Conference to view Columbia plan, reality

Origins and development of `the Next America' to be in focus tomorrow

April 25, 2003|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

While analyzing the planned town of Columbia, Howard Community College history Professor Larry Madaras has concluded: "Things that were planned don't always work out in the actual process."

The 35-year-old suburb that strived to bring people of all races and economic backgrounds together has succeeded in many ways and failed in others, he said.

Those points and other aspects of the community will be discussed at a daylong conference tomorrow at Howard Community College. In "Columbia: Yesterday and Today From Vision to Reality," professors, public officials and Columbia's original planners will look at the community's past and present.

Two panels will discuss the origins and planning of the suburb as well as the reality the town grew to be at the conference, which is sponsored by the community college's Rouse Scholars Program and the Columbia Archives.

"For residents, new and old, it might be a great chance to learn something that they really wouldn't otherwise get," said Barbara Kellner, manager of the Columbia Archives. "Even for people who know a lot about Columbia, I think they're going to learn things they didn't know."

The suburb, developed by James W. Rouse, was viewed as a social experiment when it opened in 1967, the same year Maryland legalized interracial marriages. Rouse dubbed the town "The Next America," pledging that its residents would enjoy a better quality of life.

But while the 95,000-resident community has achieved its goal of being racially diverse, it is not quite as economically diverse, Madaras said.

"It maybe became too much of an economic success, where people with lower incomes can't really afford to buy a house here," said Madaras, who organized the conference.

In the first morning segment of the conference, Josh Olsen, author of the forthcoming Rouse biography The Origins of Columbia, will present a paper.

Panelists will include: Robert Tennenbaum, chief architect and planner of Columbia; Thomas Harris, retired Howard County planning director; Robert Cameron, vice president for engineering, land development and construction for Columbia; and Sandy Apgar, director of the Boston Consulting Group.

"Josh Olsen, who has done such a thorough job on researching James Rouse, he's going to bring some insight to the origin of Columbia that really isn't talked about that much," Kellner said.

In the second segment, Joseph Arnold, history professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, will lead a panel discussion with Cameron, Harris, Tennenbaum, Morris Keeton, a senior scholar at the University of Maryland, and County Councilmen David A. Rakes, an east Columbia Democrat, and Ken Ulman, a west Columbia Democrat.

In the afternoon, Kellner will lead a two-hour bus tour highlighting planning aspects and historical pieces of the town. Some of the stops will include Historic Oakland, a 1811 mansion that is used as Town Center's community building; the Wilde Lake Barn in Wilde Lake Park; and Oliver's Carriage House, the home of Kittamaqundi Community Church.

"We'll be talking about why they were preserved and how they fit into these histories," Kellner said.

The conference will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. tomorrow in Smith Theatre on the college campus, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway. Admission, which can be paid at the door, is $10, $5 for students.

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