Part of our series of essays from leaders imagining the future of Columbia.
For much of this year, residents of Howard County have celebrated the 50th birthday of Columbia. As someone that has only lived in Howard County for 2-1/2 years, watching the celebration of Jim Rouse's vision and how far it has come has been inspiring. Years before my family and I made the move to Howard County, I was attending Clemson University studying planning and architecture, when I came across Jim Rouse's name in a green planning book. At the time, this planned city called Columbia made for an interesting read, but now that I live here, my appreciation for the spirit of his plan has grown many times over.
As we celebrate major milestones, it's only natural to imagine what the future will hold. I believe Columbia's next 50 years will continue to be a reflection of Columbia's founding principles, but in a way that may look very different. Some of the things we love the most about the city — including its green spaces, facilities centered around families and village centers where friends can meet and enjoy local businesses — will continue to exist, but will expand, multiply and in some cases get a fresh new look. Redevelopment is already underway downtown, but Columbia's skyline will grow in other neighborhoods through the revitalization of the village centers in both Long Reach and Hickory Ridge. Undeveloped land will become increasingly scarce, but with each new development project, we must continue to focus on maintaining the city's bike paths, tot lots and arts and entertainment venues we all enjoy.
Columbia is full of employment opportunities, but it's also in a great location for anyone to commute to Baltimore or Washington, D.C. The city is now home to an Innovation District where cyber security and IT companies are forming and expanding all the time. Columbia is also still home to some of the greatest public schools in the country. But Columbia needs to do more to attract young professionals. Plans are already underway to make Downtown Columbia more walkable and bike friendly, and Merriweather Post Pavilion has undergone a complete transformation including the addition of the Chrysalis amphitheater. There are two new restaurant bars set to open at One Merriweather by the end of the year, and development has already begun on other areas of the Merriweather district. Once it's completed, the district will be home to a more urban community where you can live, work and play.
Columbia was also founded on the principles of diversity and acceptance. James Rouse planned this city as a place where people of different backgrounds with different levels of wealth should be able to live, work and play together as equals, and enjoy the community that neighborhoods provide. While many would argue these ideals still guide public policy here, others will tell you some communities are deteriorating at a quicker pace than others, and the idea of revitalizing those neighborhoods has met with some pushback. Challenges lie ahead. Civic leaders, elected officials and the people of Columbia will have to acknowledge and address issues of affordable housing, public transportation, inclusion and educational disparities.
Columbia's future is bright, but those of us who live here now and plan to be part of this city's future must fight to ensure Jim Rouse's vision lives on for the next 50 years and beyond. Fortunately, I believe Columbians are up to the task.
Leonardo McClarty is president/CEO of the Howard County Chamber of Commerce.