Howard County Blog

A Blog on what is going on in Howard County

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Open Thread

I am working on a couple posts for later in the week, but I ran out of time to get them up today. In the meantime, where do people like to take their vacations?

Monday, January 29, 2007

Population Growth

A little over a year ago in one of my first posts to this blog I posted the following on this history of population growth in the county:

Some food for thought. Here are the US Census population totals for Howard County for the last century:

2005 Estimate: 269,457
2000: 247,842
1990: 187,328
1980: 118,572
1970: 61,911
1960: 36,152
1950: 23,119
1940: 17,175
1930: 16,169
1920: 15,826
1910: 16,106
1900: 16,715

The population size was relatively constant around 16,000 people until the 1940s. Starting in the 1950s the population started to climb. From 1950 to 2000 the population increased more than tenfold. In 1980 the population of the county as a whole was only slightly larger than Columbia is today (Columbia’s population is currently about 100,000).

I think now is a good time to reflect again on these numbers. When we look at planning a 30 year plan for downtown Columbia we are not talking about a county that has a population anything like its current size. In the 30 years from 1970 to 2000 the county's population more than quadrupled. In the next 30 years we will see the county's population increase significantly. Based on these numbers I think there is a good chance we will see the doubling of the county population in the next 30 years.

My starting point in all of the discussions of development in our county is how can we address these numbers while staying true to our values of 1) mixed income housing, 2) preservation of green space, and 3) planning before we build so that we have an infrastructure that meets the community's needs. Now obviously this creates a math equation where the variables of population pressures, mixed income housing, preservation of green space, and infrastructure needs such as school space, transit capacity, hospital capacity, sewer and water system capacity, etc. all have an interconnected relationship with each other. So far, based on what I have seen with the redevelopment of downtown Columbia, the single biggest constraining variable is our transit capacity or rather more importantly that we do not have land space left to handle anywhere near the transit capacity needed to deal with our needs if we have this size growth with above ground solutions. Thus if the population growth will be here in 30 years and we know that land space is the biggest constrain let us start trying to find a solution to it now.

Oh and for the sake of reference if you take the CA History website's rough numbers that Columbia is 10% of the land area in county (I think these numbers are incredibly rough and I am basing them on the stated amount of land it says Rouse bought for Columbia, so if anyone has better numbers please let me know), then Columbia is roughly 25 square miles of the county's 252 square miles and the rough Columbia population numbers are 100,000, then Columbia has a population density of 4000 people per square mile. Washington's population density is according to the Census data 9378 people per square mile. If the county's population is to double in 30 years and much of this growth is focused in the eastern parts of the county including Columbia which would likely take a good chunk of this population growth, then Columbia will have a population density closed to Washington's. Washington, by the way, has no buildings above 14 stories and the vast majority of buildings are in the 2 to 6 story range and large stretches of the city are single family homes.

This is a back of the envelope sketch of the numbers, so that people can start to think about the challenges we face as a community over the next 30 years and to provide some context to the population growth discussion. I made a lot of estimates, but I think this gives a sense of both historic context and a reference of comparison to one of our neighboring cities.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Wilde Lake Community Meetings

The Wilde Lake Village Board will be having a series of community meetings at Slayton House:

Tuesday, January 30th at 7:30pm The Wilde Lake Village Board Partnership Committee will meet to respond to the closing of the Giant grocery store and Kevin Allen of KIMCO will update the committee on the situation.

Tuesday, February 6th at 7:30pm County Councilwomen Mary Kay Sigaty will make a presentation to the Wilde Lake Village Board.

Thursday, February 8th at 7:30pm Doug Godine of General Growth Properties (GGP) will make a presentation about downtown development.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Voting Machines Security and Verifiability

State Senator Ed Kasemeyer (D-District 12) has introduced a bill in the Senate to require a voter verified auditable paper trail in Maryland elections. With our current voting machines there is no way for the voter to know that their votes are being recorded as they are cast. This bill is the Senate version of a bill that was championed by Delegate Liz Bobo (D-District 12B) last session. Last sessions bill passed the House of Delegates unanimously only to be killed in the Senate by legislative manuever by now-former State Senator Paula Hollinger. The voters in the last election expressed their displeasure with former State Senator Paula Hollinger when she ran for congress and came in third despite her representing the largest junk of voters in the very gerimandered 3rd Congressional District.

