Kings Contrivance village residents told Columbia Association President Padraic Kennedy last night that they're concerned about a perception of so-called "white flight" from Columbia and crime that is keeping shoppers away from several of the new town's village centers, particularly at night.
They also expressed confusion over how to address concerns in community in which several public and private institutions -- village boards, the Columbia Association, the Rouse Co. and county government -- all wield influence.
The residents also questioned how they can hold the private, nonprofit association accountable.
Mr. Kennedy, CA's leader since 1972, was making a relatively rare appearance in an open forum to answer residents' questions at the session organized by the Kings Contrivance village board.
He emphasized the association's strong financial performance in the last fiscal year; deficit-reduction efforts; record-high attendance at recreational clubs and community programs; and new facilities, including Columbia's second golf course and a second activities center for teen-agers.
"I think the Columbia Association is constantly improving," Mr. Kennedy said. "Each year, there's an attempt to do things better than they've been done before."
Several residents agreed, praising the organization for its service, responsiveness and programs, such as Columbia Art Center exhibits.
But others expressed broader concerns about Columbia that the association -- devoted primarily to running recreational and social programs and maintaining parkland -- is only beginning to examine.
The 28-year-old planned town of 82,000 residents was founded upon the principles of racial diversity and vibrant community life.
But Gloria Greene, a 22-year resident who described herself as a strong supporter of Columbia's ideals, said "white flight from inner-city Columbia" might be taking place as residents move in search of better schools and perhaps to escape well-integrated neighborhoods with low-income housing.
Lewis Lorton, a Kings Contrivance village board member, said some village centers are unsafe because of crime and emphasized that community leaders such as Mr. Kennedy "can't focus on successes only. It's the failures that cause things to go downhill."
Mr. Kennedy responded that the Columbia Council, the association's elected board of directors, has formed a committee to study public safety issues, adding that the association isn't responsible for security at Columbia shopping centers.
He also said he hasn't noticed "white flight" in Wilde Lake, the village he lives in and Columbia's oldest community and noted that the village is working on a revitalization project to enhance pride and serve as a model for other villages.