Columbia is a census-designated place and planned community located in Howard County, Maryland. It began with the idea that a city could enhance its residents' quality of life. Creator and developer James W. Rouse saw the new community in terms of human values, not just in terms of economics and engineering. Opened in 1967, Columbia was designed to not only eliminate the inconveniences of then-current subdivision design, but also eliminate racial, religious, and income segregation.
Today, Columbia has a population of about 94,600 (making it the largest unincorporated community in Maryland). By the early 2000s, the town had inexorably acquired many of the characteristics of other contemporary U.S. suburbs, such as increasingly large private homes standing somewhat aloof on large parcels, and "big-box" retail stores accessible mostly by automobile. Rouse's ethos remains a strong influence upon the physical and political development of Columbia.
The Rouse Company accumulated over 14,000 acres (57 km²), 10% of Howard County, Maryland (located between Baltimore and Washington DC), from 140 separate owners. This acquisition was funded by Connecticut General Life Insurance, at an average price of $1,500 per acre ($0.37/m²). In October 1963, the acquisition was revealed to the residents of Howard County, putting to rest rumors about the mysterious purchases. These had included the theory that the site was for a laboratory to study diseases and another that the site was intended to become a giant compost heap.
At this unveiling, James Rouse described Columbia as a planned new city which would avoid the leap-frog and spot development threatening the county. The new city would be complete with jobs, schools, shopping, and medical services, and a range of housing choices. The property taxes from commercial development would cover the additional services with which housing would burden the county. The planning process for Columbia included not only planners, but also a convening of a panel of nationally recognized experts in the social sciences, known as the Work Group. Meeting for two days, twice a month, for half a year, the Work Group suggested innovations that the planners should try in education, recreation, religion, and health care, as well as ways of improving social interactions. Open classrooms, the interfaith centers, and the then-novel idea of a Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) with a group practice of doctors (the Columbia Medical Plan) sprang from these meetings.
The physical plan, with neighborhood and village centers, also were decided upon at these meetings. Columbia's "New Town District" zoning ordinance gives the developer great flexibility about what to put where, without getting approval from the county for each specific project.
The first village to be developed in Columbia was Wilde Lake. The first high school to open in Columbia was Wilde Lake High School, which opened in 1971 as a model school for the nation. Constructed in the open classroom style, it was razed and reconstructed on the spot in 1996.
To achieve the goals set forth by the Work Group, Columbia's Master Plan called for a series of ten self-contained villages, around which day-to-day life would revolve. The centerpiece of Columbia would be the Mall in Columbia and man-made Lake Kittamaqundi.
Villages and neighborhoods
The village concept is aimed to provide Columbia a small-town feel (like Easton, Maryland, where James Rouse grew up). Each village comprises several neighborhoods. The village center may contain middle and high schools. All villages have a shopping center, recreational facilities, a community center, a system of bike/walking paths, and homes. Four of the villages have interfaith centers, common worship facilities which are owned and jointly operated by a variety of religious congregations working together.
Most of Columbia's neighborhoods contain single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and apartments (though some are more exclusive than others). The original plan, following the neighborhood concept of Clarence Perry, would have had all the children of a neighborhood attend the same school, melding neighborhoods into a community and ensuring that all of Columbia's children get the same high-quality education.
Village - Neighborhoods (in rough order of opening)
Wilde Lake - Bryant Woods, Faulkner Ridge, Running Brook, The Birches
Harper's Choice - Longfellow, Swansfield, Hobbit's Glen
Oakland Mills - Thunder Hill, Talbott Springs, Steven's Forest
Long Reach - Phelps Luck, Jeffers Hill, Locust Park, Kendall Ridge
Owen Brown - Dasher Green, Elkhorn, Hopewell
Hickory Ridge - Clemens Crossing, Hawthorne, Clary's Forest,
Dorsey's Search - Dorsey Hall, Fairway Hills
King's Contrivance - Dickinson, Huntington, Macgill's Common
River Hill - Pheasant Ridge, Pointers Run
Town Center - Vantage Point, Banneker, Amesbury, Creighton's Run, and Warfield Triangle
The last village, River Hill, is currently being developed and growing fast. With the completion of River Hill, Columbia's residential development will be finished.
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