From the Boston Tea Party to rock 'n roll, Americans have always taken their fun seriously. A new books reveals the spirit of joyous rebellion going back to the Pilgrims.
When James Rouse designed Columbia, Md., in the late 1960s, his groundbreaking plan envisioned an integrated community with open-plan schools, a central mall and interfaith worship centers. Nearly 50 years later, suburban-style planning is out of favor, and the growing city has a new vision: high-rise buildings and a walkable, urban center. We explore the hopes — and fears — of residents about what the changes will mean for Columbia’s unique character.
- Roger Lewis Architect; Columnist, "Shaping the City," Washington Post; and Professor Emeritus of Architecture, University of Maryland College Park
- Alan Klein Spokesperson, Coalition for Columbia’s Downtown
- Phillips Engelke Designer and branding consultant; Principal, Amazing Space; Chair of the Howard County Design Advisory Panel
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. In the midst of the civil rights era, developer James Rouse had radical ideas about what a city could be. Columbia, Md. was created to erase racial, class and religious segregation. It was to be the next America, with affordable housing, open plan schools, a central mall and an interfaith worship center in each village.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIt incorporated winding roads, lots of green space, single-family homes and street names inspired by literature. Now, almost 50 years later, Columbia has grown, and the world around it has changed. And what were once radical ideas in urban planning are feeling, well, a little outdated. After a great deal of soul searching, Columbia has a new vision for itself. And joining us to discuss it is Roger Lewis.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIHe is an architect and the "Shaping the City" columnist for The Washington Post. Roger is also professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland College Park. Roger, good to see you.
MR. ROGER LEWISLikewise, good to see you. Thank you.
NNAMDIAlso in studio with us is Phillips Engelke. He is chair of the Howard County Design Advisory Panel. He's also a designer and branding consultant and the principal of Amazing Space LLC, and he has lived in Columbia for some 40 years. Phillips Engelke, thank you for joining us.
MR. PHILLIPS ENGELKEIt's great to be here, Kojo.
NNAMDIIf you'd like to join this conversation, call us at 800-433-8850. Do you live in Columbia, Md.? Are you happy with plans to redevelop downtown? 800-433-8850. Phillips, the author Michael Chabon recently wrote a piece about how Columbia shaped him. He says when he grew up there his hometown gave, quoting here, "white people and black people the chance to engage in the radical activity of living next door to one another." Tell us about James Rouse's original idea for Columbia.
ENGELKEWell, you know, I guess, it's an oft used expression, he sold it as a garden for people. I think, for my wife and I, in our mid-20s with a young daughter and then another on the way, it was sort of a garden for baby boomers. And the cities had not yet come back. The suburbs were in fact segregated by income and ethnic considerations. So Columbia just seemed like the pure white life to us. So as much as we like our house and our neighborhood, we really like the ideals of Columbia.
NNAMDIRoger, from an urban planning perspective, what made Columbia unique when it was built?
LEWISWell, begin with the size. It was, I think, close to 15,000 acres in total...
LEWIS...it was just the act Rouse's ability to aggregate that amount of land was pretty much unprecedented. We should remind the audience that at the same time, about the same time as when Reston, when Robert Simon was creating Reston, but it was -- so the scope and scale of it, I think, was very ambitious. It was a very attractive piece of land. There were a lot of environmental amenities, topography and vegetation and stream valleys and so forth.
LEWISAnd the basic idea was to try and preserve a great deal of the landscape and at the same time create a series of villages. The concept was to create a number -- I forget how many...
ENGELKEWell, there's 10 and two.
LEWISYeah. Ten -- there -- so it's a number of -- it was -- envisions a number of very discrete villages. Each of it would have its own center. There was a little retail nucleus in each one of these things. And they would all be in orbit around straddling Route 29, and they end up being orbit and around what was envisioned essentially as a regional shopping center. That was at the time, I think, correctly understood to be economically viable, something you could build right away because you didn't depend with a regional shopping center, only on the immediate neighborhoods so the residents...
LEWIS...it could draw a much larger area. So the notion was to build this -- a town center that essentially was a shopping center, a big mall, interior mall, Lake Kittamaqundi -- did I pronounce that correctly?
ENGELKEThat's right, yeah (unintelligible).
