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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Healthy Columbia lakes

   I have blogged before about efforts to make our town's lakes healthy and overcome the silt build up that comes with uncontrolled storm runoff.  Much of the discussion of the new "rain tax" has been focused on the Chesapeake Bay but our town lakes will also benefit from less storm runoff.   We can see efforts to reduce the runoff all over Columbia.

     Rain gardens like the new one above in Owen Brown near Lake Elkhorn are one example.

Storm ponds like the one being rebuilt in Owen Brown are important in controlling the flow of rain water runoff.  Many of these storm ponds were designed to be temporary while new homes were being built nearby.  Because of that materials were not used that could last many years.  This pond has been in place for over 30 years and the metal pipes that were originally used are now being replaced with concrete ones that are designed to last longer.

Going by Jackson Pond in Long Reach pictured above you would never realize that this was also designed as a temporary storm pond.  It is now an attractive feature to this community. 


   Homeowners can be part of the solution by having rain gardens installed on their yards.


   The lack of rain and no movement of water flow has created a green slime to develop on Lake Elkhorn.  

Friday, September 27, 2013

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Better ways to navigate Columbia's pathways

      We have all found ourselves on a pathway in Columbia and not sure where it might lead.  With over 90 miles of paths it can be easy to be unsure where you are on some of our paths. This past weekend I walked on some paths in Kings Contrivance that were new to me.  The lack of markings left me to think about dropping crumbs to find my way back to my car.  The Columbia Association and some villages have tried a variety of ways to lead us on the paths.  Signs like the one pictured above provide a map of the paths in some heavily traveled areas like around Wilde Lake.  I have seen some markings on the paths in Oakland Mills that indicated the streets to which the paths led.

    CA is now piloting signage around the Wilde Lake area which give us these directional signs pictured above.  Some even give mileage.

     Over time this type of signage will be placed in more areas along our paths.  Soon some signage like this will appear around the Lake Elkhorn and Owen Brown paths.
     The most exciting new navigation tool that CA has recently developed is their new smartphone app.  Developed at a cost of $35,000 the new app allows you to locate where you are and then determine what paths you can take to get to another location in Columbia.  This should solve the problem of where you are on any one of the paths.  It also has all the tot lots, pools, village and neighborhood centers identified on the map.  This app should reduce the need for CA to print maps.  I think having a feature that gives the milage from one point on the paths to another point would be a great addition. Another improvement would be a turn by turn instruction for your route.  Having this turn by turn by voice (as smartphone navigation programs) would also be a nice feature. If you have comments on the app you can make them to
   One other nice addition to our path system is CA making some of the heavily traveled paths 10 foot wide paths.  This would make for safer paths used by walkers, bikers and runners. The path around Lake Kittamaqundi pictured below will be a 10 foot wide path.

This area will be completed soon and the dirt path pictured below will be a paved path all the way around the Lake.

P.S. 1
  These improvements in our path system are part of the Connecting Columbia Plan.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Habitat for Humanity's ReStore in Columbia

     It finally happened---my favorite reclining chair gave out.  I have been fixing it for the past year trying to preserve its useful life but my last fix finally failed.  Shopping in some of the furniture stores around Dobbin Road I was amazed at how expensive these chairs have become.  Most were well over $1,000!!  I am not necessarily looking to have some fancy leather recliner with teak wood but just a functional, comfortable chair that doesn't break the bank.

 After visiting one of the above mentioned stores I happened to come across the Habitat for Humanity ReStore on McGaw Road.  I was uncertain what I would find there but again I was only looking for a comfortable functional chair.  What I found surprised me.
      In addition to the two chairs I ended up purchasing for $25 apiece (yes my wife wanted one too at that price) I walked around the store to see what else they sold.  Many items available would work fine for most refurbishing jobs around the house.
   Below are just some of the items they carry many for $25 to $50 or most under $100. Some items are even new.

    $350 for a new air conditioner

   The best part of getting a good deal on home furnishings is that the money goes to support our local Habitat for Humanity.  Click here to see a listing of items they carry.

    This chart was sent to me by someone who is heavily involved in academic research and thought that the rest of us non-academics should understand what they really mean in their analysis reports.

   As the father of daughters this video brought many memories back to me of what it is like to have a little daughter in the house.

P.S. 2
   Last week I mentioned about supporting a good organization in Howard County--NAMI of Howard County.  Here is an opportunity to support their work in our County.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Downtown Columbia's planned office building expansion

   Yesterday I blogged on the redevelopment of the old Rouse Building into a Whole Foods store and CA facility but today I wanted to share some additional information on the other major change we will soon see in our downtown area.

      We already see the beginnings of the new residential housing that is starting to go up next to the Columbia Mall.  But next year at this time we might be seeing similar work taking place on the other side of Little Patuxent Parkway along Brokenland Parkway.

     We have all become used to seeing this area be a treed area and open space near Merriweather Post that is used to sell Christmas trees in December.  With the plans developing this area is poised to look very different.

     As the drawing above shows this area may soon become a large office building corridor that will compliment the existing office buildings along Little Patuxent.  With this area's development beginning as soon as this time next year the number of new jobs and employers in our downtown will significantly increase.  If you travel on Route 29 during rush hours you will see that more cars are coming into Columbia than are leaving.  This development will only increase this traffic flow reality.  This expansion is in line with Jim Rouse's vision that Columbia be not just a suburban residential community but a community that had significant commercial  activity that gave residents of the new town an opportunity to work in as well as live in Columbia.  The residential part of our town's development is almost complete and the growth of the commercial sector is soon to move into high gear in making Columbia more urban moving into our future.  The types of businesses and other employers attracted to our town will probably be the clean, hi tech, high income jobs that will continue to provide a healthy tax base to continue to fund the high quality services to which we have grown accustomed.

  One other area of development in the area around the new Whole Foods store will be some new buildings in newly created promenade from Whole Foods moving east. The drawing below shows the new construction in orange.


Monday, September 23, 2013

Tour of Whole Foods renovation

    Last Thursday I had a chance to tour the renovation of the old Rouse Building into a 48,000 sq. ft. Whole Foods market and the Columbia Association's new "Mind and Body" facility.

     The picture above shows how the floors of the Whole Foods market had to be reinforced by pouring new cement floors to carry the increased load of their market.  Office buildings don't require the same floor loads.  The pillar supports above have not been enlarged with 20 inch diameter concrete posts as the ones in the picture below.

 The windows of the existing building pictured below will be replaced in most areas with walls with murals of food. That is a shame as the view of Lake Kittamaqundi will be lost.

       The one area that will still have a window view is above which will be the area of seating by the food court.  Scenes like below will give us a view of the Lakefront.

    The parking lot for the building will be off center from the entrance to the parking lot.  As a guide to those entering the building a covered walkway will lead shoppers to the entrance of the building.  The columns above are the beginning of the covered walkway.

    While the Whole Foods market will take up the two floors of the building the Columbia Association "Mind and Body" facility will occupy the lower level of the building.  There will be two staffed outside entrances to this facility to meet fire codes for egress.  The rendering of the facility pictured above show how this facility with differ from other CA facilities.  There will be no exercise equipment or gym.  Your CA membership won't get you into this facility.  It may be run by CA but seems to be targeted to a more selective population. With rooms labeled "European" and "Asian" this facility will be focused more like a salon than an exercise facility.  Pilates and Tai Chi, along with massage and sauna are more the theme here then heavy sweating activities.  CA must be assuming that the residents of this growing area of Columbia are going to be more upscale than other areas of our town.  Downtown development seems to have taken on an upscale theme with the new residences, office development, Whole Foods and this CA facility.

   Interestingly the old 20,000 sq. ft. Spear Center space pictured above on the third floor doesn't have an occupant.  Howard Hughes Corporation is still looking for the right occupant for this space.  When asked if financially the building could accommodate a public usage rather than a commercial occupant the answer was that Howard Hughes is a commercial developer.  Hummm.......   Tomorrow more on downtown changes we will see shortly.

    Renowned architect Frank Gehry designed the Rouse Building and originally thought that the building would be a great place for the arts.  He wanted the building have an open space usage and was concerned when Jim Rouse indicated the need to have offices in the building. Touring the building last year he indicated that the planned redevelopment was an interesting reuse of the building.

Vote for Neighbor Ride in a Tom's contest

For a humorous report on shopping at Whole Foods check out this link.

P.S. 3
Washington Post opinion piece that raised a good question.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Columbia Archives Ride About

   On a Saturday morning that held a treat of rain showers the Columbia Archives Bike About from Lake Elkhorn attracted many of the over 300 bikers who registered for the event.

   This years event moved from its Town Center start to Lake Elkhorn to showcase locations in Owen Brown and Kings Contrivance Villages. 

   While the 3 mile ride covered a mostly flat route the longer 10 mile route on bike paths in Kings Contrivance gave riders a number of hill climbs and descents as shown below.

    Tonights Emmys gives us a hard rooting choice for Best Drama series between Homeland and House of Cards.  Both are my two favorites for best shows of the past year.  With House of Cards being shown on Netflix it does raise the question of what the Emmys represent.  Once there was a clearer definition of what was a television show.  With Netflix that line becomes blurred.

