also states: 
“The members of the Association shall in each year elect from among the members thereof a representative to serve a one year term as a member of the Columbia Council.”
Now, amending the Articles of Incorporation requires first an affirmative vote of 2/3 of the Board of Directors (Village Board) and a majority of the members entitled to vote.  For those of you keeping score at home, that’s 1310 property owners and renters that would need to approve the change.

Now the intention here is that neither the Covenants nor the Articles of Incorporation are easy to change.  What has become the accepted “wisdom” is that it is nearly impossible to change either document.

Fast Forward to 2003

Let’s recall the events that provoked the Explore Howard editors all those years ago to call “upon the Columbia villages to put their heads together and standardize their election rules.”  Back in the Spring of 2003, then Howard County Councilperson David Rakes went to the Long Reach polling place (Stone House) to vote.  Mr. Rakes had previously lived in Oakland Mills, but within the last year rented an apartment in Long Reach.  Given that he was a renting an apartment, he was asked to provide a copy of his lease as proof of residence.  In a related article , Mr. Rakes stated, “This is nothing but a false barrier; it's discriminatory."  In the same edition of the Columbia Flier, the editors cobbled together an editorial that lamented the low voter turnout (this time Hickory Ridge did not reach a quorum) and the Rakes controversy.  Toward the end of the editorial, they stated:
“We call for an assembly of village officials _ a constitutional convention, if you will _ to establish in time for next year's village elections uniform rules governing the voting process that remove as many barriers to participation by residents as possible.”
Now for those whom have the time and energy, “standardize their election rules” (2011) does not exactly comport with “uniform rules governing the voting process that remove as many barriers to participation by residents as possible;” (2003) but we are going to stick to broad principles here.

The Last Great Governance Discussion

After the 2003 Columbia elections, the idea of election reform was not ignored.  In fact it was a topic of discussion amongst every Village Board.  Residents provided input.  Boards discussed how to change the unchangeable (Covenants).  Exo-Covenant and Supra-Covenant ideas were put forth and debated.  Lawyers were consulted.  The last great covenant discussion was unearthed and discussed at length.  Ultimately, the Columbia Association electeds convened a second Governance Committee, whose only task was to study election reform.  This committee studied four different reform proposals, took input from residents and village board members, and issued a report that can be found here:  NOTE:  links to appendices do not work.

The result of all this input was filtered through the Columbia Council/CA Board of Directors. There was general acceptance that Village Board elections were locked in by the Covenants and Articles of Incorporation of each Village and could not be changed.  The CA Board endorsed a plan in which Columbia residents would participate in two simultaneous elections.  Elections for Village Board and Columbia Council Representative would proceed as they always have.  But every other year, all village residents over the age of 18 would also vote for Village representation on the CA Board of Directors. Technically, this would achieve a standardized election for the CA Board of Directors. Residents in Dorsey's Search, Kings Contrivance, Long Reach, River Hill and Wilde Lake would vote in odd-numbered years, while those in Harper's Choice, Hickory Ridge, Oakland Mills, Owen Brown and Town Center would vote in even-numbered years.

Under this arrangement, the elected CA Board of Directors would be charged with carrying out the business of the Columbia Association, while the elected Columbia Council Representative would either be the same person (assuming they ran for both positions) or would be a “figurehead.”  This is the “2005 endorsement” that is mentioned in this week’s Explore Howard editorial.

To try and rectify any loose ends, CA’s legal staff created a “compact” to be signed by all the Village Board and Columbia Association.  Ultimately, this proposal was met with much resistance by many actors.  The Alliance for a Better Columbia exercised much hand waving and worried about potential lawsuits from corporations that would no longer have the same voting rights.  Villages currently under the one vote per property regime bristled at the prospect of having to maintain two sets of voter rolls.

Ultimately election reform collapsed under the weight of opposition, and the status-quo remained.

The Straw Man

Getting back to present day, the Explore Howard editors offer a straw man argument for poor election results:
It's a mobile society, and it's not uncommon for Columbia residents to move from one village to another. Young couples move from apartments to single-family houses. Empty-nesters downsize. Sometimes these crossover Columbians get blind-sided by a shift in the rules.
I have tried to find the source of this story and after some extensive searches on Explore Howard, the earliest mention I came across was in 2003 by then Columbia Council Representative Barbara Russell (OM):
“I think the time has come to set up a big meeting where all the 10 villages' board members could discuss such issues as voting rules," said Barbara Russell, the Oakland Mills representative to the CA board. "More uniformity is needed. People get confused, especially when they move from village to village."
To be fair, it may be entirely possible that in 2003 there was a noticeable internal migration of people throughout Columbia; however, given today’s economic climate, I am not so certain that this occurs in an appreciable amount.  I suggest that the folks at Explore Howard, a news organization, do a little research and find out how many people have moved from one village to another over the last five years.  In addition, the Explore Howard staff should interview these people and ascertain their voting records before and after the move.  Otherwise, the editors at Explore Howard should stop exploiting what most likely is a myth.

Future Thoughts, What will Elections be Like in 2019?

It is entirely possible that eight years from now, there may be a Village that does not meet a quorum, but we can collectively change that.  Some of the folks involved in the 2004-2005 CA governance debate are currently on the CA Board of Directors.

Absent another round of CA governance discussion, there are a few other things that can be done.  First, the folks at Explore Howard could do a better job of covering the Village Boards.  Maybe set for themselves a goal of a Village Board story in the paper/website every two weeks.  Another goal may be to write about each Village Board at least once every six months.  Lastly, if Explore Howard really believes that voter eligibility is a real problem and a true barrier to voter turnout, why not construct an infographic chart that depicts what elections take place in a particular year and who is eligible to vote?

The Villages need to work at this problem too.  Interestingly, the Villages of Owen Brown and Hickory Ridge often find it difficult to obtain a quorum.  If you ask the Village Association folks about this, they typically say that the low turnout is because their association site is not near the Village Shopping Center.  So during elections, a few people are spurred to vote in Oakland Mills or Harper’s Choice because as they go about their shopping, they are reminded by the elections and take a few extra minutes to vote.  In Owen Brown, voters need to take a separate trip to a different location to vote, and that difference of eight votes shy of a quorum this year most likely would have disappeared in another village.  So in particular Owen Brown and Hickory Ridge, but all Villages, should attempt to increase village resident traffic to their community building.  I also believe each Columbia Village should publish and hold an event every February on the “State of the Village.”  This would help clarify the issues for the upcoming elections and start to get people interested.

Lastly, residents need to get more involved.  The Ellicott City/Columbia area did not become “the number-two place to live in America” through a plethora of inaction.  It did so by the hard work of many people and it will not remain a highly desirable place to live unless people continue to be engaged.  One of the easiest ways to be engaged is to vote in the local Columbia elections.