xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

A mid-life reckoning for Columbia — and me

As Columbia and I both celebrate our 50th birthdays this summer, we are each trying to reconcile the youthful version of ourselves with the maturing version going forward.

As Columbia and I both celebrate our 50th birthdays this summer, we both are facing the challenges of midlife — trying to reconcile the youthful version of ourselves with the aging, maturing version that will move forward.

I grew up in Columbia in the 1970s, and I remember a small town where you knew most people. There was a sense of youthful vibrancy, of the residents actually helping to create the city. My parents and their neighbors opened the medical center, the women's center, the soccer association, the newspaper, the local bank, and the list goes on. We kids got to name mascots for new schools and play in the dirt of new "villages" being built and established.

Advertisement

The town was filled with the type of smart, progressive people that you would expect to be drawn to a town intentionally planned for racial and economic integration. Equality was ground into the foundation of our community structures. Interfaith centers replaced churches and synagogues, and my diverse school friends and I lived side by side in subsidized homes as well as in more expensive housing. By careful plan, there was no "bad side of town;" there was little sense of "them."

It sounds idyllic, and of course it wasn't always. But it was often enough. It was a healthy place, intentionally built by developer James Rouse with the lofty goal of nothing less than "improving mankind." I feel such gratitude for this kind of childhood.

Advertisement
Advertisement
After more than a decade of debate on how to include affordable housing in downtown Columbia, the County's planning board is tackling a sweeping package of development proposals that includes nearly 1,000 affordable units with a tied increase in density.

And I stayed in or near Columbia to raise my children, hoping to offer them some of the same gifts. Columbia is still a wonderful place to raise a family. But it is, of course, different. I've watched the dynamic schools of my childhood face declining enrollment, as the idyllic dreams of utopia faded. Columbia is now a mid-size city with many of the same issues as other mid-size cities. Interfaith centers weren't everyone's cup of tea. There is contentious debate about what type of housing should be allowed in new development; there does seem to be more sense of "them."

Columbia shows the physical changes of middle age too. Even as she gets a face lift as older buildings renovate, I miss her youthful charm. She looks more sophisticated, more elegant, more contrived than the 1970s earthy browns and oranges, wild creativity, and mom and pop stores that I remember. The mature Columbia is more the mauve and taupe and upscale chain-store type.

Still, Columbia has my heart. I empathize with the struggle of my middle-aged soulmate, as she tries to keep what was best of her youth while maturing into an adult town. Honestly, it's hard to know what to fiercely protect and what to gracefully let go. I love that she still has a birthday party, community mailboxes and eccentric street names. I admire her protecting outdoor spaces and adding signage to her winding, wooded paths so that people won't keep getting lost. I nod with understanding as I watch her add the levels of bureaucracy required of a mid-size city. And I sadly listen to community meetings that seem more defensive and posturing than in her early days. It's hard to reach middle age without added baggage, and Columbia has her share.

Columbia is known for its whimsical street names: There’s Liquid Laughter Lane, Crazy Quilt Court and Painted Yellow Gate. They sound like roads you might

And on the cusp of my 50th, I find myself with my own baggage and facing many of the same dilemmas. What are the values that will age well and carry me forward? What needs to go? How much is too much in trying to look young? Should I just go for mauve and taupe?

Advertisement

And I'm so mindful now of the aging generation of pioneers who shaped this town/city and my childhood, who are now in their 70s and 80s. I am grateful for the values they modeled and embodied here. So many of them have stayed, continuing to create systems and nurture friendships as they age, similar to those they created for their young families 50 years ago. And they are starting to need the care they once gave.

Such is mid-life. Columbia, I wish both of us a year of celebration and gratitude. I hope over time we both answer our questions with heart. I hope we can help the pioneers age well in the town they created. I hope we don't overdo the facelifts. And, in this era of divisiveness, I hope that we hold onto and even nurture James Rouse's revolutionary values and vision that "whatever ought to be, can be."

Kim Flyr is a counselor and yoga teacher; her email is kflyr@verizon.net.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement