Skip to comments.Is Columbia, Md., really a spirit-enriching secular city? (City without a soul)
Posted on 11/01/2013 7:56:12 PM PDT by markomalley
I am not a huge fan of Utopian visions, but I have always had a fond place in my heart for the dreamers who have invested time and money in the movement known as New Urbanism. I love older neighborhoods that are close to shopping areas, especially those that have retained their old trees, wide sidewalks and other evidence that human life existed before automobiles.
So I read with great interest that recent news feature on the front page of the newspaper that lands in my front yard (here in a classic blue-collar community well inside the vast ring of Baltimore suburbs) that focused on the history of Columbia, Md. This sort-of community was born 50 years ago in burst of idealistic, truly liberal fervor and lots of money from founder James W. Rouse.
The goal, of course, was to built the perfect planned city in between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., one that would feature all the best elements of life while trying to avoid as much nasty stuff as possible.
The government planners and experts are still working on that, according to The Baltimore Sun. We need to start with the sentiment at the very beginning:
Ian Kennedys short walk to lunch from his office in Columbias Town Center takes him through shopping mall parking lots and a parking garage or along a sidewalk where lampposts block the way.
Its enough to make him feel that as a pedestrian in a car-centric community, hes in an alien environment. A man on the moon, there are times you feel that way. Almost like youre trespassing, he said.
Perhaps thats not what Columbia founder James W. Rouse had in mind in his quest to create a new breed of city to nurture the human spirit. Fifty years after Rouse announced that his company had bought 14,100 acres in Howard County and was going to build a planned community, the latest effort to fulfill that aspiration has just begun.
The long and the short of this story is that the dang shopping mall remains at the heart of the community, not real people living in real homes and working in a network of easily accessible jobs.
The quest for the perfect community, one built around the elements of life that bring people together and nurture the human spirit remains unfinished. Readers learn that a true city needs a true downtown and, alas, that downtown is still the doughnut hole in the middle of the community.
As I read the story, I kept trying to find a list of the essential elements that go into any New Urbanism project, any attempt to allow real communities of real people to flourish in real neighborhoods that are within range of walkers, cyclists, etc. There is no list of this kind in the story.
This raises an interesting question: To the idealists who planned this non-city city, what were the essential elements that went into the plan? What are the essential institutions that help create the ties that bind, that bring people together around matters of the spirit?
You can probably sense where I am going with this.
Right. Where do religious congregations fit into all of this idealism?
This is an especially crucial question in light of the follow passage in the Sun report. Rouse, you see, wanted to erase some of the lines that normally divide people in American life.
On Oct. 30, 1963, Rouse issued a four-page news release announcing that he was the man behind more than 140 farmland purchases made over the course of about nine months of frantic buying under straw company names: Farmingdale Inc., Potomac Estates Inc., Serenity Acres Inc., among others.
Rouse hoped to avoid alarming his audience, so he never used the word city in that release, or in his remarks to the three county commissioners, whom he had briefed in a public meeting the day before. He certainly never mentioned his dream of a racially integrated community, not while he was beginning the task of winning support for a project in a county still in the midst of public school desegregation.
He wrote in the release and told the commissioners that his purpose was to create a community, and he emphasized his intention to preserve natural features, create lakes, parks and greenbelts that will separate and give identity, scale and protection to the developed areas.
Rouse, who had built the countrys second indoor shopping center in Anne Arundel County, made clear that he had no specific plan, but he soon assembled a team of 13 academics and planners to work on it. They came up with four goals: respect the land; create a place to encourage human growth; create a whole city, not just a suburb; and make a profit.
To make a long story short, the story never mentions churches or synagogues at all (the issue of Orthodox Judaism is always interesting, when one is talking about planned communities).
What I cant figure out is whether this holy ghost in a story about idealistic, spirit-enriching community life is a result of blinders at the Sun or among the planners behind the ongoing Columbia project.
