Friday, November 21, 2014

Breaking All The Rules

Last night, the Howard County Planning Board unanimously approved the Inner Arbor Plan (phases 1-7) for Symphony Woods.  That's a very good thing.  I wasn't able to attend the meeting two weeks ago, but negotiated with my wife to attend last night.  I really wasn't needed.  There was a diverse coalition of support representing all the elements that make Howard County a great place to live.  Nonprofits, cycling groups, young, old, walkers, runners, business, arts.  By the time I left, there was spill-over seating in the hallway outside of the Columbia/Ellicott City Room.

It reminded me of a quote that Dennis used after we first sat down with him to review the plan:

"Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized.” - Dennis Burnham (via Jim Rouse)

For it is the magnitude of this Plan that has become its inspiration and its albatross.  The last wisps of opposition remained last night, yet it seemed their tone had changed.  We no longer heard about fountains and I don't recall hearing Cy Paumier's name uttered once.  Instead, critics acknowledged that they wished they could share our enthusiasm, and agreed that these are exciting ideas, but that it was all just too big, too expensive, and not something that could be accomplished in Columbia.

In other words, we're not good enough for this.

At its best, collective action achieves the impossible.  That's why we come together.  What we may not be able to accomplish alone, we can achieve together.  Dreams become plans.  Plans become reality.  Reality assumes the inevitable schema of history.  Rinse and repeat.

But for all those who say the debate is over or the fight is won, I have to yet again bring up my most important personal lesson from working on this project over the last two years - you never get to "win" in matters of public concern.  You just move on.  The good news there is that you also never lose.  You just move on.

One of the more unusual bits of testimony last night was from a professor of architectural history at Stevenson University who said he hoped the Inner Arbor plan was passed because he could write a book about it being one of the greatest failures in urban design in history (or some other hyperbolic slight that I can't quite remember).  He said that he understood that art was subjective, but that an artist needed to know what the rules were before they started.  In the case of Inner Arbor, it "broke all the rules."

Although I couldn't stay for the final decision of the Board, my friend William Cochran paraphrased this quote from Planning Board chair Josh Tzuker:

"Some people accuse this visionary park of breaking all the rules. Well, a cultural park in the shadow of the stage where Jimi Hendrix first premiered his Star Spangled Banner in 1968 probably SHOULD break all the rules."

That's some real rock 'n roll stuff right there.  Let's build this park.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Terms in Transition: The Ulman Legacy

With the unveiling of Ken Ulman's portrait in the George Howard Building, it seems as good a time as any to review Ulman's legacy as County Executive.  As you can tell from the title of this post, I think the best description would be "Terms in Transition".  Ken came into the Executive position just as Howard County was on the precipice of change; decisions were still being made as to whether our leadership should allow Columbia to grow or to hold steady with the satisfaction that things were "just fine" in Howard County the ways things were.

Ken embraced this growth and, in doing so, fundamentally transformed the County he was elected to lead.  Howard County, but Columbia in particular, is a very different place now than it was 8 years ago.  It "feels" different.  Without any stats to prove it, I feel as if Columbia's profile has been raised and expectations expanded for what was once considered a visionary plan that fell short.  Ken's fingerprints are all over that work, whether it was in crafting and stewarding legislation or negotiating compliance, he has been in the pilot's chair throughout.

But just as Howard County is more than Columbia, so is it true that Ken's term expanded outside of his hometown.  Ken transformed the position of County Executive from administrator to CEO.  For good or for bad, it would be difficult to find a more policy-rich term as Executive than Ken Ulman's.  From health to the environment to cyber-command to broadband to food policy, there really aren't any boxes Ken left unchecked.  If you wanted to dislike Ken Ulman, he wasn't afraid to give you reasons for doing so.  Ken led with his chin in every endeavor and sometimes failed on a very big stage (Ken's Fall of 2011 comes to mind), but he confidently picked himself back up and moved on to the next thing, barely giving critics enough time to finish their critique before cutting another ribbon, announcing another program, or receiving another award for his hometown.  Contrast this against Executives in Baltimore, Anne Arundel, or Prince George's County, and you'll see just how impactful Ken has been.

There is a tragedy inherent in overseeing transition, particularly when the final product is so close at hand.  Columbia will never be "finished", but it will have reached its next stage in development sometime over the next four years.  Density will have set in, new businesses will have been attracted by the same, and Inner Arbor (God willing) will be nearing half-completion.  These things were directly affected and assisted by Ken's work, yet he will likely be watching their progress right next to you and I.  This was ok when Ken was viewed as a leader in transition, moving on to bigger and better things, but it all feels a little unfair today.

