We all know that Howard County has one of the best "quality of life" rankings of any community in the United States. Hardly a month goes by that we don't find ourselves in somebody's "Top 10" rankings. Today I would like to rank some of those assets in my biased opinion. I am sure others would list assets that I miss or dispute how I have ranked the assets.
1) Howard County schools- This is a no brainer! What attracts a large number of highly educated persons to this area are the schools. This leads to the development of many of the other assets. A challenge for this asset is that we are increasingly seeing a growing disparity in the perceived attractiveness of schools across the system.
2) Diversity of our population- Jim Rouse's vision for for a diverse Columbia has been expanded into the vision for the entire County. When you look at where the growth in the County population is coming from it is in the Asian and Hispanic communities. Looking around at the increase in number of merchants serving these communities you can see how much this asset is adding vitality to our County. An area that doesn't recognize the need for increased diversity is a community that will die. The strength of this asset for the United States is also a strength for Howard County.
3) Howard County Library- This is one of those spillover assets created by our great school system attracting a highly educated population. Combine this educated population demographic with an innovative, creative Library staffing and you get a great institution.
4) Green spaces- This again is a Countywide asset that has Jim Rouse to thank. His thinking on the importance of green spaces (40% of Columbia) for healthy communities has been adopted by County planners. We are truly a well planned County when you compare us to surrounding Counties.
5) Columbia Association/Howard County Parks and Recreation-I have combined these two assets because they work so will in tandem to give us such a full spectrum of recreational and leisure activities. Many times residents couldn't even tell you which of them run each asset. Centennial Lake is a perfect match for the lakes managed by CA. The sport fields managed by Parks and Rec complement the recreational facilities managed by CA. CA's path system blends nicely with the Parks and Rec path from Lake Elkhorn to Savage Park. Is there anyone who hasn't had someone in their family who hasn't used one of these assets.
6) Honest, competent elected officials and public employees- OK as a former Howard County employee I am somewhat biased in this asset. But my many years in County employment has brought me into frequent contact with our elected officials and County employees. I can tell you that they are some of the most competent, honest and open people you will meet anywhere. Deal with these same people in other jurisdictions and you will see what I mean.
7) Howard County General Hospital- I remember a time when the Hospital was a small 60 bed community hospital with limited services that often had us having to go out of county for specialty services. I remember a time when chemotherapy patients had to go to Baltimore hospitals for treatment. As the County had grown so has the services of the Hospital. Doesn't it seem like the construction trailers never leave the Hospital grounds! The Hospital being purchased by Johns Hopkins Hospital System only enhances this asset. It isn't a surprise that Johns Hopkins choose Howard County General Hospital when it started to buy community hospitals to build its health system in Maryland.
8) Diversity of Retailers- This asset is sometimes seen as a bad thing. Even I have pined for the old local, home grown merchants that have been pushed out by the large national chains. The loss of Produce Galore and the Village Hardware stores has been a loss for us. But I have to admit that getting a Wegman's, Trader Joe's and soon a Whole Food store enhances our food purchasing choices. I no longer have to go to Sports Authority on Route 40 in Catonsville but now can go to Dick's and REI in Columbia. I remember having to go to White Oak to get an home improvement item from Hechinger's before we got our own Hechinger's and now we have a short trip to either a Home Depot or Lowe's. I have to admit that I rarely go to the chain restaurants we have and still mostly frequent the excellent choices in locally owned restaurants.
9) Proximity to DC and Baltimore-- I could easily throw in Annapolis, the Eastern Shore and Atlantic Beaches. Day trips for us to these locations are annual vacation trips for others from around the United States and the World. I know we don't often take advantage of this asset enough but just knowing we have them close is nice.
10) Active community engagement- I know that many times you hear people talk about how disengaged many County residents are. We are sometimes described as a "bedroom community of commuters." While this does have some truth in it when you look at the low turnout in Columbia Village elections (full disclosure--I have never voted in a Village election) when you look at that the fact that we had one of highest voter turnouts in the State for most elections it does point to an engaged electorate. Additionally, Howard County has one of the most active blogging communities anywhere in the Country (thank you HoCo Blogs). OK as a member of this community for the past 18 months I am again biased on this asset. While this community is not large when you realize that only a very small percentage of our community participates in the blogging community. Though small in number I wouldn't under emphasize its importance. As the traditional news media struggles through its transformation brought on by the online media, blogging will mature into a more recognizable way we stay informed and engaged in our community.
So there you have it--- my top 10. I bet you feel I have left out one that you would add or disagree with my listing in some other way. Feel free to add your entries.