Nevertheless, its a strange American community that is completely devoid of religion like this story.
It is an utterly planned community and religion was planned in it. Rather than having actual churches, Columbia has these creations called "inter-faith centers" where different congregations share space. One per each of the little villages that make up "Columbia"
(Since James Rouse is dead, there have been a couple of congregations that have cropped up on the outskirts, but those are a recent event and clearly not part of the community's planning)
All property is controlled under the "Columbia Association", and that association has complete covenant control on both private residences and private businesses. Each neighborhood had exactly one gas station, exactly one grocery store, exactly one library, exactly one beauty parlor, exactly one bank, one industrial area (served by train tracks that are now abandoned), and so on and so forth (again, since his death, there have been a lot of growth as regards big box stores that operate outside of the realm of the "Columbia Association", but those are, by far, the exception when you look at the place from a historical point of view).
Columbia is a secularist utopian dream town. And, as such, it is falling apart at the seams. A nice idea that has been destroyed by its own liberal ideology. The older neighborhoods, Oakland Mills, Long Reach, Kings Contrivance, Owen Brown, Wilde Lake, etc., are all either fully degenerated or well on the path to degeneration, becoming refugee camps for people from PG County and Baltimore City (respectable people have moved on in order to impose their liberal vision on other unsuspecting communities).
Columbia Maryland is a vision of a upper middle class hell.
Soulless is the perfect way to describe Columbia. The only thing worth doing there is going to a concert at Merriweather Post. It’s really a pretty nice place to see a concert.
The Feral Gov't was destined to grow and overpaid, unnecessary gov't workers needed to live a ways up US-29 from DC.
no, next question.
Ah, Columbia. The utopian’s utopia. How crazy it makes libs (who will admit it) that even their planned paradise found a way to segregate itself into areas that are okay to live in, and those that are not — some are simply on the “wrong side of the bike trails”, dontcha know.
The towns on the San Francisco Peninsula were all laid out 150 to 100 years ago. Most have vibrant downtown areas surrounded by beautiful and very livable neighborhoods with local churches and schools. They are especially nice when you get down to Menlo Park, Palo Alto, Los Altos, Mountain View, Los Gatos and Saratoga.
It’s too bad it is so unaffordable now. They were all such pretty little middle-class towns when they were founded, especially in the post-war years when so much expansion was going on.
I find it hard to put "New Urbanism" and "real" in the same sentence. To me, the imposition of New Urbanist ideals on a local community feels tacked-on, even a bit soulless.
This seems to be the community that is often portrayed in episodes of the X-Files. Never thought much of Columbia. The only reason I ever went there was to attend concerts at Merriweather Post Pavilion.
You can complain about Columbia if you like, but as a resident of Montgomery I can tell you that the people in Columbia are much more pleasant and get along much better. I wouldn’t live there, but the winding streets are charming, and the traffic is much less horrible than MoCo. Recently I was speaking to a Bulgarian woman, a conservative black American woman, a Pakistani man, and a working-class white woman, and all agreed that Columbia is a place where people from a lot of different backgrounds get along very easily. My adult son, the below-referenced Marine, said in wonderment, “People are so much nicer than in Montgomery County.” And he is right.
I don’t worship in Columbia so I didn’t notice the lack of churches, but I wouldn’t expect religion among Maryland libs. They’re more into being spiritual than about having any deep and real lived faith.
Columbia supports both a Chik-Fil-A and a Hobby Lobby. It can’t be all bad if it has all those Christians in it. I’m just grateful there’s a HL within 30 miles of my house.
Wasn’t bad when I lived there in the mid 80s. I enjoyed it while there. Not for everybody, certainly.
Columbia is a reprise of FDR’s “green cities” conceived during the Depression. A surviving example is Greenbelt, Maryland which survives barely as a lefty enclave
Columbia, Missouri, is quite a nice place, and Columbia, SC, has barbecue and an excellent zoo.