LEWISThere's a lake there that basically abuts Route 29. I mean, that was the concept, and it was -- at the microscale, it wasn't that innovative. I mean, if you go look at the subdivisions -- and I actually once was commissioned in design a parcel in Columbia. I did -- and I was a consultant to HRD. In a way, it was -- at one level quite conventional in terms of the product, if you will, how the stuff at the developers, individual developers came in and purchase rights to develop properties within each of these villages.
LEWISBut the -- but it's in the aggregate is, I think, where it was innovative, the notion of having both your own village, your own identity there but also being part of this larger experiment.
ENGELKEAnd it's interesting now that we are approaching the redevelopment and the densification of downtown Columbia that one of the few conversations that I actually was able to have with Jim Rouse. He expressed regret that the villages themselves could not be denser to support a higher level of economic vibrancy. So now, we're actually looking at what he mentioned four years ago.
NNAMDIWell, things like diversity in a neighborhood is no longer a radical concept. So what's Columbia like today, Phillips?
ENGELKEWell, like all suburban areas, what we thought of as diverse 40 years ago is nothing like the diversity of today. I have a garden plot, and of the families, there are 300 families who have garden plots represents something like 60 nationalities. It's unbelievable. So what was essentially the radicalization of the suburbs whereby white families and black families could live together without any question.
ENGELKENow, we have, you know, Bhutanese. We have people from South India. We have, you know, it is -- the suburbs have really, really changed in the last 40 years.
NNAMDIWell, you point out that not everyone who's moved there over these last four decades that you've been there is necessarily there for the radical experiment that Columbia once was. How does that change how Columbia now sees itself and its future?
ENGELKEWell, I think that is why I got involved in the revitalization effort. When I look around, I'm seeing young families moving into my neighborhood. I live in East Columbia. They're looking at it as affordable housing. They're looking at it as a whole stream of amenities, primarily the open space, the bikeability, the schools. These things were put in place a long time ago. They still have a draw, but we have kind of maybe lost a little of Jim's vision. But the things he put in place still are the benchmarks that we look to when we say what's special about Columbia.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, we're talking about re-envisioning Columbia, Md. You just heard from Phillips Engelke. He is chair of the Howard County Design Advisory Panel. He's been living in Columbia for some 40 years. He's also a designer and branding consultant at the principal of Amazing Space. And Roger Lewis is with us. Roger is an architect and the "Shaping the City" columnist for The Washington Post.
NNAMDIHe's also professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland College Park. Do you think current revitalization plans honor James Rouse's founding ideals for Columbia? Call us at 800-433-8850. Roger, Columbia has been debating redevelopment, well, for decades now. What is not working?
LEWISWell, I should add a couple of other things to that answer a few moments ago.
LEWISI mean, one of the other things about Columbia is that I think was -- is important to remind everybody about is that it is a place accessible, readily accessible to both Washington and Baltimore.
LEWISI mean, the choice of that site had a lot to do with where it is with respect to these two cities. The I-95 corridor, you know, it's -- it gets you to a lot of places, and yet as Phillips' pointed out -- it's still an affordable place to live. I think that what -- a couple of things have happened. I don't have the data, but I understand a lot of the retail in the village centers has not been successful, that it's struggling...
LEWIS...or gone south. I think the -- about 20 or 21 or 22 years ago, I cannot remember, I was asked by Columbia Magazine to write a critique not -- we're talking 1990 or '91. I can't remember the publication date. So at least 20 years ago, I wrote an article, a rather long article in the Columbia Magazine in which I basically said that if Rouse were doing this today, he would have done some things differently, he and his consultants.
LEWISAnd one of the things they would have done differently, I think, is had a quite different vision for the town center, for the "downtown Columbia." And I actually made a drawing of what it might look like, and I think that's probably -- I think that the distribution, the deployment of the uses because very much in the '60s, it -- the planning (word?) was to segregate uses, not just populations but put businesses and industry over here and all the residential over here, the low-density residential in particular, and then you had the shopping center in the middle.
LEWISI think now the notion is would be now and should be that, especially in the town center, we really ought to have much higher density, more diverse uses, mixing of uses, not losing the open space and the amenity that characterizes Columbia. I think that's where -- I think if Jim Rouse was with us today, I think he would agree with what is being proposed for the makeover of town center.
