Thursday, January 18, 2007

I can tell that we are gonna be friends...

I think the nature of blogging is nitpicking (hey, I’ve said that before!).

It is very much a reactive and spontaneous medium, where more effort is concentrated on quantity and timeliness than thoughtfulness. Obviously, there are exceptions (ahem), but even those who eschew the prevailing mores sometimes get lazy.

Nitpicking isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however, especially when you’re discussing something as comprehensive as a 40-page, 30-year plan for Town Center put out by a citizens group. But it’s easy to go from honest nitpicking and detailed examination to snarky contrarianism. I sought the former when I wrote this post a couple days ago, and it caused a bit of a stir.

So, today I’m taking a step back. As I said in the comments, I believe that most of us share the same values with respect to Town Center. Thankfully, CCD’s paper includes a listing of ten items making up “The Community’s Vision for Downtown,” which provides me a way of comparing my overriding principles with those of the group.

Note that this list is at the end of the paper and acts as the summary (the values expressed in the front of the paper are the four guiding principles of Columbia’s founding). I think this community vision list should be at the front of the paper, as the details of any plan must flow down from these higher-level principles.

1. The community supports the continuing development of Downtown and wants it to be done on a human scale and at moderate, not high, density.

I agree, though rather than the moderate density language I would say at a density in-line with the context of the area and values of the community. Sure, my language is squishy, but it’s no squishier than “moderate” density.

I also believe that density should be one of the last items mentioned. To me, it is far less important than ensuring the four principles of our community are upheld. Furthermore, if Town Center’s development were an equation, density would be the dependent variable – that is, the level of density would be dictated by what we expect from Town Center development (i.e., amount of open space set asides, affordable housing, cultural amenities, public transportation, traffic, infrastructure, etc). In short, the more goods we want, the more density we tolerate.

2. The community backs mixed-use development throughout Downtown.


3. The community wants new housing units to be affordable for a wide cross-section of people.


4. The community rejects the proposed major increase in traffic congestion and resulting deterioration of our quality of life.

I don’t like the wording – it is both negative and sounds as though traffic congestion is an end and not an externality. Nobody is proposing increases in traffic. They are proposing increases in development that will result in more traffic. I know this is nitpicky, but I’m a writer and language matters. All that said, I don’t want traffic congestion deteriorating my quality of life. But this is a subjective position and I think Town Center traffic isn’t anywhere near that point now.

5. The community wants to move about safely and conveniently by foot, bicycle, auto, mobility devices, and mass transit.


6. The community desires Downtown to have a wide variety of civic, cultural, and entertainment, amenities.


7. The community recognizes the Lakefront as the heart of Columbia and wants it to be protected against overdevelopment.

Yes, but the “overdevelopment” language is again squishy. I certainly think more development than what is currently there could enhance the Lakefront.

8. The community considers Symphony Woods and the Merriweather Post Pavilion as Columbia’s “Central Park” area, deserving of special consideration.

I agree that they are vital parts of Town Center and should be given special consideration.

9. The community expresses strong support for implementing sound environmental practices in future development.


10. The community is intent on continuing to be actively engaged in decisions concerning their Columbia – the Next America.


That I agree with all of these points may surprise some, but it didn’t surprise me. I’ve been saying, in one way or another, these things for years, a fact that is inconsequential.

What matters now are the steps we take to ensure these values are translated into a workable plan, a phase in the process where examining the details is essential. Which is what I attempted to do in the previous post: examine the details for workability.

So, rather than pointing out how I’m missing the forest for the trees by questioning some of the specifics, please take my criticisms as honest attempts to advance the debate and improve the plan with the understanding that all of us are working towards the same goal.


seldom seen smith said...

I just posted a comment on Evan’s blog then wander over here and read your post. I do appreciate your pointing out the agreements we all have but, it some ways I think its beyond the point, and more importantly playing into the hands of a falsely created discussion. Here is the tail end (relevant end) of my post
This whole thing, including many of CCD’s proposals are so factually indefensible on their face that truthfully they strike me much like the anti-global warming arguments. You can’t win the actual argument so you through in a series of red herrings and then you define artificial choices and you finish off by falsely framing the debate.