Howard County is a better place because of Ken Ulman.  I think County Executives will be held against the standard he set for decades to come.  He has established lasting precedent for what can be done from that position and identified the political landmines for anyone who may follow his path.  I doubt we've heard the last of Ken, but his opening act has been quite spectacular.

That's all for today.  Have a great Thursday doing what you love!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Race to Why (Wednesday LINKS)

I watched this TED Talk by Simon Sinek called "Start with Why" and one particular bit stuck with me:

There are leaders and there are those who lead. Leaders hold a position of power or influence. Those who lead inspire us. We follow those who lead not because we have to, but because we want to. We follow those who lead not for them, but for ourselves.

Leaders and those who lead.  Then there was this follow up expanation in Sinek's "Logistics of Leadership":

It is easy to get people to follow you. You can make promises you may or may not be able to keep. You can offer them incentives. You can even force them. But leaders don’t simply have people who follow them; real leaders command a following or a group of people who want to follow you, not because they have to, but because they believe in you. They believe in what you’re doing and where you’re going and they want to be a part of it.

If you read it closely, and strip out the "self-help" goop, it explains the absence of leadership in politics.  Modern day politics is very much about the "what" (i.e., "What are you going to do about gun violence?" or "What are you going to do about taxes?") as opposed to the "why" (i.e., "Why do we care about these things?" or "Why do we pool resources for collective action?").

There has been so much recent talk about what Maryland Democrats did wrong and Republicans did right, but in a low turnout election I think this was just a contest of "whats" where the most direct message to voters' bank accounts won.  But in order to turnout voters, right, left, or center, there should be a race to why.  If you can capture the fundamentals of why politics are important and only then describe what can be done from that perch, you will motivate participation.

[R]eal leaders command a following or a group of people who want to follow you, not because they have to, but because they believe in you.

Aspiration and inspiration are still foundational tenets of our political system.  I think they were mostly left untapped in 2014.


The Howard County delegation seems on-board with the Hogan agenda of cutting spending and reducing taxes, according to this piece by Amanda Yeager with The Howard County Times covering the Chamber of Commerce Legislative Breakfast.  Senator Kasemeyer was quoted as saying he views Hogan's election as a "very positive thing".

The Baltimore Sun takes exception to Allan Kittleman's decision to make the soda ban repeal a top priority.  While I believe this issue has now been blown completely out of proportion, I do hope the Kittleman administration has an alternative plan for addressing obesity and encouraging healthy choices.  As The Sun notes, there was a great deal of thought and deliberation invested in fine-tuning this initiative from the original blunt instrument into a more sophisticated plan for encouraging healthier decisions.  We can all agree that these decisions start with parents, but we live in a world with good parents and crappy parents alike.  Nudges like those implemented by Executive Ulman seem like fair attempts to influence the latter, but I am open to alternatives by Executive Kittleman.

The Baltimore Sun reports that the Maryland Health Exchange opened early and did not crash.  Hoorah!

The Keystone Pipeline was narrowly blocked in the Senate last night, but this is likely only a momentary pause as the GOP promises to take the measure back up once their majority is in place, reports Paul Kain and Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.  If you believe that Climate Change is real and that the burning of fossil fuels contributes to the same, this is an issue to follow.  If you don't believe either...that must be nice.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Jason Booms analyzes the Board of Education results.  Jason's blog was a must-read/must-watch for me during the campaign season and I highly recommend his site.  If the blogosphere is ever going to regain the stature it had during the "Age of Wordbones", it will take insightful writers like Jason (as well as my good friends Julia, Bill, and Duane).

Speaking of which, Bill has a spectacular analysis of Allan Kittleman's soda ban repeal here.  A must read.

On a related note, has run out its lease.  I noticed that and thought I would share. 

Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Two Campaign Surprises (Tuesday LINKS)

One of the unfortunate consequences of having run and lost a campaign is the small talk that follows.  Friends, family, coworkers - all well-meaning, all focused on the one thing you would rather not discuss for a little while.

How bout that Republican wave?  Yes, how bout it.  Ravens play on Sunday!
You ran a great campaign!  Thanks.  Makes it a little more frustrating, really.  Have you tried the new sushi place?
Would you do it all over again?  Well I used to think so, but this small talk is making me think twice.  You know I just had a new baby, right?

