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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Challenges as Columbia approaches 50

    Fifty years ago Columbia was being marketed at the "Next America." A new vision of a planned city based on the idealism of a diverse and harmonious community.  The concept of planned communities to revitalize older communities was a component of the 1960's Great Society called the "Model Cities" program.
      As we approach the 50th anniversary of Columbia it is exciting to see what new developments are happening in the Town Center area.  The potential addition of the Inner Arbor, a new Whole Foods, changes to the Mall, new housing and office space.  What will be as challenging for Columbia as we move into our second 50 years is the recognition that some of our neighborhoods are no longer shining and new. We have seen the struggles of some village centers like Oakland Mills and Long Reach.  Hopefully the consultants report that will be discussed at tonight's meeting at 7 pm in the Rouse Foundation Building at Howard Community College will identify how village centers can be refocused to remain viable.

     One challenge that maybe less talked about than our village centers is the aging of our 1960's and 1970's housing stock.  If you look around our older neighborhoods you can see housing that is not aging well.

     Some of the examples above are a result of foreclosed homes that have not been maintained by whomever holds the title to these properties.  The abandoned home just above has been the target of vandals who broke out the windows.  Holes have opened in the roof and the interior has water damage.  The foreclosure problem is hopefully a temporary problem but the maintenance issues on some of our older homes can't be ignored.  Unfortunately the affordable housing built in our town's early years wasn't built to last forever.   Additionally, the styles of housing popular in those early years is no longer desired by many younger families who are potential buyers for these affordable homes.  The "cookie cutter" homes that came in three basic models---split level, split foyer and small 2 story are no longer fashionable.  Remember the color choices of kitchen appliances of harvest gold, avocado or white?
      The question is what happens as this housing stock continues to age?  Will we see these older homes deteriorate and then torn down to be replaced with new homes?  While Columbia doesn't have an aging housing stock problem as severe as many other cities we shouldn't feel that we are immune to the impacts on the viability of some of our older neighborhoods by aging, less desirable housing stock.  This housing issue has impacts on the schools, business viability and even perceived safety of our older neighborhoods.
      We will have to face these challenges in our next 50 years so that the "Next America" doesn't become the "Past America."

    I would hope that my description of the challenges that we will face as a community doesn't paint a too pessimistic picture of our future.  Columbia still has many strengths that make us a vital place to live.  Many of us have had chances to move from Columbia as newer communities around Columbia developed.  The community attributes that attracted us to this community are still here and functional. Not the least of which are the people who make Columbia there home.  It's just that the "shine" has worn off.


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