Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Columbia: Less Than Center (Wednesday LINKS)

This past weekend Jonathan O'Connel of the Washington Post profiled "Town Centers" under the topic of whether city life can be exported to the suburbs.  In describing these new developments, it sounded as if he was reading off a laundry list of everything we aspire to have in our New City of Columbia:

Street grids are plotted around central plazas surrounded by condos, apartments and shopping. Public transportation is arranged, parking garages are hidden from view, and all the things that people love about D.C. and cities like it are layered on: public art, sidewalk performers, outdoor movies, street festivals, block parties and food carts.

O'Connel used Reston, VA as his example for most of the piece, describing it in language bordering on satire as the "titan of town center developments."  For any Columbia-ites, this may be a bit of a smack, considering the constant comparison that certain elements of our community maintain with Reston.  Here's some news: We ain't Reston.

In fact, O'Connel could indirectly be read to argue that Columbia aspires to be Reston.  The new walkable communities that are all the rage right now are modeled after our southern neighbor, Columbia not excluded.

Nevertheless, despite being an also-ran in the town center concept, O'Connel levies some of the criticisms that Columbia has often heard about its own development:

Critics of town centers consider them soulless corporate replicas — no more real cities than Disney World’s fairy-tale fiberglass-and-concrete showpiece is a real castle.

The Village at Leesburg may not feel like Williamsburg in Brooklyn or U Street in D.C., but it demonstrates how smartly county governments and developers are mimicking what feels so unique about the urban experience.


People love cities because of their eccentricities, things that developers cannot build or import: the tattoos on the woman who passes you on the sidewalk, the street person who bums cigarettes and always remembers your name.


The feeling of walking down M Street in Georgetown or on U Street cannot be duplicated, Lanier argues, because these areas were built not by a developer with a singular vision but by time.

Someone who spent their entire life in and around Columbia may balk at the idea that Columbia is "soulless" or "artificial."  It's not just age.  It's not just Jim Rouse's soul.  O'Connel ends with the observation that real urban communities develop character in a "down cycle" when "old businesses are forced to close and new ones are ushered in."  In that, we find our character.  Old leaders are respectfully retired and new leaders emerge.  As neon and fresh pain fades, the people stand out in contrast. 

The more I read this article, the less I felt it applicable to Columbia.  It is an important read for all of us preparing for the new, but does very little to describe our past.  It would be ignorant to say Columbia has not faced a "down cycle".  We have.  What we look like coming out of it will be as defining as the purchase of 14,178 acres fifty years ago.  This time, we got soul.


Your Baltimore Orioles are tied for first place (again) with the New York Yankees after the O's beat the Rays 9-2 and the Yanks lost to the Red Sox in the bottom of the 9th.  I had the pleasure of watching the end of the Orioles win and then switching over to the MLB network to watch the walk off single that won the game for the Sox.  With Jason Hammel potentially heading back to the DL, nothing is going to be easy over the next month.

Recent polls show that Mitt Romney may have taken a significant lead in Virginia, while losing a lot of ground in Ohio and Florida.  For the uninitiated, if Ohio and Florida go to Obama, that's ballgame.  The rest of the states become irrelevant.  Circle your calendar for the October 3 debate.  It is the Super Bowl of this election.

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz just does not seem to be able to get a handle on County pensions.  This summer he wrote an editorial lecturing the State and other County governments about how they should handle their pensions after reducing the projected rate of return.  Yesterday, he announced that despite this measure, the County will be forced to borrow $255 million to fund the pension system.  As I noted before, we should only hope that Kevin is Chicken Little and Ken is the pig with a house made of brick.  (I mixed fairy tale nursery rhyme metaphors, but I think it works).

A 13-year old boy pulled a gun on his teacher and classmates at Stemmers Run Middle School.  Nothing to see here.  Please look away. 

Ann's House of Nuts in Columbia is closing and moving to Minnesota.  We will miss you, Ann.  Please don't tell us you're moving to Eden Prairie.  It would be too much.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Lisa B featured Board of Education candidate David Gertler's new series of "math and science appreciation sessions for Howard County students."  As a pol-watcher, I find it fascinating that David is reaching out to this disenfranchised constituency of the Howard County School System (i.e., students) and am very happy to see it.  It also adds some meat to the bones of "We need STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics)", which has become such a trite phrase of education policy as to make it presumed for all candidates.  For parents, check this out.  I know David personally and like him a great deal.  He will not use your kids as vote-pawns.  This is for real.

On a related note, please check out the League of Women Voters YouTube Channel for interviews with all of the Board of Education candidates.  I spent a good part of last night reviewing these clips and thought that some candidates, for good or bad, showed their true colors once put in front of a camera.  This is yet another reason to join the LWV and support their continued advocacy for Howard County voters.

That's all for today.  Have a great Wednesday doing what you love.  I'll be posting the birthday fundraiser tomorrow.  Jane and I are excited about this project and hope you will decide to support it, even if you don't want to wish me a happy birthday.