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Columbia now and for generations to come [Commentary]

President/CEO, Columbia Association

Part of our series of essays from leaders imagining the future of Columbia.

This has been — and will continue to be — an exciting time to be in Columbia.

Last year, once again, brought recognition from Money Magazine, which named Columbia the No. 1 small city to live in the entire country. This year, we celebrate the landmark 50th Birthday with more than 100 events taking place over the span of 27 weeks. And through it all, the redevelopment of Downtown Columbia and in other areas of the community continues to move forward.

Every successful community must prepare for the future. Here in Columbia, we want the next 50 years to be as successful as these first 50 years have been.

Columbia and greater Howard County are well-situated for success. Our proximity to Baltimore and Washington, D.C., remains as advantageous as when James Rouse chose this land for his new city back in the 1960s. But Columbia was never intended to be a mere suburb. Mr. Rouse's vision was for a "complete city." Most of what he believed was necessary has come to fruition. But the plans for a vibrant urban core have long remained unfinished, postponed by a recession in the 1970s until they were revived over the past decade.

The first phase has brought The Metropolitan Downtown Columbia and construction on two additional mixed-use buildings. Work is in progress in the Merriweather District along Broken Land Parkway. The Chrysalis has just opened in Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods. Merriweather Post Pavilion is undergoing extensive renovations and ownership has transferred to the Downtown Columbia Arts and Culture Commission.

The revitalization will continue the prominence of a community which was "unique" and "special" from its inception — and 50 years later still takes great pride in being a place where diverse interests and desires can coexist, and where individuals can travel from an urban core into more suburban village settings and wooded areas within minutes.

We will have a more walkable and bikeable downtown area.

Planning for the future reaches well beyond downtown.

Columbia's nine village centers must also evolve to deal with increasing competition and changes in the way people shop and get around. Wilde Lake Village Center, Columbia's first village center, is now the first to incorporate a significant number of residential units within. A similar idea is being explored as a proactive measure in Hickory Ridge. Long Reach Village Center will be redeveloped. And a feasibility study for the Oakland Mills Village Center has recently been completed.

Being named the No. 1 small city to live in was a crowning achievement. Remaining one of the best will require plenty of hard work.

Moving forward, at Columbia Association we remain committed to our values: We're fun, we're excellent, we're inclusive, we're trustworthy, and we're connected. We know how much people value the open space, which is one of Columbia's signature features. In recent years, CA has conducted studies regarding managing our natural areas, including our lakes and ponds. We've completed several projects and have many more to come in order to maintain these features and protect our watershed. We also encourage you to help through our Rain Garden Cost Share Program, our Weed Warrior program to remove invasive species, and a free soil testing program to help keep too much fertilizer from running downstream.

CA is widening pathways to allow pedestrians, runners and bicyclists to share the space more safely. We're installing more wayfinding signage to help people get around on the pathway system.

CA is continuing to make improvements to our buildings and pools. Many of the features that are available now have been around since the earliest years. This was a strategic move. Columbia was envisioned as a complete city. People needed to move here in order to help accomplish that. CA played a significant role by offering — in advance of the growth in the number of residents — pools, sport and fitness clubs, community centers, tot lots, pathways, open space and lakes and ponds. These were benefits to residents who made Columbia their new home and also attracted many more to make the move.

Over the next year, we will complete major projects at Columbia Athletic Club, Columbia Ice Rink and Columbia Swim Center. Also, we are building Long Reach Tennis Club to replace the indoor courts in Owen Brown, where the bubble is at the end of its useful life.

While CA is preparing for the future, we are still committed to successful operations today. We will continue with our free movies and concerts nearly every night at the Lakefront Summer Festival; our multicultural programming emphasizing the wonderful diversity and inclusiveness in the community; our camps and before and after school programs; our support of the village community associations and their own missions; and our efforts in the community's open spaces, which are one reason why Columbia is so beautiful.

We truly do work every day in hundreds of ways to make Columbia an even better place to live, work and play — now and for generations to come.

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