Tuesday, January 24, 2006

What the hell happened? Part II

After rereading several older posts yesterday, I’ve started to worry that I’m mischaracterizing the position of many of the Charrette’s critics. In an effort to make writing these posts easier, I lumped together into one group numerous individuals and critiques, often at the expense of clarity and honesty. To be sure, there is no single position, person or group that encompasses the array of questions and criticism directed at the Charrette and master plan process.

Just as hundreds of us came into the Charrette with our own ideas about the future of Columbia, hundreds of us left the Charrette with our own ideas about the future of Columbia. The only change was that after the Charrette we had something to compare our ideas with, and for many of us, this comparison left a bitter taste.

Although the breadth of questioning is extensive, there are several main concerns that have been publicly expressed over the nascent Town Center master plan. And at this risk of mischaracterizing again, here’s a brief run down of what I see are the major issues surrounding the Charrette (if you know of or hold a belief not listed here, please post a comment or send an email -- I’m trying to do an honest assessment of all the relevant issues and could use as much help as possible…begging done). Note that there is considerable overlap between these categories.

No or Almost No Growth: There is a contingent of people, notably county executive candidate Harry Dunbar, who are opposed to further growth in Town Center. The variations on this theme include No Growth, No Residential Growth, and No Growth on the Crescent Property.

Too Much Growth, Particularly Residential: Those expressing this sentiment aren’t necessarily opposed to growth, but the 5,000 new residential units figure that has been floated by DPZ strikes them as excessive. However, they appear open to lesser amounts of residential development, and commercial development doesn’t appear to bother quite as much.

Too Much Density: This concern is closely related to the previous two, but it is distinct in that it is based on the idea that Columbia’s Town Center should be more suburban than urban. Taller buildings, parking garages, and a “grid” network of streets are all unwanted. Generally, they envision a more open, spread out Town Center similar to what it is now.

Inadequate Infrastructure: There are several subcategories for this position, namely Present and Future, and Schools and Roads. New development, it is said, will overwhelm existing infrastructure, and proposed improvements will do little to alleviate this strain. School sites have not been adequately planned for, which is especially troubling given the crowded nature of our existing schools. Moreover, the street grid, despite claims of the planners to the contrary, will be insufficient to deal with the increased traffic. Some believe traffic is already awful.

Too Much Money for the Developers: By allowing a lot of new development, specifically residential, that wouldn’t have been approved otherwise, we’re creating a massive windfall for the existing Town Center landowners -- mainly General Growth -- say proponents of this stance. And we’re creating this windfall and getting nothing in return. Indeed, some say, we’ll be forced to foot the bill for promised amenities like landscaping, cultural spaces, plazas, and maintenance, while a Chicago-based company with dwindling local ties gets fat off our bounty.

Too Few Details in the Plan: Those taking this position claim the plan is (or will be) too vague, affording too much freedom to the developers, which may, in the long run, invalidate the entire planning effort. This concern is very much related to others, particularly the Inadequate Infrastructure, and questions the commitments of developers to the long-term success of Town Center. Also related to this position are concerns over the phasing and monitoring of development in accordance with the master plan.

Things Are Moving Too Fast: Basically, those with this view just want to be sure all the bases are covered, even if it means considerable delay.

Not Enough Citizen Participation: A recent Flier editorial expressed this view, saying that citizens should be more involved in the “editing” process of the Charrette results and master plan development.

I guess that’s most of what I’ve seen. Of course, there are likely other concerns that I’ve overlooked, but these seem to be the main ones. Now, as part of the What the Hell Happened Series, I’ll go through the list and address each as best I can. Though I disagree with much of the Charrette opposition -- especially since there is still no actual, you know, plan -- I think there are significant concerns that need to be addressed and for which solutions are readily available.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very good summary of objections in my opinion. Perhaps one more to add to the list - the plan needs to better address a 30-year period into the future. Does the plan truly offer solutions for what will be needed/required for 30 years from now? One could make the argument that a lot of more forward-thinking design considerations should be included that haven't been, such as noise mitigation, light pollution prevention, green roof technology, advanced environmentally-friendly public transit rights of way, designs that minimize urban heat island effect, etc.