    Not taking my own advice from Friday's blog I decided last evening to take may brother and sister-in-law to a restaurant in Town Center.  Forgetting about VirginFest at Merriweather I waited in line on Brokenland to make a right turn on Little Patuxent Parkway.  Of course the police had the road blocked at that intersection and directed me in the opposite direction.  After finding no parking at the Mall I endured a frustrating experience trying to find a parking place in the covered parking lot next to the movie theater.  By the amount of wet young people returning to their cars in this covered lot I could see that most of the Mall parking had been taken by the people at VirginFest.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Dinner at Rudy's Mediterranean Grill

   I have blogged on Rudy's in the past with their breakfast.  Nothing special about their breakfast menu with mostly the traditional American food items.  It was when I looked at the lunch and dinner menus that I became curious enough to come back to this Gateway restaurant.  I wasn't disappointed.

     For lunch I tried the Lahmacun pictured above which is a ground lamb on a thin pita like dough that was nicely spiced and just right for a light lunch.

    The next time I tried the Chicken Pide pictured above which is a Turkish version of a pizza and was very filling.
      Going back for dinner the meal was started with a very light bread and olive oil for dipping.

Below is the Izgara Kofte which is a grilled lamb and spices which is cooked over charcoal.  It had a nice flavor but was a little dry.  I would have liked a sauce to accompany this dish.

    A more satisfying choice was the Mediterranean Walnut Salad with Fresh Greens w/ Walnuts, fresh Apples, Oranges, Cranberries & Chicken which is pictured below.  It came with a nice honey mustard dressing that made this my first choice for dinner.

    The location of Rudy's is in the Gateway Park in the location that used to house Aida Bistro.

   Congratulations to Howard Community College for being named as a great place to work! This along with our Library being recognized this year makes us realize how special a place we do live in!

P.S. 1
Notice how there isn't a female in this line for the new IPhone?   Maybe they are telling us something guys!

P.S. 2
Maybe we should stay away from downtown Columbia this weekend.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Mental health questions brought up by the Navy Yard killings

       The commentary on Monday's shooting at the Navy Yard in DC has focused on the availability of guns, the effectiveness of security background checks and how a person could enter a military base with a shotgun.  As more is becoming known about the shooter it is apparent that he was a deeply troubled individual who was able to not just go untreated but allowed to perform work at a secure military base.  From the description of his behavior it appears that he would be diagnosised as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.  This is a mental health condition that usually shows up in adulthood.  Persons with this condition are usually not a threat to the community but it is hard to clearly know when a person with this diagnosis could do harm to others in their delusional state.
       Monday's tragedy does point out that our mental health system still struggles with how to adequately address individuals with significant mental health problems.  I worked in the mental health field in the early 1970's during the transition from mental health care being delivered in an institutional setting (mental hospitals) to a system with the potential to have this care provided in the community. This effort was championed by mental health advocates who could point out the horrid conditions of many of our mental institutions. With the development of the psychotropic medications that were developed at this time there was hope that individuals with significant mental health problems, like schizophrenia, could function well enough to be placed in community settings.  During this time period I worked in a psychiatric halfway house that was transitioning many patients from St. Elizabeth's (St. E's to all of us) mental hospital that has existed in DC for over 100 years.  Many of the individuals who were placed at the halfway house were medicated with powerful tranquilizers, mainly Stelazine and  Thorazine.  The psychiatrists who placed schizophrenic individuals at the halfway house always alerted us to watch for the signs of regression which were usually hallucinations and irrational speech.  When I heard that Aaron Alexis claimed to have heard voices and felt vibrations I remembered that these were the two most common signs of deterioration of someone with schizophrenia.
      Monday's tragedy points out how forty years after the push to deinstitutionalize persons with mental health problems we still struggle with how to adequately manage their needs in the community.  The promised community health system that was to be developed during the deinstitutionalization process is woefully inadequate to manage the number of persons in our community with mental health needs.  Talk to any relative of an individual with mental health issues and they will tell you of the frustrations and inadequacies of our community based systems.  Walk around the downtown area of any of our major cities and you will see how poorly the mental health needs are being addressed.  Somewhere between locking people up in institutions and leaving them to struggle in our communities (and on our streets) a system should be developed to provide more humane care for individuals who struggle with mental health problems.
     So what's the reason we find ourselves in this situation today?   One word----MONEY.   We as a society still look at mental health needs differently than physical health needs.  We are willing to provide considerable financial resources for expensive physical health care but place very broad restrictions on how much mental health care for which insurance companies will  pay.  Often is it restricted to 5 or 10 mental health visits with a therapist. The stigma of mental health problems still profoundly impacts our willingness to address this treatment need.  We no longer lock these individuals away out of sight but it doesn't mean that we have adequately addressed how to treat these issues in our communities.  Monday's event are sadly a legacy of that failure.

