In a good and long post about Town Center development, Bill Santos wonders about our wish list.
Having read the Co Fo Co Do Executive Summary, the overall impression I get is that if downtown Columbia development were like a wish list for purchasing a car, Co Fo Co Do seems to want a car that gets the gas mileage of a Toyota Prius, the performance of a Dodge Magnum (with the SRT-6.1L Hemi engine), the people carrying capacity of a school bus, and the load hauling capacity of a Ford F-150 truck. This would of course be the ideal vehicle, but it does not exist.I've gone down this path before with respect to a school site in Town Center, but the basics are the same.
…Rather than a conspiracy of pre-determined outcomes, I believe the folks running the Charrette looked at what people wanted, and tried their best to incorporate everything. The final plans showed increased density, but also more green space, and more public sculpture and art. Most of the problems with the Charrette outcome was in the conflicts between desires. An example would be that (in my opinion) most groups expressed a desire for more mass transit. One does not have to look very hard to determine that for mass transit (and funding for mass transit from the state and federal governments), medium to high density residency is required, and that is what subsequent Charrette plan reflected. Low density development does not allow for mass transit.
…Said another way, you can't tow a boat with a Prius, you are going to need a truck. It is my hope that Co Fo Co Do can come forward with an alternate funding program such that mass transit can be part of downtown Columbia. Otherwise, I would hope that they would reconsider their downtown density position; or in a worst case scenario, embrace low density as a priority and renounce mass transit.
We are, rightly, asking for a lot from the Town Center redevelopment. Certainly, there is no shortage of ideas for ways to make our downtown better and live up to the standards or ideals that were "promised" as part of the Columbia experiment.
But nothing's free. And though most seem to recognize that General Growth needs to make a profit in this endeavor, there is considerably disagreement regarding how much profit they should make and how much of it we're entitled to in the form of affordable housing, mass transit, cultural amenities, and so forth. Some of this disagreement, as Bill points out, is based on the flawed assumption that we can't have everything or, said another way, we can't force GGP to do acquiesce to all of our demands.
Although the issue of prioritization surfaced in the later sessions of the charrette and during the Focus Group meetings, it was not discussed during the first day of the charrette. And, when it was brought up at later times, the choices often lacked context, allowing for the simultaneous advocacy of both low density development and extension of the DC subway. Given the former, the latter is simply not feasible. This is not to say we can't have transit, but it would have to be Rapid Bus Transit or something similarly scaled-down (I'll preempt a regular commenter by saying, perhaps Personal Rapid Transit[?]).
As I said on Bill's blog, I've been thinking about a way to help visualize the trade offs inherent in our discussions about the future of Town Center. It seems to me that somewhere in the ether is a formula where we can plug in a series of assumptions or "desirable amenities" and see what level of development would be required to support them. Ideally, it would be a spreadsheet that allowed for easy manipulation of variables. The problem, of course, is how you go about quantifying everything. However, the goal would not be precision -- I strongly recommend against using such simple tools (like Excel) for such significant undertakings -- but rather a way to help guide us as we inevitably make the difficult decisions and trade offs that will dictate the final downtown master plan.
Bill has much more to say about the charrette in general and I urge you to read his post.