August 31, 1993

Give the promoters of Columbia a chance to talk about their city and they often toot a horn about the rich racial and cultural diversity that has been created there. While most of that is true, there is another Columbia that is not so diverse, is mostly homogeneous and is culturally one-dimensional.

Columbia certainly has had success in bringing about a racially and ethnically diverse community. Nearly a fifth of the city is African-American, while other minorities make up nearly 8 percent -- a sizable share in the suburbs, and about a third greater than Howard as a whole. People of different backgrounds are not segregated into enclaves. No railroad tracks or other artificial boundaries separate people. Columbia enjoys relative harmony despite differences that have fractured other communities.

The other Columbia, however, belies a melting pot. It is a community dominated by the upper-middle class -- and the values that come with it. It is one where, insofar as economics are concerned, people are more alike than different. Statistics from the 1990 U.S. Census and a 1991 survey by the Rouse Co., Columbia's creator, paint a picture of a community that is mostly affluent, highly educated and upwardly mobile.

The average Columbia household exists on an income of about $61,000 a year. (The state average is $47,905; Howard County as a whole, $54,348.)

Eleven percent of Columbians earn $100,000 or more, compared to 7 percent statewide. Ninety-one percent of all adults work full time; 81 percent of those are in professional or managerial

occupations -- nearly triple the state average.

As far as housing is concerned, a mix of housing types, including single-family detached, town houses and apartments exists in every Columbia village. However, a majority of properties are valued from $100,000 to $300,000.

Part of the reason economic diversity has never been achieved in Columbia is that federal dollars that once went toward public housing have dried up. Even local attempts to create affordable housing for moderate income families have been resisted.

The idealism that existed when Columbia started more than 25 )) years ago has fizzled. The new dividing line doesn't distinguish as much by race as it does by class. And the utopian horn that Columbia likes to toot isn't so easy to blow.

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