Columbia at a Crossroads: III

December 08, 1993

How does a community as successful as Columbia take a hard look at itself and map a course for the future -- without seeming to whine? We pose the question this way because the paradox of Columbia is that by most measures it works well and yet it struggles for something better. How easy it would be to dismiss that desire as the wants of a spoiled child.

Indeed, Columbia has become an attractive home for the affluent. But it is also a community of diverse backgrounds -- racially, ethnically and economically. It is the only city of its kind to have attempted a mix on such a scale and made it happen. It did so because it was well-planned in an era of idealism and hope.

Today, more than 25 years after Columbia's inception, there are cracks in the dam. They can be summed up in two ways, as we have attempted to outline in two previous editorials this week.

First, the Columbia Council, who oversees the city's operation, must embrace the task of deciding how Columbia will function as a government. The answer does not necessarily mean incorporation. A hybrid that includes the best aspects of a homeowners' association and a fully open and representative government is certainly achievable. Ultimately, a move to inspire the greatest involvement of citizens will serve the city best.

Second, Columbia shouldn't neglect a commitment to the principles of class and race harmony on which it was conceived. Unfortunately, those precepts have ceased being the reason most people choose Columbia as a place to live. Symbolic of this change is the final village under development by the Rouse Co., River Hill. While other Columbia villages include a mix of housing types, River Hill will be comprised overwhelmingly of high-priced, single-family homes. A federal commitment to low-income housing may have driven diversity in Columbia's early years, but cold capitalism apparently drives it now.

The volunteer group Columbia Forum is attempting to give voice to those who would like the city recommitted to its original ideals, while progressing on the issue of governance. It has aptly chosen this time to organize. It is not whining to suggest that the principles on which James W. Rouse founded Columbia shouldn't get buried.

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