I learned about the communities of Columbia and Reston, Va., long before I ever had the fortune of working on behalf of them. These famed planned communities were spotlighted during my studies at The Ohio State University, where I was working at the time toward my master’s degree in city and regional planning.
I was fascinated by their respective founders, Jim Rouse and Robert Simon. I was quite fortunate to meet and speak regularly with Simon from the moment I first arrived in 2004 as the CEO of Reston Association, and even after I came to Howard County in 2014 as the president/CEO of Columbia Association (CA). He passed away two years ago at the age of 101.
Rouse died in 1996. I’m glad that he was able to see (and live for nearly three decades in) the groundbreaking community he and his team envisioned. I never got to meet Rouse, but if we were able to speak today, I believe we would talk about how many aspects of his original vision for Columbia are at the “core” of the community 50 years later, and how plans already are being implemented that will see Columbia continue as a “model community” for the next 50 years.
Columbia remains a community tied to Rouse’s four planning principles: to build a complete city, to respect the land, to provide for the growth of people and to make a profit.
Those values remain cornerstones, even as Columbia undergoes significant changes for the better. Columbia is evolving. The kind of vibrant urban core that Rouse had hoped for — at least until a recession hit in the 1970s — is now in the process of being built. I think there is tremendous potential for Columbia. We are situated right between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. I see both of those areas continuing to grow. And, benefiting from location and many other attributes, Columbia will continue to grow along with them.
I’m still optimistic about Columbia’s Village Centers, as well. Every community must reinvent itself; plans and visions sometimes need to be adjusted for the circumstances on the ground; in other words, reality. After all, what got you to the top is not going to keep you at the top.
The concept for the Village Centers in the 1960s and 1970s must evolve to deal with increasing competition and changes in the way people shop and get around. We see evolution — an incorporation of nearby residential units — in Wilde Lake, and a similar idea is being explored in Hickory Ridge.
CA and our many other community stakeholders remain invested in following Rouse’s four core principles as we continue to serve Columbia, now and into the future. There are new challenges to tackle, as well as new ideas to undertake.
At 50 years, Columbia is just getting started as a community. So, over time, there will be more to the story of Columbia for those students who will read and learn about how Columbia became, and evolved to remain, one of the best places to live, work and play.
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