NNAMDIAnd speaking of what is being proposed, Phillips Engelke, can you give us an overview of the plan for the new downtown and how it addresses some of the issues that Roger just outlined?
ENGELKEWell, as Roger pointed out, in the 1960s, it was still the era of car dominance, and we're still grappling with that. If a Columbian has to walk anymore than four or 500 feet from his parking spot or take three or four minutes to find some place to park, the blood pressure goes up. So the idea that you could give so many hundreds of acres to open parking is really long gone. So one of the things is the new downtown plan has an imposed grid over the ring road concepts from the 1960s.
ENGELKEIt's got structured parking. It's got dense walkable streets with places for sidewalk cafes, for urban-style parks. You can actually see other people if you walk around on these new streets. So it's very different and also the connections to the communities that surround the new downtown.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call if you'd like to join the conversation. If you are or were a resident, why did you choose to live in Columbia, Md. We'll go to the phones, and start with Jane Dembner in Columbia, Md. Jane Dembner, it's my understanding is director of Community Building and Sustainability for the Columbia Association. Jane, thank you very much for calling. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MS. JANE DEMBNERGood afternoon. I'm very much enjoying the conversation. I think that Columbia and the downtown redevelopment is really important and vital to keeping our community competitive with other communities as Phil was talking about and others and Roger. You know, many communities have a lot of great neighborhoods, and we have great neighborhoods, and they have parks and open space. But what distinguished us 40 years ago is now kind of normal.
MS. JANE DEMBNERAnd I think that to have walkable downtown where people can get outside as well as shop and -- it's really, really important having the density to support those kinds of activities that we all want but now go other places in Columbia. And so I think it's really important to distinguish us. And it takes nothing away from our great neighborhoods, which are still highly livable and connected to one another. But having a there, there, which several of you have said we don't have, is really important and vital to the future of our community
NNAMDIJane Dembner, thank you for your call. I'm so glad you brought that up because, Roger, you have said that the plans for downtown, include giving it -- or Phillips has said, giving it -- no, Roger, you mentioned it -- giving it a denser, more walkable center. Can you talk a little bit about the concept of walkability and why walkable urbanism is what so many cities are striving for today?
LEWISWell, you and I must've...
NNAMDIOh, yeah. You and I.
LEWISYou and I have talked about this, I think, at least 50 times in the last five years.
NNAMDIWell, let's do it again, anyway.
LEWISBut we're going to do it again, yeah. I mean, I think that -- as I've always said, Phillips is wondering about how people in many environments, and certainly going back to the '60s and beyond, with -- in an automobile-dominated world, you get spoiled. You get used to being able to pull that car in and not have to walk more than 90 seconds. I mean -- and for years, planners have been drawing these quarter-mile radius circles that I've -- a quarter mile is nothing in -- to a European, for example.
LEWISAnd one of the things that we've talked about is the fact that walkability, in addition to being enabled by a good network of streets and blocks and streetscape that accommodates pedestrian as well as vehicular movement, part of getting people to walk is making them want to walk. And, you know, if we find ourselves in place like Paris, you know, we'll walk two miles because it's a very enjoyable walk.
LEWISThere's, you know, it's -- and I think the idea with downtown Columbia, as I think Jane is getting at, is that when it's redeveloped, it will be walkable, not only because there will be a more continuous fabric or network of streets and blocks but because the walks will be pleasant. You know, the notion is that people will choose to walk. And also, I think part of the strategy getting rid of the parking lots that you mentioned -- and there's, by the way, a great sustainability payoff here.
LEWISYou know, getting rid of all these surface parking lots. Greening the place is going to be a positive, but it means, I think, that people will park their car now in a structure either underground or above grade. And as they do now in places like Silver Spring and Bethesda and Annapolis, you get rid of the car if you drive. You'll be able to take a bus, by the way. There will be other -- there will be transit serving this downtown. And then you'll walk. And they'll walk because it's pleasant. They won't get back in the car.
LEWISTysons Corner, of course we know, is the poster child for where you can't go anywhere without getting in your car and driving. So I think this is -- walkability is, in a sense, defined by a number of characteristics that, I think, Columbia's downtown will have.
NNAMDIAnd, Jane Dembner, thank you very much for your call. Phillips, Columbia was built as a complete city. Should I infer from that it wasn't created to grow, adapt and change with time?
