Monday, January 23, 2006

What the hell happened? Part I

Rather than start at the beginning for this series, I'm going to start at the end, although other posts won't follow in reverse chronological order. In fact, I wouldn't expect any type of order--chronological, logical, or otherwise--for this series. Things will get done when they get done.

The most recent news regarding the Charrette was Liz Bobo's very well-attended forum on January 14. After reading the story, I thought I was going to be stuck with a big plate of crow. In previous posts I questioned whether the vocal critics of the Charrette represented the view of the majority, and since Bobo has been pretty outspoken about the many problems she sees, I initially thought the large turnout was a proxy for overall community displeasure. After all, nowhere in the story does it say what the prevailing attitude of attendees was.

Then, however, I read this column that asks a lot questions to which it provides no answers. However, it hinted at a few answers for questions I had.

"Jim set out here to do an anti-suburban city," Chuck Levine, a six-year resident, said at the meeting. "We have got to recover from suburbia. The future of Columbia depends on density." Rouse, he said, did not reach the goals he set. "What we have here is not a better city," which is one of the tenets of Rouse's Columbia Dream.

In fact, new resident Judy Baer finds that suburban sprawl here is the same as in any community. "I can't find a spool of thread at the mall," she said. "We need [urban] planning again."

So, that was at least two people who don't seem very anti-Charrette (a few arguments against the Charrette I've heard are that it allows for too much density and it attempts to make Town Center too urban instead of suburban, like it is now). While I'm hesitant to draw any further conclusions about the opinions of the forum attendees, it doesn't appear that the entire day was spent criticizing the Charrette outcome, which I was concerned it would. Instead, this little bit of information shows me that people, regardless of their stance on the Charrette, want to know more, something I am completely in favor of, especially at this early stage in the process.

Then, I noticed the Flier's weekly poll posed this question to readers: "Do you think plans for downtown Columbia development should be delayed?" Although the survey process is very un-scientific and easily gamed, the results are nonetheless surprising, to me anyway. In case the link doesn't work (you can only vote and see the results once because of cookie-related reasons), the tally as of today was 42 percent "Yes" and 58 percent "No," suggesting that at least a healthy contingent of folks think the master plan is on the right track.

Again, I'm very hesitant to draw any real conclusions from this information. However, the post-Charrette discussion has to this point been dominated by those wishing to poke holes in a plan that's not even finished. Moreover, much of the criticism has been based solely on ideology and hyperbole and while I won't claim to be ideology free, given the ease of sourcing information on a blog, I'll try to back up much of what I say with proven facts.

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