However, someone asked me a question yesterday that I hadn't considered before - Did anything surprise you?

My first response was "the outcome", but there is much more to my answer than that.  I'm someone who likes to think ten steps into the future.  It makes me a good lawyer and a horrible bungie-jumper.  I would count two "surprises" that are linked:

A) The extent to which people I could most fairly describe as "acquaintances" went all out for me with their time and resources to help us win.  This was the most meaningful take-away from the race and something I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
B) The manner in which "friends" turned their back on me in the name of being "non-partisan". This was the most impactful take-away from the race and has made me more guarded to those in search of "favors".

Thankfully, the former outweighed the latter.  I am blessed with the contentedness that comes from having no "what ifs".  There is not one thing I would have done differently in our campaign and not a single action or inaction that I believe would have changed the outcome.  And if there were any real fundamental surprises, it is just how much I'm needed at home right now and how difficult that would have been if I had won.


Larry Hogan, a man who was never short on hyperbole on the campaign trail, now says that the state's economic picture is worse than he thought, according to Michael Dresser with The Sun.  This is Political Transition 101 - if your predecessor was of the other political party, you frame all problems as being inherited and all successes as earned.

Luke Broadwater with The Baltimore Sun writes that the Baltimore City Council has passed a plastic bag ban in the face of a promised veto from Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who has called this an anti-business measure.  Unlike the sale-of-sugary-drinks-on-County-property-ban discussed yesterday, I think the argument against plastic bags is much stronger due to the public nuisance of seeing them strew across the city-scape, in our trees, and in our Bay.  Nevertheless, for you free-marketeers, I think a bag tax may hit two birds with one stone for a city looking for new revenue.

Ellicott City has been designated a Maryland "Main Street", which will give it top priority for future state and federal grants, writes Blair Ames with the Baltimore Sun.  Notably, this is Howard County's first Main Street designee.  I would caution Howard County tourism officials against using the word "grow" when discussing Main Street Ellicott City.  I am quite certain that "growth" is not an objective of any resident or business owner.  "Strengthen" is the better term.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Bill Woodcock writes a great piece discussing CA President Milton Matthews, Inner Arbor, and the constant confusion amongst some on the CA Board as to just how much they can boss around their CEO.  I join Bill in congratulating, and thanking, Michael Cornell (River Hill) and Nancy McCord (Wilde Lake) for supporting Mr. Matthews in his advocacy for settled votes of the Board.

That's all for today.  Have a great Tuesday doing what you love!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Soda "Ban", We Hardly Knew Ye (Monday LINKS)

Allan Kittleman's first act as County Executive will be to repeal the sugary drinks "ban" implemented by Ken Ulman, according to this piece by Amanda Yeager.  And as those who are paying attention know, this was never really a ban to begin with, but rather a decision by the County not to sell sugary drinks on County property.  The word "Ban" ignites just enough indignation and offense to merit coverage in the local news, while a vendor decision not to sell certain products does not.  Hence "ban" and not "decision not to sell".

Based on the fact that this came out during an interview on WBAL, I strongly doubt this was the policy decision Allan intended to kick-off his administration with.  Merits notwithstanding, the word "repeal" should probably wait a few months when following a overwhelmingly popular County Executive in Ken Ulman. 

But I don't disagree with the decision.  I personally had no problem with the County's "decision not to sell", but thought it was communicated poorly and came across as a political over-reach.  I think the more interesting aspect of this story is how the media will be covering the Kittleman administration.  We can expect any differentiation between Ulman and Kittleman to be blown up while those matters of continuity will be minimized or ignored.

Monday LINKS

Luke Broadwater with The Baltimore Sun notes that in the wake of Larry Hogan's win, state and local leaders are looking to "cut taxes and fees".  This article specifically notes Allan Kittleman's promise to "reduce or repeal" the stormwater management utility fee on the campaign trail.  I thought State Senator Ed Kasemeyer sounded like the only voice of reason in this piece, noting that it would be very difficult to start out cutting taxes with a $600 million shortfall in next year's budget.

Long-time readers know that one of my no-go areas for criticism and debate is Howard Community College due to my father's service on the Board of Trustees.  Well now he's Chair of the Board of Trustees and was quoted by Blair Ames in this article about the new Science, Engineering, and Technology Center.

