A City on the Move, But Where, Why?


September 04, 1994|By Kevin Thomas

If it had been a paid advertisement, it could not have been more effective.

There it was on Aug. 22, on the front of this section, an article by Lan Nguyen on the new River Hill High School in Clarksville. "River Hill High seen as prototype for the future," the headline read, and the details in the report were equally breathtaking:

* Fiber optics and a communication network throughout the school.

* Video monitors and computer portals in every classroom.

* A domed gym similar to the University of Maryland's Cole Field House.

* Two auditoriums, including a "blackbox theater" for a dance studio and rehearsal hall.

* Two art studios with cathedral windows for plenty of natural light.

Perfectly decent article; accurate, well written, lots of details. And all I could visualize is the "For Sale" signs popping up all over Columbia as half the populace "headed on up" to River Hill.

That's an exaggeration, but not by much. There is a phenomenon that, while not unique to Columbia, certainly is quite prevalent in Howard County's planned city, perhaps even more so than in other places.

It's called buying up. Forty-three percent of all Columbia residents lived in the city before they bought their current homes, according to the development gurus at the Rouse Co. Moreover, a whopping 60 percent of single-family home dwellers lived in Columbia before they bought their houses.

So, it's all about getting that bigger, better, newer residence in that brand new neighborhood, with the dazzling new high school.

To be sure, this isn't just a Columbia thing. The days when mom and pop lived in the same house for 50 years are pretty much kaput in metropolitan regions all over. Suburbia has been the perfect setting for our emerging throwaway society. The house gets old, it's too small, get a new one.

We left the childhood homestead long ago, we really don't have strong ties, so why not move? And move and move and move?

Of course, there are other unavoidable reasons that people relocate: loss or change of a job, divorce, death. But the buying-up syndrome in Columbia can't be simply explained in this fashion.

Truth is, Columbia is home to a lot of climbers: affluent people who are going to scale the mount because it's there and because they can do so. They want the best and can afford to get it. They also like Columbia. Apparently, a lot.

I pause here to say there's nothing necessarily wrong with this movement. It's a sign of a vibrant, growing community. Successful people are attracted to it and a lot of them become more successful while they are here.

Even those who don't get caught up in the swirl get marked by it. You don't think there are people in Ellicott City who have some not-too-kind things to say about Columbians and their "attitudes"? I've heard it. It's not nice. "Columbians are snobs, they think they should get everything on a silver platter." That's pretty much what they say.

Those of us who are not so free-spirited stick around in our old Columbia homes of 10, 15, 20 years, pining away for a more stable community. For a long time, I didn't pay much attention to this phenomenon.

Columbia was growing by leaps and bounds. Changes were so many that this one didn't stand out from the rest.

Certainly, neighbors talked about how transient things were; as soon as you made a new friend, they were moving.

But I attributed most of that to what happens in any community in the Baltimore-Washington corridor, where government and private enterprise transfer families all over the country.

In Columbia, though, there is always that added element of simply wanting something new. And now there's River Hill, Columbia's 10th and last village, and that brand new high school.

I'll admit it. It's appealing.

Mark my words, River Hill may very soon replace Centennial High School in the stratosphere of public education in Howard County. Words such as "lighthouse" and "premiere school" will start to pop up whenever River Hill is mentioned.

Me, I don't think I'll be moving to River Hill.

I have lived in three different homes in my 11 years in Columbia, and that's enough for now. Maybe I'll become one of those rarest of vegetables here: one with roots.

Kevin Thomas is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Howard County.

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