   If you are looking to support a good mental health organization in Howard County look at NAMI.


      You may have driven by St. Elizabeth's as you travel on Route 295 in DC without noticing it.  In the past couple of years the new Homeland Defense headquarters pictured above has been being built on the grounds of St. E's.  Homeland Defense in the foreground and St. E's in the background.

    Monday's blog will show the progress on the interior of the old Rouse Building as it slowly becomes a Whole Foods store.      

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Fast Future: How the Millennial Generation is Shaping Our World.


          The Howard County Library is sponsoring a Choose Civility panel on October 9th at 7 pm at the Miller Library on how the Millennial Generation will be shaping our world digitally as this generation matures in our world. This is a generation that has probably rarely used a line phone or know of a world with only 3 or 4 broadcast channels. Texting means that you rarely, if ever, place a phone call. Among the panel members will be David Burstein, Founder & Executive Director of Generation18 and author of Fast Future: How the Millennial Generation is Shaping Our World. To register follow this link for more information.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The role of women at Columbia's founding


     A couple of weeks ago at the 50th anniversary of March on Washington it was mentioned that none of the speakers at the 1963 March were women even though there were prominent women like Dorothy Height pictured above who helped with the planning for the March.  This fact was mentioned a few times at this year's March.  Remember this is the time of our history that is depicted so well in the TV show "Mad Men."  The role of women was still one of limited options and opportunities.
     This reality got me thinking about of how women were involved in the planning of Columbia which also happened during the time of 1963 March.  In doing research at the Columbia Archives about the planning for Columbia I didn't remember seeing photos with women or remember any role they played in the discussions.

     The picture above of a planning meeting shows only one woman at the table during the meeting.  This was Antonia Chayes.  She was brought into the planning to address some of the "family life" issues with Columbia.

  Ms. Chayes had been a member of the White House Commission on the Status of Women in the early 1960's.  In reading some of her comments in some Archive documents it is interesting to see how the status of women was seen in the 1960's and how it impacted the thinking on the needs of women living in Columbia.  It is important to remember how women were viewed at this time (Mad Men remember?). This was not a time where young women were being encouraged into STEM programs as they are now. The anticipated needs of women in Columbia in our early days centered around family and child rearing.  Often the opportunities for women in our community were prefaced by the words, "after women's child rearing days are over."  In the 1960's there was the expectation that a woman's place was in the home until the children left home.  Woe to any woman who wanted to balance a career with raising children.  The assumption was that only single mothers would need to work outside the home.  The following sections in written planning material  gives this view:
        "Child care services are needed in all communities for children of all kinds of families----those of broken homes, or one parent homes with working mothers or mothers who want to work in the community or enjoy some recreation."
       "There are temporary family crises, emotional or physical illness of the mother, or another child, which makes on-going institutional arrangements for child care a necessary social utility in a well planned community."  
       "They (daycare centers) will perform a great service to middle class mothers who may chose to work part time, engage in volunteer work or simply want some free hours to paint, write, think or play tennis."
       " Family life and homemaking education is needed at different stages in a person's development.  A comprehensive and sophisticated program will be needed to prepare girls and women (and men to some extent) of all ages, educational levels and cultural and economic backgrounds to fulfill their responsibilities for homemaking, the health of the family and family in general."

      Not surprisingly Howard County didn't have any female County Commissioners, State or National elected officials in 1963.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Still using your cell phone while driving?

     We all see it and many of us do it---use our cell phones without being hands free.  Just be aware that this will change in two weeks on October 1st.  Maryland now joins 32 other states with this type of law. Legislation passed the last session of the Maryland legislative session has changed the law to requiring the  use of a non-hands free device with cell phones while driving.  It will be a primary offense.  This means that you don't have to have another traffic offense to be pulled over for using your cell phone without a hands free device.
      I thought that when the law was passed and signed by the Governor that I would see fewer people using cell phones that were not hands free but that hasn't seemed to be the case.  I have to confess that I don't have a hands free device but do use my cell phone on my lap on speaker when driving.  I have tried to limit answering the call if I don't recognize the phone number.  I figure that if it is important the caller will leave a message.
     Even worse than talking on your phone is the texting while driving.  I recently blogged on seeing a person texting while driving on the Baltimore Beltway.  Someone texting and driving is 23 times more likely to be involved in an accident.  This fact seems to be ignored by the majority (53%) of young people who feel they can safely text and drive.
     I am blogging now so that we may try to get used to this change over the next two weeks to eliminate the use of our cell phones while we drive.  That includes the hands free use as this still distracts drivers.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Need health insurance? It may depend on where you live