ENGELKEIt was really, as far as I know, and I can't go back to Mr. Rouse, obviously. It was designed to be completely built out, I believe, within 10 years or something at that time, which was -- which could've never happened. But one of the things we've been grappling about is that it was created by something called new town zoning. And one of the things that the downtown plan questions is how do you perhaps pick up the best elements from that but now move on?
ENGELKESo the answer is -- what they gave us was this beautiful piece of land. A lot of it is -- has been conserved. There's something like 3,700 acres of open space. It cannot be replaced, a position between Baltimore and Washington, adjacencies to highways, airports. But what we're looking at now is we're living in a different century, and what people are seeing -- what I see in my young neighbors is quite different than what happened when we moved there, husband and wife, wife didn't work, two young kids, very different world.
NNAMDIWell, walkable urban places may be the attraction for some. For others, well, maybe not so much. Let's talk with Dale in Columbia, Md. Dale, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DALEHow are you doing, Kojo?
NNAMDII'm doing well.
DALEI listen to you show all the time.
DALEI am to the point -- well, let me give you some hints: I grew up around the area. I'm 51 years old.
DALEI live in Columbia, directly in Columbia in Hawkins Farm, which is part of the village of Long Reach for the past 10 years. And I'm to the point where I'm ready to sell and get the heck out of Columbia.
DALEI live in the most densely populated portion of Columbia. We have a large amount of crime. We have a large amount of indifference. I've lived there for 10 years in a 90-unit townhome community, and I know exactly 10 of my neighbors because people are so estranged, so hypothetic, so I-don't-want to-get-involved. When we have homeowners' association meetings, it's always the same 10 people that show up, and five of them are on the board.
NNAMDIWell, do you...
DALEI'm just giving you my firsthand point of view. What they're planning to do to downtown Columbia. Columbia -- my understanding of Columbia from way back when I was a kid was Columbia was built to have a lot of green areas and everything. And saying you're going to greenify downtown by crowding it with a whole bunch of more retail?
DALEThat -- the population can't even support it now because I know three town centers that are failing miserably because there's not enough money there to take care of them because you've created so much low-income housing. And thus creating more low-income housing isn't going to solve that when you create more retail space and take away all the green and everything that actually is part of downtown (unintelligible).
NNAMDIPhilips, Roger, the new century argument clearly doesn't appeal to Dale. What do you say in response to him?
LEWISWell, I remember -- I've been in Long Reach. I, you know the 90-unit townhome project he's in, I don't know. And I think we should defer here to Phillips. He probably knows much more about this. I mean, I think, you know, human behavior is one thing. And there's -- we architects -- when I went to school in the '60s, we thought that our -- you could change human behavior. You could affect great dramatic modification of how people act through design.
LEWISI don't believe that. But I do think that the -- Dale's making some characterizations that I think it may not be correct. I don't think the plan is to -- when I talked about greening downtown, I'm talking about sustainability strategies that have to do with all these tactics. We've talked about everything from green roofs to bioswales and things, capturing and recycling greywater, et cetera. I'm not going to go into that, but I think -- I don't mean to suggest...
NNAMDIIn literal terms, simply planting trees downtown.
LEWISWell -- and the plan is not to go in there and tear down a whole lot of forest because downtown right now is not a lot of forest. Downtown is a lot parking lots and scattered office buildings and a shopping center. I think, also, the plan is not to build -- there's 5,500 units in the plan, 5,500 dwelling units, but they are not all for low-income inhabitants. I mean, there's a -- the notion -- the policy is to build some affordable units downtown. But the intention, I think -- and this will play out, as I think as Philips has pointed out, not over five or 10 years. This is a plan -- this is a...
ENGELKEA 30-year plan.
LEWISThis is a 30-year plan. And I think the notion is that, again, downtown should be populated. They're -- A, people should live there, and B, it should be a diverse population socially, economically, ethnically.
ENGELKEWell, I happen to live in the village adjacent to Long Reach, Oakland Mills, which is almost the same age as Long Reach. What -- some of the things that Dale's really addressing are basically urban issues. And when you're dealing with this suburbia or plant suburb or plant city, we're now 40 years in. So a lot of the housing stock that, you know, isn't the best, really, really requires now some re-investment, re-looking at it. So I look at the re-development of downtown.
