Search This Blog

Monday, August 31, 2015

Howard County and Baltimore: How the opportunity gap plays out in each


        Recently an article in the Baltimore Sun highlighted the opportunity gap that exists in Baltimore.  For most of us in Howard County Baltimore can seem like a world we only read about in the newspaper or see each night on the TV news.   Our knowledge base is defined by the murder rate that has increased in the past few months.  For many neighborhoods in Baltimore it seems like the Wild West with gun play a daily occurrence.  Having worked in many of these neighborhoods a few years back the surprising reality of Baltimore is that you can have totally different neighborhoods separated by only a block or two.  You can easily go from one street with most of the homes boarded up to another street of newly renovated homes being purchased by young professionals.   Even with this physical proximity the gap in opportunities for residents of these two streets couldn't be more dramatic.
      Are there any lessons from Baltimore that are relevant for Howard County?  The contrast in our two communities may seem too dramatic to draw any lessons from Baltimore that may relate to our County. If we look under the surface in our County we maybe seeing some beginning signs that our County is moving in some divergent directions that may become more dramatic in the future.   We have healthy Village Centers and others that are struggling.  We have some schools that are ranked high on national scales and others that have test scores below the Maryland average.  This translates directly to house values and a dichotomy in our County of "desirable" and "non-desirable" neighborhoods.  In the planned development of Columbia, with the Rouse vision, this dichotomy was minimized in a conscious manner.  Moving into our future years, without a clear vision of mutual opportunity, it is unclear how the early signs of our "dichotomy of opportunity" plays itself out.


Friday, August 28, 2015

Burger heaven

    On a recent visit to Red Hot and Blue in Laurel I decided to try something a little different from my usual order of ribs and pulled pork.  Both of these are so good I have a hard time exploring the other choices on the menu.  This visit I once again tried their "All In" burger.  It comes with a 1/2 pound burger, cheddar cheese, pulled pork, onion straws, lettuce and tomato.  Hard to get into your mouth!  With their BBQ sauce and dry rub sprinkled on top it is a memorable burger!


Thursday, August 27, 2015

Howard County comes out poorly in this measurement


     We all have become used to Columbia and Howard County being on lists for all the good attributes of our community.  However thanks to Jesse Newburn I recently learned that on the "natural amenities" ranking our community below average at 2334 out of 3111 communities ranked.  Here is a description of how that scale came up with their rankings.

     "The natural amenities scale is a measure of the physical characteristics of a county area that enhance the location as a place to live. The scale was constructed by combining six measures of climate, topography, and water area that reflect environmental qualities most people prefer. These measures are warm winter, winter sun, temperate summer, low summer humidity, topographic variation, and water area. The data are available for counties in the lower 48 States. The file contains the original measures and standardized scores for each county as well as the amenities scale."

    As an article in the Washington Post noted :
"........Sun Belt counties fare pretty well -- especially ones in California and Colorado. In fact, every single one of the 10 highest-ranked counties is located in California. After Ventura County, Humboldt, Santa Barbara, Mendocino and Del Norte counties round out the top five."

    I guess we shouldn't be surprised that our landlocked county the summers of heat and humidity would hurt us on our score in this survey's scaling.  There is not much any of us can do about these two factors.  I would have an opposite view however on the beauty of our County when you realize how much open green space we have.   And this is before you include the lakes (OK so they are man made), local parks, biking and hiking trails and two rivers.  We may not be Ventura, California or the Big Sur but it doesn't take much to get out and see the beautiful surroundings of our County.


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

United Way of Central Maryland working to meet the healthy food needs in Howard County

    This past weekend I had an opportunity to assist other volunteers at the community garden that grows produce to be distributed at the Howard County Food Bank.   Anyone who has ever raised a garden knows the challenge of weeding and watering to maintain a healthy garden.

      With the help of a number of volunteers a substantial amount of vegetables were harvested and weeds were removed.

       The United Way of Central Maryland has been an active funder of the efforts of Community Action to provide for the food and nutrition needs of Howard County citizens through the funding of the purchase of a large commercial refrigerator to store the vegetables before distribution.

    The United Way has also provided some of the funding necessary to develop and operate the Roving Radish which provides healthful low cost food for a number of low income families in Howard County.  If you would like to make a donation to assist the United Way provide for the food needs of families in Howard County you can make a donation here.


Monday, August 24, 2015

Storm water runoff--we have seen the enemy and it is us!

    This past week I had a chance to hike around Lake Elkhorn to learn about the nature around the lake and the efforts to manage the health of the lake.   The hike was sponsored by the Columbia Association and led by Ned Tillman.   Managing the health of our town's man made lakes is challenging with the amount of silt and nutrients that enter the lakes from our developed land.  The islands pictured above and below are just one small way that CA tries to filter some of the nutrients out of the lakes.  These nutrients come primarily from the fertilizers we put on our lawns.  

    The rain garden pictured below is another way that CA is trying to manage the storm runoff from the streams that flow into the lake.  I will talk a little more about rain gardens a little later in the post.