The Economist provides a great analysis of the "housing first" model for addressing homelessness as implemented in Canada and other cities across the Country.  Great reading for anyone who cares about this problem and wonders why it has been so difficult to solve.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Julia notes that some of the objections we're hearing to the Inner Arbor plan about destroying nature are actually retreads.  The idea that Symphony Woods is "perfect as is" bothers me almost as much as the suggestion that all we need is a circle path and "walkers will come".  Not counting Wine in the Woods, when was the last time you spent more than 10 minutes in the park?  Heck, when was the last time you saw someone spending more than 10 minutes in the park?  It is an under-utilized public space, which is a failure in leadership that is in the process of being remedied.

That's all for today.  Have a great Monday doing what you love!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

No Cemeteries in Symphony Woods

The demands of the campaign made me a spectator on all things Inner Arbor, but I'm excited by the opportunity to come back to this project and find it well on its way to becoming a reality.  I must admit that I am surprised by the persistence of what is commonly referred to as the "Paumier Plan", which may just as easily be described as the "Fountain Plan" due to the absence of any other defining features.  Since its inception, this plan has always reminded me of something, but I could never put my finger on what.

A place I had been.
A place where I was required to be quiet and reverrent.
A place with trees...tombstones.

The Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.  I would challenge anyone to identify a meaningful difference between the two designs, other than the latter's historical significance.  In fact, if Mr. Paumier and his "Design Team" had kept the original cruciform pattern, the designs would be nearly identical.

We need to stop referencing the "Paumier Plan" as a reasonable alternative to Inner Arbor.  The only reason it is being discussed as such is to provide a foundation for opposition.  As Frank Hecker correctly noted in this April 2014 blog post, the same individuals who now support the Paumier Plan had previously opposed it for cutting down too many trees (see Hekimian, et al.).

This is a bad plan, it is a boring plan, and it would standardize our Downtown in ways that are fundamentally opposed to the promise of redevelopment.  Let's discuss the merits of the Inner Arbor Plan and the challenges of such an ambitious park, but let's stop this ruse of alternative design.

No cemeteries in Symphony Woods.  Let's make Columbia Awesome.

Have a great Saturday doing what you love!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Friday LINKS

Links - My informal review of news that matters to me, might matter to you, and otherwise fills our news-space.


"Howard Politicos" break down the November election with a big ole picture of me topping the page, completely unsuspecting of the disappointment to follow.  I found it "interesting" that Amanda Yeager chose to interview my opponent's campaign manager for insight on the race in 9B, but can't disagree with his conclusions (although I would counter that our campaign likely knocked on more doors collectively - but surely waved to fewer cars).

I can honestly say that I know and like just about every person on Allan Kittleman's transition team.  Two observations (that will likely be taken as criticisms, but not intended as such): 1) this group is all from within the Bubble (i.e., they all attend the Spring Party).  This is likely inevitable, and had there been too many newcomers the criticism would be "who are these people", but I thought it was interesting to note. 2) the idea that Allan was going to "fight back against developers", promoted by some, doesn't seem to be supported here.  There are representatives from both commercial and residential real estate development, one of whom has at least five different projects across the County as we speak.  It is also great to see Jean Parker on this list, showing some continuity in the support and promotion of Merriweather.

Howard County Republicans have to be watching the "piggy-back tax" case currently before the Supreme Court through their fingers.  Conceptually, the party of low taxes should be overjoyed by the prospect of having an entire class of taxation wiped out with a single Court opinion.  Pragmatically, it would put the Kittleman Administration in a horrible position of having to issue refunds on revenue already in County coffers and decrease revenue projections into the future.  Said otherwise, County Executive Kittleman's first tax cut would be made by judicial fiat without regard to the service cuts made necessary by the same.

Erin Cox with the Baltimore Sun reports that Governor-elect Hogan has a message for all those who are curious about what policies he will be bringing to Annapolis"They should keep on guessing because I'm going to be governor on Jan. 21, and we'll start talking about policy then."

Barry Rascovar with notes that the aftermath of the Republican wave hitting Maryland may be a Republican Governor and greater numbers in the House and Senate, but it also means fewer moderate Democrats as voters chose red over light blue last Tuesday.  This is something that partisans from both sides may celebrate, but those voters in the middle who sought "balance" will likely see more partisanship than ever.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Julia's blog post from this past Sunday made both my wife and I cry, so I pretty much had to share it.  Thank you for your kind, uplifting words, Julia.

That's all for today.  Have a great Friday doing what you love!