ENGELKEThat's step one of going in then to each of the old communities of Columbia and doing on a smaller scale likewise, re-examining it. Do we need the same housing types? Do people need more apartments? We have different ethnicities. Are their needs being addressed? It's really quite a challenge. I mean, that -- these things do exist in Columbia. It's not perfect.
NNAMDIIt's a 30-year plan. Dale, thank you very much for your call. If you have already called, stay on the line. We're going to take a short break because, as I said earlier, this is the sixth day of our fall membership campaign. But after that, short break. We'll come back and continue this conversation about re-envisioning Columbia, Md. If the lines are busy, send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or email to email@example.com. You can ask a question or make a comment at our website, kojoshow.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on re-envisioning Columbia, Md. Roger Lewis, with us. He is an architect and the "Shaping the City" columnist for The Washington Post in addition to being professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland College Park. Joining us for this conversation is Phillips Engelke. He is chair of the Howard County Design Advisory Panel. He's a designer and branding consultant and the principal of Amazing Space. Phillips has lived in Columbia for some 40 years.
NNAMDINow, Roger, people may not know this, but there's a Frank Gehry building in Columbia, part of the original new town, and that's slated for some changes. Can you talk a little bit about that?
LEWISYes. Well, the building is lakeside. It's -- it was built, I believe, in the early -- mid-'70s.
ENGELKEYeah, I think so, yeah.
LEWISAnd it was -- no one -- if you went and looked at it today, you would never guess it was a Frank Gehry building because it doesn't look anything like the work he's been doing over the last 25 years. But that -- it's a very nice building. It's being preserved, however. It's being repurposed, as we say, because it was built originally to be the corporate headquarters, a single-user or single-occupant building. They are exploring using that building now for a number of new functions, which is normal.
LEWISIt's part of a life. Just like a city can evolve and change and needs to be redeveloped in places, this building will be, on the one hand, preserved but it will be modified in order to accommodate new uses. I believe it's -- I haven't seen the latest plans, but I believe it's going to be a combination of community spaces, probably a restaurant...
ENGELKEOne or two.
LEWISYes. That's correct. Yeah.
NNAMDIWell, Columbia was centered on an indoor mall, but this is something you and I have talked about a great deal, Roger. Our attitude towards malls seems to have changed significantly.
LEWISYeah. Well, they're not building too many of them now. They're building a lot of these town centers, lifestyle centers. There are four or five different labels for them, which essentially are attempts to create a kind of, at a small scale, a pattern of walkable streets and blocks, and the retail, the various destinations one would expect to find are then embedded in these blocks. I think the -- if you look at the plan, the master plan for Columbia, the mall is not being torn down.
LEWISWhat they're doing is infilling, retrofitting, in effect, all around the mall. In a way, for those who may be living in Fairfax County, in many ways what's being proposed for downtown Columbia is akin to what's being proposed for Tysons Corner, only Tysons Corner is 1,700 acres...
LEWIS...and this is, you know, much, much less than that. But it's the same idea -- that is, to lay over a new grid of streets and blocks and walkable -- walkability and then to go in with a tremendous amount of additional development. They're proposing about 1 million square feet of additional retail, almost 5 million square feet of office space, 5,500 residential units, a hotel, along with all the recreational amenities.
LEWISThey're -- you know, the pavilion, the -- excuse me -- the lakefront amenity, the Merriweather Post Pavilion, that's all -- none of that's coming down. That's not disappearing. So I think it's a very intelligent plan. I think it's a very ambitious plan, but I think it's a reasonable plan.
NNAMDIHowever -- go ahead, please.
ENGELKEWell, I mean, it really is an intelligent plan. Prior to setting up my own design practice, I was with RTKL for almost 30 years and worked on shopping centers all over the world. And probably maybe even long ago as 10, 15 years ago, we were starting to see, in the United States, a desire to get away from the enclosed mall even as the rest of the world was embracing this.
ENGELKESo what you see in Columbia is really taking a very successful shopping center, cutting up slot right through it, deconstructing it, if you will, and creating an access that connects it to the lake and to the surrounding neighborhoods.