The warm temperatures and nutrient rich water make the growth of hydrilla an ongoing problem for our lakes.   
       The machine shown below is used to cut and remove the hydrilla that grows in our lakes. 
Much of the hydrilla is used by CA as organic material to be mixed with mulch and soil that is used by CA.

The Columbia Association has been piping in oxygen into the water to keep the water oxygen level sufficient to support the needs of fish in the lake.

     There are very few natural lakes or ponds in Maryland and the United States for that matter.  Our lakes were created by damming up streams that flowed through marsh areas.  The dam pictured below at one end of Lake Elkhorn it what created the lake.

    When we pave over land to build parking lots and drive ways a storm drain system has to be built to channel the rain water away from these lots.

    Ned pointed out in the picture below how one storm drain dumped water into a small stream that leads down to Lake Elkhorn.  Unfortunately the stream is too small to handle the amount of water dumped into it and the soil is eroded into the lake.

   Below is the small delta that is being created in the lake from the soil flowing into the lake from the stream.

   Ned's knowledge of geology was useful in explaining the rock formations that are at one end of the lake.  The large rocks pictured behind him are mostly sedimentary rocks made from compressed sand that washed away from the mountains that once were located where we live.  They were higher than today's Himalayas.  The soil erosion from these mountains ended up flowing east and creating the Eastern Shore and the Continental Shelf off the Atlantic Coast.

    Below is a vein of granite squeezed between two layers of sedimentary rock.

     It is not hard to see examples of the granite like pictured below as you go around the lake.

      The area around the BG&E power lines at one end of the lake creating a healthy marsh land for ecological and wildlife benefit shows how development doesn't have to be negative.

     Berries on the bushes below are an important aspect of any wildlife habitat.

     As mentioned earlier CA can only manage a part of the problem with soil erosion and storm runoff.  We as homeowners can often do damaging things that increase the problems.  The owners of the home below have cleared trees and our shrubs that will increase the amount of storm water runoff that is only a few feet from the lake.

      So the message of this post is that CA is at the "small end of the funnel" to control storm water runoff that is creating the problems in our lakes.   We as homeowners are at the "large end of the funnel" with our yards that are a major source of the problem.  If we we continue to fertilize our yards and not control the storm water runoff through installing rain gardens CA will never be able to create the healthy lakes that we all want to enjoy in Columbia.   Fortunately CA has a program that will pay for the majority of the cost to install a rain garden.  Additionally Howard County will rebate $250 to the homeowner for installing a rain garden.   For very little out of pocket cost homeowners in Columbia can have a beautiful rain garden like the one below for very little cost.

      Here is the link to the CA rain garden cost share program.   John McCoy explains the program in this You Tube video.  Time to do our part as homeowners.


Saturday, August 22, 2015

Sign that stopped me in my tracks

Displaying 0819151229a.jpg

      On a recent visit to Pennsylvania I came across this sign and it made me think of the Rams Head incident and  my first reaction was "I hope the camera they are referring to is on the outside."


Friday, August 21, 2015

Kittamaqundi Lakefront concerts winding down

       Last week I finally got around to attending one of the Lakefront concerts.  These concerts and other summer events at the Lakefront are one of the benefits of living in Columbia.  As we approach Labor Day the events will continue into September so there is still time to take in these free events.

      A warm summer evening, some takeout food from Whole Foods and some good music.  Who could ask for anything more.   Here is the schedule for the rest of this season.

      While we have had to endure the buffoonery of Donald Trump the past couple of months it is refreshing to hear the press conference that Jimmy Carter held yesterday that shows that dignity and courage still exist in this past leader of our Country.


Thursday, August 20, 2015

Stop me--Amazon Prime has taken over my life!!


     So a couple of weeks ago after seeing how many times I had to pay for shipping when buying from Amazon and waiting a week to get most items I succumbed to their pitch to join Amazon Prime. What finally made me cave was when I found a favorite salsa that I could no longer find in the store only was available to Prime members at $1.50 less than I had been paying in the store.  This is not the first time I had to find an item in Amazon that I could no longer find in the stores.  They make you buy a quantity but you almost always pay less per item than the cost in the stores.
     In the past I was never sure that the amount of shipping cost would equal the $99 annual cost of Prime.  Amazon is so smart in their pitch to Prime members because I first think of shopping on Amazon before I purchase anything now.  I have made 3 purchases the past week on items that totaled less than $30.   I have even thought of buying my paper products online but see that you have to fill a box on these items so they will still be things I buy at Costco or BJ's.
     What I didn't realize when I joined was how convenient it is get your items in 2 days or less.  One item came the next day and I had ordered it on a Sunday.  This will get even more convenient when Amazon offers one or two hour delivery in Columbia.   They already have this in some Baltimore zip codes near their distribution center.
     Finally the selection offered by Amazon is so much greater than any retail store could ever offer.  One of the items that I purchased recently had 21 choices on Amazon and Dicks Sports had a choice of 2.   The item I purchased from Amazon was better and cheaper than the choices at Dicks.

