* Columbia lacks visually stimulating civic places, street corridors and a vital downtown. New Urbanists prefer New England-style downtowns centered on town greens.
Columbia's Town Center is a lifeless place where pedestrians must dodge traffic to get to the main destination -- an enclosed mall surrounded by asphalt. "There's nothing happening," says Helen Ruther, a Town Center resident. "There's nothing to attract people to walk to."
* Columbia segregates types of land uses -- retail, residential and office -- and separates housing into clusters by size and value. Rental properties are set apart as well.
New Urbanists say this leads to sterile environments and suburban bigotry based on income. They prefer mixing housing types -- not just within neighborhoods but from home to home along the same street.
All are problems that Kentlands' planners claim they have solved in a suburban community that tries to evoke the charm of Annapolis or Georgetown and sells itself "as a way of life that is not new, merely forgotten."
The development -- to increase from about 2,500 residents to 4,000 at completion in 1998 -- will offer single-family homes, small cottages, townhouses and apartments above garages. Homes are on small lots with dark brick exteriors, steeply pitched roofs, front porches and picket fences.
To encourage interaction among residents, homes are close to each other and to sidewalks, streets and town squares. To promote walking and slow traffic, streets are narrow and arranged on a grid. Traffic is dispersed. Alleys behind homes are lined with garages, hiding vehicles.
Some Kentlands residents say it is far preferable to the more impersonal suburbs from which they moved. "You walk about your neighborhood," says retiree Ted Gross, who had lived in a typical suburb in New Jersey. "That's the whole concept. Neighbor greets neighbor and neighbor is concerned about neighbor."
The state Office of Planning is encouraging similar suburban developments on the theory that they mirror Maryland's traditional settlements. Neo-traditional projects under way or planned in this region include ones in Ellicott City, near Union Bridge and in Loudoun County, Va.
But in many jurisdictions, certain neo-traditional elements -- such as apartments above stores or by houses -- are prohibited by regulations favoring more inefficient, large-lot residential growth and sprawling commercial projects. And Kentlands itself is hardly turning out to be a nirvana.
Chevy Chase Federal Savings Bank foreclosed on the project in 1991 and has been developing it since. Residents now are in a tug of war with the bank over whether it will carry out plans for Kentlands' Georgetown-style business district in a way faithful to the project's original concept. One corner of Kentlands already includes a large, typical suburban shopping center.
"The long tentacles of money are superseding the wishes of the community," Mr. Gross says.
Also -- despite its planners' rhetoric -- Kentlands' apartments are mostly separate from single-family homes. Housing density is about twice Columbia's.And its homes are hardly inexpensive -- starting at about $220,000, about average for Montgomery County.
Despite these failings, Mr. Paumier says, Rouse may have missed a chance to learn a few new tricks from the New Urbanists in planning Columbia's last village, River Hill, which primarily features single-family homes along traditional cul-de-sacs.
However, Lloyd Bookout of the Urban Land Institute in Washington says the decision likely was smart business. Homebuyers "tend to be very conservative and conventional," he says, preferring "the house on the cul-de-sac."
And that may be the final barrier to changing American suburbia, says Roger K. Lewis, a neo-traditional design proponent and University of Maryland architecture professor.
"A lot of people who live in Columbia think it's a slice of bread
and apple pie," he says. "What we idealize as designers and theoreticians -- what we all believe consumers should think is wonderful and love -- they really don't."