Most of the people I talk to who stand in a different place then you and the Coalition are tired and fed up and in real danger of simply being outlasted. You, like are esteemed president make up for a lack of reality with constant repetition of the same stuff hoping the world will eventually take it as fact – meanwhile those saying something different are beaten to death, shouted down and denounced as developer sympathizers sprawl addicts or just haters of the Columbian vision.
----end splice-------

Let me try a new metaphor. We all agree that we want a beautiful painting. Great let’s all be friends – Hayduke will even point out how beautiful we all want the painting to be. But wait a minute – a section of our little kumbayah party decides that there can be no canvas involved, no brushes, and no paid painters. When questioned on this they say – 1) canvas ruins our quality of life 2) they painted this way in 16th century Italy and any painting past that is ugly and 3) those of you pushing against them not only stand against the principles we all put forth together as a community, but you are doing the work of the evil paint industry and don’t grasp the beauty of what we have hear – probably because you are too young . . . though we admit there could be other options explaining you ignorance.

I’m sure my metaphor will be ripped apart but I stand by its concept and I think to unnecessarily point out the kumbayahs misses the point a little and it plays into a debate that neither you nor the rest of us can hope to come through successfully.

On the raft with a wrench,


Evan said...

Seldom Seen Smith,

I strongly believe I live in a reality based world and often wish that proponents of the plan would take the time to read the county plan and examine the difference between their declared vision and the structure that is in the plan to supposedly implement it because they would see that the current county plan will not result in the beautiful words they declare it will. There is a big difference between declaring something and having a structure to achieve it.

numbers.girl said...

"There is a big difference between declaring something and having a structure to achieve it. "

Evan, I absolutely agree. This is my biggest criticism of the CCD proposal. It's easy to say "free parking, free galleries, free buses" but having a solid plan as to how that will be acheived is another. The CCD paper falls far short of that goal.

Hayduke said...

Just so I don't lose all my antagonism cred, here are comments I posted on Evan's blog.

First, a few nitpicking items:

Note how I said “I don’t want traffic congestion deteriorating my quality of life” rather than “I don’t want traffic congestion.” With future Town Center development, I expect and will gladly tolerate a certain level of congestion. I haven’t thought about it enough to say at what point I’d be sick of it, but as I said we’re nowhere near that point now (even during the busy Christmas shopping season).

Lakefront: I think it needs an update. I don’t like the Teachers building and I really don’t like the access/entryways leading to the Lakefront. More needs to be done to integrate the Lakefront to the rest of Town Center and preserving it the way it is now isn’t the answer. This is not to say that “overdevelopment” is the answer, either.

I am not surprises since I have been hearing HayDuke say these things and knew we were in much more agreement than the tone recent posts have taken. We all want a good plan. My issue with the county plan more than anything else is that it won’t achieve what we all say our declared goals are.

I don’t think there was anything wrong with the tone of my previous posts. I disagreed with the details of CCD’s plan because I don’t think they will accomplish our goals and in some ways think they might actually cause harm: the stringent focus on numbers at this early stage; the emphasis on restrictions; the imbalance between willingness-to-have and willingness-to-pay; the lack of prioritization; promoting the charrette-charade and evil-developer canards; etc.

As I alluded to in my post, it is telling that the first point in the summary section of the paper is about density (and this gets at my prioritization point). Density may not be CCD’s main issue but it is its rallying cry. The impression I get – which might be wrong – is “limit density first, discuss the rest later.” (I know there are differing viewpoints within CCD about this, but broad generalizations are the price individuals pay for collectivizing.) This is, in my mind, totally backwards and forces us to rely on a constrained vision.

Alan Klein said...

Hayduke, I appreciate the comments you made as you went down our summary statements. And, I can easily agree that it is the deterioration of the quality of life due to overly increased traffic, rather than the traffic itself, that is the issue.

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