     I am not sure why on some items I have to pay sales tax and others I don't.  I know that since Amazon opened the distribution center in Maryland they have to collect sales tax from Maryland purchasers but they items were from out of state merchants.

P.S. 1
     So Amazon has received a lot of negative press this week about a story in the New York Times about how they don't treat their employees very well.  Guess that is why they are moving to the robots shown in this link.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Kindergarteners meet the HoCo Library


     I want to highlight another great program of our HoCo Library today.   For almost 10 years every child entering kindergarten has been bussed to their local library, given a tour and a library card.  The partnership between the Library and our School System is one major reason both receive national recognition.  I can't think of a more important factor in school achievement then to encouraging children to read.  This is especially important in families that don't have a culture of reading for enjoyment.  For most of us reading has been a life long activity that has made us who we are as adults.
      Studies have shown that a child who has fallen behind in their ability to read by 3rd grade is at a major handicap in school performance and is at a higher risk to drop out of high school.    If you have any doubt in the importance of this partnership just come out to one of the Battle of the Books events as I have had the pleasure to do the past couple of years.

    I will never use the work "birdbrained" again after watching this video.


Monday, August 17, 2015

HoCo's Fire and Rescue Demonstrations

     This past week the Howard County Fire and Rescue Public Information Office hosted a demonstration of the service at their training facility in Marriotsville.   As a kid who hasn't wanted to be a fire fighter?  The flashing lights, the equipment and the excitement of battling fires was something to which most young boys were attracted.
     We in Howard County are used to seeing our County recognized in so many ways.  Top schools, renowned Library, good government and a high quality of life in so many ways just to name a few.  We can add a first class Fire and Rescue Service to that list.

    I was impressed with how the Fire Service has moved into a direction of developing modular units which can be customized to meet the specialized equipment needs of their response.

These modular units can be placed on flat bed trucks and more easily access locations where they are needed.   An added benefit of this system is the cost savings of not having to buy an entire vehicle for each specialized purpose.

   One of these modular units pictured above is being designed to respond to a large scale mass casualty event.  We have been fortunate not to have had a large one yet but we are in the flight path of BWI airport, near NSA and DC and have trains and trucks carrying hazardous materials through our County.   Below is a hazmat suit from that unit.

    In a building collapse the crane pictured above is used to lift heavy objects to get to trapped people.   I got to try my hand at controlling the crane by remote control.

   With the video camera shown above the Department can probe into areas that maybe unsafe or unstable to identify if there are people trapped.

   The highlight of the day for me was when I was able to try some of the equipment like the saw above and the acetylene torch below used in collapsed buildings.

   I must have sweated away a few pounds in that suit that felt like it weighed 30 pounds.  No fun in 85 degree weather.

   I made the mistake of saying "fireman" when the term is now the gender neutral "fire fighter".


Sunday, August 16, 2015

How to live a life wisely

   Choices, choices, choices.  I want to thank fellow blogger Tom Coale for posting a link to this NY Times article.  A lot to think about for everyone no matter your age.  I know I saw myself in this article.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Good weekend hike in Patapsco Park

    As we get closer to the Fall (where did the Summer go?) the cooler mornings make for a great time to use one of our local hiking trails.  Fortunately for us we have some nice trails very close.  

   My favorite is the Cascade Falls section of the Patapsco River Park.  Above is the Bloedes Dam.

   The Falls provides a nice place to take off your shoes and cool off during the hike up.

    The Trail has some areas where you have some easy to manage stream crossings.

   Footing along the trail has some rocks and tree roots like above that can keep a hiker watching the ground in some sections.

    The swinging bridge near the entrance to the trail will connected you to the other side of the river and provide some additional hiking trails.

    To preserve this beautiful area consider volunteering for the Patapsco Heritage Greenway effort.


Thursday, August 13, 2015

HoCo Police bike patrol on Howard County paths

Bike Patrol to Roll Out Along 90 Miles in Columbia

    This week the Baltimore Sun, the Columbia Patch and some TV stations reported on the Howard County Police creating a "Pathway Patrol."    Above a photo from the Columbia Patch shows two of the patrol officers in this new patrol.  With our extensive County pathway system unfortunately create environments for activity that is detrimental to the communities near the paths.   It doesn't take long to see some of the destruction of property such as broken signs and graffiti along our paths like shown below.

    Obviously this type of activity is minor compared to assaults and thefts that may also take advantage of the isolation that some of our paths provide.   The presence of police along the paths will be a sign to potential troublemakers that the paths are not a place for their destructive actions.


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Centennial Fun Run comes to an end

Displaying 0811151904a.jpg

    For 37 years Arleen Dinneen has been inviting runners from casual to fast to join with others and run a mile through her neighborhood near Centennial High School.  Yesterday was the last of these fun runs.  For many of us this run was the way we were introduced to running and made it a life long way to exercise.

Displaying .facebook_1439345312792.jpg

   This untimed run was the first one in the 37 years that Arleen actually got to run herself.  For all the other runs she was the timer so that everyone would have their times in the newspaper the following Thursday.

Displaying 0811151958e.jpg
      Every child under 5 got a medal and a chance to stand on the victory stand.