Back to this year's bill. It is great news that such a senior (he is the second highest ranking member of the State Senate) Senator as Ed Kasemeyer introducing the bill this time. The bill also is supported by State Senator Allan Kittleman (R-District 9).

Town Hall with Congressman Cummings

Congressman Cummings (D-MD), who represents the 7th Congressional District, is holding a Town Hall meeting this Saturday, January 27, 2007 from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon at the John G. Monteabaro Recital Hall, located inside the Peter & Elizabeth Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center at Howard Community College (10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia, Maryland 21044) Parking available in Lot G.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

State of the Union Open Thread

What did you think of the State of the Union tonight? What did you think of the Democratic response by Senator Jim Webb (D-VA)? I saw some of the presidential candidates making the rounds after speech. What did you think of what they had to say?

Monday, January 22, 2007

Wait For Him to Do Someting At Least

Governor O'Malley was sworn in less than a week ago and already the Republicans are promoting this bumper sticker:

It kind of destroys the meaning of it if they make this decision before they see how the governor governs. They could at least withhold judgement until they see something they don't like. Otherwise it just looks childish.

Sunday, January 21, 2007


First snow fall of the year and it is January 21st :(

Where is your favorite sledding hill in Howard County? When I was little my favorite was behind Dasher Green Elementary/Owen Brown Middle School, which now is called the Cradlerock School. We use to walk over there ever time it snowed. Sadly they made the slope a lot more gradual in the mid-90s and it no longer is the great sledding location it once was.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Finding Agreement

HayDuke has a superb post on “The Community’s Vision for Downtown” from the Coalition for Columbia’s Downtown’s position paper. Here is his take on ten items on it:

1. The community supports the continuing development of Downtown and wants it to be done on a human scale and at moderate, not high, density.

I agree, though rather than the moderate density language I would say at a density in-line with the context of the area and values of the community. Sure, my language is squishy, but it’s no squishier than “moderate” density.

I also believe that density should be one of the last items mentioned. To me, it is far less important than ensuring the four principles of our community are upheld. Furthermore, if Town Center’s development were an equation, density would be the dependent variable – that is, the level of density would be dictated by what we expect from Town Center development (i.e., amount of open space set asides, affordable housing, cultural amenities, public transportation, traffic, infrastructure, etc). In short, the more goods we want, the more density we tolerate.

Evan's comment: I strongly agree!

2. The community backs mixed-use development throughout Downtown.


3. The community wants new housing units to be affordable for a wide cross-section of people.


4. The community rejects the proposed major increase in traffic congestion and resulting deterioration of our quality of life.

I don’t like the wording – it is both negative and sounds as though traffic congestion is an end and not an externality. Nobody is proposing increases in traffic. They are proposing increases in development that will result in more traffic. I know this is nitpicky, but I’m a writer and language matters. All that said, I don’t want traffic congestion deteriorating my quality of life. But this is a subjective position and I think Town Center traffic isn’t anywhere near that point now.

Evan's comment: Yes, but the traffic study showed that under the current plan it would be congested.

5. The community wants to move about safely and conveniently by foot, bicycle, auto, mobility devices, and mass transit.


6. The community desires Downtown to have a wide variety of civic, cultural, and entertainment, amenities.


7. The community recognizes the Lakefront as the heart of Columbia and wants it to be protected against overdevelopment.

Yes, but the “overdevelopment” language is again squishy. I certainly think more development than what is currently there could enhance the Lakefront.

Evan's comment: Let's refine the language then. How about we say the the current frame of the Lakefront from the Rouse building to the Exibit Building be preserved including the Hug Park and Grass Amphitheater. Buildings in this area and those facing the lake should reflect a scale that does not crowd the Lakefront.

8. The community considers Symphony Woods and the Merriweather Post Pavilion as Columbia’s “Central Park” area, deserving of special consideration.

I agree that they are vital parts of Town Center and should be given special consideration.

9. The community expresses strong support for implementing sound environmental practices in future development.


10. The community is intent on continuing to be actively engaged in decisions concerning their Columbia – the Next America.