     In a couple of weeks the new Obamacare legislation takes effect with Marylanders being able to sign up for one of the new health care policies offered in the new health exchanges.  While many of us were disappointed that a public option was dropped in getting this legislation passed, the start of the new exchanges will provide new choices for those who are presently uninsured.  The uncertainty of the success of the new exchanges is primarily focused on whether the young, healthy uninsured will join the exchanges.   There is uncertainty because the penalties for not buying insurance is considerably lower than buying the insurance for many young persons.  Their sense of not needing insurance is one of the hurdles that this program has to overcome.  This younger, healthy population is important as a balance in offering insurance to the persons with disabilities who have been unable to buy insurance because of their pre-existing conditions.
      Another uncertainty of how successful the new health care programs will be is that many states with Republican governors and legislatures have decided to not participate in the new broader Medicaid program eligibilities that come with  heavy Federal subsidies.  They also have decided to let the Federal Government set up their health exchanges rather than promote the benefits of the new coverages.  Their political beliefs and ambitions seem to outweigh their interest in providing a benefit to their citizens.  This is nothing new in many of these states who have some of the highest rates of poverty and number of uninsured in the Country.  With the visit this week of Texas Gov. Rick Perry to Maryland it might be a good time to ask him what plans he has to improved health care in his state. Just as the states that have approved marriage equality legislation, the differences in state participation in providing health care to its citizens will be a new economic driver for business as the differences in state tax rates.  This might benefit Maryland greatly in our competition with Virginia for business.
     Here in Maryland Gov. O'Malley and the Maryland Legislature has been moving to improve the health care insurance available to Marylanders.  Look for commercials on Baltimore Ravens and Orioles games in the next few weeks.  Our state has aggressively worked to make our health care exchange successful.  While Howard County has the best health outcome ranking in Maryland some of the Eastern Shore and Western Maryland Counties will benefit the most from the new Maryland Health Care Exchange.  Of course this is ironically the areas that continue to vote for legislators who oppose the new program.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

DVR today's Ravens game

   In my younger years Fall Sunday afternoons were always spent following my favorite NFL football team on the TV.  Following Y.A. Title and the New York Giants in the 1960's,  the Washington Redskins in the 1970's (Billy vs. Sonny!), 80's and 90's (fortunately during their Super Bowl years) and more recently the Baltimore Ravens this pattern meant passing up getting outside and enjoying the crisp, sunny Fall afternoons.  Fortunately I now have the convenience of a DVR recorder on my TV that lets me go out for a bike ride and not miss the game.  So today I will be out doing a bike ride this afternoon and enjoying an early Fall like afternoon while my TV records the game.  Getting back from my ride around 2:30 allows me to watch the game and fast forward through all the commercials and down time in the game.  A 3 hour game is about a 45 viewing with these DVR shortcuts.  Starting at 2:30 means that I don't get to the live action until around the time of the real time ending to the game.  I used to set the skip forward to 30 seconds to easily skip between plays but the hurry up offense has ruined this convenience.  The Ravens frequently on use 20-25 seconds between plays.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Locust "plague" in Columbia

        If you live in the Columbia area you have seen the nests of Mimosa Webworms in the Honey Locust trees that are common in our area.  These trees are popular with builders because they grow quickly.  But they seem to have also provided a great breeding ground for these nasty worms.  If you have one near your house you know how messy they can be.  The following is some information I found on the worms:

"Mimosa webworms overwinter as pupae protected in cocoons. They can be found under the scaly plates of bark found on honeylocusts, or in fallen leaves under the tree.  Silvery gray adult moths hatch out in June and lay eggs on flowers and foliage of host trees. The eggs generally hatch in mid- to late June. The larvae web leaflets together and feed on the foliage protected by the web. The larvae usually feed in large groups, and enlarge the nest as needed to encompass more foliage for food. I have seen entire trees enmeshed by these webs. A second generation hatches out in August. If you control the first generation successfully, the second should cause little damage."

      Unfortunately these trees also seem to have many dying branches that become covered with Lichens.

   These Lichens grow on dead branches which seems to be common on the trees in our community.  Below are just some on my street.

    Many of these trees are on County property but they seem reluctant to take these trees down until they are completely dead.  I had someone from the County look at the trees in my area and they only assessed the one below to be dead enough to take down some time next year.