Howard County Blog

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Columbia's Village Centers

So I started this post Sunday, when Maryland's victory over Duke interrupted my thoughts and I could think of nothing else. :) This post was brought back to my mind by a conversation I had with Bill Santos tonight and comments made by Rhoda Toback, Wilde Lake Village Board Chair, at a community event I was attending.

As villages such a Wilde Lake start to look at their future design, lets start the discussion with: What design elements are the best features of each of Columbia's Village Centers? To broaden this conversation let us include both the village centers as they are now and the designs and elements they have had in the past (for example Oakland Mills and Owen Brown were redeveloped in the last couple years so feel free to discuss either their current or past design). By identifying what elements of the village centers work best we can start exploring this crucial question of the future of our community.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The businesses that are needed or desired on a weekly or daily basis: grocery store, bank, gas station (until we don't need gas anyway), local non-chain restaurant, and community meeting facilities.

3:59 AM  
Anonymous jim adams said...

There was another subject discussed. Destinations, a way to bring a new level of human energy into Columbia. Come to the next meeting and hear more.

10:34 AM  
Blogger Evan said...


A lot was discussed last night at the HCCA meeting and village centers really were not one of them other than Rhonda's comment at the end, but as I was standing out in the cold after the meeting talking to Bill we got onto the subject of village centers and I realized that while I started this post on village centers on Sunday night I never finished it or posted it because I was in shock ang joy at MD beating Duke.

But that being said you bring up an interesting point by wrapping the village center discussion into the creating destinations discussion. Are the village centers destinations? I think they are. The Bagel Bins in Wilde Lake, Kings Contrivance, and River Hill definately are destinations. So are restuarant/bars like Michael's Pub in Kings Contrivance, Sonomas in Owen Brown, the former Last Chance Saloon that has now been replaced by the Fire Rock Grill in Oakland Mills. The Interfaith Centers and Meeting Houses are also destinations. The ice skating rink in Oakland Mills is a destination as is the indoor pool/water park in Wilde.

1:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The village centers are awful and a great hangouts for delinquent teens (who have nothing else to do - teen activities anyone?) to skateboard and/or smoke pot.

You have to walk across a huge parking lot to get there, basically encouraging you to drive even if you live close-by.

Take a page from the pedestrian-centric developments in Bethesda. People actually want to live near there.

5:07 PM  
Anonymous jim adams said...

Evan, thanks for your response. I agree Village Centers are destinations. But listening to Jessie Newburn as well as Mr. Nolan, I felt they were reaching for a different concept, more of something like New Orleans, were masses of people would go to enjoy multiple forms of entertainment. I will talk with Ms. Newburn this weekend and try to reach Mr. Nolan as well. Thanks for keeping me on track.

7:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaking of destinations like the French Quarter in New Orleans, please keep in mind the French Quarter does have a special energy, including shootings, murders, stabbing, muggings, increased assaults, robberies, burglaries, etc. The area needs to be heavily patrolled by police as a result.

It also generates a lot of garbage and smells quite bad each morning before the cavalcade of a cleaning brigade comes out and power washes and scrubs the previous night's revelry away.

Visitors are encouraged to stay on the main streets and not wander too far for their own safety. Parking is hard to find, always expensive, and insecure. And gridlock is common.

How's that for being pedestrian friendly and vibrant?

And it's been that way for most of its history.

11:24 PM  
Blogger Evan said...


I guess I view destinations being what people make out of them. Jessie said that East Columbia Library was a destination. Of course I think her ideal type may be closer to New Orleans, but I think few cities have a year round Mardi Gras even New Orleans. We had a great several day long party at the heart of downtown Columbia last year in the HFStival at Merriweather Post Pavilion. It was not Mardi Gras, but it was a larger multi day party than most cities have.

I would say that in the Kings Contrivance Village Center Michael's Pub is as good a neighborhood gathering place and destination as any I have seen in some areas of London or DC. Now the question is does Columbia have a strip like Adams Morgan or Dupont that has a concentration of such places? It clearly doesn't. What are the reasons for this? Well, it isn't height because neither place has a building above 14 stories. In fact Adams Morgan is largerly in the 4 story range and many of the buildings in the Dupont area are under 6 stories. One of the major reasons that Adams Morgan and Duport are the destinations are the large number of young people of drinking age and the businesses that have seen a market in catering to them. The lack of housing affordable to young professional in Howard County is a large reason why we don't have these types of destinations. The other part of the equation is that young people gather in these areas because they have character. The buildings are these short architecturally interesting buildings. The sketches, models, and pictures that the county and the consultant who ran the charrette used are sadly not these types of buildings. I have travelled to many cities all over the world and any effort to "create" a destination with this type of stale architecture works against efforts to create a destination atmosphere.

I am all for creating a destination experience downtown. To do so we need more than the current county plan that only has the retail activities for the primary pedestrian streets concentrated in a way that they are only connected to each other through the mall, just to name one of the many things needing fixing.

12:22 AM  
Blogger Evan said...

Oh, and I cannot let the delinquent teen comment pass. The context of this entire discussion is creating places where people enjoy going to spend time. The teens you speak of clearly see the Village Centers as one of the best destinations they have available. The fact that some people do not want teens to be seen or heard reflects very bad on those who write comments like Anon 5:07pm.

12:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That is the point - the teens have nothing to do in Columbia. So they crap up the already run-down village centers.

I am all for community gyms or other teen activities.

Go to Joseph's Square at 11 AM during the week and find a bunch of teenagers smoking and (based on the empty bottles) drinking.

The place is a great destination for truants and it feels very unsafe.

6:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The village centers are poorly laid out. They should level them all and make them all visible from the main roads

And get rid of the loitering

12:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's comments like 5:07 and 6:24 that will drive me out of anonymity just so my comments won't be confused with those points of view.

Teens do have plenty to do in Columbia. Those that say otherwise are kidding themselves.

Adams Morgan is yet another "destination" that has significant crime.

So, do we really want to pursue creating a destination like Adams Morgan or the French Quarter, both of which apparently incur additional crime (both violent and property) and require additional police and security? That's not the kind of Town Center I want.

10:02 PM  
Anonymous Jessie Newburn said...

I would like to clarify sentiments attributed to me at this HCCA meeting: I most certainly did not state, nor did I intimate, that nt wanting "a place with a pulse" in Columbia was comparable to a place such as New Orleans!

A pulse. You know, like a vibe ... cool people, good energy, gentle intelligence ... you know. Vibe. Pulse. Destination.

9:46 PM  
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