Thursday, June 2, 2011

Hold On To Our Values (Thursday Thoughts)

There was a moment during Chris Leinberger's talk when I thought things may devolve into the boos and claps that I mentioned a few days ago.  We had moved on to the question and answer period, which was prefaced by the admonition "Please make sure that you are asking a question and not making a comment."  (This happens to be the least followed rule at just about every public gathering of politically/community minded folks).

Alan Klein took the microphone.  To back up a bit, I had noticed that the room was packed with a lot of the folks that I had associated with the Alliance for a Better Columbia and the Coalition for Columbia's Downtown.  As such, I was expecting anything.

Alan's general comment was that the reason Columbia had been a successful sub-urban locale was because we had maintained out "values" with regard to things like affordable housing and that the new redevelopment plan did not incorporate those "values."  The unstated remainder of that comment was that having abandoned our "values," we were doomed.

Chris had spent most of the evening talking about hard, practical constructs, so to switch gears to soft undefined "values" was a little shocking.  However, Chris had also been talking of the societal benefits of walkable urbanism: vibrant communities, lower energy usage, less traffic, more "things to do."  While he didn't talk about it last night, Mr. Leinberger's writings are filled with references to affordable housing and strategies for incorporating them into walkable urbanism (especially since his premise is that these environs will be very desirable places to live).

Chris then noted that he is working on a new metric to quantify values such as a community's dedication to affordable housing.  This immediately came in contrast with the comment that was without any reference point regarding values, other than the assumed fact that Columbia had abandoned them in its new downtown.  Mr. Leinberger also noted that there were many things communities can do to incorporate affordable housing.  Unbeknownst to the speaker, Howard County has incorporate many of these programs, including the set-aside trust that was created in conjunction with the redevelopment plan.

In a matter of two hours, just about every concern that was ever raised about Columbia Redevelopment was addressed and refuted.  There is still room to disagree with the theory that Mr. Leinberger was presenting, but I think you are going to have to do some work to back up your "disagreement" with a Brookings Institute fellow with multiple accolades and appointments to his name.  As we say in the legal world, you don't get to just "disagree" with an expert, you need to prove your reasons why.  I felt as if Mr. Klein's question, and the response, were the last wisps of credible protest.  Certainly there will be those who will never approve of the new Plan and that's their prerogative.  There are also those who have defined themselves by their opposition and we should not expect them to give up such a hard forged identity.  But for those who are approaching this with open minds, or those who have worked hard to get to this point and are excited for the outcome, Walkable Urbanism is what we're getting. 

It is disingenuous (at best) to suggest there will be increased traffic.  It is disingenuous (at best) to say that Howard Hughes set out a plan that is solely profit driven and not considering the interests of the current residents (which is logically flawed to begin with).  Most importantly, to the extent we are concerned with "our values," Mr. Leinberger noted that there are multiple community based opportunities to effectuate those things that we had previously asked of our government.  Renters living in extra bedrooms.  Community contributions towards rent subsidizing funds.  It is all still there.  Our values are unaffected by anything the government does or does not do.  These complaints appear as the retreat of the opposition.  Conveniently, the needs of affordable housing will never fully be met, and the concern will never resolve.

(Abbreviated) LINKS

Trevor supports in-state tuition for illegal immigrants.  Sarah makes the interesting ("slam-dunk") point that the in-state tuition bill will cost significantly less than the legislative scholarship program.

Frank Hecker: "[T]he former Rouse building seems to me to symbolize Columbia in miniature."

WB notes the insulation of our local housing market.  For some reason that bubble did not reach my house, at least according to Zillow.

HowChow is less than impressed with the new BGR joint and finds it to be a little pricey.  Meanwhile, Duane wants to know where he can get healthy food in Howard County (there are plenty of places).

That's all for today.  Another busy one.  Have a great Thursday doing what you love.