NNAMDIGlad you mentioned the word access, Phillips, because that's what Amanda in Columbia, Md., would like to talk about. Amanda, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
AMANDAHi, Kojo. Thanks. I appreciate it. I listen to you every day. I just -- I actually live in Hickory Ridge, which is adjacent to the Town Center, and I had a couple of questions. I had recently heard that Symphony Woods would be cut down. I don't know if that's true 'cause you mentioned that Merriweather will be standing. But I'm wondering what...
NNAMDIPhillips is shaking his head no.
AMANDAOK. I wonder what it'll mean as far as accessibility. I know you all know that traffic is pretty terrible around the Town Center. I think we get rated pretty bad when they do the ratings. What would it mean for us going down Hickory Ridge Road as all this development is happening? How will the accessibility -- the 29 and other roads -- be for the residents? I mean, a 30-year plan is quite long for the residents that already live there. So can you just kind of explain to me what that will look like for us?
ENGELKEWell, the current plan that I just saw, originally there was some tree removal on the drawing board. Now that's been taken away. Probably Symphony Woods would look not that different than it does today. I think what you will see is proposals to create more ancillary connecting streets that allow you to have access to Merriweather, to the park, without just the one -- I mean, the problem with feeder streets, the way Columbia is set up today, is all of the traffic pours onto just a very few arteries.
LEWISAnd maybe I can answer that. There is a challenge of the connection to 29. I know there was a road envisioned...
LEWIS...between the two connections that exist now at the north and south ends. The -- and that -- I remember -- in fact, I've seen schematic designs for that connection. I think there's a -- and there -- isn't there a pedestrian bridge that hops over? Yeah. I think that is -- I think Amanda's raised a legitimate question.
LEWISOne of the beauties, though, of the -- that we should mention about this plan and plans like it is by creating -- superimposing a new pattern, a new grid of streets, you disperse a lot of the local traffic. It actually can be a help in alleviating traffic congestion. I think they will have to address, over the next 30 years at some point, the connection to 29.
LEWISI do think that is a real issue.
NNAMDIThank you -- go ahead, please, Phillips.
ENGELKEBut the access to 29 is really a vehicular issue. I think Amanda is talking a little bit about when you move around downtown. One thing, as a practical nature, is we have to teach our citizens what a striped crosswalk is, and perhaps if that doesn't work, more pedestrian traffic lights.
NNAMDIAmanda, thank you very much for your call. Joining us now by phone from Columbia is Alan Klein. He is the spokesperson for the Coalition for Columbia's Downtown, a grassroots group focusing on Columbia's downtown development. Since around 2006, Alan has been living in Howard County since 1972. Alan Klein, thank you for joining us.
MR. ALAN KLEINKojo, thank you for having me...
NNAMDIAlan, this is a...
KLEIN...station. We sometimes get concerned that Howard County gets left out of the discussion as you talk about D.C. and Northern Virginia and Montgomery County. So appreciate you having this show.
NNAMDIThat's why we wanted to give you a prime position during our membership campaign. This is a passionate community founded on an ideal, and this process, Alan, has meant a lot of soul searching among Columbia residents. Is there a consensus of sorts that Columbia does, in fact, need redevelopment?
KLEINI think there is certainly a consensus that well-designed and well-planned continued development is always in order. And the question really has been, A, what the plan is, and is it really a well-designed, well-thought-out, well-presented plan, and, B, has the plan been constructed in such a way that it will be enforceable over time and not dependent on the will of the owner of the property or the will of who happens to sit in elective office at any particular moment in time?
NNAMDIWhy are you concerned about its enforceability?
KLEINWell, when -- first thing to understand is that everything that has been talked about in this plan -- and there are some wonderful concepts and ideas in this plan -- everything in the plan, with the exception of the residential density, could have been done anytime over the last 10, 15, 20, 30 years. It is the retail, the office, commercial, the roads, the -- all of it could have been done at any time.
KLEINThe only piece that was added, really, in this plan is the 5,500 new residential units because Columbia's new town zoning had maxed out in terms of residential density. This is the, if you will -- some call it the billion-dollar bonus to the developer. And so the concern is that the plan, as currently constructed, has given the developer those 5,500 new residential units locked in in the zoning and has outlined a number of wonderful ideas and green initiatives, the walkability -- all that is great -- but has put all that in the general plan, which is still in some doubt.
