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The Baltimore Sun

Columbia remains a 'company town'

One point that architecture critic Edward Gunts understates in his column "Bold ideas advanced for revamping Columbia" (May 5) is the basic fact that Columbia is a company town - one unlike any other in Maryland.

The initial decision by the Rouse Co. more than 40 years ago to design the town center around a typical enclosed shopping mall created today's reality.

Any attempt to shift that paradigm to another model of urbanism will fail until the citizens of Columbia exercise their right to create a municipal government, with power to implement plans for the public benefit, including the use of eminent domain.

Only then will this vibrant, growing community of 100,000 be able to create a true urban center for the 21st century.

Otherwise, the community will get only what "the company" decides to give, which will be an ersatz version of urbanism that ignores the "elephant in the room" - a 1,400,000-square-foot shopping mall.

Michael V. Murphy, Baltimore

The writer is a local architect and a member of Baltimore's Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation.

Towson apartments won't crowd schools

I doubt that the hundreds of residential units planned for the core of Towson will do much to further overburden our already crowded school system ("In Towson, pleas for 5th school," May 4).

With the minimal parking Baltimore County requires for such development, I doubt many families will be interested in the apartments. And if the lack of parking doesn't keep families and professionals away, the area college students who are likely to fill the spaces probably will.

As Towson University and Goucher College continue to increase enrollments without adequate on-campus housing, residential units in the core of Towson will most likely turn out to be rentals.

Three years ago, developers of the Quarter apartments assured the community that their high-end units would be filled with empty-nesters who wouldn't mind the minimal parking accommodations.

But last week, The Sun reported that the first units to open this summer will be filled by Goucher students ("Goucher short of housing," April 28).

And if the existing lifestyle clashes between Towson residents and college students are any indication, prospective tenants hoping for a peaceful existence in Towson's core will be in for a rude awakening.

Corinne Becker, Towson

The writer is a member of the board of the Riderwood Hills Community Association.

Should Rosa Parks have stepped back?

I would like to ask Gregory Kane, who speaks out against civil disobedience ("The law: Why not just start to obey it?" May 3), this question: Should Rosa Parks have moved to the back of the bus when commanded to do so?

Elke Straub, Baltimore

Merciful sister inspires optimism

The article about Sister Muriel Curran, the 78-year-old nun who showed such compassion toward her assailant, was quite touching ("Nun offers mercy, but robber gets jail," May 1).

In a world that is cold and distant, a world full of cynicism and dismay, it is really heartwarming to know that people such as Sister Curran still exist.

Articles such as this one give one enough optimism to believe that perhaps someday there will be a better tomorrow.

Charles Chambers, Middle River

Gay rights still stuck at impasse

Maryland Senate Minority Leader David R. Brinkley's insensitive and incendiary comments in The Sun's article "Gay rights at standstill" (May 4) reek of a fundamental disdain for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and families headed by same-sex couples.

I agree that most members of the general public don't rank the issue of same-sex unions as one of great importance to them because they are trying to "maintain their households," as Mr. Brinkley suggests.

Unfortunately, Mr. Brinkley seems to be blind to the household concerns of same-sex couples, even in his own district, because to him we are merely "shrieking from rooftops" without any merit to our arguments.

But we have real problems too. In fact, same-sex couples in Maryland have, on average, lower incomes, lower rates of homeownership and lower likelihood of health insurance coverage than our married counterparts.

Of course, as a state employee, Mr. Brinkley is lucky that he may carry a spouse on his health insurance. But that's not the case for state employees with partners of the same sex.

It is unlikely that Mr. Brinkley has ever worried about being shut out of the medical decision-making process for his wife or been told he couldn't accompany her in an ambulance en route to the hospital.

When Mr. Brinkley or his wife passes away, the surviving spouse will inherit tax-free the house they shared together during their marriage, unlike surviving partners in same-sex couples, who are taxed as though they are inheriting 50 percent of the home from a stranger.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are as diverse as the general population: Indeed, some of us are as insensitive to the struggles of other groups as Mr. Brinkley is to ours.

But Mr. Brinkley and those who think as he does hold the power in this situation.

Until they see lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals as actual human beings and not as "shrieking" people with no real problems, our families' pleas will be falling on deaf ears.

Dan Furmansky, Silver Spring

The writer is executive director of Equality Maryland.,

Senate Minority Leader David R. Brinkley sees his gay and lesbian constituents as "shrieking from rooftops that they need these rights."

At least we have his attention.

Next year, maybe he'll even listen.

Hugh Silcox, Baltimore

As a gay rights activist, I too am disappointed in the stalled legislative efforts to achieve equality in Maryland. However, my disappointment does not flow to Gov. Martin O'Malley but rests at the front door of Equality Maryland, which is - unfortunately for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Marylanders - the only statewide gay rights advocacy organization in Maryland.

Equality Maryland's all-or-nothing approach to the marriage issue was ill-conceived and politically imprudent. A simple head count of the legislators would have steered even a rookie lobbyist toward a strategy of backing civil unions.

The reason that many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Marylanders worked to elect Mr. O'Malley was clear two years ago and remains so today. The governor, who as a member of the Baltimore City Council sponsored the first domestic partnership law in Maryland, has demonstrated his support for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality time and time again.

After the devastating loss of the gay marriage case in the Court of Appeals in November, the governor stepped up to the plate and offered to sponsor a civil union package.

But Equality Maryland said no. It was marriage or nothing.

Now it is Equality Maryland that must take responsibility for this year's losses, and not blame the governor or any other elected official or activist who may have had a different opinion about what was possible in Maryland's legislature in 2008.

I know why I worked hard to elect Mr. O'Malley.

He cares about ending discrimination, and he is pragmatic enough to get it done.

I only wish that Maryland's leading gay rights advocacy organization could do the same thing.

Shannon E. Avery, Baltimore

The writer is a former chairwoman of Baltimore's Community Relations Commission and a former member of Gov. Martin O'Malley's transition team.

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