Special to

The People Tree, a golden starburst sculpture situated on the edge of man-made Lake Kittamaqundi in the heart of Columbia, is a fitting symbol of the community's fundamental principles of diversity, equality and camaraderie. It was these extant pillars of value that inspired the idea and development of Columbia back in the 1960s.

Made up of 10 different villages, Columbia is a mishmash of smaller communities that weave together into a collective geographical expanse. The villages are far enough apart to be individually unique but close enough to create the cozy neighborhood feel that makes Columbia an attractive place for families to take root.

The villages, whose neighborhood and street names echo the fantastical, poetic turns of numerous prolific writers, are built up around town centers that house shops, networks of bike- and footpaths and community centers. There are also various sports and recreation venues; an ice rink, skate park, gyms and numerous swimming pools provide plenty of opportunity for residents to exercise, even if they are not members of the Columbia Association, which runs the fitness venues strewn throughout Columbia.

The most remarkable aspect of Columbia is its unblemished small-town, suburban attitude underneath the colorful mantle of a buzzing, urban complex. Nearly everything that you can find in nearby Baltimore or Washington can be found in Columbia. Upscale shopping and dining define the Mall in Columbia. Live entertainment thrives at Merriweather Post Pavilion and community theaters. Top-notch health care and one of the pre-eminent public school systems care for and educate the population. Interfaith centers offer a space for people of all religions and beliefs to practice. Public bus transportation gives access to all corners of Columbia without the hassle of navigating its somewhat labyrinthine villages. Work is abundant and openings are always expanding for competitive job seekers in all industries. All this, and Columbia has not sacrificed its reputation as a friendly, clean, safe place for all who call it home.

That's exactly what developer James Rouse wanted when he dreamed up the planned community concept behind Columbia. His vision was a place where people could live, work and play in a non-segregated environment, embracing racial and spiritual multiplicity. Columbia has stuck to its initial purpose and shows no indication of deviating in the future.

Location: Howard County

Boundaries: Route 108 to the north and west, Route 32 to the south and I-95 to the east. These borders are approximate.

Schools: Howard Community College, Atholton High School, Hammond High School, Long Reach High School, Oakland Mills High School, River Hill High School, Wilde Lake High School, Cradlerock School, Harper's Choice Middle School, Oakland Mills Middle School, Wilde Lake Middle School, Atholton Elementary School, Bryant Woods Elementary School, Clemens Crossing Elementary School, Guilford Elementary School, Jeffers Hill Elementary School, Longfellow Elementary School, Phelps Luck Elementary School, Running Brook Elementary School, Stevens Forest Elementary School, Swansfield Elementary School, Talbott Springs Elementary School, Thunder Hill Elementary School, Waterloo Elementary School

Highlights/landmarks: Columbia Festival of the Arts, the Lakefront, the Mall in Columbia, Merriweather Post Pavilion, Symphony Woods (locale for Wine in the Woods and Symphony of Lights)

Trivia: Actor Edward Norton is a Columbia native and grandson of James Rouse, the mind and money behind the town's development. Norton graduated from Wilde Lake High School.

Cergy-Pontoise, France, and Tres Cantos, Spain, are both planned communities and sister cities of Columbia.

Place names are derived from the literature of such authors as J.R.R. Tolkien, Carl Sandburg, Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and William Cullen Bryant.

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad