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Columbia's history explored in collection of essays by those who know it best

"Columbia, Maryland: A Fifty-year Retrospective of a Model City," features a collection of essays from 63 contributing writers who've watched their city transform since its foundation in 1967.

One of Columbia's original architects and planners, Robert Tennenbaum, revealed his second book on June 19, which explores the 50-year-old city's transformation through the local prospective.

"Columbia, Maryland: A Fifty-year Retrospective of a Model City," features a collection of essays from 63 contributing writers who've watched their city transform since its foundation in 1967. Tennenbaum's first book, "Columbia, Maryland: Creating a New City," was published in 1996 and reviews the foundation of Columbia as told by 15 volunteer writers.

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In the new book, local politicians, educators, community leaders and advocates write about topics such as Columbia's development, environmental changes and social progress. Tennenbaum organized and edited the essays and included pictures, maps and site plans within the 400-page book. He said the book, which sells for $45, will be sold online in the near future.

Bob Tennenbaum, who served as chief planner and architect for Columbia, edited and pieced together a book of essays, "Columbia, Maryland: A Fifty-year Retrospective on the Making of a Model City." Tennenbaum flips through a copy of the 400-page book on June 19 at the Sheraton Columbia Town Center Hotel.
Bob Tennenbaum, who served as chief planner and architect for Columbia, edited and pieced together a book of essays, "Columbia, Maryland: A Fifty-year Retrospective on the Making of a Model City." Tennenbaum flips through a copy of the 400-page book on June 19 at the Sheraton Columbia Town Center Hotel. (Andrew Michaels/Baltimore Sun Media)

A Columbia Association grant of $45,000 over three years paid for the book design and printing, along with individual donations totaling $3,000. Tennenbaum said his friend, Joe Mitchell, helped bring the book to fruition over the last decade.

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"Joe and I came up with a list of people, some who I've never heard of, involved in all kinds of things in Columbia," said Tennenbaum, who recalled first moving to Columbia from New York decades ago. "There were corn fields and lots of woods. It was just beautiful land and 50 years later, here we are."

Mitchell's wife, Helen, said her work as a philosophy and women's studies professor at Howard Community College inspired her to write about the evolution of women in Columbia. Founder James Rouse didn't imagine women in the jobs they have today, she said.

"He looked out for women as wives and mothers and made their lives easier," Mitchell said. "I wrote about how women had to invent roles, structures and institutions for themselves. There wasn't an existing structure that excluded women; there just weren't roles for women."

Together, the vast collection of essays provides a look into Columbia's past and present, she said, informing the city on how to move forward.

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"The big strength of the book is that it taps the memories and the wisdom of people who were there in the beginning," Mitchell said.

Former state Del. Liz Bobo said she and her husband, Lloyd Knowles, wrote essays for the book about Rouse's dream for the community and the county's early politics, respectively.

Bobo served as Howard County's first and only female county executive from 1986 to 1990. Four years later, the Columbia resident was elected to the House of Delegates, where she represented District 12B for four terms.

"With 50 years of Columbia history behind us, there are all kinds of theorizing and judgment – not in a negative way – being made about how successful we've been in the area with inclusion, protection, health care, arts and education," she said. "This book is in the words of the people who were there at various times from the beginning to the middle to the present."

Knowles, who served on the Howard County Council for 12 years beginning in 1974, said his essay reviews the first 30 years of politics in Columbia from 1965 to 1995. Knowles and Bobo have lived in the area since the mid-1960s.

"I came to Columbia in a neighborhood that has now been integrated into Columbia, but was an out parcel" on the northeast corner of today's Route 175 and Route 29, now known as Guildford Downs, Knowles said. "[Liz and I] came in about three months before Rouse got his zoning permits from the county. It's been something that's been in our blood for a long, long time."

Ned Tillman, a local naturalist and author, said he's seen "the good, the bad and the ugly" during the growth of Columbia, where he's lived since 1978. The city is more bio-diverse, he said, but struggles to manage open space.

"We keep redefining what the definition of open space is," Tillman said. "All of a sudden, there's a lot of interest in it again because as density goes up, people are going to need that. I think [this book] is going to be a classic case study with all the different aspects. Even though Rouse had 100 different people working for him for different things, this actually shows what happened."

Columbia's latest history book "is going to be a gem," Bobo added.

"The strongest statement we can make is that we're going to stay here," she said. "We're going to live the rest of our lives here."



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