I’m going to kind of steal a point made by someone at a meeting last night.
There are two ways to look at Columbia: as a city or as a suburb. Where you stand on this issue significantly impacts your opinion about the future of Town Center – specifically with respect to density.
I think Columbia is a city; it’s the second largest collection of individuals under a common address in the state of Maryland, after all. More importantly, one can sustain their entire existence within its borders. This is perhaps the key point. You can live, work, play and do pretty much everything you need without leaving Columbia (indeed, I rarely venture outside of a two-mile radius from my house).
Those who see Columbia as a suburb, the speaker proposed, are in denial about its true nature, failing to recognize and appreciate its true size and scope of city-like amenities. Efforts to create a “real” downtown make the suburb-in-denial position less tenable, and are therefore resisted by those who want to see it as a suburb.
Now, I didn’t come up with this idea, but I’m repeating it and, obviously, give it some weight. But as a lover of nuance, I’m not trying to divide us along stark ideological lines. Rather, I’m just using this as a set-up to link to Bill Santos’s post from yesterday defining not what Columbia is (we collectively make that decision) but what it was intended to be. Among the quotes he unearths are:
“Downtown Columbia is meant to be a true downtown – not just the heart of Columbia, but the urban hub for a real city between Washington and Baltimore.”You’ll have to read the whole post to see who said what (hint: neither was Rouse but you will find a Rouse quote there, as well).
“Allow me to list for you some of the ingredients necessary to attain the downtown we would all enjoy in Columbia:…Downtown needs apartments and condos: At high density within walking distance – on top of things like shops and offices. This is hard to accomplish, but HRD knows how. They may need help with zoning.”
Although my comments above show quite clearly my bias, I think it’s pretty evident that Columbia was always intended to be a city with an urban core. That it – on the whole – is also perceived by some as a suburb is a feature, not a bug.
And, no discussion of density this week would be complete without a link to Robert Turner’s great letter to the editor in the Flier.
We all know how expensive land and housing is in Howard County. We also know that restricting development drives costs higher. Simply put, height restrictions limit density and drive up housing costs. Without increased density, affordable and workforce housing will not be economically feasible in the downtown area. We will end up with far fewer housing choices and continue to lose the original vision of economic and racial inclusiveness that embodies Columbia.Supply and demand…
Increasing the density of Town Center and allowing some high-rises to be built will be necessary in order to help our community with its affordable and workforce housing crisis. If the Plaza Residences, an attractive market project, is blocked, this will undoubtedly signal similar fates for future projects.