Letters to the editor

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Time to face facts on sources of crime

Crime and violence in Columbia's village centers is merely a design flaw in a planned community.

Problems in our town are not home grown. The gunslingers and druggies who make the scary headlines aren't worried about property values. They don't care about covenants. It is not a pastoral life they are looking for. Troubled folks come to Columbia because there are fewer housing options for them in the city.

James Rouse, the great forward-thinking innovator himself probably couldn't see a day when the apartment complexes ringing the neighborhood shopping areas would house a certain class of city bred criminal.

Rouse had the idea that Columbia would welcome everybody no matter how much money they had. But that was a time when we thought folks would pull themselves up by the boot straps if given the chance to live in a nurturing environment, or at least continue living decent lives as poor but respectable neighbors.

Sorry to say it didn't pan out like that. Human flaws being what they are, one does not become a textbook suburbanite when their furniture crosses the county line.

The police and the schools and other county agencies have their hands full dealing with a new population that is more accustomed to a chaotic lifestyle. Resources are limited and getting thinner yet in the new economy.

Village residents want help, but it is impolite in Columbia to point directly at the problem. So we talk around it looking for solutions from burdened bureaucracies and struggling local businesses. As if all we need is an especially clever grant-funded program and a new grocery store to make it all okay again.

If we are to change things, then it is time to face facts. There is a serious problem in our lower-income rental communities, transient tenants recycle problems. County housing officials must insist that landlords and management companies keep their properties safe and hospitable for families who want to stay in Columbia to benefit from excellent schools, good jobs and a helping hand.

The basic work of proper background checks of rental applicants and swift evictions for lease violations must be supported by county agencies.

Most importantly we all need to stand firm in our belief that the concept of Columbia still works and we can improve our lives by helping others.

Outreach to rental communities by village associations and political leaders will encourage participation of concerned tenants to shape a suitable environment.

As a result good people will stay, bad people will go away and children will prosper from the effort.

John J. Snyder

Columbia

Hire top firm to plan park on Blandair

This has been an unsettling summer. Violent crime in Oakland Mills and Long Reach has raised questions about personal safety and such "lesser" casualties as wounded community pride and threatened property values. As usual, the perception of the situation is darker than the reality, but perceptions have ramifications, too.

Ironically, it is at exactly the same time that our east side villages are feeling the strains of urbanization that they are also presented with the greatest opportunity in their history. I am referring, of course, to the Smith property, 300 acres in the middle of Columbia.

The development of the Smith property could change the destiny of the villages of Oakland Mills and Long Reach, of Columbia, of Howard County itself. With vision and high expectations guiding its use, the Smith property could be utterly transformative: the east side could be the "garden spot" of Howard County.

There is no other natural environment in Howard County with the potential of the Smith property, no other plot of land with its assets and accessibility. Indeed, the Smith property is a great gift to the people of Howard County, and it must be utilized in a way that maximizes its value through the highest and best purpose.

There will be no other major parks in the middle of Howard County. Therefore a plan for it must include elements that will attract people of all ages and cultures, recognize the scarcity of the resources it represents, take advantage of its unique location in the midst of a heavily-developed residential community with proximity to the county's public schools and community college, recognize the impact of the site's development on the surrounding communities of Oakland Mills and Long Reach, attract funding resources for construction and sustainability.

The Blandair Planning Committee, of which I have been a member, initiated a process of discussion, research and investigation. Many ideas emerged as a benefit of this creative process involving citizen volunteers. A park, however, is not a quilt, with each interested person submitting his or her own ideas for stitching together. It deserves a coherent and comprehensive vision.

With two years of committee meeting and several public meetings behind us, it is important to remember that we have taken but one step in the mile of steps that must be taken to complete planning for the Smith property.

The next step is to engage a national park planning and design organization to look at the site in the context of the identified broad concepts and ideas and of the incredible opportunity it presents to change the destiny of our community. The search for a nationally recognized firm should be undertaken by a blue ribbon commission made up of planning professionals residing in the community.

This is our opportunity to distinguish ourselves by creating a community space that enhances the surrounding area, that increases the property values of homeowners nearby, that is a source of community pride and pleasure.

We sit at a crossroads. What do we want for ourselves and for the families who will be attracted to Howard County in the future?

Robert J. Moon

Columbia

The writer is architect chairman, Environmental/Nature Center Workgroup, Blandair Planning Committee.

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