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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Living in the 60’s--Columbia 1.0

Anyone who wants to take a trip back in time to the social thinking of 1964 only has to go and spend a few hours going through the Columbia Archives records of the meetings convened to plan the community structures of the new town. Trust me you will be shaking your head or laughing at some of the thoughts that were expressed in these meetings. If you enjoy watching Mad Men on TV for the memories of how society was in the 1960’s you will enjoy seeing how those attitudes played out in planning a new community. I thought I would give you a sampling of the planning thoughts on social structure.

There was a concern about the “outsiders” in the community who were defined as teenagers, the elderly, racial minorities and women whose children were fully-grown. Interestingly the word “housewives” was used almost interchangeably with the word “women.” Of particular concern was to identify a meaningful role in the community once their child-rearing role was complete. The concept of working women was still an anomaly in the 60’s. One solution suggested was to have “adult education” classes for the women to be better prepared to re-engage into new roles in the community.

Reflecting the civil rights events of the 60’s the issue of race was extensively discussed and how Howard County was still going through its own desegregation process in the 60’s. There were still restaurants on Route 40 that refused to serve “negroes.” While the concept of creating an integrated community was a firm commitment of Jim Rouse some of the ideas expressed seem a little unusual. One suggestion was that every tenth house had to be sold to a “negro.” Suggestions were made of having “testers” to determine if housing salesmen were steering “negroes” to certain communities or certain streets. The importance of having integrated housing which would lead to integrated schools without the controversial use of busing was seen as important.

On a personal note I only once had an opportunity to personally talk with Jim Rouse. We both were stuck at Logan Airport in Boston waiting for our delayed flight back to Baltimore because of thunderstorms in Baltimore. Having recognized Mr. Rouse and noticing a free seat next to him in the boarding area I took the opportunity to sit down next to him and introduce myself as a resident of Columbia. After having a fascinating 30-minute conversation with him I asked him what he was most proud of in Columbia. Without hesitation he said that it was that Columbia was the most integrated community in the Country and how when he saw children leaving our schools he saw no pattern of racial grouping. Years later I remember his thoughts when my daughter returned from college and told me how many of her dorm mates commented on her senior class picture from Oakland Mills and how the students weren’t sitting in a segregated racial pattern. Most said that wasn’t the way it was in their high schools. Mr. Rouse would have smiled at knowing that the element still existed in his “planned community.”

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