KLEINThere's been a court case. I'm sure you have talked about it on this show about are general plans really enforceable or not. The legislature has tried to address that. We still aren't sure what the outcome of all that is. And so we are very concerned that the -- our elected officials gave the developer upfront, here's your density, and we're going to have to prove that you haven't earned each phase, as versus saying, here's your first phase. Do well with this, and we'll grant you the next phase...
NNAMDIBefore I get a response to that, Alan Klein, tell me about affordable housing. I know it's a big concern for some in Columbia, and it was part of James Rouse's vision of an integrated community, including in socioeconomic terms. Do you see that being met in these plans?
KLEINWell, that's another one of our biggest specific problems with the plan, as it currently exists, is affordable housing, or we prefer to think of it as full-spectrum housing. Housing that really covers the entire spectrum of people who might want to live and work here really is not enforced in this plan. Roger said that the policy was to build low-income housing, and unfortunately that really is not what the policy says.
KLEINThe policy says there is a fund that will be built up over time as more and more property is developed, but there's no requirement for affordable housing. And that's really one of the misconceptions about Columbia over time. People really believe, as they look at affordable housing in Columbia, and they say when asked -- and I've asked many people -- is there a requirement for affordable housing in Columbia? And everybody says, of course, there is. Look around, there must be. And the answer is no, there isn't. There never has been.
NNAMDIAllow me to get...
KLEINIt was simply Jim Rouse's will that made it happen.
NNAMDIAnd allow me to get responses, Alan, because we're limited in time in this broadcast.
NNAMDIPhillips Engelke, what I hear Alan Klein's saying is that, on the one hand, the developers guaranteed his 5,500 units, that's enforceable, but that the rest of the general plan, including its provisions for affordable housing, may not necessarily be enforceable.
ENGELKEWell, that's not really true. In fact, that land development process, it's easily an eight-step process with plenty of space for community output. But basically, the difference between -- when Alan said this could be done any time in the last 20 or 30 years, we were still operating under new town zoning. It essentially was set down in the 1960s and not really revised. What you're seeing here is a new master plan. There are criterias involved.
ENGELKEThe Design Advisory Panel will be looking at a new project. We look at it against the guidelines. The guidelines have to be met at every step in the review process.
NNAMDIRoger Lewis, affordable housing, part of the plan. Are the concerns we just heard from Alan Klein, in your view, justified?
LEWISWell, I think what Alan is getting at is -- has to do a lot with I would say the -- if you have a legal plan, a legal and political plan. And, of course, he is correct that, going forward, there is nothing to say that in 10 years some new government in Howard County might come back and change something. But I can only go by what I -- you know, and I'm not an expert on this. I think Phillips probably knows a lot more about this.
LEWISMy understanding is, as he said, there are criteria and guidelines that were part of what was adopted by the county, which is both a master plan and zoning to implement, enabling zoning that allows this to happen. I do -- there's always an issue of trying to make sure that you get what's been proposed at the outset. I would also be the first to admit that, over time, things will change. The idea is to create a framework plan.
LEWISWhat I always tell my students to do is you got to start with an armature, you know, just -- the L'Enfant plan was a framework plan. If they've got a good framework plan, it can adopt -- it can adapt to whatever comes along.
NNAMDIRunning out of time, Phillips. What is the timeline for the redevelopment plans?
ENGELKEWell, it's 30 years. And so the scale of it, although it seems very dramatic, will be almost imperceptible on a year-to-year basis. So you do have to understand that.
NNAMDIWell, we'll be keeping track of it as it develops. I'm afraid we're out of time. Alan Klein is the spokesperson for the Coalition for Columbia's Downtown. Phillips Engelke is chair of the Howard County Design Advisory Panel. He's also a designer and branding consultant and the principal of Amazing Space. Roger Lewis is an architect and the "Shaping City" columnist for the Washington Post. He's also professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland, College Park. Thank you all for joining us. And thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
Rock Creek Park celebrates its 125th anniversary next year. We speak with two local experts with books about the history, flora, and fauna that abound in Washington's "backyard."
The health benefits — both mental and physical — of friendships are myriad. But as we get older it becomes increasingly difficult to forge lasting bonds with new people. We consider the ways communication, emotions and our phase of life effect our relationships with friends.
We check in with three local soup kitchens on the eve of Thanksgiving to look at who they're serving and how their programs and clients have changed in recent years.