Columbia's golden anniversary has arrived, with months of special events and celebrations planned to mark James W. Rouse's visionary approach to go beyond the cookie-cutter subdivisions of the last century and build a vibrant community around distinct neighborhood villages, job, shopping and recreation centers, with an exacting eye toward architectural detail.
Has Rouse's dream been realized five decades later? Yes, in some areas more so than others. A few villages are in need of makeovers and others have kept pace with changing times — par for the course in many communities across the country.
Actions taken last year by the County Council, county executive and the lead real-estate developer, Howard Hughes Corp., have solidified the foundation for another half-century.
A landmark government-backed financing deal for Downtown Columbia is expected to stimulate business and residential growth, including office space, hotel rooms, parking and support for new schools and cultural programs.
The plan also takes a hard look at transportation networks, calling for services and infrastructure designed to encourage more people to park their cars and walk, bike or take public transit. Although there are several chronically clogged thoroughfares, Columbia has been spared some of the gridlock that has enveloped Reston in Northern Virginia, a similar community developed in the 1960s by Robert Simon, a Rouse contemporary.
One of the thorniest challenges since Columbia's founding surrounds affordable housing and distributing subsidized housing equitably to avoid segregating low-income residents in pockets apart from the rest of the community. The Downtown Columbia plan addresses this and contains provisions for the creation of hundreds of additional affordable and subsidized units.
Much work remains, but the latest vision for Columbia is one that helps further Rouse's dream.
The 50th celebrations planned will offer opportunities for reflection, a living history lesson on how Columbia has evolved since Rouse founded the community in 1967. Many of these events are planned to bring people together, and highlight some of Columbia's bragging points: education, the arts, the economic climate and recreation.
In the weeks ahead, we'll publish a series highlighting noteworthy events in Columbia's history; and keeping with the celebration's theme to "imagine the future," feature essays from leaders on their thoughts for the future of Columbia.