That I agree with all of these points may surprise some, but it didn’t surprise me. I’ve been saying, in one way or another, these things for years, a fact that is inconsequential.

I am not surprises since I have been hearing HayDuke say these things and knew we were in much more agreement than the tone recent posts have taken. We all want a good plan. My issue with the county plan more than anything else is that it won’t achieve what we all say our declared goals are. I see the CCD paper as a way to move the process forward by getting down what elements the county needs in its plan for it to be workable. I already see HayDuke as helping further improve the CCD proposal by raising the issue of Green Infrastructure. As I have reflected on this I think that we should include in the plan that the Zoning Board is asked to approve a Green Infrastructure connectivity plan that lays out the rough location of such a Green Infrastructure so we don’t have to retrofit this in as an afterthought.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

14 Story Height Limit and Metro

The tallest buildings in DC are 14 stories tall. These buildings are mainly located around K Street and large sections of DC are in the 2 to 6 story range. Any notion that a 14 story height limit would result in not enough density to extend Metro to Howard County is ridiculous on the face of it. Clearly when the mother city of the Metro system tops off at 14 stories, then a 14 story limit will in no way restrict the extension of Metro.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Coalition for Columbia's Downtown

The Coalition for Columbia's Downtown has put their position paper their website. I encourage you to read it. Its goal is to move the plan for downtown forward, so I encourage everyone to read it. I have a feeling that we will be having a lot of discussion on this subject in the next couple months and I hope we can use this document as a way to move the process forward. Let's start on a positive note: What elements of this paper do you like? Can we first define where we are in agreement, so we can see what needs further discussion?

Monday, January 15, 2007

Martin Luther King Day

In honor of Martin Luther King Day I am going to repost my Martin Luther King Day post from last year because I think it is worth thinking abut again as we commemorate Dr. King:

In honor of Martin Luther King Day it might be worth noting how far we have come and how the planning of Columbia moved King’s dream forward. The hardest thing for me to comprehend growing up was that my parents had lived during a time when there was segregation. I grew up in what my peers and I call the “Columbumble”. It is that little utopia of Rouse’s creation that among its features encourages people to interact with people of all backgrounds and by getting to know each other as individuals breakdowns stereotypes. Through all the housing being mixed income and using community design concepts that bring people together Rouse encouraged people to interact with each other. Now we may complain and joke about some of these community design concept, such as not allowing private swimming pools, but how many friendships grew as kids played together at the community pools. And yes, the cluster mailboxes only brought people together when people’s mail ends up in each other boxes and neighbors have to bring the misdirected mail to each other. But other concepts like the fenceless yards encouraged some great neighborhood football games and movement and interaction of people. And of course one of the most successful of concepts of the Interfaith Meeting Houses, that welcomed and encouraged the interaction of people of different faiths. These are all small items, but together Rouse used them to build an experience that encouraged kids to interact and growing up knowing people as individuals and weakening stereotypes.

Yet, how will future development plans affect the further progress of the breaking down of stereotypes? The proposed 22 story condo building for the Lakefront is proposed to have half million to a million dollar condos and a private pool on the top level. Not only is this not mixed income, but by including a private pool it further breaks down one of the traditional mixing devises Rouse used to breakdown stereotypes and build community.

Let us continue to plan our community to reach Martin Luther King’s dream:

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

One Year Anniversary

Today is the one year anniversary of this blog and what a year its been! When I started this blog I had no idea really where it was going. My thought was to provide a means for collective brainstorming solutions to issues in our community such as the Downtown Columbia redevelopment, where success or failure will be determined by the details. Blogging seemed like a superb new medium to have this open public discussion of details in a way that newspapers, TV, and even meetings set at times that few could attend could. Though the comments thus far have not yet achieve this level of discussion I strongly believe as we get more deeply into discussing changes in the plan over the next year we will be able to achieve that level of discussion.

That being said my second purpose of starting this blog has been a superb success. At the time I started this blog the county was trying to rush through approval of the downtown redevelopment within months often using what an architect friend of mine called deceptive sketches. In order to get the plan fixed so that it would produce what the proponents of the plan said they wanted there needed to be a place where these issues could be pointed out, so that the deceptive sketches could not be used to deceive the public. Since this blog starting there has been an increase awareness of the plan in the community and county officials have learned that if they do try to pull the wool over the publics eyes they will be called out for it. This has resulted in the plans approval being pushed back until after the elections and the increasing likelihood that the plan will be changed (hopefully being made much better so we can have the superb downtown everyone wants). Of course this blog was only one small part of that public pressure, with community members turning out for public meetings, writing letters to the editor, talking to elected officials and candidates, and voting played a huge part in the success we have had so far to move towards a plan that will not result in the reduction in the quality of life in our county, a reduction in the values of mixed income housing that strenthen our community, or the pushing of development costs onto taxpayers so that developers can increase their profit margins at the publics expense.

This blog has also dealt with a broad range of other issues in our county. I have had guestbloggers from Savage, Ellicott City, Elkridge, Mt. Hebron High School, and Columbia. Though I wish these guestbloggers would post more often, I think as a whole they have done a superb job. These guestbloggers have added a breadth I knew I could not provide and I hope you have enjoyed their posts. This blog was the first group blog in our county and we seem to be leading the trend as another major local blog HoCoMD has recently moved to the group blog format.

In the last year we have had 375 posts, averaging slightly more than one post a day. As a result I think many people are making checking this blog part of their daily routine and I am very happy that you guys and gals think the quality of these posts are worthy of you taking time to read them. I have tried to make my posts thought provoking and I hope that is one of the reasons you keep coming back.

What types of things would you like to see on this blog in our second year?

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Columbia Downtown Redevelopment Recap

I think it is a good time to have another recap of issues involving the current redevelopment plan for downtown Columbia, which will be the biggest change to the county since Columbia was proposed. Here are some past posts on the subject:

The Mall to Merriweather Promenade: Part 1
The Mall to Merriweather Promenade: Part 2

Mixed Income Housing: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3


Why community planning matters.

Martin Luther King Day thoughts on the impact of community planning and whether new developments are contributing or undermining his dream and Rouses vision.

Let's Not Be Florida

Why the Community can set the terms of of redevelopment: Market Forces

Will the county use the Focus Group to help restore public trust?

I guess not yet, but here's hoping they will do it this time.

Transportation Solutions: Or How to Exand Metro to Solve Local Road Congestion and Maximize Ridership

Let's Talk Solutions

Thursday, January 11, 2007

General Growth Plans for the Mall

I will probably write more on this soon, but first I would like to hear what you think:

General Growth planning to expand Mall in Columbia

The Mall in Columbia needs to expand again as plans to redevelop Town Center move forward, according to Douglas M. Godine, vice president and general manager of General Growth Properties Inc., the primary landowner and developer of the city.

"The demand is much greater than the supply, and we want to protect our interests here in Columbia and keep those retailers that may be looking elsewhere and who want to come to Columbia. But we don't have the space for them," Godine said.

"We are addressing how we can expand the mall to add retail shops, and that will take a long period of time, but we are confident that we will get there," he said.

A spokesman for General Growth said the mall has 1.4 million square feet of retail space. Its last expansion was in 2004, when a movie theater, a row of restaurants and an L.L. Bean store were added.

Godine declined to give details of the expansion plans, but he said they will be included in the GGP downtown Columbia plan, which is expected to be unveiled in April.

The project is to include "green" architecture, affordable housing and arts and culture, Godine said during Thursday's annual State of Columbia Luncheon, sponsored by the Columbia Business Exchange.

"Our plan will address some of the important issues that will affect the way people live here," Godine told the audience of about 100 business owners and policymakers.

The company's plan will be in the form of suggestions for the county's master plan for downtown, which officials expect to unveil this spring.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Readers Feedback

This blog is coming up on its one year aniversary this weekend and I would like to hear from you how you first found out about this blog? Did you read about it in a paper? See a link from another blog? Find it on a google search? Hear about it through friends? See a flier at an event?

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Something Funny

Let's start the week off with something funny. Follow this link to listen to the Capitol Steps year in reviewNew Years Eve radio braodcast (click on 2006 for this past year). For those of you who don't know who the Capitol Steps are, they are one of the funniest political satire groups around. They are mainly former congressional staffers from both sides of the aisle who change song lyrics to parody current events.

And for general discussion in this thread:
Who is your favorite comedian? Who does the best political humor?

Thursday, January 04, 2007

HayDuke Asks Some Good Questions

HayDuke askes some good questions:

What if, instead of more signs, we had more activities for teenagers? What if we installed lights on a few public basketball courts and let kids play all night? What if we had at least one night of teenage garage bands every week at a CA facility? What if there were a few nightspots in Columbia that weren’t solely intended for use by over-21 residents?

What activities would you like to see to provide more for teenagers to do so that Columbia can truely be a community for people of all ages? I for one think a pool hall is greatly need. I use to go up to Rt. 40 all the time in high school to play pool, but the pool hall up there is in Baltimore County and normally pretty smokey and unpleasant.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Mythical Image of City Building Heights

So I went up to NYC last weekend to see a stand up comedy show that a friend of mine was producing at Town Hall. I had a blast and I highly recommend you check out the group when they come to DC (likely sometime this spring). Anyway the reason I bring this up is that while in NYC I was following the sickness that I picked up since the redevelopment of downtown Columbia started where I count the number of floors buildings have while I walk through cities.

I have thought for a while that most people have a hard time picturing how high a building is when you give some numbers of floors or even worse numbers of feet tall a building is. I think these things need to be put into context. For example the highest floor heights I have been able to find in DC are 14 stories (in the area around K Street) and these 14 story buildings have the top two floors staggered away from the street so that the buildings street face is only 12 stories. In fact, I think if a survey of building heights around DC metro stations were done people would be very surprised that many buildings near metro stations have lower heights than they imagine or that people claim are needed to bring metro the Howard County.

OK, back to NYC. I have gotten the impression that the mythical image in most peoples mind of building heights in NYC is of exclusively very tall buildings. In reality building heights are very eclectic with a number of 6 story buildings just blocks from Time Square and even a couple shorter buildings. (Oh, for those of you who don’t know NYC: Town Hall is on 43rd Street a block from Time Square.) I was all over the region around Time Square grabbing dinner before the show and hitting the after-party and the after-after-party. I was also on the Upper West Side where the friend whose couch I crashed on lives and the building heights in that area were mainly in the 6-12 story range with a couple shorter buildings and not many above 12 stories. Similarly while having brunch in the mid-20s (which as this non-New Yorkers understands it means Midtown in 20th Street to 29th Street area) I spotted quite a number of buildings in the 8-12 story range and some others that are shorter than that.

The point to all of this is that I think people’s mythical image of building heights is off the mark. Yes, NYC city has some really tall buildings, but large stretches of the city (including some of its most vibrant neighborhoods) are a lot shorter than what is being proposed for downtown Columbia. Similarly all of DC is shorter than the original proposed plan and in fact is closer to 14 stories that community groups like the Coalition for Columbia’s Downtown have been proposing. I have also traveled extensively through Europe and lived in London and in all of the most vibrant cities the building heights in the vibrant urban cores have been 14 stories or less, with most in the more 6-8 story range. Initially I had no caring about the building heights component of the plan (and still I think building heights are by far NOT the biggest problem with the plan (to see the problems in the plan check this recap of past blog posts on this subject)), but the more I have counted building heights in other cities and reflected on this I think 14 stories is more suited for downtown Columbia.

I know my counting of building heights is a sickness, but I strong encourage others to do the same and really start to create a context to compare what is being proposed in downtown Columbia with what is in other cities.

It is also important to remember that one of the biggest constraining factors that prevents taller buildings is infrastructure. After looking at the traffic study it is clear that even 14 story buildings cannot be achieved without building a mass transit option that relieves local roads. The only plan that I have seen that might be able to achieve this is the Metro extension that I have proposed.

Happy New Year

I just got back from spending the weekend in NY and NJ and need to get up in the morning to take my car in to be serviced. I don't have much time to write now, but I will be home today and I have a post (or maybe several posts now that I think about it) I want to write about and will see how much time I have to get them up. Check back soon. In the meantime feel free to share in this thread any New Years thoughts you have.